Friday, January 30, 2015

Slamdance: The Anti-Sundance Film Festival: Rapper Pras Talks Haiti Film with Arts Express

Listen To The Show Here

**Slamdance: The Anti-Sundance Film Festival. Rapper Pras Michel returns to his Haitian roots to explore with his documentary premiering there - Sweet Micky For President - political turmoil in Haiti. Pras phones in to Prairie Miller on Arts Express from Slamdance, Utah to reflect on what he learned while immersing himself in politics there, along with making this movie, and what still remains a mystery. And, will The Fugees ever get back together again.

Update: The film garnered the two top Slamdance Awards: The Jury and Audience Awards for Best Documentary.

**The Humbling: Better than Birdman, with its more poignant, less pretentious introspective grasp of the raw, revealing truths about art and fame, the film stars Al Pacino, and is adapted from the Philip Roth novel. As it connects the ironic and elusive notions of creativity, existence, self-worth, and celebrityhood. And, when not just simply weird and wicked fun. A commentary.

**My Son The Waiter:
Intrepid Arts Express reporter Jack Shalom catches the bitterweet rantings of standup comic Brad Zimmerman's show. Touching on nearly three decades of waiting tables for better or much worse. Along with insights gleaned from the invisibility of service workers in capitalist society.

**Poetry Corner: A reading of late poet and author Charles Bukowski's Nirvana. A solemn youthful odyssey through the American winter landscape by bus, in search of a place in the world.

Arts Express, airing on WBAI Radio in NY archived at, and on the Pacifica National Radio Network.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Humbling Review: Better Than Birdman, In Al Pacino's Introspectively Stunning Screen Soliloquoy

While economic crisis cinema has been the prevailing political theme in candidly conceived movies, whether subtextually or not since end stage capitalism has set in, The Humbling explores the twin angst connected to the irreversible fateful loss of one's craft through aging. And who better to ignite the screen with that resonant despair, than one of the film world's greatest thespian treasures possibly in joint contemplation of his own advancing decline, Al Pacino.

Adapted from the Philip Roth novel and directed by Barry Levinson, The Humbling shines with  a literary, existentially rich glow derived from the cinematic fusion of these three master craftsmen. As the film delves into the physical, psychological, and emotional freakout of celebrity Broadway stage and screen actor Simon Axler (Pacino), pushing seventy and increasingly aware of the fadeout of his faculties, of both the body and mind.

Failing to get a grip on his doomed diminishing capacities, or in some cases imagined disintegration, Axler retreats to a hermetic existence at his remote Connecticut estate. Or so he incorrectly thinks, as Axler is pursued there by an assortment of primarily annoying female kooks who progressively lead him to doubt his own sanity.

And including thirtysomething comparative youngster and ambivalent lesbian daughter of a theatrical colleague who has admired Axler since childhood - and is beyond eager intent on seducing him -  Pegeen (Greta Gerwig). Along with his increasing inability to separate the characters he plays from his real life, creating a hallucinatory cross-pollination in his mind which doesn't in the least help matters - not even with regular session kicking in courtesy of his Internet shrink (Dylan Baker), alternately via Skype and smartphone.

The Humbling's drama within a drama is deliciously weird when not toxic wicked fun. And actually better than Birdman, with its more poignant, less pretentious introspective grasp of the raw and revealing truths connected to the ironic and elusive notions of art, existence, identity, self-worth, fame - and the inevitable transience of life negating everything else.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014


*THE TRUMBO: The Award for BEST PROGRESSIVE PICTURE is named after Oscar-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, a member of the Hollywood Ten, who was imprisoned for his beliefs and refusing to inform. Trumbo helped break the Blacklist when he received screen credit for "Spartacus" and "Exodus" in 1960.

One of the only biopics this year not twisting truths through either falsification or omission, this Michael Cuesta directed docudrama heralds the courageous, defiant, lonely and tragic struggle of journalist Gary Webb, who stood up to both the US government and corporate media in collusion. As he exposed the CIA scheme to flood the inner cities with cocaine back in the 1990s to covertly finance the illegal US-backed Contra war against the Nicaraguan Sandinistas.

With their citing of late iconic film critic Pauline Kael that 'Criticism is the only thing that stands between the audience and advertising,' the Critics Chapter of JACC is described as an association of national and international critics, historians and film scholars who came together to form the first progressive critics organization, in the belief that idealistic perspectives, voices and diverse ideological visions in film criticism that speak with social conviction and consciousness, are sorely lacking as a public platform. And we recognize films embodying those humanistic ideals with our annual awards.

