Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Arts Express: Cocoa Brown Talks Dying Laughing

            Cocoa Brown in Tyler Perry's The Single Moms Club

** "Most comics are tortured souls - And to be able to go on stage and make people laugh, you're healing yourself in the process." 

Dying Laughing: A conversation with standup comic and actress Cocoa Brown - among the multitudes of comedians baring those tortured souls in this documentary. Delving into the alternately fascinating and conflicted psyches of standup comics. Including Jamie Foxx, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Silverman, Jerry Lewis, and countless others. Brown phones in to Arts Express from LA to talk about the dark places she and other comics are coming from; surviving sexism on stage; the many characters she's played on the big and small screen; rejection, mirrors, Richard Pryor, and the philosophy of funny; and the Tyler Perry experience on For Better Or Worse, in navigating black identity humor.


** "It's the Native people that get it, and we need to look to them as teachers."
Water Is Life [Mni Wiconi]: Resisting The Dakota Pipeline. Earth Mum reports from the embattled front lines at Standing Rock. A presentation compiled from the Pacifica radio host's journeys to the ground zero heart of the pipeline resistance. Including movement eyewitness accounts, videos, images, and oral history audio interviews she gathered from the encampment. While the elders, spiritual leaders and assembled tribes speak about the importance of respecting Mother Earth. And as the struggle continues, no matter what. A treasure trove of material Earth Mum brought back, and an education moment. Jack Shalom reports

New Directors/New Films 2017: Menashe - Offbeat Orthodoxy Rules In Hassidic Brooklyn Tale
 'The Three Things That Bring A Man Happiness, Says The Talmud: A nice wife, a nice house, and nice dishes.'

So proceeds the uncommonly fascinating and vividly authentic Yiddish subtitled dramatic feature Menashe, as it balances both somber and quirky. And as the despondent and defiant widower in question, Menashe [Menashe Lustig], single father of young schoolboy Rieven [Ruben Niborski] resists the relentless attempts of his authoritarian religious community to procure him a new wife as quickly as possible - and while insisting that Menashe relinquish his son to the family of his late wife's disdainful brother until he does so.

Director Joshua Z. Weinstein impressively displays his background as a documentary filmmaker here, seamlessly blending a delicately layered journey through an actual Brooklyn Hasidic community depicted utterly unself-consciously by nonprofessional actors. And with a keen eye for capturing emotional truth rather than the typical anthropological when not exoticized outsider perspective, when delving into such typically hermetic traditional communities.

And within that dramatic landscape, Weinstein sets his measured pace to allow audiences to discover and decide for themselves just what is playing out along the way. Does the rebellious behavior of Menashe indicate a villain or victim - or an enigmatic force at work beyond the seeming stubborn selfishness turning his community against him, in his insistence on raising his son on his own - even if lacking in the security and comforts for his son to be offered by an intact nuclear family.

And what comes surprisingly to light, is the way in which forced marriages can psychologically scar males as well as females - who knew. And though the resolution may amount to something more realistic than satisfying, there is much along the way to infuse our collective soul and senses. Including bachelor-proof cooking recipes, a pet chicken fond of dancing atop heads, the paternal lovingly resolved dilemma of an excrement laden shoe, and a purchased painting of an esteemed local rabbi guaranteed to scare away household rodents.

Along with a euphoric scene captured among the Latino immigrant workers in a grocery story where the downcast dad likewise toils - as they along with Menashe drink themselves into song and sorrow together on a downtime backroom break - commiserating about male problems when it comes to surviving romance and other issues, in universally perplexing cross-cultural worlds everywhere.

New Directors/New Films 2017, in its 46th year, runs from March 15th through 26th at New York City's Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The film festival introduces audiences to the work of emerging or not yet established filmmakers here and internationally, and takes place at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center and at The Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters at MoMA. More information about New Directors/New Films is online at

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

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

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Arts Express: Stephen Dorff Talks Wheeler

Adam Clayton Powell, Jim Crow Capitol Hill; Trump, Clint Eastwood, Deplorables; Popular Front Westerns, Travis Bickle, PTSD, The Communist Party, Class Warfare, Hollywood, The Great Depression

** "The election is what it is, and we're all in a Fellini movie right now."

Stephen Dorff Talks Wheeler: The actor perhaps best known for portraying possibly the fifth Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe in Backbeat, is on the line from LA to delve into his new movie which he co-wrote, stars in, and composed the music for. And an innovative style of filmmaking that arose out of the songs first, with drama then following spontaneously - and what might be termed a musical mockumentary road movie. In which Dorff as the aspiring country musician title character Wheeler, journeys from Texas to Nashville in a quest for creative human connections and understanding. Along with disguising his appearance and interacting with real heartland people along the way for real - and who had no idea. While discussing as well, Trump, immigrants, Clint Eastwood, Kirk Douglas, deplorables, and anonymity versus fame.


