AGORA
: Dragged from her chariot by a mob of fanatical vigilante Christian monks, the revered astronomer was stripped naked, skinned to her bones with sharp oyster shells, stoned and burned alive as possibly the first executed witch in history. A kind of purge that was apparently big business back then.


CRITICAL WOMEN HEADLINES

12/30/07

Two Lane Blacktop DVD Review: The Road As Escape for Irony-Phobic US

Nancy Keefe Rhodes

Two Lane Blacktop On DVD
Director Monte Hellman
Cast: James Taylor, Dennis Wilson, Warren Oates, Laura Bird

There's something perfect about musicians playing the two leads in this most enduring and mystique-laden of road movies, just re-released again two weeks before Christmas by Criterion on a snazzy two-disc set. It was also the only screen performance by either man. Director Monte Hellman first spotted his choice for the character called just "the driver" on a Los Angeles billboard advertising James Taylor's 1968 debut album, and Taylor kept his flowing locks for the part. These days, you can get the singer's newest CD compilation of live tracks with your latté at Starbucks. Beach Boys drummer-composer Dennis Wilson played "the mechanic," also nameless. The anniversary of Wilson's drowning in 1983, shortly after his 39th birthday,
is actually Friday.

As for the rest of the main cast, Hellman regular Warren Oates died a year before Wilson. Young and very slender here, he plays the garrulous, ever self-reinventing "GTO," nick-named for the gold car he drives in the film. And cast as "the girl," a hitch-hiker who works her way through all three men during the cross-country contest between the Pontiac and the customized matte gray '55 Chevy, Laura Bird made just two more films after this one, dying by suicide at age 25 in 1979. Harry Dean Stanton, who got his start with Hellman and here has a memorable cameo as a gay hitch-hiker who weeps when GTO rejects him, is now in his 80s. Hellman remains as wiry and frizzy-haired as ever, zestfully teaching film directing at the California Institute of the Arts. He calls *Two Lane Blacktop*, filmed over seven weeks in the early fall of 1970 for under one million dollars, a "time capsule" – for its youthful glimpse of this cast, its story filmed along the fabled and now largely disappeared old Route 66, and its dark watershed post-60s mood.

*Two Lane Blacktop* starts in Los Angeles at one of the LA Street Racers' rowdy, well-attended and very illegal midnight drag matches. Police sirens sour what starts off looking like a good evening for the driver and the mechanic, two lanky guys in jeans and tee-shirts without much attention span for anything but fast cars who finance a rambling lifestyle by racing their
souped-up Chevy. Whether on local dirt tracks, at street drag club events or in ad hoc contests struck up in gas stations along the way, their adversaries routinely under-estimate both the car and the young men. Without much specific intention they head east – a reversal of the mythic American way west that underscores the moment's alienation.

One morning during breakfast, they watch a blond teenager through a diner window. Just feet away in the parking lot, she hauls her duffel from an old van and dumps it into their back seat for no better reason than it's the closest car available. Before long, in a deceptively simple and languid maneuver that Hellman says is the real start of the film, these three set the hook for GTO in a desert gas station. He's been eying that Chevy in the passing lane himself and so proposes a race to Washington, DC. They'll race "for pinks" – what's at stake is the losing car's pink registration card.

Along the way, the three men vie irritably for the girl's wandering attentions, race other cars, narrowly avoid crashes and cops, meet odd folk in backwaters, stop for repairs and occasionally day-dream about a vague future after Washington that may consist of checking out Florida's beaches or maybe "run over to Arizona and build a house." As laconic as the driver and the mechanic both are – Hellman says their lines are more soundtrack than dialogue, not meant to move the story any more than the songs on their car's radio – GTO is talkative. With each new stranger, GTO effortlessly spins himself a colorful new history and purpose. Soon we're anticipating this as each new encounter gets under way. Similarly, by the time this quartet lands in the movie's final diner, we know who that girl's going with next simply because there's a motorcycle parked out front.

Warren Oates, though not the lead here, made four films for Hellman – besides *Two Lane* *Blacktop*, two Westerns, *The Shooting* (1966) and *China 9, Liberty 37* (1978), and the contemporary Southern Gothic-tinged * Cockfighter* (1974). Arguably all are road movies, a genre too often dismissed as low budget primitive. An excellent companion to Hellman's work
is Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman's 2005 documentary, *Wanderlust*– an absorbing 90 minutes that's only a Netflix click away – with filmmakers like Callie Kouri (screenwriter, *Thelma and Louise*), who sees the road movie emerge quite organically from the Western, and Walter Salles (director, *The Motorcycle Diaries*) notices that young countries with unsettled identities make these movies ("You never see a Swiss road movie."), and Alison Anders (director, *Gas Food Lodging* and a commentary track speaker for *Two Lane Blacktop*) remarks that the only place irony-phobic Americans willingly tolerate shades of gray is the road.

Proving he's still got chops, Hellman directed the bonus features. A film teacher, he speaks especially well about making movies. Early on he piles five Cal Arts grad students into his van to visit the film's shooting locations. He explains how shooting in Technoscope provided the best depth of field for a story where often he's got two or three characters inside a car or in three different planes and wants them all in focus (you'll watch for this next time you're at the movies, promise). Or elsewhere, how filming in a pelting rainstorm unexpectedly infused his favorite gas station scene with enormous energy because throughout this scene all the cast members ran
from spot to spot to avoid getting wet. He and James Taylor, facing off in simple wooden chairs, ask one another the questions each has harbored for 37 years. When Taylor – now short-haired and balding, he still hadn't seen *Two Lane Blacktop* during this conversation – diffidently apologizes for his youthful bursts of temper, Hellman laughs it off with the kind of generosity
that you sense informs his classrooms now as it once must have his movie sets. And the producers discuss how the 60s unraveled – that, as one puts it, "America was having a nervous breakdown, and lots of the people wandering around never stopped." For once, "blast from the past" lives up to its name.

*******
*This review appeared in the 12/27/07 issue of the Syracuse* City Eagle *weekly, where "Make it Snappy" is a regular column reviewing DVDs of recent movies that didn't open theatrically in CNY & older films of enduring worth.*

Posted By Nancy Keefe Rhodes to *www.MovieCrossRhodes.blogspot.com*


Nancy Keefe Rhodes
nancykeeferhodes@gmail
www.MovieCrossRhodes.blogspot.com
Covering film, photo & visual arts

12/29/07

Women Film Critics Circle Awards 2007

The Women Film Critics Circle held their annual on-air WFCC Awards Ceremony 2007 on Thursday, December 13th. The Ceremony for the Best and Worst Picks from a woman's point of view, aired on WBAI Radio in NY 99.5 FM at 11am, and on Web Radio at wbai.org. On hand to present and discuss the awards in-studio and by phone, were WFCC members.

The Women Film Critics Circle is an association of 40 women film critics and scholars from around the country, who are involved in print, radio, online and TV broadcast media. They came together three years ago to form the first women critics organization ever in the country, in the belief that women’s perspectives and voices in film criticism need to be recognized fully. WFCC also prides itself on being the most culturally and racially diverse critics group in the country by far, and best reflecting the diversity of movie audiences.



The Women Film Critics Circle Awards 2007

BEST PICTURE BY A WOMAN **TIE**
*Away From Her: Sarah Polley
*Talk To Me: Kasi Lemmons

BEST PICTURE ABOUT WOMEN
*Juno: Jason Reitman

BEST WOMAN STORYTELLER [Screenwriting Award]
*Juno: Diablo Cody

BEST ACTRESS
*Laura Linney: The Savages

BEST COMEDIC PERFORMANCE
*Amy Adams: Enchanted

BEST ACTOR
*Daniel Day-Lewis: There Will Be Blood

BEST YOUNG ACTRESS
*Saoirse Ronan: Atonement

BEST FEMALE IMAGES IN A MOVIE **TIE**
*Hairspray
*Life Support

BEST FOREIGN FILM: **TIE**
*La Vie En Rose
*Persepolis

BEST MUSIC
*Hairspray: Nikki Blonsky, Queen Latifah

BEST THEATRICALLY UNRELEASED MOVIE BY OR ABOUT WOMEN
*Life Support

**ADRIENNE SHELLY AWARD: For a film that most passionately opposes violence against women:
*Redacted

**JOSEPHINE BAKER AWARD: For best expressing the woman of color experience in America:
*The Great Debaters

**KAREN MORLEY AWARD: For best exemplifying a woman’s place in history or society, and a courageous search for identity:
*A Mighty Heart

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
*Judi Dench

SPECIAL MENTION FOR A FEMALE’S RIGHT TO MALE ROLES IN MOVIES:
*Cate Blanchett: I'm Not There

ACTING AND ACTIVISM
*Angelina Jolie

BEST DOCUMENTARIES:

ABOVE AND BEYOND:
*Redacted [mixed media]

GROUNDBREAKER:
*Strange Culture: Lynn Hershman-Leeson

COURAGE IN FILMMAKING:
*Meeting Resistance: Molly Bingham, co-director

BEST EQUALITY OF THE SEXES **TIE**
*Away From Her
*Becoming Jane

MOST OFFENSIVE MALE CHARACTERS
Crazy Love [Burt Pugach] *****Winning Loser
Norbit [Rasputia] *****Winning Looser
Good Luck Chuck
The Heartbreak Kid
Knocked Up
Revolver
Superbad
Who's Your Caddy

WFCC TOP TEN HALL OF SHAME
Black Snake Moan***Winning Loser
Exterminating Angels***Winning Loser
Goya's Ghost***Winning Loser
Atonement
Captivity
Gone Baby Gone
Hairspray/Edna [John Travolta]
Lust, Caution
Norbit/Rasputia [Eddie Murphy]
Red Road

BEST ANIMATED FEMALE:
*Enchanted: Elle

BEST FAMILY FILM
*Enchanted


**ADRIENNE SHELLY AWARD: Adrienne Shelly was a promising actress and filmmaker who was brutally strangled in her apartment in 2006 at the age of forty by a construction worker in the building, after she complained about noise. Her killer tried to cover up his crime by hanging her from a shower rack in her bathroom, to make it look like a suicide. He later confessed that he was having a "bad day." Shelly, who left behind a baby daughter, had just completed her film Waitress, which she also starred in, and which was honored at Sundance after her death.


