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.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Love Hunter: Cabbie Comedy Tenderizes Travis Bickle With Tough Love Tale

This doc fiction musical combo hybrid, conventional immigrant urban odyssey in search of the American dream displays substantial bittersweet if odd, raw charm in the person of aspiring Big Apple Serb rock musician, Milan Mumin. And in a kind of cabbie's comical antidote to De Niro's darkly desolate Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. With a humorous array of eccentric when not exasperating ferried passengers in tow.

But the narrative is riddled with persistent anachronisms and contradictions that derail any effective dramatic coherence. Foremost, that Mumin doesn't seem to have read the news lately. Namely, that the American dream, somewhat mythological to begin with except for a fortunate few, has been essentially derailed by a far flung economic crisis in progress, here and around the world.  And  - reality check moment - does Mumin have absolutely no recollection of US President Bill Clinton's massive bombing of his country in league with NATO - the 78 day destruction whose 16 year anniversary is in fact  commemorated this week. Even as the physical scars remain. 

As for the story itself, with his visiting Serbian girlfriend (Jelena Stupljanin) framed here as the villain for nagging him to get real and give up rocker dreams already in his midlife years, she seems to have a point even if not intended. That is, with Mumin coming off more like those aging rockers looking ludicrous performing as imagined young studs on stage -  and with seemingly far less talent - Mumin ironically sabotages the sympathy he works so hard at drumming up for himself. And maybe should have taken his Serbian girlfriend's tough love advice to begin with.

Prairie Miller

Arts Express: On Stage With Reimaginings, Revivals, And Revelations

**Nevermore! The Imaginary Life And Mysterious Death Of Edgar Allan Poe: A vividly conceived musical fantasy on stage, focusing on the iconic and tragic American poet and author. Scott Shpeley, who plays Poe, phones in to Arts Express to talk about bringing that dark, lush literary voice to life, and the process of becoming Poe - physically, psychologically, emotionally and artistically. And while delving creatively into questions of loneliness and existence, laced with haunting, gothic melodies.

Listen To The Show Here

**Amiri Baraka's Dutchman: A daring and dynamic theater tribute during Black History Month to the late African American dramatist, poet and author Amiri Baraka's controversial 1964 classic. Dutchman's producer and director Woodie King phones in to Arts Express to describe mounting a very new and different staging of the award winning play. Taking the text in a direction not seen or heard before, and what it has to do with nightmares, and the NYC subway as metaphor for the underbelly of slave ships during the Middle Passage. Chris Butters reports.

**The Fantasticks: A conversation with the young star Max Crumm about the longest running musical in the world, how and why. And what is freshly imagined in this latest revival and reinterpretation, originally conceived by Tom Jones over half a century ago. Along with the process of making the character his own, and the nightly exhilaration of breaking through the fourth wall with the audience.

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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Arts Express: Chris Elliott Talks The Rewrite

Chris Elliot may just be the sympathetic sidekick to Hugh Grant's perplexed Hollywood hack turned terrible teacher at a remote Binghamton college in the satirical romp, Marc Lawrence's The Rewrite. But the actor, comedian and writer best known for Late Night with David Letterman, Get a Life, Adult Swim, Everybody Loves Raymond and How I Met Your Mother, grabs attention no matter what he's up to on the big or small screen. Elliot met to talk about taking part in The Rewrite, nutty jobs he's had just to get by, other fellow funny guys who've inspired him, and getting stoned on Groundhog Day.

What do you think of the idea in this movie, of rewriting your own life?

CHRIS ELLIOTT: Well, I'd like to think that you can. I think to a degree as a performer I'm trying to sort of recreate and restart.

And you know, change that parameter. I've always wanted to paint, and I can draw. I can do that kind of stuff.

But I couldn't start right now and be a painter. I think I could do it for the fun of it.
But I don't think I could actually go in and commit myself to a lifetime of doing that. At least not at my age.

And I think age does have a little something to do with it, too. Like, how tired you are.

Chris, you've been thought of as more of a comic personality but you also can do a lot of other things. How do you decide when you think something works for you, when it's got a comic and a serious side too?

CE: Well with me, I honestly feel like I have spent the last ten years of my career trying to get smaller and smaller. With what I do comedically.

And I think that's been noticed a little bit. And so I've been able to move from doing kind of the goofy, crazy stuff that I was known for doing in the '80s and early '90s.

And you know, into maybe doing something where I'm a little bit more believable. But I never thought I was a believable actor! I always thought I was just this goofy guy.

There are comedians that I believed on camera. I believed Robin Williams, Steve Martin and Bill Murray.

