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

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