Saturday, October 15, 2016

Arts Express: Vincent D'Onofrio Talks 'In Dubious Battle'

** I think yeah, it means something to contribute to a story about human rights, it just always does - and there's just never a reason not to do it."

In Dubious Battle: A conversation with actor Vincent D'Onofrio. The star of this John Steinbeck novel to screen adaptation about farm worker uprising in Great Depression California, is on the line to Arts Express to talk about his passion to take on the character of a rebel labor leader in this James Franco directed dramatic feature. And "the thrill of guerrilla shooting of the film, down and dirty, and no frills." While being part of a film, not unlike his roles in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, Spike Lee's Malcolm X, and starring as Abbie Hoffman in Steal This Movie, that speaks as well to the troubled times of this historical moment today.


** "I'm a journalist, that's what I do, speaking to people whose opinions are totally different to mine - kind of having them shout at me, that's what I live for."

My Scientology Movie: Filmmaker Louis Theroux phones in. The BBC satirical journalist ventures into the murky depths of the intimidating religious corporate empire. Casting himself as the protagonist on a co-journey with a former leader turned whistleblower defector, Marty Rathbun. While uncovering why the Feds gave a pass to the church despite their many civil rights violations charges, and what it might have to do with 'consensual self-abasement'; and what's up with the possible connection of Scientology to ISIS and even McDonald's - as a corporate franchise serving up spiritual burgers instead.

 ** "Thank you to the Academy for endorsing the truth of what the film says, which hundreds of thousands of people in this country know - that the most vulnerable and poorest people are treated by the government with a callous brutality that is disgraceful."

Best Film of The Year Not Coming To the Oscars Anytime Soon: Esteemed UK veteran director Ken Loach has just been honored for Best British Film at the BAFTA Awards in Great Britain, in addition to multiple international accolades and the Palme D'Or top prize at Cannes. But the kind of movie about social and economic oppression routinely snubbed by the Oscars for conventional fare instead. Loach in his award speech denounces just who is responsible for the brutality of the system seen in his film - and we'll hear exactly whom he blames and why.

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


Though weirder aspirations definitely exist on the planet, pursuing the vocation of standup comic certainly competes for that category of strange if not somewhat perverse professions. At least according to the supremely candid, combo dark, down and dirty documentary Dying Laughing. Directed by Paul Toogood and Lloyd Stanton, Dying Laughing somehow manages to assemble a nearly complete stellar treasure trove Who's Who of living standups in the hear and now, as they bare their souls, when not funny bones, raw and real on camera.

Functioning as a kind of metaphorical Freudian couch with intimations of Rupert Pupkin reveries, the film proceeds at a lively pace, soliciting surprisingly damaged soul introspective revelations from Kevin Hart, Jamie Foxx, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Sarah Silverman, Cedric The Entertainer, Eddie Izzard, Billy Connolly, Steve Coogan, Mike Epps, Jerry Lewis, DL Hughley, Amy Schumer, and countless others. What led them down this path, what keeps them focused on making people laugh no matter what, and who are they, really? Not that there aren't plenty of punch line detours throughout, serving as a seemingly kind of psychological pressure cooker release periodically.

Meanwhile, brash self-parody intermingles constantly in conflicted fashion, with poignant interludes. And how these comics have steeled themselves for dealing with ridicule, shaming, sexism and racism on stage - and perhaps worst of all for many of them - audience silence, boredom and indifference. And in a kind of collective craving of approval nearly as essential to their lives as the air they breathe. While other revisited moments, like the more often than not bleak life on the road -  conjuring excruciating loneliness, alienation, dinner from vending machines and motels eliciting scary thoughts of being surrounded by imagined blood stains scrubbed from crimes scenes- are filled with uncommonly peculiar poetry in this movie.

