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

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

10/24/07

Since Otar Left

Since Otar Left
Director Julie Bertucelli

Since Otar Left is a slow moving but enthralling film without
violence, without anger displayed with throwing objects around a room,
and without guns or dead bodies and nudity was not to be seen.
Instead, it is a movie with the sensitivity and attention to emotional
detail that reassured me that yes, films can relate to the feminine
side of my being.

It is the story of three generations of women living in the crumbling
squalor of former USSR city Tibilisi, Georgia.

Three women experience the trying times of this city in transition,
as do we, the viewer. The women Elder matriarch Eka (Esther
Gorintin). her daughter Marina (Nino Khomassourioze) and , her own
daughter (Dinara Drukarova) tell the story of a brief period in their
lives when Otar dies, Otar, Eka's son, Marina's Brother and Dinara
's Uncle, was a trained Doctor working as an illegal immigrant day
laborer in Paris. .

We never see him but his letters, his phone calls, his very existence
is the pivotal point around which this film revolves. When the women
are told of Otar's death their lives change.

This film re-ignited my understanding of how normal women in
trying situations can survive with a heavy dose of love, caring, and
unselfish concern for each other's well being.


A must see film


On DVD

Linda Z

The Inner Life Of Martin Frost: An Imagination On Fire

The Inner Life Of Martin Frost: An Imagination On Fire
directed, produced and written by Paul Auster

The Inner Life of Martin Frost is a serious film.

It must be serious, because there is very little music to augment the action, and the interaction between the characters.

There are only four actors, which further informs on the serious nature of the words, the ideas put forth.

This is a serious film about the inner life of a writer, a life where reality, whatever that is, is constantly being interrupted, augmented by the creative artistic mind that can never fully "turn off."

Fantasy becomes a quasi reality for the author, Martin Frost (Paul Auster}. And this dual existence is what Paul Auster tries to convey in 92 minutes.

Does he succeed?

That is for each viewer to answer. For me, just understanding what the film is about, was enough to make it worthwhile. Even though it isn't perfect, the casting of Sophie Auster as Anna James doesn't work, because Sophia radiates wealth, sophistication, the trademark of an upper class woman, rather than the homeless waif she is trying to be. And the repetition of Martin at the end of every sentence Claire (Rene Jacob) utters, is annoying.

But who cares? The ideas conveyed carry the film, and these ideas are very serious, They grapple with everyday notions of sanity, reality and the consequences of the confusion between the two that
touch the mundane lives of artists. Both those who " make it," and those who don't.

I recommend this film for its intelligence, its presentation. Even though the dialogue is weak and the casting not quite right. The quietness of the few moments of the ebb and flow of this film make it a unique and intense experience.

Linda Z

10/23/07

Before The Devil Knows You're Dead: A DOA Human Cesspool Marinated In Murky Madness

The prolific, apparently still fully energized filmmaking legend, eighty three year old Sidney Lumet, is also far from thematically set in his ways, if his latest work, the corrosive crime thriller Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, is any indication. Or perhaps it's a case of reflecting a changing social canvas around him, one far more cynical today, and shaped morally by the ever deepening corrupt influences of money and the fanatical raw greed so instrumental in obtaining and possessing it. Lumet's passionate sense of social justice, ethical conviction and human redemption in films like Twelve Angry Men, The Verdict and Network may have dampened with age, though his gift for delving into the darkest recesses of the defiling human soul that he once so boldly challenged, is as sharply honed as any of the younger filmmakers around.

The title of the film is taken from a traditional Irish drinking toast, "May you be in heaven half an hour, before the devil knows you're dead." And in a narrative devoid of any heroes, one might assess the title as long winded but certainly not excessive in its brutal pessimism. The story revolves around the caustic relationship between two bad seed siblings, elder Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a shady Manhattan businessman with a secret coke habit who is living beyond his means and desperately in need of some quick cash, and younger brother Hank (Ethan Hawke), a weak-willed whining loser also drowning in debt that includes alimony and child support due to a nagging ex-wife and a financially needy young daughter.

Andy hatches what he promotes as a foolproof plan to send gullible Hank to rob their parents' mom 'n pop strip mall jewelry store in suburban Westchester. Tragic complications arise when Hank wimps out and drags a bad news ex-con buddy into the heist without Andy's knowledge or consent, and his felonious chum and elderly pistol packing Mom (Rosemary Harris) end up in a fierce, bloody shootout where they basically blow each other away.

Meanwhile, Andy's bored and frustrated sexpot trophy wife (Marisa Tomei) has been meeting Hank on the sly for steamy afternoon sex trysts at his seedy hovel. Marisa's pretty much kept around in the movie just for occasional guy sexual satisfaction in assorted bedrooms between bouts of their bad boy behavior out in the real world. This includes writhing around nude on the sheets in a real time lurid opener, while pretending to be thrilled out of her mind to be humped by Hoffman's equally nude flabby physique, as he's more fixated on admiring his own sweaty pudgy gyrations in the bedroom mirror. Eventually nearly everyone seems to be betraying if not outright gunning after at least one other person, even dear old Dad (Albert Finney), with most of them shockingly, much too-close-for-comfort sharing the same gene pool.

Though crafted as a taut, effective dysfunctional family crime thriller with rarely a dull or distracting moment, the deadly, dehumanizing entanglements are endlessly vile and dreary, if not outright clinically depressing. Which leads to basically a single clear thought about the human cesspool in all this murky madness. Namely, what's the point. Sorry Sid, but I liked you a whole lot better when you stood for a few important things, like moral outrage against oppression and injustice, rather than conceding to these negative forces and essentially wallowing in them.

Prairie Miller

10/21/07

Miss Navajo: Welcome Antidote to Soulless Spectacle Of The Usual Female Sex Object Glamour Gladiator Beauty Pageants

Funded by the Sundance Institute Native Program, Miss Navajo is filmmaker Billy Luther's reverential tribute to his mom, a former winner of the annual Miss Navajo beauty pageant in Table Mesa, New Mexico, and a celebration of the collective womanhood of the Navajo Nation. Don't expect the usual bosomy bathing suit runway stiletto strutting, aspiring girl goddess hair and makeup regimens, coveting of Madison Ave and Hollywood contracts, and flirty come-ons to the crowd, because the Miss Navajo pageant is strictly about female pride, and being smart, creative and immersed in the wisdom and continuity of traditions and tribal roots.

The Navajo Nation is the largest tribe in this country, that is, of what remains of the surviving oppressed indigenous peoples subjected to historical ethnic cleansings and genocide. As one contestant describes the pageant, it's in part a proud gesture 'to tell the dominant culture that we're Native Americans, and here we are, we're alive.'

Women are traditionally respected leaders in this farming community, and so the primary values considered in the competition have nothing to do with sex appeal or conventional notions of glamour. Females of all sorts of shapes and sizes come together to impress the enthusiastic audience and judges with their creative skills in designing art projects, Native costumes, communicating in the original Navajo tongue once banned by the dominant culture, and even the killing and shearing of sheep. One contestant is understandably so overwhelmed by the latter, that she has to be taken away in an ambulance and later drops out of the contest entirely.

A welcome antidote to the dominant society's soulless spectacle of the female sex object glamour girl gladiators scrutinized so brutally in the feature film Little Miss Sunshine, Miss Navajo has much to enlighten and convey to American women about self-respect, gender consciousness, honoring historical memory, and collective unity versus ruthless competition. Miss Navajo also ends on a tender, lyrical and euphoric note, with the reciting of a Navajo poem honoring the proudly unshorn hair of women, not for its powers of male seduction, but rather as passionate personal and tribal expressions of emotional state of being and shared gender identity.

Miss Navajo will air on PBS Television on November 16th. More information is online at: PBS.org.