**JOSEPHINE BAKER AWARD; The daughter of a laundress and a musician, Baker overcame being born black, female and poor, and marriage at age fifteen, to become an internationally acclaimed legendary performer, starring in the films Princess Tam Tam, Moulin Rouge and Zou Zou. She also survived the race riots in East St. Louis, Illinois as a child, and later expatriated to France to escape US racism. After participating heroically in the underground French Resistance during WWII, Baker returned to the US where she was a crusader for racial equality. Her activism led to attacks against her by reporter Walter Winchell who denounced her as a communist, leading her to wage a battle against him. Baker was instrumental in ending segregation in many theaters and clubs, where she refused to perform unless integration was implemented.


**KAREN MORLEY AWARD: Karen Morley was a promising Hollywood star in the 1930s, in such films as Mata Hari and Our Daily Bread. She was driven out of Hollywood for her leftist political convictions by the Blacklist and for refusing to testify against other actors, while Robert Taylor and Sterling Hayden were informants against her. And also for daring to have a child and become a mother, unacceptable for female stars in those days. Morley maintained her militant political activism for the rest of her life, running for Lieutenant Governor on the American Labor Party ticket in 1954. She passed away in 2003, unrepentant to the end, at the age of 93.

**The Women's Right To Male Roles In Movies Award is intended to challenge that men have not only the most prominent roles in films, but also the most complex and fully drawn out characters. So when an actress can fight for access to such a role, and it may be rewritten for her, it is one of substance, and free of the usual shallow or demonizing female stereotypes.

The Women Film Critics Circle website is WFCC.wordpress.com, and they can be reached at: Criticalwomen@gmail.com.

Prairie Miller

Kurt Cobain About A Son

Kurt Donald Cobain ( February 20, 1967 – c. April 5, 1994), was an American musician, best known for his roles as lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter for the Seattle-based rockband Nirvana.
Cobain formed Nirvana in 1987 with Krist Novoselic

Kurt Cobain About A Son
documentary
Sidetrack films


To review a film that you don't like is usually not worth the effort. Given the plethora of memorable, enjoyable and valuable films begging for attention i wouldn't undertake to do this thankless job except.........

Kurt Cobain About A son is an exception. The running time is 1:36.48 which translates into well over two hours of listening to a few men ramble on about a relatively uneventful , non remarkable life, past and relatively present of the son of a middle American tree logger who didn't understand children nor did he seem to strive to gain this knowledge or any other knowledge of particular value.
The son, however, needs to break out of the town of primary origin, Aberdeen, He is in search of a non existent place where he envisions himself comfortable. Eventually he enters the demanding almost inhuman world of the celebrity punk rock music star with equal distaste and difficultly.

This story of human ascendancy is worth maybe an hour and a half. There are no exceptional film sets, no outstanding character arcs.few interesting faces to feast one's eyes upon Editing by a sympathetic and competent professional is sorely lacking
But
what this film has, what compelled me to see Kurt Cobain About A Son more than once was the visual images. From frame to frame, the transitions were awesome, each frame arresting.

Kurt Cobain About a Son is a movie for an aspiring film maker, for a visual artist, for anyone who would not hesitate to turn off the sound to enhance the visual experience with silence.

But this film is not about Kurt Cobain, It does not feature his death, it sidesteps the impact of the devastating journey that led to this momentous self mutilating event which inspired other troubled youths to follow in his wake.
The film goes so far out of its way to avoid what is most pressing about Kurt Cobain that it fails as a film. It stands alone as a film worthy of viewing while silence reigns.

A note about the man, Kurt Cobain. He was riddled with conflict that he could never own up to. He loved to be different and he seemed singularly unable to understand or accept the price of his detachment from those he needed most, his fans, his friends, his environment. But what really mattered more than the development of his person, or his art was his state of perpetual pain that set him apart from life, from others.
He was a man possessed of pain turned into anger that he tried to disown and mitigate with his four hundred dollar a day drug habit, and his music. Tragically, he failed.

I recommend this film with a heavy dose of reservation. Maybe one day it will be redone with a better focus captured in a shortened version.

LindaZ
WFCC
WBAI Women's collective

12/27/07

Lake Of Fire: Abortion, Medea, and Male Fear Of Women

By Logan Nakyanzi Pollard

American History X's Tony Kaye's abortion film Lake of Fire shows just how scared we are of women. Kaye ingeniously brings you along to that point with footage spanning from the early 1990s, there is no narration and the characters speak for themselves.

Kaye's technique made someone like me, who was not overly invested in the issue, see what is really at stake in this conversation: how real the fear of woman is. I should say that I serve on a board that seeks to provide women in the third world access to doctors who can perform C-sections when their bodies are unable to give birth the natural way. I've always thought the women's healthcare lot was about education and getting access to proper care. Even when I read The Cider House Rules as a teen, I thought then, well you have to let women have abortions because they may die doing it themselves. And you can't stop women from trying to abort unwanted children. It's the poor women who suffer; the rich find a way to access care. A woman should have the services that modern healthcare can provide. She should have options; she should have choices, why argue with that? I never bothered to think beyond -- or into the minds of anyone who thought that abortion was actually murder. That's just crazy talk.

Consciously or unconsciously, Kaye's film shows that these arguments are beside the point for anti-abortionists. Instead, a deep fear has brought some Americans to wage their own private holy war -- and they've got a lot in common with the radicals we think we're fighting overseas. Many count themselves among the "American taxpayers party" (which seeks, among other things, an end what they refer to as the "welfare state") and ascribe to the "Christian Identity Movement," which reportedly shares kinship with neo-nazis and white supremacists in the United States. Eric Rudolph, who attacked a gay nightclub, an abortion clinic and then bombed the Atlanta Olympics and the criminals who murdered or attacked doctors and healthcare personnel participate in this kind of domestic terrorism.

"Hell is like a lake of fire," says John Burt, one of the characters from the film, a rabid anti-abortionist and former KKK member. People who are not saved live in eternal torment in that lake. Abortion rights advocates are in there.

Burt is easy to laugh at; his brand of theology has its limited audience. But the picture Kaye paints is a complicated one. Jane Roe from the Roe v. Wade case, for example, is now an anti-abortionist. We hear her explain how she got involved with the legal case, how her home was attacked, how she was mistreated by town folk, how she became despondent and cut her wrists. She tells us how she starting working at an abortion clinic and how she later befriended the anti-abortionists who bought property beside her clinic. Her biggest reveal -- she found Jesus with their help. Unbelievable!

In one of the more mesmerizing moments in the film, she says, she went to the back of the clinic and opened the freezer and "there were babies, man!"

There were babies.

Writer Nat Hentoff, an avowed atheist, says he simply opposes abortion because "you're killing a developing human being." Clearly the debate over this issue is more layered than meets the eye. If I were to accept that abortion were murder, what then?

When do we kill? When do we save? When do we legally murder? -- War? Accident by torture? Punishment? Self-defense? Carpet bomb? As Noam Chomsky says poignantly during the film, "the values we hold are not absolute." We kill when we have a reason to; when it's sanctioned as acceptable by our society.

"The right to bear arms" for example is commonly defined as "the right that individuals have to weapons. This right is often presented in the context of military service and the broader right of self defense." Implied in there is the right to kill, under certain circumstances. The contest over Roe v. Wade and the continuing debate over abortion show us that that right is reluctantly shared women.

I never thought of abortion in this way, and yet, this does seem to be the root of it. Why should a woman have a right to kill her baby? This is the real question the anti-abortionists are asking.

Chomsky's not impressed with anti-abortionists because they have largely shunned the easy ways to save innocent lives, "if you want to do things to help people, there are easy ways to do it." There are proven ways to care for people to bring abortions down. He says there are massive problems that they could do things about -- potable water, healthcare for women, caring for children who are born, among them, and they've largely done nothing about those things. If these people really care about babies, why are they not outraged at all the innocent Iraqi babies killed because of this war... the argument would go.

And yet if we put the right to kill under certain circumstances -- the implied right behind the right to bear arms -- I wonder, when is it that a woman kills? Put aside, for a moment, the woman serving in law enforcement or in the armed services, it's often something extreme or unfortunate: mental illness, abuse, self defense, survival.

The myth of Medea comes to mind, a fearsome blood-thirsty, extreme woman. As one version of the myth goes, she killed her children (and a whole lot of others) to spite her lover, to gain power, to get what she wanted. Scorned woman, we all know this archetype.

More grounded in our American story is Margaret Garner; Toni Morrison's novel Beloved is based on her story. Garner was a real person -- a mother, a runaway slave. Reportedly, she was in her early 20s, living in Kentucky and "killed her two-year-old daughter with a butcher knife rather than see the child returned to slavery. She was preparing to kill her other children and herself when she was subdued" by slave wranglers.

I'm from the MTV generation (and now admittedly the VH1 crowd) and thought we'd gotten over this stuff already. As a black woman, I've often thought of male oppression of women as abstract and quaint, ridiculous like the 1950s and certainly not as far on my personal front-burner as racism. But Lake of Fire is part of the larger explanation of how the subjugation of women and other forms of oppression are connected.

Belinda Morrissey writes in When Women Kill: Questions of Agency and Subjectivity (Routledge, 2003):

For the fear of women, of their power to generate life and to take it away, runs deep in male-dominated societies... the feminine is often aligned with the abject, the criminal, and that the potential for feminine evil is considered ever present. Female abjection relates largely to the very permeability of female bodies; through reproductive and sexual processes, female anatomy blurs the line between self and other, clean and unclean. The woman's vagina is penetrable and engulfing, her menstrual blood is a primary abject pollutant, while her capacity to give birth raises the subject's terror of encompassment and subsequent loss of self. Finally, the baby's early dependence on the mother gives her enormous power, and the fear this evokes, combined with the abject nature of the female body, has been narrated repeatedly in myths and legends of evil and dangerous women throughout history. Women who kill confirm this archetypal feminine power, reinforcing the terrible antithesis to the myth of the good mother, reminding us that where creativity is located so too is destructiveness. The need to contain and limit the threat posed by such women is paramount in legal discourses, charged with enacting society's official response to these crimes, and in media discourses, responsible for communicating that reaction to the general public.

