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

1/30/12

Madonna Explores Female Reinvention In W.E.

                    Madonna At UK Premiere

By Annette Insdorf
The Huffington Post

'...Some of the criticism to which Madonna has been subjected is reminiscent of the barbs that were aimed at another singer-turned-actress-turned filmmaker, namely Barbra Streisand. While one can argue about degrees of talent, there is no question that determination and chutzpa characterize both pop icons.

A telling anecdote was related by Milos Forman when he was an onstage guest in my "Reel Pieces" series at Manhattan's 92nd Street Y. The filmmaker recalled that when he was casting Hair in the late 1970s, a very long line formed in Central Park for the open call for performers. The first person to audition -- the one who had stood on line longest -- was a young woman named Madonna...'

CONTINUE TO READ ARTICLE HERE

READ IN DARKNESS REVIEW HERE

Annette Insdorf is Director of Film Studies at Columbia University. She hosts Reel Pieces at the 92nd Street Y in NYC, and writes for Arts Express Syndicate. She is also an author of books on film subjects, including Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema Of Krzysztof Kieslowski, and the upcoming Philip Kaufman. Professor Insdorf is a member of The Women Film Critics Circle.

1/26/12

Missing: A Conversation With Ashley Judd



By Winnie Bonelli

“I am not CIA. I’m a mother looking for my son.” Once she could utter that statement without dissolving into a bundle of giggles, Ashley Judd knew everything else would be a walk in the park. She mischievously added, “Kind of daunting, you know. It’s no small thing to be a trained operative for the CIA. I didn’t take it lightly.”
      
The 43-year-old film actress\humanitarian\political activist portrays a frantic, determined mom, Becca Winstone in WABC-TV’s midseason replacement  Missing, premiering at 8 p.m. tomorrow (March 15). In each hour episode, Judd manages to get chased, trampled, beaten, and shot as she treks through most of Europe’s major cities in search of her son, young Michael Winstone (Caleb Smith), who went missing during a summer internship in Italy.
       
Although fans haven’t seen much of Judd over the past few years, she’s hasn’t  been idle. Along with earning a Master in Public Administration degree from John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, she also penned a memoir titled “All That Is Bitter and Sweet.”
        
“Obviously, I was aware that this is a golden age in television, that incredible film producers are making special TV. That once rather impermeable membrane between film actors and TV actors has completely vanished,” the Kentucky native said.
        
“I remember turning on The Big C, a show I enjoyed, and there was Liam Neeson during a guest turn. While I was in school people were sending me a lot of television material, but it was either try to get an ‘A’ in Health and Human Rights or read a script. I figured that since I was in school, I might as well go for the grade.”
        
After wrapping up her scholastic studies, she got the call. “My agent called me with that special lilt in her voice, the one which all actors love to hear – ‘I think I found the one.’ I flew to Los Angeles and met with the producers. They pitched me a sensational idea.
        
“We’re going to film 10 episodes, which does work well with the balance of my very abundant life. Hey, each episode is event TV, set in a glorious European capital. What’s not to love?” asked Judd, whose “abundant life” includes a husband – racing car driver Dario Franchitti, a global ambassadorship for YouthAIDS, a preventative program under Population Services International, and three fashion lines – AJ, Love Ashley, and Ashley Judd.
        
Working in television isn’t entirely new, considering Judd landed her first acting job back in 1991 on Star Trek: The Next Generation. The two-episode gig cast her as Ensign Robin Lefler, a Starfleet officer. Graduating afterward to the big screen, a partial  list includes Ruby in Paradise, Kiss the Girls, Double Jeopardy, Where the Heart Is, High Crimes, and 2004’s Cole Porter musical bio, De-Lovely, opposite Kevin Kline, that garnered her a Golden Globe nomination.
        
Proclaiming, “I love to fight and I find it easy and rewarding,” Judd does the vast majority of her own stunts in Missing, and fluently speaks French, Italian, but couldn’t entirely master Czech. That footage didn’t make the cut, Judd quipped, “Please get off my back, at the same time I was trying to fly a helicopter.”
       
And a bonus for any viewer that has faithfully watched and waited until a season’s finale and then unceremoniously been dismissed, producer Gregory Poirier promised a resolution, “I will tell you this story will close by the end of the season. You will feel satisfied and you will think, ‘Oh, my God. Now it’s going there.”

Winnie Bonelli writes for Life & Style Magazine, The Independent [Hamptons], New Jersey Monthly and The Herald News. She is a member of The Women Film Critics Circle.