For the complete list of JACC Awards 2014, visit the James Agee Cinema Circle HERE

Friday, December 26, 2014

It's Hard Being Loved...Charlie Hebdo Doc Laughing Outside Of History

Just re-released in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, is Daniel Leconte's It's Hard Being Loved by Jerks (C'est Dur D'ĂȘtre AimĂ© Par Des Cons). The  2008 documentary follows the ultimately triumphant trial of that French satirical newspaper, charged by the World Muslim League and the Union of Islamic Organizations of France with defamation.

But just how triumphant the publication turned out to be, is laced with eerie irony in post mortem retrospect, as the grinning faces of the cartoonist victors who brag on camera, are counted among the recently assassinated. But not exactly unaware of that possibility, amid multiple threats half a dozen years ago. And when challenged on camera if mockery of an immigrant culture was worth risking their lives, the eager reaction came off less as that of ardent social activists than danger junkies. Intimating a bizarre, opposite sides of the same coin connection between these extreme cartoonists, and the extremists in pursuit.

Overloaded with talking heads and under-furnished with any broad social context - including the real difference between satirizing the power structure as opposed to an oppressed people  your own government has collaborated in murdering in the millions - the documentary feigns impartiality by tossing in a few challenging pundits from the opposite side of the spectrum. Most prominently from eccentric civilian commentators joining the heated circus atmosphere just outside the courtroom. And when one of them is ejected from the building by security because 'you're bothering people' by what seems like daring to air an opposing view, this telling moment blatantly stifling free speech in a documentary supposedly heralding free speech, is oddly tossed by the wayside along with the unfortunate Muslim challenger.

So what remains here when pared down to ideas rather than glorified individuals, includes those many cartoonists and supporters living and dead, and celeb defenders counting Francois Hollande, Holocaust filmmmaker Claude Lanzmann, and Nicolas Sarkozy preferring to text in his sympathy - to the defendants' dismay. And satirists - or sketch makers as they are known by some of their adversaries in the Muslim world, preferring to live contextually and conveniently outside of history.

 Namely, the contrasting notions of free speech and hate speech. And in effect, anti-Muslim cartoons which further the dangerous discrimination against the Muslim population in Europe - immigrant and native born alike. In fact, unintentionally revealing itself in the film, are the most prominent objections raised. That is, in the scary post-9/11 world, the labeling of all Muslims as potential terrorists - in particular one incendiary cartoon of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. And not the typical petty pronouncement - that's it's all about showing Muhammad's face. And speaking of faces, their objection to the anti-Semitic facial characteristics - after all, many Muslims are indeed Semites as well. Though once again ironically, anti-Semitic speech is prohibited in France, but only if it pertains to the Jewish branch of Semites there.

Then there's the film's chief talking head and Charlie Hebdo editor at the time, Philippe Val, mouthing off repeatedly about free speech. Yet his own unquestioned dubious rap sheet includes firing one of the magazine's most prominent figures, Maurice Sine, for publishing a cartoon that year about the marriage of Nicolas Sarkozy’s son, Jean, to a Jewish retailing heiress. Which Val deemed anti-Semitic. ( Sine won a 40,000 Euro court judgment against Charlie Hebdo for wrongful termination). And counting as well, longstanding charges of anti-Islam racism and Zionism against Val. And added to this hypocrisy, another figure hastily appearing ironically in the documentary, controversial French comedian Dieudonne. Who has now been arrested along with dozens of others at the moment in France, for exerting their free speech. But oppositional speech the authorities don't want to hear spoken, namely not unquestionably deifying Charlie Hebdo.

And meanwhile, in no way coincidental crackdowns on freedom everywhere in Europe, in reaction to the Charlie Hebdo assault. Which many believe, with suspicions mounting, that this reactionary advancing of the security state was the originally preemptive intent anyway. After all, didn't the CIA and French intelligence meddling in the Middle East train and arm the very assassins in question, in death squads to bring down governments in the Middle East, the better to invade, occupy and loot their resources? And while officially eroding civil liberties further, under the cloak of terrorism alerts?

So in effect, were the Charlie Hebdo assassinations somehow carried out by the CIA and their French counterpart collaborators? If nothing else, food for thought for a very different sort of publication.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Ned Rifle Review: Hal Hartley's More Daring And Darker Boyhood, And Felonious Fun

Less Boyhood than perhaps Boy In The Hood, Hal Hartley completes his intermittent suburban bio-trilogy counting Henry Fool, Fay Grim and now Ned Rifle. But half a dozen years longer than Richard Linklater's decidedly more conventional odyssey - and infinitely more dark and daring.

That is, for those preferring their family dramas with the accent on dysfunctionally deviant, and with an ample chaser of toxic lunacy. While touching on the world way beyond Woodside, Queens, with flaky forays into America's satirically laden take on, you name it - the war on terror, gun love, religious fundamentalism, secret prisons, the CIA, Homeland Security, Mossad, the crafty and corrupt pharmaceutical industry, and the oddly combo passionate pretentiousness of academia.