Prairie Miller

Saturday, October 8, 2016

NYFF: NLF Revolutionary Leader Saadi Yacef Talks The Battle of Algiers

"...On the day that you invade Iraq, that's the day you lose the war."
**Saadi Yacef Talks The Battle Of Algiers. On the occasion of the restoration of the Gillo Pontecorvo cinematic classic on its 50th anniversary, the National Liberation Front revolutionary leader revisits writing the very personal narrative of the film while a political prisoner sentenced to death. And recreating his own struggle for the drama as he faced the challenge of slipping into the skin of an actor to portray his life. Also, what Yacef told the CIA and the Pentagon when they approached him to view the film, in order to pick up pointers for the US invasion of Iraq. And, what all of this may have to do with Napoleon, Paul Newman, and the lessons of Vietnam.
At the NY Film Festival


**Doctor Thorne: A conversation with Julian Fellowes, the creator and writer of the Anthony Trollope adapted novel for the small screen. Delving into the Victorian convergence of class and privilege, political rivalries, moral conscience - if any - and money. The eminent British screenwriter, novelist, film director, actor and creator of Downtown Abbey who once assumed the identity of a female as a  writer and has played Churchill twice, also mulls a comparison of Brexit to the strange US presidential election period in progress.

"...I certainly know as an actor, you can lose track of who you are because you spend so much time behaving like somebody else." And playing a CIA agent, "how long before you lose your authentic self, and what would be the first thing to go - I assume that would be your moral compass."

**Berlin Station: A look at the dramatic television series scrutinizing the CIA and whistleblowers like Snowden, in an exchange with the stars, Richard Armitage and Michelle Forbes. While comparing actors and undercover agents, when it comes to masks, deceptions and multiple identities - whether dramatic or political.


"We Cried On Our Knees. What Shall We Do. The People Could Not Hide Us. And We Ran To The Sea."

Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire at Sea begins by presenting the grim statistics that 400,000 migrants have continually arrived on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, while 15,000 have died during the dangerous journey, setting the documentary within a context thematically. Or does it?

Rossi's cinematic strategy configures two parallel universe human worlds, much like the incongruous combination of fire and water of the title - that of the migrants in distress, alongside a serene local population nearly indifferent to their plight. But if human indifference is the implication and interpretation here, the director whether intentionally or not, would seem to have succumbed somewhat to that state of mind himself.

As horrifying as the intermittent scenes of hysteria, trauma, suffering and apparent if not imminent death are for these tragic migrants, Rosi has situated them as increasingly offensive backdrop to the ordinary, eccentric or humorous lives of the oblivious locals. And continuing a rather odious tradition in Western cinema, of poverty porn and the exotic rendering of the Other.

And with no background material as to what led to this horrific predicament brought upon these unfortunate Third World victims - ironically fleeing war or exploitation visited upon them by these very Europeans from whom they seek sanctuary in the first place, their plight is rendered as essentially enigmatic. And seemingly as inevitable as the weather, rather than an indictment of those countries to blame. 

More information about the screenings of Fire At Sea and The Battle Of Algiers at the NY Film Festival, is online at

Prairie Miller

Friday, October 7, 2016

Arts Express: Zora Neale Hurston - A Theatrical Biography

**Shadow World: A Conversation With The Filmmakers. What do Reagan, Thatcher, Tony Blair and Obama have in common? According to Shadow World, plenty. And having to do with covert roles as brokers for the arms trade in perpetrating endless war. A look at the investigative documentary and a discussion with the filmmakers Johan Grimonprez and Andrew Feinstein. Touching on connections to the Panama Papers, the 35,000 lobbyists in DC; the Pentagon as metaphorical self-licking ice cream cone; and the Gucci Shoe Guys complicit with the US corporate coup d'etat in slow motion.

**Theater Corner. Zora Neale Hurston: A Theatrical Biography
. Delving into the both triumphant and tragic life and work of the late famed novelist and folklorist. And a tribute to the African American writer revered as 'Queen Of The Harlem Renaissance.' Though in her final years a housemaid in rural Florida, and subsequently buried in an unmarked grave. A roundtable gathering with playwright Laurence Holder, actress Elizabeth Van Dyke who plays Hurston, and Joseph Edwards as multiple characters - among them Langston Hughes and Richard Wright. A production of the New Federal Theatre. Chris Butters reports.