Prairie Miller

10/20/07

Hairspray: Two Views

The Unbearable Whiteness of Viewing Tween-Teen Film

By Sikivu Hutchinson
BlackFemLens.org

On Friday nights, after the clamor of the school day dies down and the kid-driven euphoria of the weekend mounts, a simple trip to the video store in search of a children’s DVD can resemble a cultural minefield. While feature length DVD's of Barbie, imperiled princesses, anthropomorphized ponies with flowing hair and big blue eyes, and Europeanized Japanese characters abound, cartoon or dramatic depictions that center on girl of color protagonists are, not surprisingly, absent from the shelves.* The lack is a reminder of how little progress has been made in the tween/teen film industry, despite the widespread mantra that youth multiculturalism in advertising and programming is “hot” and a colorblind standard is the norm.


To be a girl of color and a media consumer is to be positioned as perpetual voyeur. Media savvy, deluged with the latest fashion and glamour news on pop singers and fifteen minutes of fame movie stars, girls of color negotiate a morass of cultural products that supposedly promote “affirming” themes for tween/teen girlhood. In this era of tween/teen consumer sophistication, the narrative of the empowered heroine predominates. One of the more shopworn examples of this empowerment narrative is represented by the scrappy white heroine, alà the protagonist of the summer movie musical hit Hairspray, set in 1960s Baltimore. The scrappy white heroine is a time honored tradition in literature, mainstream movie melodrama and teen flicks. She is generally an outsider of sorts; either in appearance, class station or both. She fearlessly treads where the more self-absorbed won’t deign to venture, breaking curfew, defying the strict Christian mores of her straight-laced family and/or most daringly, consorting with the denizens of black communities. For this heroine racial otherness is an adventure, a resort vacation into heretofore unexplored vistas of self-discovery. As always in these kinds of scenarios blackness holds special appeal for the white outsider because of its transgressive potential. Black music, black dance styles, black lingo—are all ripe territories for vigorous Euro mining and imitation. The exploration of these hackneyed themes via the travails of a white female protagonist struggling with her own “outsider” status in the thin, blond-worshipping, relatively privileged world of middle class Baltimore has its precursor in literature like Norman Mailer’s infamous 1950s “White Negro” shtick and the global appropriation of hip hop by white consumers.


In Hairspray, the white female protagonist’s spiritual journey officially takes off when she is sent to detention and discovers that it is merely a showcase for “funky” black dance shenanigans. The blacks, of course, are just waiting to corrupt an impressionable young white thing like her. Much of the film’s visual spark lies in its near obsessive focus on Tracy’s bright-eyed bushy tailed exuberance over her dalliances with forbidden fruit.


What are young black female viewers to make of these portrayals? While my elementary school-aged nieces loved the singing, dancing and pageantry of the film, they are old enough (with some prompting), to grasp the relevance of all the black students in the film being confined to detention. Disciplinary action at any age is a harsh and ever present reality for black children, one that satirical movie portrayals of frolicking black youth can’t obliterate. Since images of unruly black children abound in American culture, featuring a group of black teens dancing in a classroom with no teacher in evidence is just another slice of comic relief for most mainstream audiences.


When presented with evidence of their irrelevance, children of color make the painful adjustment to misidentification. Socialized with white beauty norms, consuming and misidentifying with whiteness becomes an intimate part of the young female viewer’s experience of visual “pleasure.” Countervailing images of black, Latino and Asian femininity are available in literature (and to a much lesser extent in alternative film by artists of color) but are insidiously measured against the gold standard of white femininity. In fact, a recent revisitation of the 1954 Kenneth and Mamie Clark “doll test” by a young filmmaker named Kiri Davis found that black children still identified white or lighter skinned dolls as being “nice,” while darker-skinned dolls were still rejected as being “bad.” Davis’ widely acclaimed documentary on black female teen self-identity, “A Girl Like Me,” is a welcome antidote to depictions of black female hyper sexuality, and a reminder that more black women need to be behind the camera to truly turn the tide of disfigured black images.


The dominant culture’s equation of female agency with unbridled sexuality and exhibitionism is especially damaging for young black women. While white women like Hairspray’s fictitious heroine have always had the luxury to flout patriarchal categories of “good girl” “bad girl” without fear of relinquishing their claim to white privilege, black women and other women of color are already marked as amoral, sexual and hence outside of “normative” femininity. Early exposure to these kinds of narratives sets a dangerous precedent for tween/teen girls of color, who are readily deployed in white TV programs and films as streetwise/commonsensical sidekicks for imperiled white girls and/or the “sassy” antidote to white girl “blandness.”

If efforts like Davis’ are to be more than just a drop in the bucket there must be a nationwide push to train middle and high school aged black women to do similar documentary and narrative film work around image construction. Programs such as L.A.’s Inner City Filmmakers and New York-based Women Make Movies help connect youth with production, development and distributional resources to critically engage the media regime with their films. Without these initiatives, and more, the multi-billion dollar tween/teen film industry will continue to thrive on our complicity in the distortion of black female subjectivity.

*With the possible exception of such popular staples as Dora the Explorer and the Cheetah Girls.

Sikivu Hutchinson
BlackFemLens.org


Hairspray: A Celebration Of Difference

By Prairie Miller
WBAI Radio

While the notion of a totally unique You is a reigning concept now, back in the mid-20th century, straying from strict standards of conformity was more likely the kiss of death. Adam Shankman's screen to stage and back to screen again Hairspray enlightens younger generations just how long and hard, and even dangerous that road was to the casual sense of personal individuality enjoyed today, ever since that 60s crowning glory rebel crowd let their freak flags fly. Plus, Hairspray is one of the wildest, kinkiest and flat out fun musical screen experiences in recent memory.

The playfully raunchy and affectionately offbeat extremes of the 1988 original, somewhat lewd John Waters indie love poem for his native Baltimore, may have its more out there edginess contained to comply with Hollywood mainstream parameters of acceptability. But the latest Hairspray incarnation teasingly tests those limits anyway. And Waters, as if to make that point about unstoppable stylized personal rebellion even as movie makeover, sets his telltale characteristic provocative tone from the outset as he turns up in a daringly rude cameo wearing a trenchcoat and not much else, as the neighborhood flasher.

Nikki Blonsky smoothly inhabits the Ricki Lake role of the bubbly, plus size teen reject Tracy Turnblad, without missing a musical beat. Tracy's having a retro kind of bad hair day at school, as she's sent off to detention for 'inappropriate air height.' But the unhappy high schooler has more pressing matters on her mind than academic excellence. She has her heart set on showing off her nifty dance moves on Baltimore's Corny Collins Show, a sendup of American Bandstand, but she can't make that particular grade because she's deemed too tubby for television by scheming wannabe stage mom, Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Tracy finds surprising acceptance, despite tipping the scales, among the even more outcast black student body. Following pressure from community matriarch Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah), they're granted one Negro Day a month to dance in a segregated space on the show. Tracy and ditzy lollipop licking pal Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes) join up with the black students, including dazzling dancer Seaweed (Elijah Kelley), in a show of unity celebrating difference, whether of size or color. And when they're all summarily banned from the program, they strategize that if you can't dance, well you can still march, while defiantly grabbing the biggest TV spot of all - the Six O'clock News.

Hairspray is a rousing and seamless blend of exhilarating song, spicy lyrics, and seriously heart tugging interludes touching on emotional yearnings and insecurities, for teens and adult alike. There's a never a dull moment full blown zaniness at work at all times. Though Travolta as Tracy's bosomy mom Edna in perky fat suit, with flab-infatuated spouse Wilbur (Christopher Walken) never far behind, pretty much steals the show from everybody else as he impressively shakes his bountiful booty across the dance floor in a take-no-prisoners finale. Irrefutable evidence that Travolta's still got plenty of that Saturday Night Fever strut to spare, three huge decades later.