But I never believed myself. You know, when I was actually trying to act.

And so it's taken me a while to find that balance. And I think I did in this movie.

And I think it's because of working with Hugh and with Marc, who keep the reins pulled in pretty tight. That's about it for me.

I don't know, I really believed you in Groundhog Day.

CE: Oh, I was so stoned!

One of the funniest parts of The Rewrite, is Marisa showing up in different places and having all kinds of jobs just to survive during these economic hard times. So was there any time in your own career where you had to do a lot of crazy jobs just to survive?

CE: Yes! Unlike Hugh, I still do work for the money! But I've actually been so lucky, to go from one thing to another.

And my first job was working for Dave Letterman. I worked there for eight years before I had my own TV show, and then a movie.

And I seem to have always been able to have something during the year to make a living. But I have done some horrible movies for a quick buck.

But my crazy jobs weren't even that crazy. I was a tour guide at Rockefeller Center, and then a PA.

And a runner on a couple of TV shows. So I didn't really have to stretch that.

But right now like everybody, the times in this business have changed. And the numbers have gone down.

Especially for people like me in the business. But I still try to be certainly choosy.

And the idea of working with Hugh on this movie was too much to turn down. So I really did it for...below what I usually get paid!

What do you think of Hugh's idea, that art is as much about being whipped into shape to work, and not just the fun of inspiration?

CE: Well, the whipping is fun too!

Continuing syndicated features of Arts Express: Expression In The Arts are hosted by Prairie Miller, and air locally and nationally on the Pacifica Radio Network and WBAI/Affiliate Stations, including WPRR Public Reality Radio. And if you'd like to Express yourself too, you can write to:

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Serena Review: Jennifer Lawrence Does Masculinized Femme Fatale In Southern Gothic Wilderness Weepie

Jennifer Lawrence seemingly returns to that Southern Gothic hillbilly caricature terrain of Winter's Bone, though switching it up from Ozarks to Appalachia lunatic local lore with the wilderness weepie, Serena. Lawrence likewise switches sides of the track, so to speak, this time around a woman of wealth derived from the logging industry.

Though more emotionally weak than wily, Serena and her slithering over to the dark side gets attributed instead to a standard Hollywood homicidal workingclass villain, a logger with apparently supernatural demonic powers performed in her service, wouldn't you know it. And unfathomably pulled off with ludicrous gusto by Harry Potter's Xenophilius Lovegood - none other than Rhys Ifans.

Bradley Cooper turns up in the film too, as leading man George Pemberton, a logging industry magnate infatuated with Serena, and then marrying her in rapid succession. The rest of this trite tale you've already seen many times before. Though suffice it to say that there's a baby mama servant irritant hovering about, an ensuing childless marriage, inexplicable wealth on the part of Pemberton in the midst of the Great Depression, and a logging town rescued from corruption by the local sheriff -  played by Toby Jones.

Now, a bit of reality check about that sheriff. In fact, the lumber barons essentially set up feudal domains on their occupied lands, 'filling the towns with gunmen whom the authorities commissioned as deputy sheriffs, and jailing anyone who questioned their rule,' according to Joe Richards' 'The Legacy Of The IWW.' And primarily the Wobblies as the mass organizers of those workers for more humane conditions, resulting in militant mass unions numbering in the tens of thousands.

But Hollywood prefers to designate those same sheriffs here as heroic, along with feats by the Pemberton couple as saviors of the workers from dangerous working conditions. And with Jones as a weirdly anachronistic ecological activist voice from the future in the wilderness back then, to save the trees from those selfish village idiot workers who are cluelessly manipulated by the boss to think only about their wages.

Meanwhile, Lawrence is apparently ripe for some hefty demonization as well. Let's just say with her bossy demeanor and dominatrix style horse riding outfits, she's that latest female caricature turning up in Hollywood - the masculinized femme fatale. Or as Serena smugly asserts early on, 'I didn't come to Carolina to do needlepoint.'

Nor should anyone be surprised that the face behind the camera turning out these stereotypes lately, is female. In this case filmmaker Susanne Bier, along with last year's malevolent matriarch in Gone Girl, penned by Gillian Flynn. In other words, with Hollywood, as in politics, that more macho than thou attitude seems to be an eager bid for entry into the inner circle of whatever reigning exclusively good old boys club at the moment.

As for the history of those brutally exploited but eventually courageous unionizing loggers as pretty much woodland wallpaper in this shallow selfie of a movie Serena, perhaps one day some filmmaker out there will illuminate their story on screen. But what can one expect, of a basically European production about this country, helmed by a Danish director.