**Radio Drama Corner: All Robots Go To Heaven. Arts Express contributor Bradley Firebird with his latest on air presentation. A cautionary futuristic tale when escalating regimentation may render humans problematic, if not obsolete. The African American writer, producer and director fuses sci fi, horror, satire, drama, and a commitment to social justice - while serving up Twilight Zone storytelling. And, characterizing himself as a black Rod Serling.

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


In a cinematic journey into a both personal and literary landscape of the vibrant creative downtown New York City scene of the 1970s and 1980s, director Aaron Brookner embarks on a quest to decipher the artistic flowering of the time. And of his uncle, filmmaker Howard Brookner who was at the center of this vortex of a collective imagination, until his untimely death when stricken with AIDS like so many others back then, just a few days before his 35th birthday.

And while Aaron was working on the restoration of Howard's 1983 documentary, Burroughs: The Movie, he happened to discover an immense trove of unassembled archives shelved away for thirty years. Expressing however haphazardly, a chronicle of the time connected to an alternative community of writers, filmmakers, performers and artists.

And though the found material is more than worthy of its own documentary, the film Uncle Howard does not unfortunately, evolve as up to the task at hand. And more akin to an unfocused, visually and analytically scattered, between takes kind of home movie. 

And though the core of Aaron's passion and inspiration feels genuine, his own assertion that 'Howard's was an unfinished story long after he left this earthly world' unfortunately comes off in the film as all too true - a production that required more narrative momentum, structure and emotional depth and context to effectively resonate and honor its subject matter. And ultimately fulfill the intended imagery on screen of 'a sort of lost soul walking through his work, how your work lives on through your work or not. And how you see without words.

More information about the screening of Uncle Howard and the NY Film Festival is online at

Prairie Miller

Arts Express: Rapists In The White House

**Accused Rapists In The White House - No Matter Who Wins The Election. Whether Donald Trump, or co-president and aspiring First Lewd-y, Bill Clinton. CNN reporter and The Uncondemned filmmaker Michele Mitchell on the hot seat.

** "I'm a journalist first and a human being second"
The Lennon Report: A conversation with Jeremy Profe, the director of this dramatic feature revisiting the night John Lennon died. Along with an indictment of an out of control commercial media and celebrity culture.

** "Don't worry about me" Tom Hayden, The Last Interview.


**Bro On The World Film Beat: Arts Express Paris correspondent Professor Dennis Broe phones in. Delving into the politics of horror in movies, leading up to Halloween. And referencing the stifling of all collective feeling; the history of military and religious fanaticism in the western; the contemporary US urban nightmare; villainizing the masses; and a sadism reflecting Middle East colonial wars.

** "Please don't call rape a sex crime"
CNN reporter Michele Mitchell is on the line to Arts Express to talk about her documentary, The Uncondemned
. Detailing internationally unprecedented war crimes trials in Rwanda, indicting rape as a weapon of war. While fielding questions during the interview, about why this country has always evaded or ignored their own war crimes charges. Along with accusations against CNN and the corporate media, of biased news. And Accused Rapists In The White House - no matter who wins the election. Whether Donald Trump, or co-president and aspiring First Lewd-y, Bill Clinton.


Delving into the life, work, politics and literary imagination of African American writer and activist James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro mixes recollections, period footage of both the writer and historical events primarily surrounding the turbulent years of the US Civil Rights Movement - and readings from Baldwin's work delivered by Samuel Jackson. Who seemingly in a bid not to overshadow the iconic scribe with his own dramatic charisma, has disappeared so entirely into Baldwin's persona as to create a mystifying lost and found entity of himself within this production.

That said, Jackson is perhaps one of the most intriguing elements within the crafting of this screen memoir. A somewhat disorganized collage constructed by Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck which, rather than building political and dramatic momentum and comprehension, shifts indecisively at repeated moments just when a propulsive point is about to be made. And an implication concerning the cinematic outsider's point of view about US culture that can often be an asset objectively speaking, but with the potential of, on the other hand, lending itself to unfamiliarity and uncertainty as well. 