Prairie Miller

10/19/07

Go Go Tales: Lap Dance Cinema

A movie that's not just about stripping and lap dancing but 'is' stripping and lap dancing for nearly its entire 96 minutes, Abel Ferrara' Go Go Tales feels like a film that may have had something important to say, but the ever unpredictable Ferrara got really distracted by all those nearly naked writhing bodies, on his way to making a movie.

Ray Ruby's Paradise is the sleazy Manhattan downtown strip joint in question, a raucous, shady establishment run by a couple of raucous shady hustlers, played by Willem Dafoe, the Ray Ruby in question, and Bob Hoskins. They haven't paid the rent in months either, and so the shrewish landlady (Sylvia Miles) shows up to curse and bark at the pair, threatening to turn the premises over to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, when not cursing and barking at assorted customers. Matthew Modine also turns up as an investor, collecting his bill in stripper sex rather than cash.

There's also some monkey business going on about a lost and found lottery ticket whose redemption should simmer down the peeved dancers a bit, who haven't been paid in quite some time. All of these plot points by the way, are mere narrative sidebars to the endless bumping, grinding, breast jiggling, and rubbing up against leering married customers in seedy suits. Sorry, setting up a camera in a strip club and just letting stuff happen, does not a movie make. The only striking dramatic moment comes when a customer - a medical student salivating all over the lap dancers - goes into shock and attacks the woman baring all on stage because, well, she just happens to be his wife. And you know, how dare she show up at such a place. Even being reminded by management that she's stripping to pay his way through medical school doesn't cool him down.

Bookending Go Go Tales is a stripper in a ballerina costume who gets to perform ballet on stage when the club closes after hours and morphs into a cabaret. It seems that each woman had a dream they embraced creatively, including a magician and concert pianist, but had to give all that up to make a living. Ray Ruby himself wanted to be a singer rather than a sleazebag, and he does some really awful crooning on stage too.

Not sure about the message Abel is floating here, but if it's how money crushes our aspirations rather then making sellouts of us all, I'd wonder what price tag led Ferrara to abandon his own inner artist for this. A trip to the theater to catch 96 minutes of nearly nonstop simulated, vicarious sex is certainly a whole lot cheaper than your average visit to a strip joint, and should be a cash cow for Abel.

10/18/07

El Cantante: Trophy Spouse Upstaged By Screeching Shrew Stereotype

By Prairie Miller

If El Cantante is any indication of exactly who wears the pants in the Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony household, it's definitely JLo. The celebrity couple collaborated on this musical biopic about Hector Lavoe to pay homage to the gifted but wasted Puerto Rican salsa legend turned addict. But instead, Anthony's heavily drugged henpecked trophy hubby Lavoe is upstaged offstage at all times by Lopez as the singer's screeching nag of a wife, Puchi. The music is just fine, but the social sensibility fueling that particular '70s Nuyorican cultural moment in which Lavoe blossomed and self-destructed, in particular the rise in political consciousness and righteous rage of the Young Lords, is nowhere to be found. If only JLo had just stifled it, and let her significant other shine.

Prairie Miller

Rendition: A Feisty Reese Not Taking No For An Answer From The Suits In DC

By Prairie Miller

A high anxiety, guilt by association, denial of due process espionage thriller, Rendition refers to the controversial, highly contested policy of detention, disappearances and torture of terror suspects legalized under the Clinton Administration and taken to extremes by George Bush after 9/11. Rendition follows the dismal destiny of an Egyptian born American chemical engineer (Omar Metwally) who is secretly dragged from an airport and kidnapped to an unknown Middle Eastern country, where he's brutalized by the CIA on the flimsiest evidence.

Lucky for the unfortunate guy that he's got Reese Witherspoon in his corner, as his distraught very pregnant wife Isabella, who just won't take no for an answer about her missing spouse. While the mom-to-be fights for her man, Meryl Streep's ambitious and wicked CIA boss fights for her career, but this time around the devil wears pistols. Meanwhile, the CIA rookie (Jake Gyllenhaal) overseeing the interrogation is going into occupational meltdown as all that torture wears him down, not to mention doing a number on his sex drive, and he relieves his stress taking in some quality hashish over at the local hip hop belly dancing club.

Reese really shows her stuff in a small but feisty role, as a woman on the brink of childbirth with more balls than the wimpy men around her. There's also some heavy related symbolism that kicks in, about the ways in which torture tactics give birth to more terrorists. Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that the Internet saves innocent lives here. And the particular torture chamber house of horrors in Rendition is scary enough to give the more fictional horror fare this Halloween season, some stiff competition.

Prairie Miller

Strike: A Touching Female Potrait Bereft Of Historical Truth

A number of reviews have criticized Volker Schlondorff's Strike for distorting facts when it comes to his real life protagonist, Polish labor activist, Anna Agnieszka. But far more critical and called into question, is Schlondorff's manipulation of the historical record, for whatever agenda. Polish modern history, according to Schlondorff, ends with triumphant worker protests, the end of communism, and presumably the subsequent infiltration of the Western market economy. Though much collective misery has followed in the wake of the introduction of capitalism, the filmmaker would have us believe that this historical moment absurdly constitutes a collective happy ending for that nation.

The diminuitive, wide-eyed stocky and comedic Katharina Thalbach stars as Agnieszka, barely known in the West, whose 1980 firing for insubordination at the Gdansk shipyard led to unrest and the eventual creation of the oppositional Polish trade union federation, Solidarity. Oddly, the more prominent labor leader Lech Walesa, who eventually rose to Poland's presidency and later fell into corruption and disgrace, is treated in the film as a secondary figure who gained popularity seemingly on the coattails of Agnieszka, who herself is seen deferring to him and shunning a public role.

While there was indeed corruption within the state union and the social order, the dismantling of that social welfare structure, proven by history, was hardly the way to go. So then why make a film that applauds the destruction of an entire social system and the ensuing mass misery of a people deprived since then of economic, housing, health and other basic security (none of which, surprise, is depicted in Strike, following its 'happy ending'). If Schlondorff has learned nothing from history, at least logic should impress him that progress dictates not destroying union protection whole and opening the door to the vultures in waiting of the multinationals and the Church, but reforming and strengthening the unions, the only real protection for workers.

And what of that vast epilogue to Schlondorff's fantasy biopic, namely history? Well, here is some of what the filmmaker has conveniently rendered invisible on screen. Following the end of communism in Poland, there was a dramatic assault on the living conditions and wellbeing of the workingclass there. The widescale destitution has led to mass homelessness, and hundreds of homeless freezing to death every winter. Most are between the ages of 35 and 50, many of them long-term unemployed and the elderly, who are abandoned by their families who cannot afford the expensive health care. Many in desperation seek shelter in caves, forests and abandoned coal mines. Others freeze to death falling in the snow, or asleep at bus stops.

In addition, 3 million or 30 percent of Polish children are now malnourished and living in poverty, and nearly 13 percent of them live on the streets. Such is the result of the masses discarded to their fate as Poland destroyed social protections in place, and embraced the free market. The vast nationally funded social welfare system, with free health care and social security, ended with the introduction of capitalism. And so the only genuine moment in Strike, is when a skeptical worker asks the protesters, is your solution to let the West march in? Schlondorff, regrettably, never has the courage to respond.

Prairie Miller

Offside: Female Spectator Subversion Scores At Iranian Soccer Match

By Prairie Miller

What with the wild stuff that goes on at soccer matches these days, it may not be the best place for young girls to turn up and hang around, no matter how sports crazed they may be. But director Jafar Panahi drums up more female spectator drama just adjacent to the field than within with his sports satire, Offside. Because in his native Iran, stadiums with lots of bare legged hairy men kicking a ball around, are strictly off limits for females. So with the biggest challenge in Offside not who wins the game but which daring enough girls manage to sneak into the stadium undetected, Panahi cooks up a deliciously irreverent story about the spunky attitude of some modern minded young women mixing it up with outdated national resistance to change.