Ned Rifle begins with a now emancipated 18 year old Ned (Liam Aiken), the understandably troubled son of Fay Grim (Parker Posey) and Henry (Thomas Jay Ryan) who first appeared as a six year old in Henry Fool. Ned it seems, was sent into a witness protection program following his mother's arrest on charges of international terrorism, don't ask, when she found herself disappeared into a secret CIA prison,

Ned is intent on tracking down his diabolical dad in hiding, and killing him in revenge for destroying the family. Now bearing the government approved alias of Ned Rifle, the introspective, gloomy teen departs from his religious suburban foster family headed by a caring minister (Martin Donovan), and heads to New York City in search of clues from his uncle, Simon Grim (James Urbaniak).

The only member of the peculiar family without his own biopic, Simon has morphed from humble garbageman to celebrated poet - and now currently a hermit comic with his own channel on Youtube, obsessively in touch at the moment with his 'inner clown.' Following leads from Simon that Henry is a wanted fugitive for a lengthy menu of charges and hiding out in Seattle, Ned sets out for the West Coast. And apparently under free lance surveillance by a covertly flirty femme fatale coed and former bottom feeder film critic (Aubrey Plaza) with her own hidden agenda, who is apparently stalking all three of them.

The detours along this suburban noir road movie are endlessly convoluted. But peppered with such richly conceived verbal literary abandon, that all is forgiven. Though not so for these collectively questionable kooks, where nearly everyone here is a philosophizing felon, or potentially so. And whose greatest crime all told, much to the bold whim of a rarely disappointing Hartley, is reading too much.

The Interview: Presidential Assassination Comedy As Free Speech Manifesto, Or US Backed Corporate Terrorism Under Cinematic Cover?

It seems that this country should be concerned, not just about increasingly questionable ingredients in their food, but in Hollywood movies as well. And it's not just the biopics and historical dramas taking outrageous liberties with the facts or by omission, that appear to be on the rise. Humor can also provide a convenient cover.

And in the case of the controversial presidential assassination comedy, The Interview, the sobering question presents itself: How much was this a script by committee, or instead consultation with the US government about exploiting the film as cover, to bring a foreign government down. Which would then beg the question, when are legitimate claims of free speech and against censorship as issues forfeited as bogus with a movie claiming cultural entity status - and corporate terrorism initiated - when the studio heads huddle and strategize with the US State Department, as is the case with The Interview. With the State Department then eagerly insisting on not removing the assassination scene of the current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un from the script, because it could be useful propaganda to hopefully bring down the DPRK government.

Not to mention that this is not the first time there was evidence of the alarming progression of the Military Hollywood Complex, along with potentially quid pro quo access to US military hardware for props in movies. Sony huddled with the CIA just last year to film their other political assassination movie involving illegally invading another country, Zero Dark Thirty.

And though smaller theaters jumped at the opportunity to show The Interview, following the refusal of larger chains to do so after elusive threats of violence against them if they did - and in the wake of Sony's withdrawal and then about-face concerning the release - let's not cheer on freedom of speech just yet. And it's not just because technical experts theorize a Sony inside job by disgruntled staff, and not unsubstantiated DPRK threats being hawked by the media. That is, all theaters did get amnesia about censorship issues last year, refusing to show another assassination movie - German director Uwe Boll's Assault On Wall Street. In which Wall Street robber barons get blown away, in the heat of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

And while it seems just fine to make fun of a national ruler that you don't happen to like, while getting his head blown off and burned to death in a movie, theaters appear to think Americans need to be shielded from the scandalous notion of doing the very same thing to Wall Street capitalists. On the other hand as a colleague pointed out, Wall Street honchos are in effect the rulers of this country, and mulling harm against our own rulers even as fictional characters, unlike Jong-un, is apparently a no-no. Same theoretically goes for a comedy featuring, say, the lynching of Obama from a tree for laughs. Such a filmmaker would be lucky to avoid charges of terrorist threats and incarceration.

Back to the contradictions inherent in The Interview. James Franco as Dave and writer/director and co-star Seth Rogen as Aaron, are a tabloid television entertainment host and his producer respectively, who receive an invitation from DPRK leader Kim Jong-un to travel there to interview him for a segment - since Jong-un happens to be a fan of that, well, news actor, Dave. Meanwhile, the CIA makes them an offer they seemingly can't refuse - to assassinate Jong-un during the visit.

But Dave eventually balks more when told exactly what he's allowed to ask during the televised interview. Which actually sets in motion all the unintended humor to come. Specifically, that entertainment journalists here happen to be ordered around in this country by film publicists all the time, as to exactly what they can and cannot ask actors and directors like Franco and Rogen. And if they defy those orders, those reporters will, rest assured, be blacklisted by Hollywood in the future.

