Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I'll See You In My Dreams, Paulette: Sassy Seniors Shine On Screen As Wild Women For A Change


It's taken three years for the French kooky when not kinky confection Paulette to turn up in US theaters, which is not unlike the rare appearance of older women in starring roles on screen, if at all. That is, when not stereotypically playing shrews, dingbats or witches.

And which is hopefully indicative of a rebellion of sorts, not just as defiant characters grabbing a rare spotlight front and center in movies, but older actresses receiving long overdue recognition in their own right. And the late Bernadette Lafont plays just the sort of brutally forthright French elder babe doing exactly that, in the  insightful when not inebriated satirical outing, Paulette.

A shameless, ranting racist Parisian who brutally speaks her mind at any opportunity against people of color and the mounting immigrant French population, Paulette is similarly unkind to her black son-in-law and young biracial grandson. Which one might say tends to land her as a leading proponent in the ranks of bad grandparenting.

But as it comes to light that the anger mismanagement widow is a victim herself of the EU economy in shambles - having lost her restaurant and currently consigned to a pitiful pension and picking out her dinner from the local garbage dump discards - peculiar pity sets in for this damaged but apparently not entirely unredeemable bitter woman. Which is exactly what transpires when Paulette quite by accident crosses paths with the drug dealers on duty at her ghetto housing project, and rather strangely rises in the ranks herself as a major weed supplier in the Parisian hood to make ends meet and then some, don't ask.

At which point this contact high comedy turns somewhat terminally silly, as if filmmaker Jerome Enrico decided to light up too and ran out of  any further bracing ideas along the way. But that rare and complex senior spotlight on screen of Lafont who sadly passed away in 2013 at the ago of 74, for the most part transcends that excessively daffy detour.

On a side note, the not surprisingly defiant thespian and only child, disappointed her mother who had always wanted a boy to name Bernard. So when she gave birth to a girl instead, the peeved parent blamed Catholics in general as proof that their God either was blind or didn't exist. Along with often dressing her daughter as a boy she would call Bernard instead.


**I'll See You In My Dreams: Actress Blythe Danner reflects on the highs and lows in rites of passage for her both on and off screen, of older people. And her starring role along with Rhea Perlman and Sam Elliott, in this bittersweet tale channeling the female experience of aging. And the cross-generational bonding that awkwardly kicks in.  DVD release September 1st. 


**Mexican Dream: Migrants, meatpacking plants, labor struggles and Mexican minimum wage workers in Minnesota. And a tale of two countries, as economically desperate migrant workers journey from Mexico to Minnesota to toil in the grueling meatpacking factories and slaughterhouses there, among the unwelcoming white population. And what it has to do with difficult worker solidarity, crushing unions, and a Nelson Mandela mural. All part of a new documentary, in a discussion with the filmmakers, the ironically titled Mexican Dream.

**Writers Corner: Miguel Gardel mines as memoir his conflicted past doing time as a Latino soldier in the US military, reading from his short story, Up On A Hill.

Arts Express, Thursdays 2pm ET: Airing on WBAI Radio in NY 99.5 FM, and streaming live and archived everywhere at

Friday, July 17, 2015

Lila & Eve: Badly Scripted Bold Women Bypass Black Lives Matter For Black On Black Revenge Scenario

Or rather, Dirty Harriet. A combo female revenge thriller/ballsy babe buddy movie, Lila & Eve finds Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez as the title characters respectively, grieving mothers who set out to blow away the unknown killers who gunned down Lila's teenage son in a drive-by on the inner city streets of Atlanta.

A movie with its heart but not its head in the right place - literally, Lila & Eve gets it right when telegraphing raw emotion and the stinging heartbreak of losing a child. Especially in terms of a society not only teeming with senseless violence, but obsessed with it, both in terms of media hype and a culture hooked on that predominant brand of destructive problem solving solutions.