In short, it's deeply disturbing when women kill. It's no wonder some of us get really scared and upset at the prospect of this. For some, it's so clearly not okay, it's so clearly black and white: At a rally, Randall Terry, co-founder of Operation Rescue shouts into the crowd, "we are right, they are wrong!" Ah, the '90s -- if only our worries were that simple now. Then again, maybe not much has changed. The debate over abortion, like many of the contested topics in this country, is as intractable as ever.

As I watched Cardinal Roger Mahoney, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles, speak against abortion in the film, I thought -- here is a man who we know (thanks to Amy Berg's Oscar-nominated film, Deliver Us From Evil) protected a known child rapist in his church. It's time to be aware of all the interconnected mischief afoot in this country and start getting at the root of our fears.

I always thought the abortion debate was about women's bodies, at least for pro-choice people. But I think what the film shows is that the anti-abortionists are not talking about that, they are talking about the right to kill, which they view as wrong, at least when women initiate it as mothers. Pro-abortionists or pro-choice people need to address this, or both parties will just keep talking past each other.

Logan Nakyanzi Pollard
Huffingtonpost.com/logan-nakyanzi-pollard/lake-of-fire_b_67230.html

Logan Nakyanzi Pollard is an executive producer at Air America Radio and Go Left TV, and writes for The Huffington Post. Logan is also a member of the Women Film Critics Circle.

12/22/07

Ghosts Of Cite Soleil: Cheap Shot at the People’s Struggle in Haiti

Ghosts Of Cite Soleil: A Cheap Shot at the People’s Struggle in Haiti

By Shirley Pate

A recently released film, "The Ghosts of Cite Soleil," tells the story of two young men, Bily and 2pac, who live in Cite Soleil, a poor neighborhood of Port-au-Prince.Most people who have reviewed the film suggest that viewers are at once titillated and repelled by these young men because of their violence-ridden lifestyle. We learn that they are "chimeres" (a word that loosely means "monster" and used for several years to demonize supporters of former Haitian president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide).It’s a label that adds a certain drama, if you are looking at it from a cinematic standpoint, but its political implications are serious.

Several years ago, a mainstream journalist introduced “chimere” broadly into the international media suggesting that President Aristide had a corps of violence-prone monster-creatures responsible for attacks on his political opponents. The introduction and extensive use of “chimere” by journalists was part of an international plot to turn world opinion against Aristide paving the way for a coup d’etat that would oust him in 2004 and lead to the murder of thousands of his supporters.

While “Ghosts” appears to be the belle of the blogs and various newspapers, many of the reviews, analyses, and discussions about the film are unenlightened by facts concerning Haiti’s history and politics.

Filmmaker, Asgor Leth, is under the mistaken impression that his movie is a documentary. Actually, it is a staged fraud of a movie that exploits the poverty and social circumstances of life in Cite Soleil. Just below the film’s veneer of gangster rap, sex, and violence lies an unmistakable and intentional subtext: supporters of Aristide are violence-prone sub-humans who, because of their overwhelming majority
and continued demand for the return of Aristide, must be contained and then eliminated. A lack of context might lead viewers to assume that the “chimeres” are the primary aggressors in Haitian society. Quite the opposite is true. Those labeled “chimere” during and after the coup were met with certain incarceration or execution by the Haitian National Police – many were accused over Haitian radio. Rather than aggressors, those labeled “chimeres” have been, and continue to be, the victims.

Not long after the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSTAH, arrived in Haiti, it began to raid poor, Aristide- supporting neighborhoods. Yet, the indiscriminate attacks were causing it a public relations problem. In need of a propaganda advantage, MINUSTAH came up with its own term for the “resistant” population that remains loyal to Aristide – “bandit.” This term may not be as exotic as “chimere,” but with its roots in the 1915-1934 US occupation of Haiti, where the mere utterance of the word provided Marines carte blanche to kill, it resonated well and has become pervasive in the media and a major theme in speeches by the UN Secretary General’s representative in Haiti, Edmond Mulet.

And, this brings another political reality to the fore. MINUSTAH’s mandate calls for bringing security to Haiti yet, security for all Haitians is not part of its agenda. Make no mistake, MINUSTAH was sent to Haiti by a US-dominated UN Security Council to do one thing: make the coup of February 2004 “stick.” Elite Haitians and international business interests are banking on an Aristide-less Haiti. Aristide was on a path of shifting the balance of power into the hands of the majority of
Haitians who are poor by doubling the minimum wage, dedicating 20% of the nation’s budget to education, instituting widespread literacy programs and struggling successfully with international financial institutions to not privatize all of Haiti’s state-owned companies. The last thing the business class needs in Haiti is a better-paid, better-educated workforce.

No documentary about post-coup Haiti can be authentic unless it “outs” those responsible for the carnage, asks hard questions and pursues answers relentlessly. “Ghosts” never tried to do any of these things. If “Ghosts” wants to collect its “documentary” credentials, it will have to admit that Bily and 2pac are not the real bad guys but, rather: the US, France, and Canada who planned, financed and implemented the coup that ousted President Aristide; the US-installed de facto government of Gerard Latortue that maintained an extraordinary atmosphere of impunity
making summary incarcerations and executions of Aristide supporters effortless and without consequence; and the US-dominated United Nations Security Council and its peacekeeping mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, which is making the coup “stick” by committing massacres of unarmed Haitians in poor neighborhoods.

Asking the right questions and pursuing the answers is the only way to honor the struggle of the people of Haiti. In addition, those answers will tell us far more about the lives of Bily and 2pac than “Ghosts” ever could. While there are many questions that can and should be asked, I propose the following:

What was intended for Haiti's economy and education, health and social structures when the US coordinated an embargo on loans to Haiti by international financial institutions beginning in 2000 and not ending until Aristide's forced departure four years later? Who in the international press collaborated with the coup makers to demonize Aristide and criminalize his supporters by labeling them "chimeres?" How
long before the coup did the US, France, and Canada map out the plan to destabilize Haiti politically by financing "opposition groups" and fake human rights organizations that fingered "chimeres" for summary executions by the Haitian National Police? How many thousands of guns did the US give to the Dominican Republic that went to Haitian "rebels" hiding out there to invade their own country and kill thousands of Aristide supporters and, for god’s sake, how many of those guns are
still in their hands? What kinds of state repression tactics did the unelected Prime Minister of the illegal interim government of Haiti employ to "contain" the overwhelming majority of Haitians who demanded the return of their democratically-elected president? How long before the coup did the US-dominated UN Security Council develop its occupation plan for Haiti involving first, soldiers from the three countries that orchestrated the coup and then followed by a UN “peacekeeping” occupation? Why, for the first time in UN history was MINUSTAH the only peacekeeping mission deployed without a peace agreement to enforce? How
many Haitians died because MINUSTAH ignored the assassination of unarmed demonstrators by Haitian National Police sharpshooters? Why does the present government of Haiti allow MINUSTAH to continue to label Haiti’s citizens as “bandits” for supporting the return of Aristide and resisting a cruel occupation? Finally, what monster, under the guise of pursuing “bandits,” authorized UN raids into Cite Soleil and other poor neighborhoods involving hundreds of UN soldiers, tanks, and assault
helicopters resulting in the death and injury of hundreds of unarmed Haitians?

Luckily, there is one documentary that can answer these and many other questions about what happened in Haiti. It’s a film called “Haiti: We Must Kill the Bandits,” by acclaimed filmmaker, Kevin Pina. Finally, the people of Haiti have a film about their struggle that is honest, well-researched, hard-hitting, and dead serious. Most importantly, “Bandits” features Haitians telling their own story about their fight
for justice, peace and security. You can find more information about the film at this website: http://www.haitiinformationproject.net/.

Shirley Pate is a Haiti solidarity activist in Washington, D. C. You can contact her by email at: magbana@hcvanalysis.net. For other articles written by her, please go to: http://hcvanalysis.wordpress.com.
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"Cuban fighters are ready to lay down their lives for the liberation of our countries, and in exchange for this aid to our freedom and the progress of our people, all they take from us are their comrades who fell fighting for freedom." --Amilcar Cabral, freedom fighter, Guinea-Bissau, 1924-1973

Writing While White: Race, Gender And The WGA Writers Strike

By Sikivu Hutchinson

"It was nice to see Jesse Jackson attend the Fox parade. Otherwise, I would have been the only black person there."
Comment by a black writer, on the WGA Fox rally — November 9, 2007, DeadlineHollywood.com

While the Writers Guild of America strike has elicited much righteous indignation on both sides about whether or not writers are entitled to heftier shares of digital media, there continues to be a deafening silence on the issue of racial and gender equity in the industry. The spectacle of “A-list” celebs defiantly thrusting strike placards into the air with journeymen/women scribes has further illuminated the vast racial divide in a niche whose unabashed white male insularity puts other sectors of corporate America to shame. As far as diversity behind the cameras is concerned, it may as well still be 1955 with Ozzie and Harriet. According to a 2007 report by UCLA professor Darnell Hunt (commissioned by the WGA), writers of color account for less than 10% of the TV industry and command significantly less in salary than their white counterparts. Although writers of color represent a small portion of the WGA’s membership, their numbers are still greater in the guild than they are in the paid workforce. Shut out of gigs on major white-themed/dominated shows, ghettoized at the CW network and other “ethnic” venues, the 2005 median income for writers of color was $78,107, while the median income for white TV writers was $97,956. The report also noted that while women writers represent 25% of both the film and TV industries they had successfully narrowed the gender income gap in TV. A 2002 study published by UC Santa Barbara professors Denise and Bill Bielby concluded that rampant cronyism, arbitrary hiring practices and the racial biases of bottom-line oriented foreign investors are several factors that make the film/TV industries among the most stubbornly segregated in the U.S.

Beleaguered writers aside, the Hollywood corporate image regime and its writing establishment have been the foremost vehicles for the global export of American cultural values and iconography. TV shows like Desperate Housewives and the Office rake in millions of foreign dollars annually while promoting a largely white middle class professional America peppered with a few token supporting characters of color. American exports of films churned out by the same incestuous stable of favored white male screenwriters score megabucks in overseas markets where audiences lap up European American-style sex, romance, machismo and violence like mother’s milk. As a result, these audiences have little concept of the U.S. beyond the celluloid fantasy of white culturally homogeneity peddled by sexist gross-out comedies like recent foreign favorite The Heartbreak Kid or triumphal testosterone fests like Die Hard. For image starved filmgoers of color, new film ads in the L.A. Times and other major dailies showcase a whiteness so relentless that the ubiquitous mugs of Denzel/Morgan/Will have become virtually interchangeable as the only acceptably “bankable” Negroes that Hollywood will let mind the cinematic plantation.