** "He ignited the Civil Rights Movement before there was a Civil Rights Movement."

Theater Corner: Adam. A one man show immersed in the life and extraordinary achievements of mid-20th century pastor, political activist and Harlem Congressman, Adam Clayton Powell. Actor Timothy Simonson, who depicts the charismatic civil rights leader on stage, in a conversation about Powell's legacy and challenges - including the struggle to desegregate Congress itself, the cafeteria, barber shop and gym there, deeply entrenched in Dixiecrat Jim Crow mandates back then. And Simonson basically portraying Powell in his own words as, "an elegant figure on the stage with only a chair, coat rack, and a few change of clothes." Chris Butters reports.

** "The problem was that there was not a sufficient presence of a left wing repudiation, so they ended up finding a voice within the right."

Book Corner - Taxi Searchers: John Wayne, Robert De Niro, And The Meaning Of America. Author and self-described stamp collector raised by wolves, Andrew Stewart of the Rhode Island Media Collective plummets the depths of what's wrong with US society right now, in its rabid turn to the right. Which is the subject of his new anthology of culture and politics channeling American gun culture and the militia mentality, John Ford's designated Popular Front westerns, Travis Bickle, PTSD, the Communist Party, Trump, class warfare, Hollywood and the Great Depression.

An unusually conceived production that may be referred to as a musical mockumentary road movie, Wheeler stars Stephen Dorff, who also co-wrote and composed the music for the film. Which actually uniquely and spontaneously arose out of the country music first created for this movie.
The regional, emotionally raw salt of the earth heartland journey from Texas to Nashville, follows the creative aspirations of the title character, in search of human connection and creative understanding -  and not simply recognition.
Dorff may be most familiar to audiences in his offbeat turns as the star of John Waters' Cecil B. Demented, as Candy Darling in I Shot Andy Warhol, and the very possibly fifth Stuart Sutcliffe in Backbeat. But with Wheeler, the multi-talented actor musician was in search of something very different to convey on screen, while mingling in facial disguise with real people along the way - who had no idea.
The on screen proceedings drop hints regarding Dorff himself of celebrityhood versus anonymity that come with the ambivalence of fame. And a possibly personal closeted desire to slip into another person's random skin and out of the limelight, for a change.
All of which presents an intriguing concept for a movie, though with mixed results. Where the audience is fully aware of what's taking place - though the clueless cast may be a plot device more prone to distraction than depth.
Prairie Miller

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

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Arts Express: Algee Smith Talks Untitled Detroit Project

** "I want people to understand that there hasn't been a change in 50 years, what you see in this movie is still going on today. And it's really a reflection of how far we haven't come."

Actor Algee Smith Talks Untitled Detroit Project: And his starring role in Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow's historic urban uprising drama to be released this summer, in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Detroit Rebellion. And while possibly dropping hints that he may, or may not, be playing Stevie Wonder in the movie.
The 22 year old actor/musician talks as well about starring in The New Edition Story television mini-series, in which his real life character R&B singer Ralph Tresvant, along with Bobby Brown, rose out of the inner city Roxbury boy group in Boston. Currently airing on BET.

** "Important to me was that we could represent ourselves, the way we were."
Remembering Mary Tyler Moore.
On the line to Arts Express is Susan Silver, one of the original writers of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, as well as Maude and other '70s sitcoms back then. And in fact, one of the first of women writing sitcoms in that male dominated television world, period. Silver shares memories of how she and Moore provocatively redefined the images and perceptions of women on and off the small screen, forever. Including having something to do with Norman Lear's ex-wife and Bea Arthur, and the male sitcom writers wanting to walk around the office in their underwear. And, one NY Times fake news revelation Silver at first hesitated to share.

** I'm seeing some encouraging dynamics that are coming through the midst of all this chaos."
Sister Station Conversations: An exchange with WBAI Radio's Savona Bailey-McClain, host of State Of The Arts
. And the timely topics on the table with Arts Express co-host Mary Ann Miller, are hopes and predictions in the arts this new year. Touching on creative trends, the Trump effect, and factoring in one Chinese curse described as a blessing.

** "I think we can expect more escalation, more hawkish policies, more turmoil."
In the Arts Express Book Corner, Middle East foreign correspondent and author Reese Erlich
phones in from Boston to discuss his new book from the inside looking out, 'Inside Syria: The Backstory Of Their Civil War, And What The World Can Expect.' Referencing US propaganda techniques around the world; the colonialist creation of false borders in Syria; the refugee crisis and the humanitarian excuse; getting shot at by the Israeli military during the First Intifada; and Erlich's own experience himself as a victim of fake news.