The Davis/Lopez hookup is psychologically potent and feisty. And not without standout satirical touches, as when Lopez embraces kickass female empowerment as a handy tool that could have helped Tina Turner straighten out Ike. Or Davis dissing a suspicious cop on her tail, when leaving a slim tip for the waitress after interrogating her at the local diner, on the basis that 'you have no idea what women go through.'

But where the film derails has lots to do with a sorely needed reality check and exceedingly poor timing, about the true meaning of justice - from a mass organizing rather than meaningless individual anger mismanagement, retaliatory body count perspective. In other words, bold women badly scripted by male filmmakers, who sadly bypass the Black Lives Matter movement in potent progress right now, with police race slayings on a daily basis.

And instead favoring a cop-out, so to speak, black on black violence, civilian vigilante in collusion with cheering, congratulatory cops scenario. Not to mention that the movie inappropriately opens on the tragic anniversary this July 17th, when the NYPD choked Eric Garner to death a year ago.

Prairie Miller   

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Arts Express: Neo-Nazis In The Hood, Homeless Foreclosure Broken Dreams


**Welcome To Leith: The too hot to handle doc details perhaps US exceptionalism domestically come home to roost, as North Dakota neo-nazis scheme somewhat legally to invade and occupy this town and drive out the locals. While ironically the controversial film has had a tougher struggle finding its own home in theaters. A commentary.

**Poetry Corner: Young Haitian-American movement poet Richard Renelique reads from his work touching on identity, social transformation and 'too many bullets on the television screen.'
And, Deep South labor organizer and seasoned people's poet Stewart Acuff delves into so-called right-to-work resistance, homeless foreclosure broken dreams, and 'families on the peanut butter and baloney plan.'


**Meet Me In Montenegro: Berlin based filmakers Alex Holdridge and Linnea Sassen phone in to discuss strategy for making movies outside the Hollywood system. Along with reporting on what's going down right now in Europe, in the midst of socio-economic struggles, right wing resurgence, and a triumphant rent mass mobilization in Berlin as potential blueprint for housing action here.

**Actress Anne Archer Talks The Squeeze: Along with revisiting her role in Fatal Attraction and perceptions of women on screen, sports capitalism, and what Lamont Cranston and The Shadow may or may not have to do with any of this. 

Arts Express, Thursdays 2pm ET: Airing on WBAI Radio in NY 99.5 FM, and streaming live and archived everywhere at

Friday, July 10, 2015

Arts Express: Learning To Drive Steers Into Uncharted Cross-Cultural Territory

If cross-cultural or racial deep friendships hardly exist in real life, they're nearly nonexistent in movies. Of course there have always been those patronizing portraits on screen  of nurturing and devoted black servants in the background tending to the needs of white lives, and more recently similar immigrant nannies. And, in that classic case of people of color cinematically consigned to the shadows of the white man's world, is of course The Lone Ranger's devoted cipher, Tonto.

Though more recently, some similarly secondary characters in films about white protagonists have been afforded a bit more elbow room to venture forth a little front and center. And with a fresh and more genuine and utterly surprising reflection of the multi-cultural world we actually inhabit, warts and all. For instance, in the case of Jacob Tierney's screen satire Preggoland, Danny Trejo is Pedro, an immigrant who mops floors in a supermarket. But he confronts a young female cashier there (Sonja Bennett) faking a pregnancy, to tell her that she is perpetrating a hoax. Because well, he happened to have been a doctor in his own country, and knows about these things.

Then there's Spanish director Isabel Coixet's Learning To Drive, a bittersweet urban road movie in which Ben Kingsley plays Darwan, a gracious, supremely sensitive Sikh immigrant driving lesson instructor by day and cabbie by night. And barely making ends meet supporting himself and his undocumented nephew dodging immigration authorities. But a man who back in India, from which he fled for political asylum here, was once a university professor. And he finds himself developing a strange yet tenderly awakened bond with one of his passengers, Wendy (Patricia Clarkson), after she's rudely dumped by her spouse of two decades for a younger woman, during a confrontational cab ride home one night.