The multiracial non-white face of the U.S., in which white people actually represent an ever shrinking minority, is a reality that the film and TV industries seem hellbent on obliterating one show at a time. Indeed, driving through the streets of Los Angeles it is difficult to reconcile the seismic demographic shift that has occurred in the city’s predominantly black, Latino and Asian communities with the almost Jim Crow era throwback billboards of “hot” new Hollywood ensemble sitcoms and dramas. Drive down Crenshaw, Cesar Chavez or any of the major thoroughfares in black and brown L.A., and this street media parade of fresh telegenic white faces is a visual reminder of the egregious disparities in access and capital that render the everyday lives of most people of color invisible to mainstream America; positioned as lapdog consumers rather than image makers. The normative view of white Americana that the most handsomely-paid writers peddle and the industry bankrolls is devoid of consistently compelling stories and characters that capture the complexities of people of color. This void has particularly dangerous implications for young people of color, who, with the exception of the random white collar professional of color, only see themselves and their communities trotted out as gangbangers, rappers, criminals, unwed teenage mothers and/or sage sidekicks for more richly textured white characters.

Whatever the merits of the WGA’s beef about corporate exploitation it is abundantly clear that the $20,000 median wage gap that separates striking white writers from their male and female colleagues of color represents job opportunities, networks and critical access to professional ties that remain closed to so-called minorities in the industry. The next time the WGA goes to the barricades it would do well to make good on the findings of its industry critique and have white writers standing shoulder to shoulder with writers of color on the corporate racism in hiring that informs the income and image gap for the new “majority” Americans.

Sikivu Hutchinson is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor of blackfemlens.org an online journal of feminist criticism.

This Is England On DVD: Convergence Of Macho Mystique And Race Hatred

This is England
Director: Shane Meadows
Cast: Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Rosamund Hanson

By Nancy Keefe Rhodes

It's one of those shabby, low-ceilinged country bars, out of the way down a dirt road with no traffic, that you'd reach after a drive through slow, monotonous rain blurring fields edged with scrub trees. In the muddy yard, men with shaved heads and black leather and tattoos on their faces mill around, then go respectfully silent when the guest candidate arrives. Inside, before posters for the National Front party, keeping his topcoat on against the damp and the dirt, he rails, "Our country has been stolen." His wind-up draws cheers: "There is a forgotten word, a forbidden word – I want to revive the word Englishmen."

In the audience, dragged way out here from his small town home along with some other new "troops" by the persuasive, unstable Combo (Stephen Graham), 11-year-old Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), still grieving the father he lost to war and thrilled that schoolyard bullies now avoid him, is so far a willing convert.

This year US movies have examined the volatile, double-edged hero worship that needy and impressionable young men have for violent criminals as one facet of the Westerns revival – think Casey Affleck's Robert Ford in *The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward…* and Ben Foster's Charlie Prince in *3:10 to Yuma*. Indeed the template for that specific longing and frustration available in the genre's revisionist incarnations may be part of its contemporary appeal, even fifteen years ago in Clint Eastwood's *Unforgiven*, with the self-styled Scholfield Kid running after Eastwood's
retired gunslinger. Although British director Shane Meadows has visited the romance of the Western to great satiric effect in his riff on Sergio Leone, *Once Upon a* *Time in the Midlands* (2002), here he goes straight to the more recent parallels of his own youth, letting his back-country pub echo the frontier in more muted ways.

What goes around, comes around. *This is England* is set in 1983 in the English Midlands, home territory of the National Front, a far-right party founded in 1967 that opposed immigration, multicultural policies and membership in the UN and NATO. Ronald Reagan's friend Margaret Thatcher is Prime Minister. Though Thatcher's own rise and her heartily conservative policies, especially toward immigrants, at first deflated support for the extremist National Front, by 1983 it's making a come-back. It's a little more than a year since the end of what Meadows calls "another pointless war," England's invasion of the Falkland Islands off the coast of Argentina, made vivid by archival footage of horrific battle injuries book-ending the film. Unemployment stands at about 3 ½ million. There's a racist-tinged resurgence of skinhead gangs (more militant in prisons, where Combo's been) – ironic, since Jamaica's ska and reggae music had heavily influenced early skinhead culture – plus increased hate crimes and noisy demonstrations across the land against newcomers from Commonwealth countries such as Pakistan.

*This is England* walks some razor edges. First, it is that rare film whose story is set just far enough away in time and place to take the defensive edge off watching it, long enough to let the parallels with our own day sink in. This 2006 film finally reached US theaters in August and now released on DVD. Because it portrays scenes of extreme violence and racist invective, it had difficulty initially in England getting cleared so adolescents – arguably a major target audience – could see it. But it's also that rare film which makes a clear distinction between accounting for behavior and approving it.

Meadows – now in his mid-30s and still shaving his head – says his main ambition at age 11 was going to prison. Instead, he makes movies set in the small towns of his native Midlands, often containing violence (which he says is more traumatic in village and rural settings because unexpected), usually reserving Hell's hottest places for the bystander who does nothing, and aiming to portray skinhead culture in its complexity rather than as a straw man plot device.

Shaun's story is fairly straightforward. A loner who's developing quite a temper, he's taken in by some older, mildly skinhead kids, led by Woody (Joe Gilgun), whose second in command is a mild young Jamaican named Milky (Andrew Shim, a fine natural actor cast in most Meadows' films but seemingly nowhere else). There's an assortment of younger teens, and an auxiliary girl gang led by Woody's girl Lol (Vicky McClure, another Meadows veteran), a hair stylist who keeps everyone shorn. Sometimes over the line of merely boisterous – one day they gleefully trash abandoned apartments with an
energy and ferocity which gives you pause – this crew gets what many gangs provide: companionship, belonging, plenty of affirmation and rough physical affection, a curb on their more destructive impulses toward one another.

A film very much about young men, *This is England* nonetheless supplies three decisively strong and fully drawn female characters. Shaun's mother Cynthia (Jo Hartley), though judging the haircut "not good," okays her son's bond with them after a confrontation in the village cafe. Members also get initiation into grown-up ways. Shaun has his first girlfriend, an older, quite a bit taller girl with huge hair and black lipstick. A bit outlandish if you met them on the street, Shaun and Smell (Rosamund Hanson) enjoy a surprisingly delicate, hesitant courtship. Even with her lipstick smeared garishly after their first kissing session, Smell maintains great dignity and sweetness. The hairdresser Lol, having survived what was clearly a brutal rape by Combo several years back, decisively sets him straight when he attempts new advances. The strength and clarity of Lol's experience – "the worst night of my life" – illuminates the degree of Combo's delusion in his own hopeful recollection of the "best night" of his life.

Trouble comes in the person of Combo (Stephen Graham), one of the more riveting, complex portraits of a needy, manipulative sociopath found anywhere on screen, and one of the best explorations of precisely how such a figure works his will by dividing others according to their own fears and hopes. His first wedge when he returns from prison is his verbal attack on Milky, after which he effectively splits the group by sneering as Woody for letting him "abuse" the Jamaican. Similarly disorienting to Shaun is Combo's praise of the boy for swinging at him when he disparages Falkland Islands veterans.

Intriguingly, Meadows has Combo rehearse his "troops." He has the boys prepare for their invasion on a Pakistani convenience store – the middle-aged owner has banned Shaun – as if it were a stage performance. They get their lines, they work on their stances and delivery, they discover how having a role manages their anxiety. Meadows writes and directs very tight, pivotal scenes that advance his story. He also intersperses them with evocative musical montages that provide depth of field. Besides collaging images from the era – the opening of *This is England* is particularly brilliant – his musical montages often contain slow-motion images of the
characters themselves, composed in ways that remarkably resemble album covers of bands – one imagines this is also how these characters would like to be seen – again underscoring of the importance of performance to adolescents. This and his use of contemporary music and montage have been among Meadows' most consistent strengths, here blended in his choices of The Clash's "This is England," Jamaican classics from Toots and the Maytals and the Upsetters, pop from Percy Sledge, The Specials, Strawberry Switchblade, and Clayhill's new cover of The Smith's "Please, Please, Please."

And the next diatribe you hear on the campaign trail about being soft on illegal immigrants, remember, what goes around, comes around.

*******
*This review appeared in the 12/13/07 issue of the Syracuse *City Eagle *weekly, where "Make it Snappy" is a regular column reviewing DVDs of recent movies that didn't open theatrically in CNY & older films of enduring worth. Of Meadows' previous feature films,* Dead Man's Shoes *(2004) &* Once Upon a Time in the Midlands *(2002) are both available on DVD via Netflix.* A Room for Romeo Brass *(1999) is available on-line in non-US DVD format if you have a zone-free player. *TwentyFourSeven* (1997) can be found in VHS online. His next project, in which he again works with a frequent
collaborator, the actor Paddy Considine, involves a Gypsy story set in Eastern Europe. *

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Posted By Nancy Keefe Rhodes to Movie Cross Rhodesat

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Nancy Keefe Rhodes
www.MovieCrossRhodes.blogspot.com
Covering film, photo & visual arts

"A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species homo sapiens - second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter." - Reynolds Price

12/15/07

Blame it on Fidel: A Continuing Analysis

By Nancy Keefe Rhodes
Women Film Critics Circle

Director: Julie Gavras
Cast: Nina Kervel-Bey, Julie Depardieu, Stefano Acorsi

It's one of those furious, dramatic exits, more exhilarating because the one stalking out is all of ten years old. As befits a school-girl trained by French nuns to stand when the priest enters – elsewhere another pupil demonstrates hilarious mastery of the single raised eyebrow as comment on unseemly adult behavior – Anna (Nina Kervel-Bey) marches head down, her silence incendiary, dragging five-year-old brother François (Benjamin Feuillet) by one wrist, out the door and into the streets of Paris. Bad enough her parents took away her garden, her normal food, her catechism
classes, and her beloved Cuban nanny Filomena (Marie-Noelle Bordeaux), who lost everything to Castro and supplies the story's title. Bad enough they move to a cramped, shabby apartment, host nightly meetings of bearded men preaching "group solidarity," and her attorney father leaves for months on end to assist Chile's new Socialist regime. The breaking point comes amidst tears and shouts as her parents fight, the one rupture this little girl will not abide.