With a bold mix of wishful thinking fantasy and stirring truth stranger than fiction, Panahi filmed his story somewhat on the sly at an actual World Cup-qualifying soccer match in Teheran. The fearless teens dressed up as boys and attempting to slip through the surging crowd with bootlegged tickets at the admission gates, all get caught and rounded up into an outdoor holding pen, tantalizingly just out of sight of the playing field. The extended verbal clash between these tough young city women and the perplexed country boy soldiers charged with minding them is rife with bold humor and a stinging critique touching on unbending social conventions. Great fun for sports fans of all genders and persuasions.

Prairie Miller

10/17/07

Life Support:: Another View

By Prairie Miller

A more than big deal is made about the American Dream in this country and in its films. But it's always about fleeing the social and economic ordeals that the masses of people face here, and joining the chosen few who get to hustle their way to the top of the food chain.

So what in effect this country sorely lacks in its cinema, is a body of work, like that of master proletarian filmmaker, Brit Ken Loach, depicting the way most people just get by, surviving sometimes in miraculous ways, day to day. That is, just the way most of the US movie audience lives, not the economic elite who make those movies. And who from time to time do put films out there imagining the way the rest of us live, but pretty much recreated in those filmmakers' own ideological image, with the screen functioning as distorted mirror of everything around them.

Life Support, the Closing Night feature at Sundance this year, is a very different way of seeing, and of focusing the camera's eye. Here is a truly authentic world of ordinary people enobled and elevated to extraordinary circumstances by the dreaded issues and conflicts life has presented them. Brooklyn based director Nelson George has created a film as raw and real as documentary, but with an acutely organic sense of the drama and passion to be gleaned from a combination of fired up imagination and visceral human pain.

George crafted Life Support as a tribute to his own sister, Andrea Williams. A Brooklyn mother who self-destructed in succumbing to cocaine addiction, she then turned her life around only to find herself afflicted with AIDS, passed on to her by her own heroin addicted husband.

Queen Latifah plays Andrea in a portrayal much like Charlize Theron's Monster, where she strips away any self-consicousness of a star persona to depict a woman shorn of her humanity, but in this case determined to overcome. Latifah surprises in a remarkably new and different serious role as Andrea. She prevails against enormous odds here, projecting a female fortitude and resilience however ill-fated, that few other actresses equal on screen.

Andrea reluctantly manages the often frustrating daily grueling regimen of the disease, with the tough love backup support of her blue collar husband, Slick (Wendell Pierce) when she veers towards crumbling under the stress. Andrea also juggles caring for her nine year old, and attempting to reconcile with an older teenage daughter long alienated from her crack addicted mother who had neglected her in childhood.

At the same time, Andrea works as an utterly devoted activist at Life Support, a local AIDS awareness group for afflicted women attempting to cope. These scenes of shared conversation touching on collective wounds and laced with both sadness and humor that smoothes over hurt, are the luminous heart of the film.

Obsessed with her mission to alert the world about AIDS, Andrea is also a local fixture trudging through the neighborhood every day, bad legs and all, dragging a suitcase full of AIDS informational booklets and condoms. And dispensing them to whomever will give a listen.

Life Support is an extraordinary character-rich film that strives for the profound emotional truth of everyday existence. Though the incidental plot about the search around the neighborhood for a dying, AIDS-stricken teen is thinly conceived in comparison, Queen Latifah's commanding charisma more than makes up for it.

Life Support is now available on DVD from HBO Films. Bonus features include audio commentary and on-set diary with writer/director Nelson George, an interview with the real Andrea Williams who was the inspiration for this movie, exclusive deleted scenes, and behind the scenes with Queen Latifah, Nelson George and Andrea Williams.

Prairie Miller

Life Support

Life Support
George Nelson


Life Support is not a Hood film. It is a film that bridges the gap between children and the adults who rear them. It is a film that addresses a problem HIV and drugs with persistence, compassion and intelligence by those who want, who need to make a difference.

This is a story about forgiving, living with anger and going forward. This is a different kind of emotional experience from what we are used to seeing. Life Support reinforces ones love of other people and faith in the human power to heal

"We need to reconnect with HIV right here in the States. It's killing a lot of people, it's altering the lives of the people it hasn't killed, and it's totally preventable. If this film reopens that dialoge, we've done good." .

That is the basic premise, the center piece of George Nelson's Life Support . Filmed in East New York Brooklyn a poor working class neighborhood where people are learning how to take care of themselves and how to love, unconditionally.

It felt so wonderful to see black Americans who did not live an anger driven life in pursuit of revenge.

The mother,(Queen Atifah) her husband, her daughters, the grandmother and neighbor-in-need seemed to have an underlying pathos that made this film tantalizing and compelling. The problem is real: HIV and drugs. The solution is possible. Condoms do prevent the spread of HIV.

The way of life portrayed in Life Support is one of connecting the drugs, the HIV and its prevention to our individual way of life, our human compulsion to live.

In the midst of the poverty, the way of life in the Projects, I felt hopeful.

you can too

I recommend this film for people who have been overwhelmed by the multiplicity of problems that dominate our world. Another way is possible!

LindaZ

Descent: Rape And The Pornography of Revenge: Another View

By Prairie Miller

Perhaps it was inevitable that a grueling movie about victimhood like Talia Lugacy's Descent would be made, considering that the reigning punishment of choice for crimes in US society has devolved into institutionalized revenge rather than rehabilitation. But if the revenge fantasies of even the most scarred victim is taken to its most inevitable potential extreme, how can any empathy for that victim be logically sustained, even as the perpetrator slips into his own victimization.

Such is the peculiar dilemma of Descent, as a stable point of sympathy for a date rape victim fails to remain established amid a kind of shifting brutality among the various characters. Central to this ambiguous state of affairs in Descent is Maya (Rosario Dawson), an insecure, self-isolating college coed who
is recovering from a recent broken heart. Maya is confronted by overly aggressive white male Jared (Chad Faust) at a party. And while initially warding off his persistent overtures she relents, and agrees to go out on a rather elegant dinner date with him.

When they return to Jared's apartment, Maya engages in a bit of kissing with him, but decides at that point that this intimacy is enough for the evening. Jared, however, refuses to comply and brutally rapes Maya, stuffing her underwear in her mouth and hurling degrading sexist and racist epithets at her while overpowering her.

We never learn what transpired immediately afterward, but Maya is in apparent emotional denial and never reports the crime to the police. She instead subjects herself to a downward spiral of clubbing, drugs and casual group sex, which somehow gives her a false, fleeting but quick fix feeling of control over her sense of self, which she's clearly lost. Maya also forms a mysterious relationship with Adrian (Marcus Patrick), a moody and intimidating club DJ.

When Maya encounters Jared again to her dismay, some time later at school, he ignores her as if he doesn't even remember her. Though he actually does, as we later learn. Maya is soon planning a bit of seduction and revenge of her own that also involves Adrian. Revenge is less than sweet, to say the least, in particular for the audience, veering between sickening and pathetically pornographic.

If the point is to have viewers identify with the terribly dehumanizing, unbearably repugnant experience of rape by thrusting them, no pun intended, into the vile, seemingly interminable heat of the act, the effect is one of extreme overkill. Whether intentional or not, Lugacy denies us any easy compassion or sympathy with her protagonist, as lines unfortunately blur between victim and victimizer, predator and prey.

Prairie Miller

Knocked Up: An Alternative View

Hollywood comedy has a reputation lately for outrageousness taken to extremes, and Judd Apatow's gross-out Knocked Up would be no exception. Apatow switches gears a little here from 40-Year-Old Virgin to twentysomething geek unaware stud, but with a few additional surprises that may thrill some, and creep out others.