In no way shades of Driving Miss Daisy, The Odd Couple, and especially not Taxi Driver, this cross-cultural combo potentially budding romance and buddy movie conveys a delicately layered and eloquently crafted emotional bond built between two conflicted people who couldn't be more different. And while transcending those cultural and gender barriers in unanticipated ways, even as Darwan suffers post-9/11 persecution and racial profiling here. And Wendy endures abandonment and loneliness as a prominent literary critic typically deemed too preoccupied intellectually with her work to defer as a mere female to a man.

Though without giving too much away, one element in the story is questionable. Namely, a perceived implicit approval of arranged marriages. And in that regard, settling for what convention dictates rather than like the rest of this intriguing film, venturing outside of that box.

Prairie Miller

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Arts Express: Factory Worker Noir, Struggle As Music In The Line Of Fire, A Tales Of Two Mothers

**Patch Town: Factory noir rears its head on screen, when it comes to corporate greed. Along with consumerism and the destructive pursuit of objects of materialistic desire. As the cabbage plant working stiffs in a bizarre turn of events in the course of this different sort of scary movie, have become the assembly line products themselves. And channeling The Shining, Time Bandits, Fritz Lang and Razorhead. Canadian filmmaker Craig Goodwill phones in.

**F Minor Signature Series: The Fighter. Vancouver composer, radio host and writer Paolo Pietropaolo is on the line to Arts Express, in this followup musical presentation. Combining a unique and fascinating storytelling and sound collage. In this selection from his F Minor series, he mines human emotion in connection with imagined musical states of mind. And in the case of The Fighter, his interpretation of rage as the driving force of struggle, 'in the line of fire, a bright flame in the darkness.'


**Unexpected: A Tale Of Two Mothers. Writer/director Kris Swanberg, in a conversation about her own biopic. Drawing from her experience as an inner city Chicago high school teacher, and the simultaneous, sudden rocky road transition into expectant motherhood of both herself and her promising young African American student. And with a narrative collision course expressing conflicts surrounding race, class and socio-economic US divides, while avoiding with determination the usual white savior in the ghetto cliches on screen. 

Arts Express: Airing on the WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network and Affiliate Stations.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Dark Places: Conspiracy Theories Fueling Drama Or Betraying Gender?

Unconditional love may be a good thing when it comes to parental devotion for children and pets for humans. But with any other category, say gender, an unquestioning perspective may ferry you into, let's say, dark places. Which is exactly where author Gillian Flynn's screen adapted novel of the same name, along with her prior nutty nailbiter Gone Girl, takes you. Though far less ludicrous in that regard, is the dark place beneath the lid of pouting protagonist Charlize Theron's perpetually worn baseball cap, as moody metaphorical fashion statement about something or other.

Charlize stars as Libby Day in Dark Places, a childhood victim experiencing the slaughter of her farming family, in what came to be tagged notoriously as the Kansas Prairie Massacre. The traumatized girl then testified against her brother Ben, currently serving a life sentence in prison. And Libby has since morphed into a full time sullen slacker, living off victim donations and the proceeds of a memoir she never actually wrote, or even read.

Running low on funds eventually, Libby reluctantly agrees to join a persistent eccentric club dedicated to solving or re-investigating notorious crimes. And they believe her brother is innocent, with possibly suspicious evidence mounted against him decades ago. Hard up for cash, Libby embarks on a quest she doesn't believe in, but eventually begins to feel some of these mounting doubts have merit. Including in ways too ridiculous to bother discussing here, a farm foreclosure crisis precipitating a deranged plan involving annihilation concocted by her essentially clinically depressed mother (Christina Hendricks  ) just prior to the massacre. And Chloe Grace Moretz doing unspeakable things as a pregnant psychopathic, devil worshipping bratty rich kid, don't ask.  

Dark Places along with Gone Girl, mystifies mostly in terms of Flynn somewhat obsessively crafting such distasteful female characters. And then handing over for co-conspiratorial execution, so to speak, these stories peppered with unpleasant when not deplorable women precipitating the misfortunes of the men around them, to male filmmakers. Gilles Paquet-Brenner as director of Dark Places, and David Finch in the case of Gone Girl. And what may signify simply a misogynistic self-hating female at the narrative helm, lurking somewhere in the background recesses -  simultaneous dark places as determinants of this dubiously driven story.

