‘The Wolf­pack’ kids go off script

Broth­ers raised in iso­la­tion, watch­ing movies, now on their own

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - BY STEVEN ZEITCHIK

NEW YORK — Mukunda Angulo, one of the most out­go­ing of the six fra­ter­nal cinephiles known as the Wolf­pack, looked around the stately con­fines of the Up­per West Side’s Bea­con Theater. “This place is very ‘Good­Fel­las,’ ” he said. The Wolf­pack had come to the Bea­con for a re­u­nion screen­ing of the Scors­ese movie, one of the young men’s fa­vorites.

“We’ve seen it hun­dreds of times, maybe more,” said Bha­ga­van Angulo, 23, the el­dest brother, a low-key per­son­al­ity.

“It’s like some­times, ‘OK, our mom is mak­ing a big Ital­ian din­ner? Let’s do “Good­Fel­las,” ’ ” said Mukunda, 20, the fourth-el­dest.

“Do­ing” movies has been a long­time tra­di­tion for the An­gu­los, who grew up un­der im­prob­a­ble cir­cum­stances. Raised in a hous­ing devel­op­ment on New York’s Lower East Side by a ru­ral Mid­west­ern mother and a South Amer­i­can-born fa­ther who con­verted to Hare Krishna, they were kept away from oth­ers kids and even the neigh­bor­hood streets around them. Cinema was their lone con­nec­tion to the out­side world.

The An­gu­los’ fa­ther, Os­car Angulo, an enig­matic but dom­i­neer­ing sort, for­bade his home-schooled sons from leav­ing the apart­ment for all but the most ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties and took care of essen­tials, such as food shop­ping. The boys’ ex­po­sure to the wider world came by way of the film clas­sics Os­car would en­cour­age them to watch — older ones such as “Casablanca” and “Cit­i­zen Kane,” and the mod­ern likes of “Pulp Fic­tion,” “The Dark Knight” and, yes, “Good­Fel­las.”

They would piece the films to­gether on pa­per, then act out some or all of the scenes. Each brother would in­habit a given role that al­most never var­ied. Some­times they’d per­form just for them­selves. Some­times they’d film their re­con­struc­tions.

In “The Wolf­pack,” a doc­u­men­tary about the fam­ily, au­di­ences are ex­posed to this col­or­ful group through a movie that is likely to in­trigue and raise ques­tions

in equal mea­sure. Made in rel­a­tive anonymity by first­time direc­tor Crys­tal Moselle, “The Wolf­pack” ar­rived at the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val in Jan­uary and be­came an in­stant sen­sa­tion, a popular au­di­ence ticket that also nabbed the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. doc­u­men­tary. With its cap­ti­vat­ing premise, the film also landed a deal from Mag­no­lia Pic­tures.

As it reaches wider au­di­ences, , “The Wolf­pack,” which opens in Los An­ge­les on June 19, is sure to evoke com­par­isons to other doc­u­men­taries fea­tur­ing col­or­fully clois­tered — if also more po­lar­iz­ing — real-life char­ac­ters such as Big Edie and Lit­tle Edie of “Grey Gar­dens” or the Fried­mans of “Cap­tur­ing the Fried­mans.” It also shares some similarities with “Sur­f­wise,” the 2007 doc­u­men­tary about the fam­ily that re­treated from civil­ian life into a world of surf­ing. As it rolls out to the­aters, “The Wolf­pack” could con­fer a kind of in­stant cult sta­tus on a group of young men who un­til a few years ago had barely left their apart­ment, much less had a me­dia light trained on them.

Moselle did not set out to make a movie about in­su­lar­ity and cinema, much less one that dou­bled as a so­cial ex­per­i­ment. Walk­ing down the street in down­town Man­hat­tan about five years ago, she came across six young men, all dressed, as they were many days, in match­ing “Reser­voir Dogs” out­fits. Not long be­fore, the boys had “bro­ken out” — their term for their first un­su­per­vised for­ays out­side — and Moselle was piqued by their man­ner and their story.

She asked whether she could shoot them. The sib­lings agreed and soon Moselle was spend­ing time with them at their apart­ment, of­ten with the cam­era on. Moselle said it was dif­fi­cult at first for her to break through.

“It was all ref­er­ences,” she said. “Ev­ery­thing felt like a film to them.” She was un­cer­tain of where the story was go­ing, or how to shape it into a fea­ture.

The broth­ers were un­sure too.

“We had spent so many years imag­in­ing our­selves in movies that it was strange to think we’d ac­tu­ally star in one,” said Govinda, 22, who, with his twin, is next-el­dest af­ter Bha­ga­van, and who pos­sesses a wry sense of hu­mor. As the only sib­ling who has moved out of the fam­ily’s apart­ment (he shares a place with sev­eral room­mates in Brook­lyn and har­bors cine­matog­ra­pher am­bi­tions), Govinda is the brother who’s as­sim­i­lated most into the larger world. At the end of an evening with a re­porter, he also handed over a busi­ness card. “I came pre­pared,” he said, flash­ing a grin.

There is some­thing en­dear­ingly guile­less about the An­gu­los boys, as if a baby could sud­denly ar­tic­u­late his en­thu­si­asm for ev­ery­thing new around it. At “Good­Fel­las,” they seemed ex­cited by the ba­sic tick­et­ing and seat­ing plan, and down­right ec­static — Mukunda in par­tic­u­lar — about the pres­ence of ac­tors such as Ray Liotta in the theater. “I couldn’t be­lieve it. Even though I’m never Henry [Liotta’s char­ac­ter], I’m still so ex­cited.”