Then there's the notion of setting up journalists as CIA operatives, as if this movie came up with that fabulous idea in the first place. Apparently that's not counting all the reporters who are paid by the CIA to promote their propaganda, or carry out their orders primarily as covert spies all around the world. And the over 600 CIA attempts to murder Fidel Castro, including via exploding mollusk shells, a lethal fungus infected diving suit,  poisonous pens, exploding cigars, and bacterial poisons designed to be dissolved in his coffee or tea. And the former Cuban leader is apparently not alone - the CIA has attempted to assassinate more than fifty foreign leaders, and been successful at least half the time. How many of those operatives were posing as journalists, has yet to be tabulated.

And references in Obama's televised reactions to the controversy concerning Internet breaches surrounding Sony hacked emails and other material, should be scrutinized as well. Especially with some claims that the whole matter may actually be an orchestrated Sony publicity stunt, to help promote bills in Congress destroying net neutrality and advancing corporate economic control over the Internet. Not so far fetched, considering Sony's lost legal battle following their scandalous invention of that fictitious film critic applauding their movies, David Manning. 

There are, however, several revealing moments in The Interview, ironic as they may be. When Dave goes off script on camera and demands to know why North Koreans are starving, Jong-un brings up the subject of 'sanctions.' A subject which a clueless, perplexed Dave - and likely the US population in general - have been kept in the dark about. And which refers to the United States imposing an economic blockade against North Korea these many decades, attempting to starve the country into submission. And perhaps as a vendetta as well, for the US not winning that other war in Asia - the Korean War. Another subject which Jong-un brings up, blaming the United States. Though the fact that the US killed one tenth of the population there - 290,000 North Korean soldiers and nearly three million civilians - is conveniently omitted from the film.

Last but hardly least in this David and Goliath demonization, is Sony's closing credits disclaimer. Asserting that  "Any similarity or identification...or name, character, or history of any entirely coincidental or unintentional." Now where's that Brooklyn Bridge...

Wait, there's more - on the subject of attacks on any living thing in The Interview: "No animals were harmed." Whew, what a relief.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Foxcatcher: Chilling Capitalist Noir Connecting Multi-Millionaire Murder At Home To Crimes Against Humanity Abroad

Though the United States has the largest prison population in the world at way over two million inmates, you'd be hard pressed to find any rich people among the predominantly inmate of color incarcerated population there. And the same goes for American movies. Where worker oppression and  impoverishment is on the rise on screen as well, thanks to the economy sinking to new lows. But just who is responsible among the robber barons in this country, are pretty much nowhere to be found, let alone accused or indicted.

But one Hollywood movie daring to put a name and face on capitalist crimes against humanity, however ambiguous, is Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher. A biopic touching metaphorically on the toxic, destructive and expoitative relationship of one military industrial complex billionaire and sports enthusiast, John Dupont, played by Steve Carell, to Olympic wrestling athletes in his employ back in the 1990s, most prominently brothers Mark and Dave Schultz - Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo respectively - and leading up to his cold blooded murder of one of them.

And while Foxcatcher in that sense could be considered the most powerful horror movie this past year though it technically is not, the chilling capitalist noir has also been in theaters for over a month. Something nearly unheard of, with those quick bundles of cash, take the money and run Hollywood opening weekend, event over art extravaganzas. And likely indicating how hungry audiences are for those well concealed financial controllers in charge who really rule America, and the film's connection of multi-millionare murder at home, to military industrial complex crimes against humanity abroad.

And though the Dupont economic crimes enriched by US military munitions profiteering to the tune of fifty billion dollars and encroaching in over seventy countries around the planet are only subtextually viewed in John Dupont's tyrannical obsession with his weaponry negotiated with Pentagon visitors to his palatial grounds. Those revelations are sufficient to infuse this psychological thriller with enormous disgust and dread.

And while the actual crime that is the centerpiece of this story, the homicide that landed Dupont in prison where he died in 2010, remains both on and offscreen without a clear motive, a prosecutor involved in the actual case at the time, Dennis McAndrews, had his own theory. Which would fit in just as clearly, with the capitalist mentality in general. Even as another Hollywood movie making the rounds, The Interview, a presidential assassination comedy targeting DPRK ruler Kim Jong-un, was apparently forged in league with the US State Department as a propaganda tool to bring that government down - and heralding a brand new role for the advancing Military Hollywood Complex - international corporate terrorism. Or in other words, as McAndrews so decisively put it during the Dupont trial:

“He was very controlling. A very entitled guy. He believed he was above the law. In fact, he said, ‘I could kill a man and get away with it.’ Sound familiar?

And it's worth noting that in the face of the currently alarming, bleak future younger generations face today under capitalism as symbolically conveyed in Foxcatcher and its exploited and abused athlete gladiators, that the film ends with quite a different cover of this Dylan song, more eulogy than rage for a despairing time, courtesy of the band, A Whisper In The Noise.