I Am Not Your Negro is based on Remember This House, an unfinished manuscript at the time of Baldwin's passing in 1987, that had been compiled as a memoir of his recollections of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. And for this both personal and political record of the Civil Rights era, Peck has impressively amassed assorted historical and literary material

What is ultimately lacking, is a coherent fusion of what has been gathered, along with serious omissions. Including a nowhere in sight ideological embrace by Baldwin of a social struggle going beyond race to advocate a massive societal shakeup and revolution - as exemplified in the parallel ideological class conscious evolution of Martin and Malcolm on whose lives this film is based - and actual significant factors leading to their assassinations, in effect turning against the entire system itself. Why Peck chose to ignore this essential evidence is disappointing, but here it is in Baldwin's own words at a District 65 union meeting:

"...It is not simply a question of equality. It is impossible for any Negro in this country to be fitted into the social structure as it is. The structure must be changed...The point is that neither party can move on this question. Both are useless in this revolution."

Leading to Peck's objectionable conclusion that Baldwin would have felt his life work and struggle against racism complete were he still alive, with the ultimate election of a black president, Barak Obama. Indeed. A leader who has done nothing to improve the lives of African Americans, while presiding over a society and economy further impoverishing people of color and continuing to incarcerate them in the millions, while having nothing to say as they are murdered in the streets by the enforcers of an evolving police state.

Along with a dubious, enormously positive critical response to the documentary so far, which begs the question of Baldwin's intent to disturb and provoke, not placate the mindset of white privilege and guilt-free self-satisfaction when it comes to racism.  And with the apparently ironic effect of the film twisting the notion of The Other, not as oppressed people of color in this alternate pandering context, but instead as not me, but 'those whites over there.'

So the question of I Am Not Your Negro, might have been posed by Baldwin, directly to Peck instead.

Prairie Miller
Host and Executive Producer, Arts Express
WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network and Affiliate Stations

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Arts Express: James Baldwin, The Other John Brown, Iceland Uprising, Class And Cyberspace

    The Other John Brown: Aaron Briggs And The HMS Gaspee

 **I Am Not Your Negro: Director Raoul Peck completes the late African American writer James Baldwin's unfinished manuscript in this speculative documentary. A memoir in tribute to Baldwin's three assassinated Civil Rights era comrades, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. While Samuel Jackson remarkably disappears into the persona of Baldwin on screen. At the NY Film Festival and opening in theaters later this year. A commentary.

**Filmmaker Andrew Stewart Talks Aaron Briggs And The HMS Gaspee.
Delving into the buried history of Northern slavery. And a very different John Brown linked to a shameful and brutal Rhode Island past of chains, ships, sugar cane and molasses used as slave trade currency, and the roots of globalization funded by slavery back then.


**"You're Not The Master Of The Universe." Australian actor James Frecheville phones in from LA to discuss the cyberthriller, I.T. And going toe to toe as a young hacker have-not, with the filthy rich financier played by Pierce Brosnan. While Frecheville and I disagree.

**Autumn Lights: Actor Guy Kent in a conversation about his dramatic feature filmed in Iceland, in search of an emotional landscape amidst the remote isolation, dark themes, and endless surreal light of the midnight sun. Along with what Kent encountered about mass uprising against the Icelandic bankers, and the victorious emergence of the rebel Pirate Party shaking up the government there.

More information about the NY Film Festival is online at

 LOVING: "All this talk of civil rights. You need to get you some civil rights."

Hollywood stories on screen about courageous struggles against social injustice are rare. But dramas delving into workingclass life from their own perspective, particularly when true, are even fewer and far between.

Which is exactly what renders the dramatic biopic Loving a unique moment in movies - indeed in film culture itself. The true story of the Virginia interracial, salt of the earth couple The Lovings, who challenged the Virginia criminal statutes against their marriage back in the mid-20th century as the Civil Rights Movement uprisings loomed and exploded, is uncommonly compassionate, raw and real on screen.