Knocked Up dabbles in the improbable loony male-driven fantasy of flabby slacker sex appeal, while taking pot shots at the snobbery of upwardly mobile gorgeous women who wouldn't give them a second look in actual life. And while the movie is somewhat a squaring off between male daydream and female nightmare, there is plenty of equal opportunity ridicule to go around when it comes to dating rituals and occasional marriage hell.

Katherine Heigl is Alison, an ambitious LA television journalist with a bad case of supremely neurotic tendencies. Following her promotion to on-air dream job celebrity schmoozer with the stars, Alison steps out for a night on the town at a trendy club to celebrate. But after getting a little too drunk for her own good, the normally sensible, take charge control freak finds herself in bed the next morning, face to face with the unpleasant oversized naked butt of a guy she hastily picked up while partying hardy. Said butt belongs to Ben (Seth Rogen), a local loser who has never quite mastered the knack of putting on a condom.

After some hasty diplomatic gestures intended to get rid of the boorish jerk as quickly as possible, the totally career-minded, romance-deprived Alison discovers weeks later that she's, well, knocked up. It's not exactly easy tracking down her sole sexual encounter in months, considering they're in the same entertainment business. Sort of. Ben and his uncouth gang of roommates on the seedier side of town think they have the brainy, get-rich-quick, but actually all too common enterprise of putting together a website of Hollywood female superstars in the nude. Alison meanwhile, has resigned herself to the idea of unexpectant motherhood, and is hoping that the repugnant baby's daddy can provide some nurturing support as a parent, hopefully at arm's length from her.

Knocked Up, beneath the frequently foul though far from lame humor, is constructed on an awfully shaky premise, that pending parenthood can act as an aphrodisiac in stimulating both love and lust between an utterly mismatched pair. But the movie makes no bones about its formulation as an indulgence of male wish fulfillment in getting the hottest babe on the block for their very own, while the female protagonist is just plain too domineering, sexually aggressive and borderline cranky and shrewish for her own good. Qualities here that can be nicely toned down while knocked up, with a little maternal instinct both for her new infant and resident man-baby dad tossed into the mix.

So while Knocked Up may stimulate audience subversive shock waves with its brand of humor, beneath the layers of playful vulgarity there's quite an old fashioned family values current gestating around. And an odd message of sorts intimating the discovered delights of unprotected sex heaven.

Prairie Miller

10/16/07

Persepolis: Coming Of Age Female Style, Beyond Boys And Bras

By Prairie Miller

While girl coming of age films in the United States more often than not shed a narrow spotlight on boys and bras, the tragicomic screen-toon Persepolis has something far greater in mind. Namely, a boldly refreshing awakening to the world out there that goes beyond the personal, and embraces a multitude of political concepts.

Based on a popular French collection of four graphic novels, Persepolis is an illustrated movie biopic visualizing through vividly illuminating animation the life of filmmaker and illustrator Marjane Satrapi, who was born in Iran and sent to live in Europe at the age of fourteen. The distinguished actresses who voice these affectionately fleshed out charismatic Iranian women include Chiara Mastroianni as Marjane, Catherine Deneuve as her mother Tadji, and Danielle Darrieux voicing the role of Marjane's grandmother.

Persepolis extends from the 1970's through the 1990s, with stark and often volatile history as a relentless force and backdrop to emotion, passion and cultural dislocation. Marjane grows up in a colorful and idealistic, creatively stimulating household, the daughter of militant communist intellectual parents, much like the young female protagonist in Blame It On Fidel. But the US backed Shah has established a period of brutal repression, and leftist idealists, including within her own family, are being arrested as political prisoners, disappeared, tortured and in many cases executed. When the Islamic Revolution unfolds, with a furious fundamentalist backlash against foreign economic invasion and occupation, westernization and its related cultural decadence, Marjane and her friends find themselves subjected to strict religious conformist conventions concerning female behavior and dress.

Marjane remains a politically outspoken schoolgirl who adamantly embraces the communist ideals that enriched her childhood, and so her family, fearing for her defiant nature, sends her off to be schooled in Europe. There Marjane encounters a different set of oppressive experiences, including ethnic prejudice and sexual exploitation.

Persepolis is a remarkably eloquent personal journey into complicated womanhood, whose candor and poetry of the naked soul make one quickly forget that this is a movietoon, as it reaches into the heart to explore raw emotion and existential pain. Though sorely missing is the context of oil, and the Western calculated greed driving them to plunder the Middle East that created the ensuing chaos and strife that continue today in the US bloody exploits there.

On a side note, much is made in the usual fashion of the repression in Iran that this spunky protagonist is fortunate enough to escape. But these smug revelations ironically venture no further for US commentators examining the film, when it comes to genuine self-awareness, as one would be hard put to find a critic actually willing to address or even acknowledge that forbidden 'C' word - communism - that has so inspired and informed this immensely talented filmmaker.

Prairie Miller

10/15/07

Resident Evil, Extinction: Female Chauvinist As Dressed To Kill Biker Babe

Zombies may be eating the human race alive in Resident Evil: Extinction, but no movie reviewer, however cutting their criticism, is apparently going to take a bite out of this baby sailing right on through box office heaven. This third game-to-screen bloody fleshfest is under new management, with Aussie Russell Mulcahy (The Shadow, Ricochet) directing. Penned by Paul W.S. Anderson, Resident Evil: Extinction finds good Samaritan, shapely virus-resistant biker Milla Jovovich and gutsy nomadic survivors stalking legions of eating disorder zombies in the Nevada Desert, while taking a gamble on a stopover in an obliterated Vegas. Banding together to surmount a whole host of messy new challenges like birds of a feather carnivorous crows, while stressed out scientists huddle underground mulling solutions, are ready-to-rumble thesps Oded Fehr, Mike Epps, Ali Larter, Spencer Locke, and Ashanti as Nurse Betty. Rarely has mass murder been so dull. Pass the smelling salts.

In Search Of Our Fathers: Women Raising Men, A Celebration Of Courage


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By Prairie Miller

A decade and a half ago, before award winning filmmaker Marco Williams had established a remarkable reputation as a documentary filmmaker exploring and exposing the long suppressed critical and shameful events touching on race history in America - films like Two Towns Of Jasper and Banished - he directed a small but resonant personal film, In Search Of Our Fathers. Though the documentary about the quest for his own father that he never knew appeared only briefly in theaters and on the PBS series Frontline, In Search Of Our Fathers is not easily forgotten, and the kind of uncompromising introspective cinematic contemplation that inevitably sheds light on far broader cultural issues in American life.

Williams, who grew up as an only child in a large extended Philadelphia matriarchy comprised of four fatherless generations, introduces an environment of warm and caring women who have surrounded him, and where he never seemed to lack for nurturing or love. But he was nevertheless haunted growing up by that enormous absence as presence - the man who fathered him and who was referred to in passing with embarrassment, or not at all.

Later as a film student at Harvard, Williams decided to go on the difficult physical and emotional journey to locate his father and also film the path to that traumatic discovery, with camera in tow. His quest would be a lonely and painful one, with a mother not the least receptive to talking about him or offering clues. And a father, with whom he finally connects at age 24, hardly willing to bond or even acknowledge paternity.

Along the way, Williams reflects on many related greater social considerations, especially significant today not only in the African American community, but in the larger society as well where post-feminist era women in general are more likely to opt for a single parent family, even in the absence of virtually any community support network for fractured families, rather than suffer spousal abuse and oppression at home. So the predominat question for Williams is, can strong women raise confident and emotionally stable male children without a man around?

In the end, Williams, who today teaches film at NYU, discovers that he has only to look within and at his male kin right around him for the answers. In that regard, this eloquent and heartfelt transformative journey of personal discovery comes full circle. For Williams achieves acute self-awareness, not of the present and future weaknesses and difficulties of fatherless African American families, but rather the astonishing steel-willed strengths, sacrifices and courage of the extraordinary women presiding over them. So in a sense, In Search Of Our Fathers is a celebration, and a truly feminist story.