For some time she and François sit quietly on a park bench, their feet dangling as tall grown-ups pass. Then they go home. Their young parents meet them at the door with anguished relief. She has gotten their attention and we believe it, even smiling a little at them – one outcome of filmmaker Julie Gavras and casting director Coralie Amedeo testing almost 500 girls to find their right Anna.

*Blame it on Fidel* – a French import that screened early this year at Sundance and then Lincoln Center's annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, played in US art-houses from August till November and just released on DVD – is being marketed here as a comedy about generational friction and political excess. A sensible child fumes and rolls her eyes as her idealistic parents go over the edge in sudden enthusiasm for lefty causes. Papa Fernando (Stefano Acorsi) carries some guilt. He fled a wealthy Spanish background to France, even sat out 1968's student protests, rather than join his sister Marga (Mar Sodupe) in resisting Franco's fascists. Now Marga's arrival – her husband has disappeared – sparks Fernando's confused awakening. He then objects when wife Marie (Julie Depardieu) is more publically feminist than he likes, signing an abortion petition that embarrasses him and leads to that fight.

But Anna's parents are never buffoons. Decent, affectionate and generous young people, they try to be good parents, role models and, perhaps belatedly, citizens in the best sense. And Gavras frames her film with the deaths of two presidents; each breaks the hearts of a different generation, and in that mirrored grief finds a common aspiration that lingers and raises Gavras' first feature well above guffaws at the expense of novice activism. When Anna's grandfather (Oliver Perrier), a Bordeaux vineyard owner, says that "France is orphaned" upon the death of Charles DeGaulle, his grief recalls the French Resistance that helped defeat World War II's Nazi
occupation. DeGaulle died just six days after Chile elected Salvatore Allende in November 1970. Chile's military overthrew this popular reformer on September 11, 1973. Gavras excerpts Allende's riveting last address to his nation, along with news footage of the coup and Allende's death, which Anna's parents and their friends watch, huddled around the TV, as sorrowful as Anna's grandfather had been two years earlier. By the time this occurs, Anna has moved from resentment to some appreciation and, notably, choses to change schools. (Ironically, soon after Gavras wrapped her film, former dictator Augustin Pinochet, who supplanted Allende, also died.)

Gavras based *Blame it on Fidel* on Domitilla Calamai's novel of the same name, which she read after meeting Calamai in Italy. Daughter of Oscar-winning Greek political filmmaker Constantin Costa-Gavras (* Z*, *State of Siege*, *Missing*) and producer Michèle Ray-Gavras, she initially resisted feature filmmaking, first with law school, then working in production and documentaries, until a story brought her home. In adapting Calamai's novel to the screen, Gavras herself added the Allende storyline to
her script. She was just twelve in 1982 when her father made *Missing*. On the DVD's excellent extras (see also how the children were cast and directed, and what Julie Depardieu thought of growing up with Gerard's rising stardom), she recalls that film – in which Sissy Spacek played an outspoken young American whose husband disappears during the Allende coup, bickering with Jack Lemmon as her judgmental, conservative father-in-law – was her own "political awakening." Gavras also sees the enduring legacy of the 70s as women's liberation, so filmed *Blame it on Fidel* from Anna's
point of view and made her parents' pivotal quarrel about a feminist issue
like abortion.

Gavras comes of age in good company this year. Francis Ford Coppola's daughter Sofia already has her own shelf in the famous directors' section at some rental shops. Zoe (John) Cassavetes' *Broken English* is newly out on DVD, and Alison (Clint) Eastwood's *Rails and Ties* opened last month. All daughters coming home.

*******
*This review appeared in the 12/6/07 issue of the Syracuse *City Eagle *weekly, where "Make it Snappy" is a regular column reviewing DVDs of recent movies that didn't open theatrically in Central New York & older films of enduring worth. *

Nancy Keefe Rhodes
www.MovieCrossRhodes.blogspot.com
Covering film, photo & visual arts

12/14/07

Controversial film:The Great Debaters

What is all the rage in reviewer land is this film, the Great Debaters, made by Denzel Washington, taken from real life of such notables as james Farmer, that has as its subject a small little known black college in southern U.S.A .that produced debaters on a national debate team par excellant. They went on to compete against the great Harvard University and they won!

It is not the success of these men and woman to rise to the top in an often considered "white realm" of intellectual acumen but that the reviewers are mixed in their applause for this film
Reviewing films is not just a simple act of providing the advertising arm for a multi million dollar industry. it is also the art of informing others of what you see and what you think. And this act of written disclosure is best done with a large dose of personal tidbits about the reviewer so that the reader might judge not just what is said but who is saying what about the film reviewed.

And for whatever reason, this film, the Great Debaters , has elicited a great debate.
Not of overwhelming, earth shattering proportion but a debate that focuses on the reason the film was made, the message the film strives to convey and the right of someone so well known as Denzel Washington to engage in this seemingly simple film about people who might not have mattered at all in the course of american history had it not been for this debating team rising to levels of achievement rarely dreamed of, and certainly not embraced as possible by the participants.


Join the fight. Join the controversy. Join the reviewers debate on whether or not this is a good film, a great film, a film that can and should be recommended by reviewers, family members and all who care about what makes
america potentiously a country where excellence triumph over roots.

Need i say more?

Linda Z
WBAI Women's Collective
Active member
WFCC

Life Support: Another View

By Nancy Keefe Rhodes

Life Support
Director: Nelson George
Cast: Queen Latifah, Wendell Pierce, Anna Deavere Smith

"I saw that," said one of my friend's daughters almost at once, pausing to smile broadly and nod her head. "It was good!"

A couple Saturday nights before Thanksgiving in a bustling kitchen with the TV on, three grown daughters home at once and reminiscing, a new baby girl, plus a 17-month-old grandson already well in touch with his charisma, and in the midst of this – as I'm telling my friend about Queen Latifah starring in Nelson George's Life Support, about a women's HIV support group in Brooklyn – that daughter looks up quickly, remembering this film from its HBO broadcast way back in early March. Then Life Support came out quietly on DVD in early August – never hitting the Syracuse racks – but now it's getting a second look as year-end awards season and World AIDS Day programs overlap. And my God-daughter's right: it's good.

For the first time in a decade, despite the World Health Organization's recent correction downward of its global estimates of HIV/AIDS numbers, new infections in the US are rising –some 40,000 annually. Among those most at risk are women of color. Of all New York City boroughs, vast Brooklyn, inscrutable to many upstaters – where Life Support occurs – has the highest incidence of HIV infections. But the very complex, human emotions and dilemmas in this film do such an end-run around our denial that chances are you'll be too engaged to object that it can't happen here.

Life Support is based on the actual agency Life Force, a Brooklyn project that provides HIV testing, education and peer support groups. Some paid staff are HIV+ themselves and also support group participants, such as director George's sister, Andrea Williams, upon whom Ana Wallace (Queen Latifah) is based.

A former addict, Ana has been clean for a decade. Besides her passionate involvement in HIV advocacy, she's blossomed as a model mom to pre-teen daughter Kim (Rayelle Parker). Elder daughter Kelly (Rachel Nicks), a high school basketball star raised by her grandmother Lucille (Anna Deavere Smith), still recalls harsher days and struggles – as really everyone in this film does – with what Nelson George calls "the difficulty of forgiveness." She also still resents Ana's husband Slick (Wendell Pierce, Det. Bunk Moreland in HBO's The Wire), whose own addiction led to Ana's infection. That this marriage is solid again owes much to Slick's steadiness and compassion.

The side-plot driving the crisis is Kelly's dilemma over how to best assist her childhood friend Amare (Evan Ross) – himself addicted, quite ill with AIDS, and missing on the streets after a blow-up with his older, closeted boyfriend. Amare's sister Tanya (Tracee Ellis Ross, his real sister – both have inherited mother Diana's looks and magnetism), tangles with Ana as Ana searches for Amare.

Nelson George, besides directing excellent performances from this cast, also wrote the film. He uses periodic support group sessions to structure advances in the plot. Ana reports upon developments, sharing the evolution of her feelings, perspective and ability to cope. Much as such groups do in real life, this device both allows for and contains emotional meltdowns in a safe place. After each such scene, Ana goes forth again to her life, embodying the axiom of incremental "progress, not perfection."

The support group on-screen and the real one at Life Force are the same, with Andrea Williams appearing on-screen as an unnamed group member. We learn this as the film concludes and final credits roll, including an affecting montage of individual Life Force women who turn their open, level gazes directly into the camera with a subtle but startling effect of leaping through the screen into the room with us, momentarily dissolving that membrane between fiction and the lives it mirrors. But this merely culminates what the film's been doing all along.

Most movie versions of therapy and support groups veer from naïve to preachy to satiric, but George clearly paid attention when he followed his sister around pre-production. Besides embracing Ana, these non-"actorly" women function as witnesses and chorus for the film's entire project, and evoke a kind of ratifying call and response between Latifah's performance and their congregation-like circle. That Nelson George wisely dramatizes his sister's story instead of presenting it straight as documentary biography adds resonance and power; we actively imagine along with the filmmaker rather than simply spectate. The DVD extras deepen this in various ways. Besides some unusually accessible interviews, in one sequence George points at a large street map of Brooklyn's neighborhoods on his office wall and then visits a string of named filming locations, telescoping and animating that map's world – with great economy, suddenly Brooklyn seems neither so vast nor so inscrutable.

At this stage, the name selling Life Support on the DVD cover is Latifah's. Life-long Brooklyn resident Nelson George has not yet made many films. But he's had years of TV and music producing, plus writing some of the most astute, compulsively readable commentary on arts and culture around – besides his columns and novels, fifteen books ranging from Motown to Hip-Hop to basketball to film. I put his Blackface: Reflections on African Americans and the Movies (1994, revised 2002) in the Genuine Find category. There, he maintains that Black women's stories and novels are the "mother lode" future of Black cinema. With Life Support, he walks the talk. And he's good.

*******
This review appears in the 11/29/07 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle weekly, where "Make it Snappy" is a regular column reviewing DVDs of recent movies that didn't open theatrically in CNY & older films of enduring worth. This film is available to rent locally at Emerald City Video, 3208 Erie Blvd. West.