Prairie Miller

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Welcome To Leith: US Exceptionalism Come Home To Roost?

If you've ever been subjected to the frustrating experience of dealing with unpleasant next door neighbors or businesses on your block trampling all over quality of life notions, you're already aware of how insurmountable such a challenge tends to be. Then imagine an entire town faced with far worse.

A rural North Dakota hamlet of merely three miles and a handful of families, Leith awoke one day to find itself the territorial victim of a horrifying invasion. And one rivaling any scary Hollywood horror movie, which is the subject of the ironically titled, gripping documentary,  Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker’s Welcome To Leith.

In fact, Leith  had somehow become the master plan of notorious neo-Nazi leader Craig Cobb to take over the town  - which would be a first for an established Nazi territory in this country - with the  assortment of racist, white supremacist followers who would soon join him. And not with any of the usual anticipated violent terrorist takeover tactics in mind, but rather a shrewd scheme to utilize existing legal statutes on the books to acquire property and residency, and then simply vote themselves into power in local elections.

Though not without a few borderline legal maneuvers of local intimidation, to hopefully drive the lifelong residents out of the area. And perhaps enough provocation in the event that the enraged villagers would refuse to depart, to hopefully decimate their numbers by inciting them to illegal acts against their new neighbors that might lead to their incarceration. There's also more than a little help afforded to these vicious right wing intruders, by the fact that surrounding land being torn up by the destructive fracking corporations, would provide lucrative employment opportunities for these unwanted new neighbors.

The apparently too hot to handle by movie theaters Welcome To Leith manages a complex journey filmed impartially with a probing of both sides of the socio-political divide, through the legal and emotional struggles at hand. And grasping the never-a-dull-moment tense situation with a skillful blend of enlightenment and entertainment, however troubling.

Not to mention intimating a prophetic alarm as to what might lie ahead for this nation anywhere at any moment, as the deteriorating economic crisis and accompanying resentments ensue. Though one vital issue not addressed in the documentary, is how a country absent of any officially inscribed moral standards pertaining to cruelty, along with US exceptionalism legally come home to roost under the dubious blanket of civil liberties, kicks in.

Welcome To Leith has been acquired by First Run Features, and will be broadcast on PBS Independent Lens in the Spring 2016.

Prairie Miller

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Chloe And Theo: Dakota Johnson's Fifty Shades of Green?

A kind of big screen flaky fairy tale about environmental activism and global warming, Chloe And Theo is an unfortunate example of how good intentions can end up formulated in the worst ways. Not to mention underestimating the intelligence of the assumed idiotized movie audience to such a degree, that this film on sugar coating overload can be viewed as more about polluting minds than mother earth.

Presumably based on a true story about Theo Ikummaq, an Indigenous Canadian Arctic Inuit who sought the help of world leaders as his people have been observing with alarm the melting away of their frozen, once eternal 'cathedrals of ice' all around them, Theo apparently ended up in this Hollywood style yarn instead. And a narrative which never more than vaguely addresses the ecological issues presenting themselves, but veers into an offensive crime caper parody connected to poverty and racism. Black Lives Hardly Matter Alert.

Dakota Johnson, fresh from her critically denounced stint as the love interest of demented Wall Street honcho Christian Grey in Fifty Shades Of Grey, has moved on to masquerading here as scowling, duplicitous homeless hustler Chloe on the streets of Manhattan. How she ended up there and whether it may have anything to do with Grey dumping her for good in the perpetual Shades sequels to come, is anyone's guess in the absence of a credible back story.

In any case, Chloe soon crosses paths with Theo, who has journeyed to 'the people of the South' in order to hopefully seek help from their elders on behalf of his people concerning an 'angry sun' as 'my world is melting, please save our world from the sun.' But what eventually ensues is no less than two acts of threatened violence involving African American males confronting him, and all sorts of potential fraud at the hands of poor people, that indeed appears to upstage as a more often than not silly distraction, any environmental concern as the most imminent danger.