**********

After completing In Search Of Our Fathers, Williams never saw his father again. James Berry passed away August 29, 1992. The filmmaker has dedicated In Search Of Our Fathers 'In memory of the strong black women of my family and throughout the Diaspora.' For more information about this one hour DVD from Conjure Films - which includes an interview with the filmmaker - and additional Marco Williams productions, visit: Two-toneproductions.com.

Future film projects being developed by Marco Williams include:

*Septentrional
A history of Haiti told in Music.

*Memorial
An examination of the rise of the multimedia memorial and how it impacts collective memory and national identity.

*For Whites Only
A film about White people, made by White People, for White people

*Freedom Dreams
A film about the life and times of Patrick Critton, a black militant, criminal, revolutionary and terrorist who robbed banks, made bombs and fermented the overthrow of the United States government while running an after-school program for underprivileged youth.

Prairie Miller

10/14/07

Cowboy Del Amor: Mexican Female Border Wares


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By Prairie Miller

While Mexicans crossing the border desperate to find work, are being increasingly ambushed and murdered by US government agents and vigilantes alike, quite a different, weirdly 'idyllic' and 'border'line offensive perspective has cropped up in a new documentary, Cowboy Del Amor. US based Israeli filmmaker Michele Ohayon decided to tag along after New Mexico border town ranch owner turned professional matchmaker Ivan Thompson, who has hailed himself 'Cowboy Cupid,' as he places classified ads for aging US males in Mexican newspapers. Men who make it clear that they're seeking docile alternatives to American women. Conjugal imperialism?

One would ordinarily anticipate the crafting of a sinister satire here. But Ohayon is dead serious and overidentified with Cowboy Cupid's boastful, often smirking posturing, and there's simply a failure of any filmmaker objective and critical stance, to say the least. A camera in the hand of a director should be more than just a piece of surveillance equipment.

When we first meet Cowboy Cupid, he's driving customer of the moment Rick across the border. Rick is an ex-marine and truck driver, who's just handed over three thousand dollars for, essentially, the purchase of a subservient Mexican mate. Though geeky Rick is middle aged, bald and on the chunky side, he's adamant in the newspaper ad that Ivan posts, about his stipulation that any applicant who materializes should weigh no more than 120 pounds. When one female respondant calls their hotel and confesses to tipping the scales at slightly more than that, Cupid quickly terminates the call.

After rejecting a procession of what seem like intelligent independent women approximating his own age, Rick sets his sights on a shy, pretty young woman who appears to be half his age and size, and who struggles to speak only a few words of English. No anticipated back talk from her, obviously! And Rick, being a typical American, speaks no Spanish. So the two communicate primarily in sign language, on their predestined path to the altar.

Even more bizarre is the case of 70 year old Lee, a disabled elderly gent who appears to barely function physically or mentally. He's teamed up by Cowboy Cupid with a Mexican single mother in her forties. Lee demands from the get-go that the two be sworn to never learn the other's language, as an exceedingly strange informal pre-nup guarantee of supposed eternal bliss. His intended bride readily agrees, in what seems more like an international treaty, than a declaration of love.

No stranger herself to international relations, so to speak, Ohayon is a US based immigrant from Israel and married to a Dutch citizen who is 13 years her senior. These older guy/younger woman pairings are certainly nothing new in movies, and nearly the rule as opposed to the exception. And this has long been an irritant to older women, both on and off screen, who are more than aware of the economic factors or just plain typical male fantasies, that come into play with this recurrent phenomenon.

All duly noted in Cowboy Del Amor, by anyone caring to scrutinize the material at hand beneath its cheery surfaces. Anyone, that is, except the filmmaker. Missing from this serene group portrait are all sorts of things. For starters, the deeply embedded racism in the US that these darker women have likely encountered, and the notorious accompanying provincial scorn towards mixed marriages, in particular along these redneck southern borders. And as first observed in this review, the anti-Mexican vigilante and government fired up lynch mob mentality ensuing at the borders, in addition to green card marriage as motivation in at least some of these rather odd couplings.

In a conversation with Ohayon, she displayed a rather chiding manner. I had to get out of, you know, that 'PC box,' she insisted, in order to see those very different worlds out there.

Ohayon also mentioned in passing that the first poster created for the film features Cowboy Cupid and his toll free number, should you desire his matchmaking services. And, that his business is booming since the movie poster made its debut. What a thin line indeed, between commerce and cinema.

Prairie Miller

Lars And The Real Girl: Invasion of The Silicone Body Snatchers

A kind of Invasion of The Silicone Body Snatchers, Craig Gillespie's Lars And The Real Girl is about one loony guy and his entire small town falling in PG love with a certainly not politically correct but irrefutably anatomically correct, well, sex doll. For some strange, highly inexplicable reason, this deeply delusional romantic comedy casts its magical spell over the audience too, and not just this kooky Midwestern community.

Ryan Gosling, a young actor who has easily earned bragging rights to being a national treasure capable of morphing into just about any character, plays Lars, a profoundly withdrawn office worker who shuns any social contact with others, whether physical or verbal. Lars might be characterized as an adult orphan, a guy who has never come to terms with the death of his mother while giving birth to him, and the more recent death of his equally withdrawn widower dad. Lars' older brother Gus (Paul Schneider) has moved into the family home with his pregnant wife Karin (Emily Mortimer), and they have to practically kidnap Lars from the garage where he's withdrawn to live alone, when insisting he come over for dinner occasionally.

For some reason, Lars is spooked by the presence of a pregnant woman in their family, as it conjures the trauma of his own tragic birth. When a lewd co-worker shares online ordering information with his romantically deprived workspace buddy about designer love dolls for sale, a visitor to this glum hermit soon arrives by UPS in a huge carton. Lars introduces the boxed babe to Gus and Karin as Bianca, a Brazilian-Danish paraplegic non-English speaking missionary that he states he met on the Internet.

Not wanting to offend the psychologically fragile Lars, they humor and feed - literally - his make-believe sweetheart, and the entire good natured community follows suit. Though that naughty mom-to-be does take a shocker of a sneak peek between Bianca's thighs one day to check out the presence of any plumbing. Friends and relatives are soon getting emotionally attached to Bianca and borrowing her, so to speak, for play dates and other functions. Bianca is in fact so universally loved, that she's elected to the school board.

Now while Lars And The Real Girl is seductive enough to reel the audience in, there are certain lingering questions that even this enchanting tall tale can't put to rest. For example, where does such a town exist without a single unkind person in sight, and when you're feeling clinically depressed all the women come by with their knitting and casseroles, I'm sure we'd all pack our bags to move there in a flash. Also, does Lars ever, you know, actually have intimate relations with his inanimate object of desire? The director's not saying, and Lars is fanatically tight lipped, so it's pretty much up to the audience to get into their own Lars frame of mind, and just use their overactive imaginations.

Prairie Miller

DOA: Virtually Faceless Bosomy Kick Butt Babes


A metaphorical training bra for ogling boys - along with second childhood Dirty Old Aged men - DOA gives new meaning to females hooking up and hanging out, when it comes to airborne upper body intimate wear and its gravity defying plastic contents alike. Joy stick addicts can also get a metaphorical rise out of plenty of thigh splitting view kicks as well, in this popular video game to sleazy screen adaptation.

The purely incidental sidelined plot as backdrop to an assortment of virtually faceless bosomy kick butt babes, is an invitational mixed-gender martial arts tournament on a remote tropical island, with a multi-million dollar prize for the victor. Hong Kong foot fight filmmaker guru Corey Yuen (The Transporter) relocates for this reported first ever Mainland production in league with US, Uk and German co-collaboration, to take on flesh pressing issues like girl on guy violence, and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit competition style let it all hang out brawls.