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Posted By Nancy Keefe Rhodes to Movie Cross Rhodes at 11/27/2007

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Nancy Keefe Rhodes
www.MovieCrossRhodes.blogspot.com
Covering film, photo & visual arts.

"A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species homo sapiens - second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter." - Reynolds Price

"A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species homo sapiens - second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter." - Reynolds Price

12/11/07

Silent Light: The work of a genius

SILENT LIGHT
: Carlos Reygadas


PLOT SUMMARY: Into a long forgotten way of Mexican life, the Mennonite northern Mexico self contained community, there appear many signs of change: environmental and in the community's way of life.
Can Light be Silent?

CAST: Mennonite non-actors

FILM COMMENTARY
This is a masterpiece film filled with intense scenes of engaging natural events. the sunset, the watering hole. At the beginning of the film one wonders if the four very young children sitting silently at the breakfast table, their eyes closed as they await their father's pronouncement of Amen, are real or Mannequins. They seem so quiet, so emotionally disconnected. They seem clothed in a wealth of tradition that informs on every action and interaction to the detriment of outward expression of inner feelings.

Until the moment when....the family's Patriarchal head, the father is left alone in the kitchen while his wife and children go off to start their day.

He stands up and adjusts something on the wall. At this point we see only his lower torso. We do not know that what he has adjusted as he stands on the kitchen chair is the ticking clock above the door.

This film is about time and change. We see the ravages of this change after breakfast as the father sits alone, and is silent. There is a seemingly interminable series of moments as he sits and says nothing and we go from looking at him, to looking at the white stove that shares equal visual stage with the blue shirted father. This is an example of how the film maker is thinking about the viewer, not about how technically correct the picture frame is but how he can convey with no words the theme of the film, As the father sits and thinks, so must we.

At this point we know we are seeing the genius of a true craftsman. Because the human eye can not stay away from the stove.
As much as i wanted to look to the man, to see with eager anticipation what he is doing or about to do, my eye and mind seemed to function with rules of their own.
My conscious mind losses the battle.

I kept going back to the white stove. I counted the handles on the stove, the burners. I absorbed the green tea kettle on the stove and envisioned the food baking or being broiled.. This is a stove i know well, very well even though there is nothing else about this man or his life or his family that is familiar.

And that is the magnificent beauty of Silent Light. The old, the traditional shattered by the new:, The comparatively small tea kettle on a relatively modern stove in an old fashioned kitchen/farm house. . The dirt roads now paved with asphalt, maxi trucks pass by, the tractor to turn the field and the cows milked not by hand but by machines.

Silent Light is a tragedy, propelled by the ravishes of time that we can't "turn back" It is driven by the father's passion, his love, his need for love embodied in a woman who is not his "good" wife.
Although he knows his inability to desist from seeing the "other woman"; will shatter the life he leads as it does his children's he can not stop seeing her.
His battle is not with God but with time and time wins out.

While his wife has that intimacy of maternal love to satisfy her emotional strivings he desperately needs a woman to quench his human appetite.

In every scene and every moment of this film we are met with the old and the new and in the end, the pain of loss is so palpable that I cried and I didn't stop crying until the lights came on and i was standing outside trying to remember my next appointment, my next activity in my all too busy life.


RECOMMENDATION
See it! It isn't in the theaters but try to get a DVD. It will be well worth your effort.

LindaZ

12/5/07

CANVAS

Canvas
written and directed by
Joseph Greco

What a great example of why critical women is such an important blog.
Canvas is a feel good film about a woman( Marcia Gay Harden) who becomes mentally ill and has to be hospitalized: her struggle to get well and how her family, husband (award winning actor Joe Pantoliano )and young son(Devon Gearhart) mobilize to help her while continuing to live their seemingly normal lives


This is a film in which the problem people, the objectionable people, the ones who cause such trouble in this world seem to be the woman. This family loves her, they wish her well, they wish she were more in this world than on display as the crazy woman but why? Why must the woman be the 'bad" guy.

It is a film about male bonding. about a son and his father getting on in this troubled environment. It is a film which never really addresses why the mother/wife/woman is ill, what they have done to contribute to her malady. She is just sick, like out of the clear blue sky she starts to hear voices and will go to seemingly any length to curtail the voices she hears that no one else can discern.

Oh my. And these voices are? And her illness can or can not be cured with medicine? or worse, therapy, talking, discovering who she is and what she is about is nonexistant. What happened to an idea that mental illness is more than just a chemical alteration. That it is a function of being human, of trying to fit into a world where the patient feels alienated, and/or threatened.

This film is an embarrassment for woman, for the mentally ill and yet, even I felt compelled to see it to the end, engrossed in its content. I cringed my way through the agony of the narrow mindedness but I didn't turn away from it. That is the point. I am so Hollywood trained that my ability to enjoy this film seems solid and yet the film is alien to all I know and want to see.

I do not recommend this film. It is too sever in its narrow depiction of women and the mentally ill. Perhaps it will be remade, same theme different focus. let's hope so


Linda Z

DVD 2006

12/3/07

Margot At the Wedding

Margot at the Wedding
Noah Baumbach


There was something so real about this film, something about the dialogue that made me feel like, yes, that could have been me, yes, I understand what they are saying and why and yet...................

I don't think i understood what this film is about. Something to do with relationships, with women, sisters, (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Nicole Kldman) and why women act the way they do and women's relationship to children and marriage and life and all of that good stuff which never is all that good.

and yet
Why are they the way they are. Where did these two sisters, now grown women come from and where are they going, if anywhere. I don't even know which sister is older and which is the younger one. Does that matter? I think so because it is indicative of how little background the film provides on the characters. Depth is not the strong point of this film.

But the dialogue was great. The characters interaction was well worth viewing. and Jack Black was just terrific. There seemed to be real chemistry between Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jack Black, the couple who were about to be married. i just wish i could have understood the plot, the subplot, the where and what for.

But maybe you will understand more than I did. Give it a try.

LindaZ

Scott Rudin Productions

11/24/07

Female Rebel Food Fight, Iranian Style

Border Cafe
First Run Features
Iran (In Farsi, Turkish, Greek, Russian, and German).

The tenderly crafted tale of a determined young Iranian widow to run her own truckstop diner to support her children, rather than deferring to strict tradition that mandates she marry her late husband's brother as his second wife and go live with him, Border Cafe is really a tribute to women as second class citizens everywhere who struggle for self-determination. Fereshteh Sadre Orafaei is Reyhan, the fiercely independent-minded mother of two who won't take no for an answer from her overbearing brother-in-law Nasser (Parviz Parastoei). She also happens to be a fabulous cook.

Which is exactly where the two most vehemently if not overtly, clash in this female rebel food fight. Nasser runs his own diner in town, which to his utter humiliation is losing business, not only to a competitor, but a woman. When all else fails, Nasser cruelly invokes existing draconic laws, which leave only a tiny fraction of a husband's inheritance to the widow if the late spouse failed to ever file a will. Nasser may prevail in battle, but there's still plenty of fire to spare when it comes to this spunky widow, in the greater gender wars.

Border Cafe is teeming, not only with heaping portions of Reyhan's delectable dishes, but loads of charm, local flavor and colorful town eccentrics. There's also a protective surrogate family surrounding the vulnerable young mom at the bustling crossroads cafe between Iran and Turkey, including her frontman waiter who shields her from inquiring males questioning the presence of a feisty single working woman carving out her own life for herself; a young female Russian runaway who learns enough Farsi to help do the dishes; and a smitten Greek trucker equally infatuated with Reyhan and her eggplant stew.

Iranian filmmaker Kambozia Partovi, who also penned the screenplay for The Circle, helms Border Cafe in the visually and emotionally lyrical, socially conscious tradition of that country's esteemed procession of contemporary directors. Border Cafe is a small gem with an enormous heart, biting wit, and a take-no-prisoners one woman hit squad, even if she's tied up in the kitchen.

DVD Features: Discussion Guide, including Director's Statement, Director's Biography, and About Iran.
More information is online at: Firstrunfeatures.com.

Prairie Miller

11/21/07

Blame It On Fidel: Radical Girl Consciousness Raising, And Proud

By Prairie Miller

As much a coming of age story shedding light on the growing process of parents as well as their children, Blame It On Fidel is about the difficult path a young girl moves through, in adjusting to life in a left wing family. But this surprising tale full of wisdom and imagination uniquely from a child's point of view, could easily be about the growing pains of any youngster as they come face to face with the complicated revelation that not only are they indeed not the center of their family's caring universe, but that their parents are actually individuals in their own right too. Blame It On Fidel is in addition graced with an especially knowing point of view, as it's based on the in equal parts emotionally idiosyncratic and ideologically impassioned childhood of director Julie Gavras, daughter of none other than legendary political filmmaker, Costa Gavras (Z, State Of Siege).

Blame It On Fidel is the story of nine year old Anna (Nina Kervel), who leads a comfortable bourgeois life in Paris. Her politically progressive parents, lawyer Fernando (Stefano Accorsi) and magazine writer Marie (Julie Depardieu, daughter of Gerard) are both from highly affluent families. But it's 1970, and Anna's parents respond to the turbulent tenor of the times, as critical events unfold in Franco's Spain, Chile and Greece.

As Anna's parents become increasingly immersed in political struggles, she finds herself ignored and marginalized in their lives. Her resentment is shared by the housekeeper who left Cuba and, well, blames it all on Fidel. As well as anyone with a suspect beard. The family is eventually relocated to a smaller, dingy apartment as they devote themselves exclusively to their ideals and sideline their professional careers. Meanwhile, Anna barely comprehends her own deepening resentments. But as the apartment begins to be filled with activists and assorted political refugees from around the globe, Anna starts to understand on her own delightfully distinct child's level through something as simple as cutting up an orange for a snack, notions like sharing and economic equality and justice, that these enthusiastic visitors embrace.

Blame It One Fidel radiates a touching clarity that movies about children have much to learn from. Namely, the formative intelligence of a child making sense out of an often confounding adult world, and the courage and necessity of their elders to just listen.

A Koch Entertainment Release
DVD Features: Deleted scenes presented by the director. Also, Featurettes: The Making Of Blame It On Fidel, Behind The Scenes, and the theatrical trailer.