1/25/12

Betty White On Senior Girl Power in 'Off Their Rockers.'


By Winnie Bonelli 

“I’m the luckiest old broad on two feet and I don’t take it for granted, not for one single minute,” proclaimed the perpetually young actress, comedian Betty White. “I’m just at one of those good times in your life, and there’s been so many of those through my 90 years. But I’m at one of the high spots and healthy enough to enjoy it and. I’m surrounded by friends I adore. Isn’t that kind of the best way to sign off?”

It’s going to be a long time before this particular gal ‘signs off,’ as White’s popularity continues to mount among, first, second, third, and even fourth generation fans.

 Any actress, regardless of age, would be thrilled to have one series. White’s juggling two, with any spare time left over for her animal-related charities, and literary efforts, such as the best-seller, If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t).

The first, TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland, casts White as a sharp-tongued Polish caretaker shooting judgmental retorts in costars Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, and Wendie Malick’s direction. Barely into its third season, Hot in Cleveland has been picked up for a fourth. Without a moment’s pause, NBC is launching Betty White’s Off Their Rockers this spring, following a preview aired last month.

An age-reversal spin on the Punk’d format, this adaptation of the award-winning Belgium series, Benidorm Bastards, sets a group of sassy septuagenarians loose on the unsuspecting younger generation.

Naughty, sexy, and ready to party, an airport grounded, gray-haired traveler implores a 20something “mark” to join her in the Mile High Club. In another snippet from the premier episode, an elderly woman attempts to coax individuals to sign a petition baring ugly people from reproducing.

The series wasn’t a difficult sell for White, who admits, “I love Candid Camera. It was always a surprise. And also, Allen Funt was always being confused with Allen Ludden, who was my beloved husband. So I had to watch it just because the names were so much alike. I think hidden cameras are fun if you keep them from being mean-spirited. They let you see people as they really are. We take ourselves so seriously these days.”

Best known for her long running stints as the sardonic, man-hungry Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and St. Olaf, Minn.-native Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls, has witnessed a lot of changes in her 63-year career on the small screen. White interjected, “Except technically, the audiences have changed more than television. When I started out, I did my first television show in my high school graduation dress. The senior class president and myself did our version of The Merry Widow. We were up on the fifth floor and the audience was standing around among the cars in the Packard Showroom. Here we were, these people on a box in the corner, it was something terribly exciting. Everything was new to people.”

She continued, “Today, the audience knows they’ve heard every joke. They know every plot. They know where you’re going before you even start. That’s a tough audience to surprise or write for. It’s highly competitive now, because the audience has gotten so much more sophisticated.”

Sophisticated or not, there’s no denying that people of all ages still relate to White’s irreverent sense of humor. For in January 2010, a grassroots campaign on Facebook called Betty White to Host SNL (Please), drew nearly 500,000 names by the time NBC slotted her in for May 8, 2010.

In her opening monologue, White thanked Facebook and quipped that she “didn’t know what Facebook was, and now that I do, I have to say, it sounds like a huge waste of time.” Apparently, viewers embraced the backhanded compliment for the appearance earned her a 2010 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. That Emmy joined her shiny trophies from six previous wins.

Despite the many accolades, life doesn’t always play fair. Growing uncharacteristically quiet, White said wistfully, “I have a major regret, that Allen Ludden isn’t with me.” One of Hollywood most loving and devoted couples for 18 years, Ludden succumbed to stomach cancer in June of 1981.  

Winnie Bonelli writes for Life & Style Magazine, The Independent [Hamptons], New Jersey Monthly and The Herald News. She is a member of The Women Film Critics Circle.

1/19/12

The Last Song: Tony Bennett Shares 'Body And Soul' With Amy Winehouse


 By Winnie Bonelli
   
Tony Bennett couldn’t have done it without the ladies. A follow-up to his first platinum selling collaboration album, “Duets II,” released last September, immediately rocketed to Number One status on the Billboard charts.
          
Earning three Grammy nominations, including Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, “Duets II” has also been chronicled for a PBS documentary, “Great Performances: Tony Bennett Duets II” airing Friday, Jan. 27 (see local listings for showtimes.)
   
Appearing at the recent Television Critics Association’s winter press tour in Pasadena, the 85-year-old legend took journalists on a half-hour musical journey via time-tested standards like “The Good Life” and “The Way You Look Tonight.” Backed by an intimate group, consisting of piano, guitar, bass and drums, his well-honed vocals were flawless, his timing impeccable, and his delivery almost playful.
          