Yuen assembles his cutie crew of hard bitten bottle bleached blondes like Serbian Aussie pop singer, model, actress and amateur Muay Tai kick boxer Holly Valance, and former gymnast screen star Jaime Pressly, whose claim to dubious fame counts a 2001 episode on the Howard Stern Show, where she referred to Howie's less than pretty boy looks as getting slapped by 'the Jew stick.'

Perfume model Devon Aoki, daughter of Olympic wrestler turned Benihana Steakhouse magnate Rocky Aoki, also turns up as pampered ninja princess Kasumi. She seems to be the only babe on board with a mission beyond money, in search of her brother who disappeared during a prior tournament, possibly at the hands of bout honcho Dr. Victor Donovan, played by the reliably sinister Eric Roberts. So there's more than just an eager baring of bodies as the side dish spectator sport in DOA, as the film also casts a sexist slant on the baring of presumably weaker sex souls of the women here - in contrast to conventional male action screen heroics - who readily stomp on comrades and kin for a grab at that booty of the major cash variety.

Prairie Miller

Female Torture, Mutilation and Sex Abuse in a Not Accidental Red Scare Period Suburban Basement Bomb Shelter

Much more than just your basic sadistic horror thriller, Gregory M. Wilson's The Girl Next Door redefines the notion of guilty pleasure as raw and potent allegory, and corrective to the US culture of conformist collective complicity, not to mention violence as entertainment. Likewise, an unraveling of that elephant in the screening room, characterized by decades of denial regarding repugnant national mythmaking and feigned innocence since America moved into deadly superpower imperialist mode following WW II.

Based on the Jack Ketchum novel of the same name which fictionalizes the real life communal torture and murder of unfortunate Indiana teen Sylvia Marie Likens in 1965, The Girl Next Door relocates to the 1950s to shed light on the dark origins of the present day during "a period of strange repressions and secrets." These are the guilt-ridden musings of David (Daniel Manche), looking back with shame and fatefully belated remorse on his own fearful passivity as a preteen when he observed his female friend Meg (Blythe Auffarth) being sexually abused and tortured to death at the hands of her increasingly depraved alcoholic Aunt Ruth (a repulsively mesmerizing Blanche Baker) in her not accidental Red Scare period basement bomb shelter. Most shocking about the crime is that it takes place in the basement of an idyllic 1950s Jersey suburb, as the mom entrusted with the care of the orphaned Meg and her younger sister Susan (Madeline Taylor) after the death of their parents, elicits the willing participation of her own young sons and their friends in the neighborhood.

A brave and chilling antidote to the traditional collective delusion both on and off screen of US innocence during the 1950s, The Girl Next Door candidly bares the metaphorical basement, that in-the-closet Dorian Gray Ugly American litany of US crimes against humanity. In other words, beneath that national cloak of serenity and cheer, the silence then and now surrounding Jim Crow, race lynchings, the Red Scare and persecution of the left, and the advent of deadly imperialist military aggression, adventurism, and wholesale massacres and CIA target assassinations around the world, including in Iran, Guatemala, Cuba and, yes, Vietnam. Some other films like River's Edge and Jindabyne have tentatively approached this hot topic, but like The Girl Next Door's protagonist, have mostly tread hesitantly into truth seeking territory. Bravo, Gregory Wilson.

Prairie Miller

Golda's Balcony: Uncritical View Of A Life And Times

Golda's Balcony: Uncritical View Of A Life And Times PDF Print E-mail

By Prairie Miller

While psychology tends to operate under the law of human nature that the individual is not likely to portray themselves as a villain in their own life story, we reasonably expect more from the filmmakers of biopics, whether fiction or documentary. Jeremy Kagan's Golda's Balcony, which is adapted by William Gibson, from his Broadway one woman show of the same name, stars Valerie Harper in an impressive, passionately sustained performance as the late Israeli prime minister, along with her incarnation of a host of other characters, historical and personal, male and female, from her own husband and father to the Pope and world leaders.

Harper's achievement as an actress is phenomenal, and impeccably transcends the bare bones nature of the material for which she bears such immense responsibility in conveying as both convincing and affecting. If only the content itself matched the stature of this multi-talented thespian.

Golda's Balcony is at its best when delving into the personal, intimate corners of Meir's life, and dissipating into the protagonist as a propaganda mouthpiece when it veers into the political. The sentimental depiction of Golda Meir is infused with many moments of warmth, wit and earthy, homespun humor, as a woman who rose from matzoh ball duty in her kibbutz kitchen to leader of her troubled nation. But who was this woman, really. She's portrayed as a generous and kind hearted senior citizen, reluctant to play the aggressor at war. On the other hand, she's on the phone to Kissinger day and night, demanding all sorts of military hardware, attack planes and nuclear weapons to amass in an expanding arsenal. Grandmother, or godfather?

The shamelessly uncritical view of Golda, her world perspective, and the period of Middle Eastern history over which she presided as a major player, confuses the protagonist's point of view with the reality. For example, this consistently affectionate portrait of the charismatic leader lacks nuances of personality that would admit flaws. This is the same woman whose statement, "there is no such thing as the Palestinian people," is in no way of minor significance. And Steven Spielberg, a man who certainly bears no animosity towards the state of Israel, depicts Meir in his film Munich, as the cold blooded architect of extra-legal government target assassinations in which countless Arab bystanders have been summarily executed.

It is not without irony that Golda's Balcony opens the same week as Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Both historical biopics sanitize women leaders who engaged in imperialist conquests and enriched their own governments through the displacement, suffering and genocide of indigenous peoples. And neither film makes mention of these grim realities, even as they glorify the sympathetically portrayed perpetrators.

Prairie Miller

More About Fashion Statements Than Political Statements

By Prairie Miller

More coincidence than timing that Elizabeth: The Golden Age opens the week of Columbus Day, this Elizabeth sequel is more about fashion statements than political statements, during that tumultuous and lavish historical period of European colonialism. As such, that 'Golden Age' may refer more to prima donna Liz's glowing tiara than the plundering of the New World that made her pompous strut down that royal runway possible in the first place.

This middle aged, now older and more cold blooded along with blue blooded Virgin Queen (a seemingly ageless Cate Blanchett) is the centerpiece of this followup to Shekhar Kapar's surprise smash hit nearly a decade ago. But there's less fluid wit and a restrained stiffness, and that's not just a matter of all those metal corsets and bodices.

Kapar holds out the temptation for this too busy for romance workaholic British ruler, a potential fetching palace boy toy, famed ocean navigating gallant world explorer Walter Raleigh (never disappointing ladies man, Clive Owen). His knack for showing up to likewise navigate street puddles at just the right moment, to assist Elizabeth to pass over to dry land on the other side of the curb, conquers her calculating heart. Though a sense of duty to conquering the world on behalf of the emerging British Empire that goes with the territory - not to mention scheduled beheadings and taking down the competing Spanish Armada in what looks like a 16th century supermodel photo shoot, wind fans and all - effectively stifles her more carnal urges.

The big question that arises when it comes to this costume drama sequel, is that with such a flawless gem as the 1998 Elizabeth, can a followup match the excellence of the original. Kapur does weave his magical web of visual splendor drenched in period atmosphere. But all the dramatically bracing, deliciously dark palace intrigue is pushed to the sidelines this time around.

Even the anticipation of some steamy chivalry courtesy of Clive's explorer Raleigh, gets nipped in the bud and fizzles before it can light a fire under Liz and lead him to discover his way into her tormented but jealous heart, after he falls for one of her flirty ladies in waiting Bess (Abbie Cornish). Also a disappointment in this dazzling yet hollow pageantry is the conspicuous absence of any feel for the tremendous historical impact of the times, whose turn of events seem more influenced in the film by personal emotions than political forces. A movie with smart fashion sense, but all dressed up and nowhere to go.