Prairie Miller

Waitress On DVD: Girl Homage By Slain Director To Savory, Sassy And Self-Effacing Southern Women

By Prairie Miller

If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, then the late Adrienne Shelly has succeeded with uncommon grace and warmth in covering all bases with Waitress. Queens born writer, director, co-star, and original Hal Hartley screen muse Shelly's last film just before being brutally murdered this past November, is a wacky homage to the frustrated hopes of blue collar women that seduces the audience with scrumptious pie recipes as creative expression of thwarted lives.

Keri Russell is Jenna, the small town Southern beauty stuck in virtual captivity by her controlling and abusive husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto). Jenna buries her pain in turning out tempting pies at the local diner where she works, along with her mutually supportive friendships with fellow waitresses, sassy Becky (Cheryl Hines) and shy, self-effacing Dawn (Adrienne Shelly).

When Jenna finds herself pregnant in a loveless marriage after Earl gets her drunk one night, she visits the handsome new gynecologist in town, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). In a most unusual case of two for the price of one, Jenna gets prenatal care along with lots of lusty tender loving care from the very married but smitten doc. A rare girl homage to the vulnerability and victimhood of the 'other woman,' rather than the usual male guilty-free pleasure demonization telegraphed by male directors and critics alike, dealing with their own dubious baggage.

And when words fail to evoke the often indescribable lunacy, the eloquent savory pies speak for themselves. 'I Don't Want Earl's Baby Pie: made of scrambled eggs with a smoked ham center.' Or, 'I Can't Have No Affair Because I Don't Want Earl To Kill Me Pie: done up with custard meringue - hold the banana.' A calorie-free delectable treat of a movie.

Fox Home Entertainment
Rated PG-13
4 stars

DVD Features: Audio Commentaries by producer Michael Roiff and star Keri Russell; Behind The Scenes: This Is How We Made Waitress Pie, Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character with Keri Russell, Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character with Cheryl Hines, and Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character with Nathan Fillion; Documentary: Written and Directed by Adrienne Shelly: A Memorial; Featurettes: Hi! I'm Keri, I'll Be Your Waitress, The Pies Have It!, and A Message from Keri Russell about the Adrienne Shelly Foundation.

Prairie Miller

11/20/07

Love In The Time Of Cholera: Sexual Loyalty As Sexual Excess With Faceless Babes In Heat

By Prairie Miller

Perhaps more aptly titled Sex In the Time of Cholera, this screen adaptation of Nobel Prize winning Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez's combo runaway bestseller and instant classic weirdly proposes sexual excess as the cure for unrequited love. Javier Bardem is sad sack Fiorentino, the heartsick spurned lover of lower class origins pining away for half a century to no avail, for high born heiress Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogirno), who defers to her disapproving, snobby family.

Before you can say Love In The Time Of Cholera, Bardem seems to have moved on in quite a hurry from last week's No Country For Old Men's charming serial killer to Fiorentino's sexist serial kisser. He's a man drowning his sorrows in an endless round of quickies with 623 faceless babes in heat, while he waits five decades for Fermina's haughty hubby (Benjamin Bratt) to die, hopefully sooner than later.


John Leguizamo chews up the 19th century Spanish Provincial scenery as a fretful father frantic to protect his daughter from men without money. Meanwhile, Bardem comes off as more lewd than likable, pouting his way through the film while hitting on any available hottie of the moment. The second movie in as many months (following Descent), about male rape, only this time the 40 year old virgin in question can't get enough of being devoured by the mystery woman who overpowers him, and shamelessly lurks around for more.

While the sensuous established period scenery that the camera seemingly caresses around the Colombian seacoast city of Cartagena is exquisitely palpable, this lurid tale with an overblown sense of its own impressiveness and satirical effect is no match, lacking emotional coherence and empathy. Director Mike Newell, whose imagination was significantly more ignited filming Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, also helmed the dry gallows humor of Four Weddings And A Funeral. Love In The Time Of Cholera exhibits it's own related ailment, namely the confidence of an attachment to a famed work of art that overshadowed the necessity to enthusiastically captures its essence in a movie.

New Line Cinema
Rated R
2 stars

11/15/07

A response/addendum to Prairie Miller's "What Would Jesus Buy"

Sometimes humor works to bring to the fore issues of serious proportions. When a comic book presentation of World War II was created many a potential publisher turned it down to their personal and financial regret So it isn't that I object to The Revenand Billy's approach to this serious problem of an out
of control hunger for things procured on credit just to "look good, but there wasn't sufficient reference to the severity of the problem.

Are we all mind controlled? Has the media won the battle over our intellegent integrity?
Is the economic system that keeps this consumer society afloat so powerful that the intervention of mindful efforts to assess, to understand where this desire for ever/more comes from can not be curbed? And maybe it isn't just Christmas, Maybe the mall is at the core of our evil empire.

Shopping, like gambling, has seconary gratifications not approached in this film and the consequences of decreasing the exercise of our indiviual splurges wasn't sufficiently touched upon.

Why does Rev. Billy have such a strong following? What do these people, who are singing with passion, risking arrest and potential bodily harm think, feel? What are they really doing and why?
These questions that threaten to give depth to this shopping malais on both a societal and indivual level are not approached.

Where would China, Japan, Korea be if Americans looked and did not buy the stuff they make? The entire Disney world of things, the New York City M&M store and its stuff and stuff, The Hallmark store of grossly non essential items, and the multiplicity of nail stores popping up even in my backyard. Oh Jesus, where are you, with your loin cloth, a stick and minimal intake of nurishment? Where are you when we need your teaching by example. Gone

Although this movie is entertaining, has a message that is so important and must be put out into the public realm for discussion, I found it boring at points, which is to be expected in a documentary, and superficial. Many documentaries are superficial but from a political movie I expected more depth, more meat to chew on.


Linda Z

11/10/07

The What Would Jesus Buy? Review

What Would Jesus Buy?

By Prairie Miller

Religion aside for a moment, there's a terrible addiction that has swept across this country, and it's one of the nation's best kept secrets. Mostly everyone will tell you that it's a really bad thing, but nobody can seem to stop doing it. And it doesn't come cheap, nearly sixty percent of us are in long term debt because of it. No, we're not talking booze, drugs or overeating. It's shopping. And over 15 million Americans may in fact be addicted to it.

Rob VanAlkemade's 'What Would Jesus Buy?' is a rousing, irreverent and simultaneously sobering documentary about the year round destructive shopaholic obsession that spins into an out of control buying and spending orgy by the time Christmas rolls around. The movie follows performance activist Reverend Billy and his ragtag cross country caravan, The Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, to bring the voice of reason a few holiday seasons ago, to compulsive consumers everywhere.

The intent of this countdown to Christmas is to save the holiday from what Reverend Billy has dubbed only slightly in jest, the Shopocalypse. Ironically, many of his group are injured when one of their buses collides on a highway with a truck rushing to deliver Christmas merchandise to stores. Meanwhile, the Reverend muses, 'everyone in a car is driving to a television.'

The What Would Jesus Buy? project is the brainchild of Morgan Spurlock, the same guy who in a less spiritual frame of mind, lost the junk food battle of the bulge against McDonald's with his Academy Award nominated high calorie investigative doc, Super Size Me. The concerns of What Would Jesus Buy? are broader than digestion issues, as Reverend Billy and entourage put out a wakeup call to mall junkies everywhere, exorcising the demons from assorted cash registers and credit cards as he urges consumers to return to a more authentic relationship to Christmas.

Reverend Billy's approach to advocating healing social change, along with the thousands of followers in his congregation, is to infuse protest with humor, energizing his message with feelgood social activism. The businesses he holds up to a higher standard may not feel quite the same way, as the manic preacher formerly known as Bill Talen has been booted from countless stores and malls, and is the only bible thumper to have a permanent restraining order against him issued by Starbucks. With his clerical collar, white tuxedo, bleached blonde pompadour and portable pulpit and ambulatory confession booth in tow, Reverend Billy has ranted to whomever will give a listen, urging folks to get in touch with a more human, less materialistic way of life and consider the promise that a 'change-allelujah' shout-out can bring.

At once bouyant and a little sad, What Would Jesus Buy? includes candid conversations with the shopping disorder afflicted who, seriously bitten by the overconsumption bug, just can't seem to help themselves. One teen confesses that if she doesn't constantly buy the latest clothing fashions, she's terrified of being ostracized and ridiculed by everyone at school. Elsewhere a mural displays a dismayed Jesus, where instead of a cross and nails, he's loaded down with armfuls of shopping bags, and likely an over-extended credit card too. And a woman shows off her closet at home filled to the brim with colorful outfits - all for her pet chihuahua. On the other hand, life isn't necessarily a breeze living with a guy who's driven to get his message out there 24/7. Reverend Billy's wife, the straight man to her prankish spouse of the cloth, confesses, 'we fell in love before I knew what he was up to.'

Not all viewers may find Reverend Billy's intervention quite so divine in What Would Jesus Buy?. But whatever his particular madness, there's an unmistakable method at work, inspiring real reflection when it comes to exactly what this consumerized holiday season is all about.

More information about What Would Jesus Buy? and Reverend Billy, is online at: WWJBmovie.com and RevBilly.com. The theatrical release schedule is available at those websites, including the 11/16 opening at the Cinema Village in New York City, and at California and other theaters around the country later in November and December.

Prairie Miller

11/5/07

No Country For Old Men: Cowboys Dump Lassos For Uzi's Along The Tex-Mex Border

By Prairie Miller

A kind of neo-Western in the worst sense of that formerly idealized notion, Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country For Old Men is biblical, meditative but also a brash, horrific and even comical post-modern cowboy dystopia where saddles, spurs and cowpokes have been replaced with Uzi's, dope smugglers and drug massacres along the Tex-Mex border. Adapted from the popular 2003 novel by Cormac McCarthy and visually crafted from the panoramic, lean and luminous lens of master cinematographer Roger Deakins, the film manages the feat of both utter shock with the raw truth of depraved, meaningless violence, while calling into question how that reality has come to permeate and dominate modern existence.

