Tag Archives: James Ransone


Captive State

by Hope Madden

Imagine, if you will, that someone bullied their way to a takeover of the government. Imagine that they exploited the poor for labor while gutting Earth’s natural resources for their own gain, leaving a husk of a planet behind.

Imagine that they enacted blunt order with no thought to human rights, as they built walls, separated families and cordoned off neighborhoods to keep the poor a safe distance from the wealthy.

Let’s say they also passed themselves off as some almost holy enterprise that rewarded compliance and adoration.

Right, not such a stretch.

Oh, it’s aliens? That would actually be a lot easier to accept.

Filmmaker Rupert Wyatt returns to the theme of his greatest success, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with his latest SciFi adventure, Captive State.

Wyatt drops us into the heart of Chicago some ten or so years after an alien invasion. Earth has long since accepted the aliens as their new legislature, and terrestrial natives are now either blindly following command with the hope of reward, or they are not.

Gabriel Drummond (Ashton Sanders, Moonlight) can’t quite make up his mind. His brother Rafe (Jonathan Majors) is the symbol of the revolution, but Gabriel just wants to get out of Dodge and try for a new life.

Lawman William Mulligan (John Goodman, wonderful as always) won’t let him. What emerges is an intricate and often clever thriller about submission and resistance.

Though Wyatt’s allegory is clear, it doesn’t drown the story itself. Even the most thinly drawn character has purpose and dimension, the ensemble talent assembled here delivering memorable but understated turns.

Vera Farmiga offers a particularly poignant performance, though her screen time can’t reach past 2 minutes. Likewise, James Ransone, Alan Ruck and Lawrence Grimm balance desperation, courage and hope in brief episodes that help Wyatt create the bleak but almost optimistic tone.

The look is a bit murky, the 1984-style occupations a tad convenient and the lack of one single point of view character limits audience investment in character, and therefore, in the outcome. But the aliens look pretty cool, John Goodman offers a twisty, melancholy performance that’s worth seeing, and there’s rarely a bad time to be reminded of the power of resistance.

Block Party


by George Wolf

“Merry Christmas Eve, bitch!”

Holiday greetings from Tangerine, an irresistibly wild dive into the dramatic lives of two transgender hookers in LA.

It’s the night before Christmas, and creatures of the night are stirring. The manic Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriquez) has just gotten out of jail and is looking to reconnect with Chester (James Ransone), her boyfriend-slash-pimp. But when her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) lets it slip that Chester’s been unfaithful with a “fish” (“yes, a real woman, bitch, with a vagina and everything!”), Sin-Dee sets out to track them both down and demand some answers.

Meanwhile, local cabbie Razmik (Karren Karagulian) is eager to resume his business relationship with Sin-Dee, and he ignores his extended family during a Holiday get-together to focus on his secret life. Offended, Razmik’s mother-in-law hits the streets on her own quest to uncover exactly what it is her son-in-law is hiding.

Filming the entire movie via iPhone on location in West Hollywood, director/co-writer Sean Baker has not only created an authentic, in-the-moment slice of life, but also a film that nearly explodes with vitality.

Most of all, Tangerine feels urgently original. The “iPhone movie about transgender hookers” angle may get attention, but Baker’s storytelling is rock solid. There are amateurish moments to be sure, but the film becomes downright artful, pulling you completely into its world with unforgettable characters you care about almost instantly.

Beyond the craziness of daily life “on the block,” Tangerine is also genuinely moving. We feel for Alexandra as she struggles to attract an audience for her Christmas Eve nightclub performance, and ache for Sin-Dee when a hateful act from a carload of assholes leaves her unable to hide the vulnerability underneath her defiant personality.

It’s brash and daring, funny, subversive, insightful and poignant. Really, there are countless reasons to see Tangerine.

Pick one.