Prairie Miller

Bordertown: Drama Not Just In The Moment, But In The World



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By Prairie Miller

Written and directed by Gregory Nava (El Norte, Frida, Selena), Bordertown is a devastating, emotionally charged fact-based drama touching on the rapes, murders and disappearances of thousands of Mexican women factory workers in the multinational maquiladores factories lining the border between Mexico and the United States. These virtual labor camp fortresses that sprung up in the 1990s in the wake of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), economically thrive off the absence of tariffs and worker rights, humane working conditions and just wages alike.

Juarez in particular, where the film takes place, is home to nearly a thousand of these maquiladores, as explained in a prologue to Bordertown. And with the enormity of these unsolved and virtually uninvestigated horrific crimes against women in this desolate desert terrain, are ongoing charges of coverups and complicity of government and business interests, to prevent interference or interruption of the business boom there.

Jennifer Lopez is Lauren Adrian in Bordertown, a Chicago investigative reporter for a big city paper who is sent off reluctantly to Juarez by her editor, George Morgan (Martin Sheen) to cover the deaths and disappearances of the women there. The hard bitten, ambitious journalist is prodded to agree to the assignment, only after being offered the carrot stick of a big promotion in return. When she arrives in Juarez, it's made clear that Lauren is far more interested in fame and glory for her work, than the plight of these exploited, oppressed and victimized female factory workers. Feeling a little lost and ill equipped, Lauren latches on to a hardly enthused reporter colleague Alfonso Diaz (Antonio Banderas), a now married former lover she apparently used and abandoned in the past, just to further her own career.

Alfonso, who now manages his own newspaper in Juarez, has been running stories about the murders, much to the irritation of the local authorities who frequently harass him and confiscate his papers. By chance the pair encounters a young indigenous Indian woman Eva (Maya Zapata), a factory worker from the countryside, who was viciously beaten, raped and buried in the desert, but managed to escape alive. While Lauren initially uses both Eva and Alfonso to get her story, even risking their lives in the process, she eventually comes to care deeply for the terrified young woman, through a process that includes confronting discomfort and denial about her own racial roots, and joining the female workers on the grueling assembly line to feel their pain. Their fierce female bonding that evolves through shared empathy and tragedy, strikes a blow to both a virtually institutionalized male culture of violence and the male dominated social and economic authority and money media in their midst.

Jennifer Lopez immerses herself in her character with such passion and intensity that clearly resonates, not just as identification with Latina sisters south of the border, but as an immense love and concern for the humanity and plight of global sisterhood at risk. At the same time, the film takes her character into harrowing, difficult places, exploring the complexities of racial understanding, identity, shame, self-hatred and ultimate healing.

Jennifer Lopez was awarded the Artists for Amnesty Award by Amnesty International for Bordertown, which she also produced. Present at the Amnesty ceremony this year at the Berlin Film Festival, was Norma Andrade, whose seventeen year old daughter was found murdered in Juarez in February, 2001. She has since co-founded Our Daughters Back Home (Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa), a legal support group for the parents of these young victims.

“She’s a remarkable woman and a true inspiration,” said Lopez of Andrade at the ceremony, describing her an incredible source of strength for many women there. A special acclaim is in order for Jennifer Lopez as well for Bordertown, for courageously taking drama to the highest level not just in the moment, but in the world.

Prairie Miller

Crazy Love: Doc Obsesses About Romance


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By Prairie Miller

Is obsessive love, adulterous or otherwise, an emotional psychosis that should necessitate a psychiatric category of its own for further investigation, or just an irresistible biological throwback to the human survival instinct when it comes to tossing a little healthy variety into the gene pool? In any case, way before the recently reunited womanizer pubophile Joey Buttafuoco and teen spouse-shooter Amy Fisher, both of whom walked out on their marriages to get it on all over again, there was Burton Pugach and Linda Riss. Don't ask.

Dan Klores' documentary Crazy Love, tracks the fifty year exceedingly dysfunctional on and off again romance between the Bronx born lovebirds that included fake divorce decrees, a disabling lye attack and blindness, hard prison time, reconciliation and marriage, and further ensuing infidelity and extra-marital stalking. The pair's bizarre half century relationship, all of it true, plays out like the stuff of far fetched fantasy in a pre-reality show era. And Klores has the easy task of just passively sitting back and taking it all in with his camera, which is what he pretty much does.

As recalled by the couple, whose separately recorded stories in the film don't contradict one another too often, Pugach was a thirty year old hotshot attorney in 1957, who got rich quick off fraudulently fixing injury cases, for which he was later disbarred. Married with a wife and severely disabled daughter safely tucked away up in Westchester, Burt spotted the quite glamorous 20 year old Linda on a park bench in the Bronx, while driving by one day. Burt decided on the spot that he couldn't live without this young woman, and proceeded to alternately woo and stalk her while shamelessly lying about not being married.

Linda was seduced less by Burt's somewhat woefully lacking looks or charm, than his money and willingness to lavishly wine and dine her every night. But when she figured out that he was indeed married and the divorce papers he produced for her were fake, Linda, still very much a virgin and on the hunt for an eligible mate, ended their relationship.

When Burt learned of her engagement to another man, he stalked and hounded her, hoping with a truly twisted logic that he could frighten her enough so she would long for his protection from further harm. When all else failed, he hired some thugs to toss lye in her face. Burt ended up in the slammer at Attica for fourteen years, and Linda was permanently disfigured and blinded.

There's more. During the 1971 Attica Uprising, Burt befriended famed fellow attorney William Kuntsler whom he convinced to play matchmaker, I kid you not. With Linda persuaded to reconcile with Burt and unbelievably advocate for his release, the two were soon finally wed. Though, not exactly living happily ever after, as the now elderly but apparently still quite feisty Burt continued with his womanizing and stalking ways. A final scene catches the pair off guard in an oddly normal moment, at least for them, with Linda doing the nagging housewife thing to Burt's surprisingly passive henpecked hubby persona.

While surely raising more provocative questions than resolving any of the gnawing dilemmas surrounding the mysteries of extreme romantic obsession, Crazy Love is an invigorating work for that reason alone. In terms of the personal agendas of each of these kooky players in the dangerous game of love, one could surmise that both suffered from severe abandonment issues, each having been subjected to the emotional trauma of a parent walking out on them when they were children. And in speculating which one can more convincingly claim the title of trophy spouse, in the case of Linda, her fate as a blind and disfigured lonely middle aged single woman certainly explains her neediness, however warped. As for fathoming Burt, well, we may just have to be satisfied that we'll never quite know.

Prairie Miller

10/12/07

Actresses: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi

The Actress as presented on screen is an immature child like person. Her emotional malleability, which is the chore of her success, render her unable to grow, to
establish an emotional understanding and ability to relate without the aid of a script writer or director.
She is pathetic as a person yet brilliant at her work. Her age is significant because she seems acutely aware that she is now older, she has a biological clock that says life's benchmarks have come and will shortly go and she will still be "young".

I could not help but experience a feeling of wanting her to just be quiet, to go inward to think, to be someone (the off stage real person) other than this unceasing emotion whine at the "cost" of her success. The actress still lives with her mother and aunt(a reality that she does not seem to lament) and although they provide moments of theatrical comic relief, there are only a few, too fews of these moments.

This film does not provide a pleasant, nor entertaining experience and I could not help thinking so what? Who cares? Get your life together woman. Spend your hard earned money on a shrink, like Woody Allen does.

But is this a realistic depiction of an actress' life?
Is this emotional porayal realistic? Being a prostitute does not necessary mean that the woman(or man) can not experience emotionally informed physical pleasure. Or does it?

Does the "professional" life of women stunt her growth while the rearing of children provide a fertile ground for maturity, for acting and feeling like an adult?

Maybe

LindaZ

10/11/07

Response to Actresses

Well what does this distorted view of older women say about misguided perceptions of female characters on screen in general, and how those perceptions can transform for the better?