Tommy Lee Jones is sullen, jaded and perplexed Sheriff Bell, a rural Texas lawman who wanders the bleak landscape in a bewildered state of mind as an aging man who has lost his sense of purpose in the world. Having fallen out of touch some time ago with a society dominated by border drug wars and steeped in greed, casual brutality, an insatiable hunger for money and the cruelty necessary to obtain it, Bell muses out loud about the loss of any moral anchor he imagines the elders like his father or God embodied. Meanwhile out in the surrounding wilderness, a trailer park local and Viet Nam veteran Llewlyn Moss (Josh Brolin) who's been out hunting antelopes, comes across the scene of a bloody gang shootout, an apparent big drug deal gone bad. When Moss spots a briefcase with two million dollars among the dead bodies, he takes off with the money to a motel in the next town.

But unknown to Moss, is that the briefcase contains a sensor tracking device, and Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) the furious varmint with ticking sensor meter in tow and a ruthless psychopath to say the least, is hot on his trail. With a frightening leer, neatly coiffed boyish bowl cut and soft-spoken, intimidating grace while toying with randomly chosen kind hearted, salt of the earth country folk he giddily dispatches to the afterlife along with way, Bardem's sadistic fiend has got to be the most ghoulish homicidal maniac around since Jack The Ripper.

And try as he may to elude this apparently high IQ monster and make off with the cash, at one point sneaking across the Mexican border riddled with bullets and covered in blood only to wake up on the street the next morning to find himself serenaded by a mariachi band, Moss is no match for this determined stalker, or the equally ripped off Mexican drug gang gunning for them. Nor the dapper gumshoe for hire, Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson) recruited to track them both down, who visits Moss in the Mexican hospital where he's recovering, bearing a big bouquet of flowers and some prudent, unheeded advice that he just call it quits.

But the real main character in all this assorted ensemble mayhem, is the money. And though the Coen brothers as usual delight in messing around with audience expectations, and whether or not an appropriate response is laughter or dread at any given time, they're dead serious when it comes to their own feelings about the deplorable state of the world right now. And exactly the role that money plays, in corrupting people, driving them to extreme acts of desperation and depravity, and dehumanizing everyone around them in the process.

No Country For Old Men is ultimately, oddly, a cautionary romantic tale, a story of money love, how it courses its way through the bloodstream of the human race like a contagion, the symbolic darkness in man, and dividing those it touches and infects, from one another. And Tommy Lee Jones' sheriff, whose contemplations bookend this extraordinary film as mournful voiceover, is left to helplessly ponder and lament the seeming disappearance of any moral center from the planet, and the decaying abyss of a shaky future.


No Country For Old Men
Miramax Films
Rated R
3 1/2 stars

Prairie Miller

10/27/07

The Reaping: Menstrual Blood And Unprotected Sex Get The Occult Curse Treatment

The Reaping, DVD Review

Swank pouts her way through The Reaping as a disillusioned minister turned cynical professional globe trotting religious miracle debunker.

By Prairie Miller

A contrived, copycat supernatural thriller in which the various plagues from the ancient scriptures pay a visit to religious fanatics in present times, The Reaping is about as new and different as Biblical lore, and a shameless ripoff of just about every occult movie imaginable, from The Omen to Rosemary's Baby. Hilary Swank pouts her way through The Reaping as Katherine, a disillusioned minister turned cynical professional globe trotting religious miracle debunker. She travels the world to self-fulfill her own brand of prophecy, namely that science can explain away any religious phenomenon as a combination of toxins and "the economically deprived, who will believe in anything."

When Katherine is summoned to a murky Louisiana bayou to out some supernatural forces that are aggravating the local townfolk there, she faces off against a wild child (AnnaSophia Robb) who inhabits a tree trunk, a swamp flowing with human blood, bayou trees raining down frogs, a bull who totals her car, and a possibly not so immaculate conception after being offered a beer by Ripley hunk David Morrissey. The devil made me do it could apply here to either Swank's perplexed mom-to-be or director Stephen Hopkins, plying these tasteless wares.

10/25/07

Crash: Two Views

GENDER CRASH
By Sikivu Hutchinson
Blackfemlens.org

While mainstream critics continue to foam at the mouth over the “verisimilitude” of Academy winner Crash’s racial politics, the film’s retrograde gender politics have been all but ignored. Crash’s testosterone-soaked L.A. is a parable of male redemption forged on the backs of women. By using the picture of a grief stricken black woman cowering in the arms of a white male policeman as the signature image for its newspaper ads, the subtext of Crash’s “provocative” charge rests in its exploitation of the political and social disenfranchisement of women of color. The film’s centerpiece act of racial profiling hinges on the sexual violation of an African American woman (played by Thandie Newton) who then becomes a pawn in the movie’s male redemption sweepstakes. After Newton’s character is molested by Matt Dillon’s racist thug cop at a traffic stop, her plight is effectively eclipsed by her buppie husband’s inner struggle with his sense of alienation and emasculation as a white-identified black man. The age-old dance between white men and black men for patriarchal control is hence waged over the body of a black woman—while the thug policeman gets to redeem and regain his sense of moral authority by rescuing the hapless black woman, the black producer legitimizes his manhood through a deadly verbal duel with the LAPD in a gratuitous attempt to show how “hard” he really is.

The display of black male “hardness” for the validating gaze of white male authority, set against the “backdrop” of the black woman’s body, is an all too familiar historical “mise-èn-scene.” A cornerstone of the antebellum plantation economy, degraded black female sexuality has not only become one of the most valuable commodities in pop culture but in the media’s eroticized fantasy of urban criminality. The assault of Newton’s upper crust buppie black woman is a not so subtle reminder that black women who aspire to the trappings of domesticated protected white middle class femininity are liable to be treated like just another “ghetto ho.” Yet the film’s retrograde images of passive Asian and Latina femininity also fit squarely into this paradigm of female serviceability and patriarchal control. In Crash’s universe, a female El Salvadoran police detective beds her African American partner and becomes the ballast for his professional and personal travails, while her dilemma of being one of the few Latinas on a notoriously racist sexist police force goes unexplored: a “generic” Latina maid is strategically deployed to validate the bruised ego and self-pity of a racist rich white woman: and the wife of a Chinese smuggler is depicted as a shrill harpy who spews broken English at the scene of a fender bender she’s been involved in. This trio of portrayals bespeaks an L.A. in which women of color have zero political agency of their own. In this respect, the film’s lack of fully-realized female characters is not only a reflection of the overall bankruptcy of Hollywood gender representation but is yet another example of the assassination of the image of women of color in mainstream American society.

The egregiousness of these portrayals is particularly pronounced with regard to the film’s Asian characters. Both the Chinese female character and her husband provide “comic relief” for the voyeurism of non-Asian audiences who have been trained to view all Asians as de facto fresh off the boat others. Their narrative is tacked onto the movie as a coda with a twist that not only emphasizes the mendacity of the immigrant smuggling underworld but implicitly highlights how “out of tune” these old world figures are with core “American” values of freedom and democracy.

After he is hit by a pair of black male carjackers while standing at the door of his van, the Chinese male character is next shown much later in the film recovering from his injuries in a hospital as he is fawned over by his wife. Other than a reunion scene at the hospital, these characters’ screen time is flat and stereotypical. The lack of nuance given to the portrayal of the smuggler, coupled with the shrill incomprehensibility of his wife, effectively dehumanizes the two characters.

The “feminization” of Asians in general and Asian men in particular is a common thread in Western film and literature. Time and time again Asian men are vilified as inscrutable scheming purveyors of hierarchical backward cultures that are incompatible with Western modernity, while Asian women are stereotyped as coy lotus blossoms or sneaky dragon ladies who exist solely to reinforce the heroism and moral superiority of white male protagonists. In one of the most dubious images of the film, a woman who has just been “liberated” by the black male character who discovers her and the other smuggled immigrants in the back of the Chinese male character’s van gazes amazedly at the display of flashy goods in an electronic store. Shot in the dreary night of an amorphous Los Angeles, the paradoxical implication of this scene is that whatever the barbarous circumstances that brought her to the U.S., this is the land of freedom, democracy, and capitalist plenty and anything is possible if you bootstrap. Swallowed up into the maelstrom of the big bad city, she becomes yet another faceless voiceless prop in the film’s ethnic arsenal. The larger truth of how women like her have come to comprise the backbone of L.A.’s underground economy is a narrative to powerful for the film’s pat moral of phony redemption.


HIGH ANXIETY CRASH COURSE ALONG THE COUNTRY'S RACE AND CLASS DIVIDE
By Prairie Miller

Set logically in LA, the road rage capital of the world, Crash weighs in on the explosive mix of cars and race that notoriously tends to play out there. Paul Haggis, who just struck it rich with his screenplay for Million Dollar Baby, moves on from Baby's skid row for his directing debut in a movie that weaves in and out of the harrowing and yet often deeply touching high anxiety network along the California race and class divide.

One of the dirty little secrets of the car-dominated modern US city and the way they've been shaped (and yes, the suburbs too), is that they've been built to please the automotive and oil industries, and not to create people-friendly, close-knit communities with the emphasis on human proximity and connectedness. If LA served as the shining example of this dubious model, it has also been the nerve center of its fateful shortcomings. That would be everything from smog to profound alienation.

And Haggis, unlike the typical filmmaker who sees no value in connecting to the larger world around him, let alone history, creates raw, candid and bracing drama out of all the unspoken race and class tensions that surround and on occasion intrude into our waking lives. This is by no means a simple task, and Haggis is sometimes lured into the pitfalls of emotional excess and contrived coincidences.

Latching on to the current popularity of inverted narrative, where a connection among the characters is revealed later rather than sooner, Haggis builds his story with a measured and haunting pace. Spontaneous racial hostility and fear break out around a series of car crashes. A pair of young ghetto carjackers cause otherwise upstanding elites, like the wealthy housewife played by Sandra Bullock, to morph into perpetrators of foul racism, as against the Latino locksmith securing the newly paranoid woman's front door. Matt Dillon, a cop who is stressed out by a medical bureaucracy that isn't properly caring for his ailing father, irrationally retaliates by hurling mean spirited racial epithets over the phone to a Black medical office worker, and later on further works off his resentments by molesting an affluent Black female motorist (Thandie Newton) under the pretext of frisking her.

These are just some examples of a film teeming with solemn recognition of the nasty complexities of living in a multicultural society, and much of what remains unspoken racially in America being neatly shoved under a complacent rug. But far from just a self-critical expose, Crash is also a search for goodness even in the darkest heart in the real world we live in. And potential redemption that is in no way the easy happy ending, but tentatively seeks to lead in that enormously difficult direction.

Prairie Miller