And filmed on a set in the Czech backwoods ironically for good reason. Where deforestation may not yet have reached their land, but their people are sought after in the film world as cheap labor for extras and crews. Unlike their intentionally avoided unionized counterparts back here in the United States, who demand a living wage for the same work.

Friday, December 19, 2014

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, December 15, 2014

Bluebird Review: Remarkable Slice Of Life Regional Economic Crisis Cinema

 With the advent of the new year right now, some sobering matters that are old remain on a rather grim and portentous horizon. And one of those still very much looming issues is the bleak economic outlook in this country, and new films appearing which may inevitably still reflect just that.

Among them is an exquisitely lensed regional dramatic feature, Bluebird. Unfolding during a harsh, punishing Maine winter in a remote logging town, Bluebird evokes in subtle and lyrical yet crushing tones like the weight of the logged trees themselves, a tragic accident visited upon school bus driver and working mother Lesley (Amy Morton).

Barely making ends meet along with her about to be laid off logger husband Rich (John Slattery), Lesley is fatefully distracted one day by a bluebird trapped after flying through her bus window. The metaphorical whimsical longing for flight juxtaposed with a suppressed undercurrent of despair imprisoning both of them, requires few words to then eventually evolve into a group portrait of a town of collectively economically thwarted lives. 

And though sharing common elements with Atom Egoyan's likewise tragic 1997 school bus drama, The Sweet Hereafter, first time Maine filmmaker Lance Edmands' Bluebird has a distinct set of issues on its mind nearly a decade later and mirroring a different century. Including the diminishing employment options of workers and especially women - consigned to juggling multiple roles in life, not to mention a spontaneous maternal instinct to protect the species; and the cruelty of fate, particularly class fate, epitomized as a microcosm in this emotionally and economically drained town.

In other words, ultimately more than just the story of an unfortunate accident - but about everything not accidental, under capitalism. And encapsulating those experiences in Bluebird's opening quote, from Henry David Thoreau's The Maine Woods: '...I stand in awe of my body. This matter to which I am bound has become so strange to me.'

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Roald Dahl's Esio Trot: A Rather Ridiculously Resplendent Reptilian Romance

Though Roald Dahl is best known as one of the most famous writers for children, including this adapted novel in question, Esio Trot has apparently been conceived by director Dearbhla Walsh as a fable for more mature audiences, however magical the tale may be. And specifically featuring octogenarian protagonists, or nearly so, in a decidedly daffy December romance.

Though thankfully and without hopefully giving too much away, the designated elder lovebirds don't by the end make a grim transition into the usual end of life disease of the week melodrama. On the other hand, there is an ensuing love triangle complicating a potential relationship between these two strangers, however playfully whimsical. And involving namely, a woman deeply obsessed with her pet tortoise. And did I happen to mention that the cryptic title of the movie is actually tortoise spelled backwards? Hold that thought.

The writings of Roald Dahl have often been adapted into movies. Including Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, James and the Giant Peach, and Fantastic Mr Fox, Though oddly enough, he's penned small screen episodes as well for Alfred Hitchcock Presents with titles like Poison, along Tales Of The Unexpected diabolical sounding gems like Vengeance Is Mine Inc.

Dustin Hoffman and Judi Dench are Mr. Hoppy and Mrs. Silver respectively in Esio Trot, neighbors dwelling in a high rise somewhere in a bustling British metropolis. And who primarily encounter one another through formal cross-communication via their his and her balconies - Mr. Hoppy above, and Mrs. Silver below. And while Mrs. Silver, an elderly widow, spends most of her time swooning over and babbling to her reptilian object of desire Alfie on the lower level outdoors, Mr. Hoppy, an American bachelor, tends to his immensely overgrown balcony garden above. Meanwhile, the hopelessly smitten Mr. Hoppy embarks on a scheme to fill his house with pet turtles, in a rather convoluted proposed path to the ditzy downstairs neighbor's heart.

And why Mr. Hoppy lives in the UK, or what he's ever done for a living in his spartan existence, remain a mystery. In a rather sketchy conception of a shy, self-effacing and withdrawn, downbeat character - though with weird voyeurism tendencies at times. Mrs. Silver in contrast, is on the flamboyant and kooky side, though equally bereft of any back story. But in the case of Esio Trot, a flaky fantasy seeming in search of an identity of its own too as to whether it wants to appeal to children or adults, none of this hardly seems to matter. Owing to the enormous charisma and charm emanating from this pair of acting legends, no matter what they're up to.