Casual, relaxed and flashing a warm smile, the natty-dressed Bennett was eager to talk about his costars on the upcoming TV special. Topping the list was Lady Gaga, who joined Bennett in the recording session on “The Lady Is a Tramp.”

LISTEN TO TONY BENNETT AND LADY GAGA DUET HERE
          
The Astoria, Queens native shared his personal impressions, “I was amazed. Lady Gaga was so prepared and so knowledgeable. She’s as good as anyone you could come up with. She is very, very talented.”
          
Bittersweet, Bennett reserved his strongest and longest praise for the late Amy Winehouse, who he joined at the famed Abbey Road Studios on the track “Body and Soul.” It reportedly was the tragic songbird’s very last recording session.
           
He recalled, “She just instinctively had the gift of knowing how to sing that good. She was influenced by Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald. Her dream was to become very, very famous doing that.

LISTEN TO TONY BENNETT AND AMY WINEHOUSE DUET HERE
           
“I was performing for my 85th birthday at the Palladium and the BBC was going to televise it. I wanted her on that show. My son, Danny, called two months after we did the record, and she had just died. The whole world just stopped. No one could believe it, especially in Britain.”
          
A few months later, Bennett had a chance to speak with Amy’s parents when they made a trip to America. He confided, “I remember her mother saying, ‘You know, everybody feels so tragic about her dying, but as a mother, I’m very different. All she ever really wanted to do in her life was to become world-famous. To me, even though she had a short life, she had a very successful life because she got what she really wanted. What she had dreamed about her whole life happened.’ It was so different than anything I had ever heard.”
   
The remaining roster of ladies featured with Bennett are: k.d.lang on “Blue Velvet”; Aretha Franklin with “How Do You Keep The Music Playing”; Sheryl Crow on “The Girl I Love”; Queen Latifah on “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)”; Norah Jones with “Speak Low”; Natalie Cole with “Watch What Happens”; Faith Hill on “The Way You Look Tonight”; Carrie Underwood with “It Had to Be You”; rounded out by Mariah Carey with “When Do the Bells Ring For Me.”
           
Whether Bennett makes the trek to the podium Feb. 12 during CBS-TV’s broadcasting of the Grammy Awards seems almost inconsequential. Since Bennett still possesses that same degree of passion that first whet his appetite to succeed when he dropped out of high school at age 16 to help support his family.
          
Vowing to never retire, Bennett modestly admitted, “The fact that I have a hit record at 85, it feels wonderful.”

Winnie Bonelli writes for The Newark Star-Ledger, Life & Style Magazine, New Jersey Monthly and The Herald News. She is a member of The Women Film Critics Circle.

1/15/12

Haywire: Who's Better, Man Or Woman?


By Logan Nakyanzi Pollard

'...Packaged as a slick spy film, it's been mildly poo-pooed by some critics (as in, here and here) but there's another way to see it: as a significant take on commerce and the tensions between men and women, and on a continuum with an earlier work, The Girlfriend Experience.'

CONTINUE TO READ HUFFINGTON POST REVIEW HERE  

Logan Nakyanzi Pollard is a featured commentator at The Huffington Post, and has reported for ABC News and The Guardian. Logan is a member of the Women Film Critics Circle.

1/14/12

The Iron Lady: Hollywood, Politics And Pseudo-Feminism



'...For once the great Meryl Streep fails to create a character from inside out & seems to be merely impersonating rather than embodying the complexities of Margaret Thatcher--Britain's first (& so far only) female Prime Minister. A doty old lady dimly remembers past glories. Can you imagine anyone thinking to make a Ronald Reagan BioPic with this structure?!?...'
Jan Lisa Huttner
Films42 Movie Haiku

Jan Lisa Huttner is a member of the Women Film Critics Circle and the Chicago Film Critics Association. She also writes at The Hot Pink Pen, and is the author of the new book, Penny's Picks: 50 Movies By Women Filmmakers.


 '...Not that this deliberate confusion surrounding The Iron Lady and Thatcher hasn't already spilled over into public discourse some time ago. Take for instance, the label 'Daughters of Thatcher' championed by conservative leaning women. And for whom Thatcher as inspiration held out hope for successful future lives, even as her massive privatization has led to a financial tailspin into the economic crisis currently in progress.

CONTINUE TO READ REVIEW HERE

On the other hand, there are those women referring to themselves as 'Thatcher's Girls.' A British term coined in the 1980s, when Thatcher's policies led to widespread unemployment. And a resulting upsurge in those who became prostitutes, and defiantly claimed that designation...'
Prairie Miller