At din­ner af­ter the screen­ing, a charge rip­pled across the ta­ble when the broth­ers learned that Joel Coen and Frances McDor­mand were in the restau­rant. They im­me­di­ately started mak­ing plans to catch the pair’s at­ten­tion.

“Maybe do some­thing dar­ing,” said Govinda’s twin, Narayana.

“Like the or­gasm scene from ‘When Harry Met Sally’?” his brother replied.

Still, the rudi­ments of mod­ern life can elude them. Small talk can con­found, as can restau­rant order­ing.

“There’s still a learn­ing curve,” said Megan De­laney, a friend of Moselle’s who be­came an as­so­ciate pro­ducer on the film and is both a friend to and a public at­tache of sorts for the broth­ers.

The two An­gu­los who are per­haps most dif­fer­ent from the rest are the two youngest, now 18 and 16. They re­cently legally changed their last names from Angulo to Hughes Reisen­bich­ler (an homage to their mother’s side of the fam­ily) and their given Krishna names from Krsna and Ja­gadisa to Glenn and Ed­die. ’80s fas­ci­na­tion

If that sounds like a “Bev­erly Hills Cop” throw­back, it should. The pair has an odd fas­ci­na­tion with all things ’80s, par­tic­u­larly Huey Lewis.

“It’s just the best mu­sic out there,” Glenn said. “I found it on YouTube. I don’t know why he’s not more fa­mous.” One of the strik­ing as­pects of speak­ing to the broth­ers is that, since they are ex­posed to all man­ner of pop cul­ture but largely ig­no­rant of the rel­a­tive val­u­a­tions so­ci­ety has placed on it, they re­act most purely to what they like.

At din­ner, the broth­ers ex­plained their feel­ings about the doc­u­men­tary. They were hardly unan­i­mous in their ap­pre­ci­a­tion. Narayana is prob­a­bly the most re­sis­tant; he de­clined a more elab­o­rate in­ter­view about it. Govinda waved aside his twin’s con­cerns.

“The re­lease is com­ing a long time af­ter we broke out, and that’s the right time. Some of my broth­ers feel dif­fer­ently. But we were semi­aware that ex­po­sure was go- ing to por­tray us in so many dif­fer­ent ways, so why re­gret it? Why think about the neg­a­tiv­ity?”

Bha­ga­van, too, takes a more be­nign view of the new­found at­ten­tion.

“It’s un­ex­pected in a lot of ways,” said the el­dest Angulo, a yoga teacher and hip-hop dancer. “But it’s all been a jour­ney. There were times, even be­fore the movie, when I started go­ing out, and it was scary. I didn’t know much about the world. But over time, I learned, lit­tle by lit­tle. And now it’s like, ‘What else can I learn?’ ”

For all the ways the broth­ers have landed on their feet, there re­main unan­swered ques­tions. Some might won­der if they re­ally were as cut off as the movie im­plies; all in­di­ca­tions, at least, sug­gest that they were.

More vex­ing is the pa­ter­nal treat­ment. Even as the film ul­ti­mately shows some re­demp­tion for Os­car, it’s fair to ask how much his re­stric­tive be­hav­ior went be­yond tough par­ent­ing. The sib­lings speak of their fa­ther in opaque terms, rarely crit­i­ciz­ing him but not de­fend­ing him ei­ther; more than one used a vari­a­tion of “he has his ways.”

How the sib­lings are do­ing now is also sure to be a ques­tion fore­most on view­ers’ minds. The an­swer, like so many things “Wolf­pack,” can be com­pli­cated. The An­gu­los en­joy close re­la­tion­ships with one an­other and reg­u­larly watch movies in groups — now, per­haps more healthily, in the­aters. They seem to have be­come much more at ease with the larger world even since Sun­dance.

Apart from Govinda, though, their home sta­tus con­tin­ues to de­fine them. It is a dou­ble-edged sword, giv­ing them a sup­port net­work but per­haps fur­ther­ing a code­pen­dency. Govinda said he has en­cour­aged more of them to move out.

For the mo­ment, they are con­tent to reap the benefits of their new­found at­ten­tion.

In the restau­rant, they pile on the or­ders and then revel in them Angulo-style; when a heap­ing por­tion of meat ar­rives for Govinda, Narayana, who is veg­e­tar­ian, noted to his brother, “That’s an ‘Amer­i­can Psy­cho’ plate.”

Mukunda kept up the high level of en­thu­si­asm too, even when talk­ing about an un­likely sub­ject.

“Did you see when we were out­side be­fore the movie? That guy with the hair?” he re­counted. “We think he’s our stalker. He’s been at all of our screen­ings, and he al­ways seems to be around when we’re tak­ing pho­tos.”

Mukunda paused. “We have a stalker. I guess that’s pretty cool.”

Carolyn Cole Los An­ge­les Times

“WOLF­PACK” broth­ers who are the sub­ject of a doc­u­men­tary in­clude Bha­ga­van, Mukunda, Govinda, Ed­die and Narayana.

Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val

A SCENE from “The Wolf­pack” shows Angulo broth­ers act­ing out fa­vorite parts from films. The chil­dren were raised in iso­la­tion, learn­ing about life from movies.

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