Which is not to say that the film is without its scattered moments of wit and solemn reflection. For instance elders in the 'South' unlike the wise and revered ones of his own culture, are discovered by Theo to his dismay as discarded and seemingly imprisoned inhabitants of bleak nursing homes. Or, the subtle but meaningful interludes of reflection, when Theo's quest is defined as 'purpose' in contrast to US society's emphasis on 'fun' as the ultimate human fulfillment.

Though an unfortunately telling episode, is when Chloe berates an upper class human rights lawyer, played by Mira Sorvino, who offers to help Theo have his message heard. As Chloe scolds her for being too rich to understand or relate to poverty and street people like her. An irony presenting itself which is so blatant and unreal, as these wealthy actors themselves impersonate the poor with such artificial posturing primarily telegraphing utter mockery.

So will we ever see the day when the actual workingclass is hired in movies to authentically play themselves? Just as whites historically mimicking people of color on screen was shunned long ago.

So the question remains, what does it actually mean to say a movie is going green, or is it just more of fifty shades of green gone Hollywood. Which in that case, is likely to refer more to the motivation of green growing in box offices, than in nature.

Prairie Miller

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Second Mother: A Younger Rebel Latina Generation Leads The Way

While class conflict is nothing new in movies, though more often than not the perpetual elephant in the room, rarely have stories explored class differences that can play out as well beyond the human family itself, in actual families. Which infuses the Brazilian social satire The Second Mother with fresh and flaky charm, when not an alternately brutal candor and a fiercely crafted narrative glow.

Written and directed by Anna Muylaert (The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, the bittersweet reverie of radicals-on-the-run from Brazil's former military dictatorship), The Second Mother presents the all too familiar predicament of workingclass women under capitalism. Who are forced by economic circumstances and the cruel absence of any social support system or safety net, to substantially abandon a nurturing and attentive role to their own children, in order for the family to economically survive by selling their labor on the indifferent marketplace. And in many cases, by assuming the role of surrogate mother to the children of an affluent family, as housekeeper.

In the case of The Second Mother, Val (Regina Case) is a middle aged provincial woman who left her daughter Jessica (Camila Mardila) in the care her estranged husband's new family far away a decade ago, in order find work as a live-in maid in Sao Paulo and send money back home to support her child. Jessica is now a high school graduate, and though long harboring bitter resentment towards her absentee mother, she sends word to Val that she will be arriving shortly to take college entrance exams in the city, and needs to live with her temporarily while doing so.

And though elated to see her daughter after so many years have passed, Val reluctantly agrees to this perceived imposition on her approving but imperiously condescending employer, Barbara (Karine Teles). Who though friendly to Val, can barely conceal her class disdain toward her hired help.

And when Jessica arrives and discovers to her disgust that despite her mother's sacrifices to support her and years of full time devotion to the demands of this other family, that Val has been rewarded for her services by being relegated to sleeping in a tiny airless basement room that she must now share with Jessica, let's just say the fun begins. Including Jessica defying all existing implicit class norms of absolute obedience, deference and deep seated divisions. As Jessica informs everyone that she prefers to eat at the family's table and sample their food instead, and stay in the unoccupied and far more elegant guest room rather than sleeping on the floor of her mother's horrendous cubicle.

And while her daughter's behavior and equal opportunity defiance initially render Val torn between her steadfast loyalty and alliance with this artificial family whose utterly socio-economic conditional affection is increasingly exposed, and yearning to mend a long broken relationship with Jessica, class consciousness does eventually crack those emotional barriers. Allowing a glowing light of liberation in metaphorical terms, to shine through.

And with Jessica representing an emerging, inspiring bold rebel youth rejecting the reactionary traditions thwarting the generations preceding them. And perhaps a new day for Brazil and a long oppressed and recently reinvigorated Latin America as well.

Prairie Miller