Playing out in rural Virginia back then, Jeff Nichols' Loving with its determined and resonant double meaning as a title, revisits the tragic but ultimately triumphant events that befell Richard and pregnant Mildred Loving when their forbidden marriage in the Jim Crow South but performed in DC, is discovered by local authorities. Following their arrests, the couple, played by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Neggia, flee to inner city DC.

But Mildred, homesick for the only rural life she ever knew, insists they and their three children  return and live there in secrecy. But not before Mildred, inspired by images of the Civil Rights Movement protests on television, contacts Robert Kennedy Jr. for legal assistance. And his referral to the ACLU eventually leads to the historic US Supreme Court case overturning all existing laws against interracial marriage across this country.

But this enormously inspiring story is also noted for it's genuinely conceived, salt of the earth portrait of blue collar culture - and bricklayer Richard Loving's politically unconscious sense of the world -  yet vividly etched in terms of an adamant and unrelenting notion of right and wrong. There is as well within this narrative much that is conveyed, however tacitly, about race relations and racial identity, even under the oppressive weight of Jim Crow segregation.

And in particular for Richard, a white man reared along with other whites there, in a predominantly black rural community existing rather remotely from the institutionalized brutal racism going down in Virginia. Rendering in a larger, tremendously optimistic context, how spontaneous racial harmony and relations can actually be, when untainted by politically motivated repression unnaturally imposed on people through manufactured difference and fear.

And that these two characters, Richard and Mildred are played with such exquisitely conveyed humanity by an Australian and Ethiopian actor respectively, lends additional resonance and enlightenment to a planet in great need of such hope in these troubled times.

Arts Express: Airing on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network And Affiliate Stations

Sunday, October 2, 2016

NY Film Festival 2016: 'Paterson' As Poetic And Socio-Economic Portait Of Our Time

Paterson, The Movie And The Melancholy Muse: The Artist As Whimsical Working Stiff In These Economic Hard Times

 The workingclass rarely or more likely never writes about themselves, much less makes movies about their lives. So it's virtually up to middle class filmmakers to do so by default, which is rarely a good thing - not to mention ever a genuine or even respectful representation.

So what we're usually subjected to - and with the workingclass ironically the largest demographic viewing movies either in theaters or at home - is stereotypical portraits on screen projecting primarily ridicule in comedies or moral condemnation in violent thrillers. Which is unfortunately the case in one subplot within this film, of a both frightening and ludicrously portrayed jilted African-American stalker.

But Jim Jarmusch in his latest, mostly humane pensive portrait laced with delicate, dignified humor, Paterson, has clearly done his homework. And burrowed into both the minimalist, muted inner world and social perspective of a humble Paterson, New Jersey city bus driver (Adam Driver) who also happens to be named Paterson. Which is very much a part of the signature Jarmusch, tapestry balanced subtlely between quirky and daffy. And in the case of the character Paterson, a man who has metaphorically and anonymously faded nearly unnoticed with the baggage of his melancholy muse, into his surroundings that likewise bear his name.

Paterson inhabits this typical economically depressed town in the symbolically laden shadow of that bustling NYC metropolis. And writing down poems (actually written by septuagenarian Oklahoma poet Ron Padgett), old school style in his rumpled notebook, from observations and passenger conversations gleaned all around him on his daily bus rounds. While likewise refusing the entrenched gadgetized culture of cell phones or computers, and inspired instead by the kind of poetic purity of the town's famed local bard, William Carlos Williams. And in similar fashion as his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) - lacking as well as a similarly thwarted housewife, an artistic voice in a commercially driven culture. And resorting instead to wildly creative homegrown drapes, furniture covers and wallpaper, along with imagination laden cupcakes she designs to sell at local farmers markets.

And that Jarmusch has caught the unfamiliar essence of Paterson's suppressed existence with such quiet but determined authority, may have much to do with the times we are living in right now. That is, as the country's economic crisis deepens and weighs particularly hard on this demographic of millennials - the first generation since WWII that will not do as well as their parents, if well at all as the middle class disappears. And perhaps the elixir of poetry and the fueled artistic imagination as balm for the stifled but awakened soul.

Prairie Miller

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