So in order to best cover all bases, progressive film critics tend to consider three categories of assessment, rather than two: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The first two are self-explanatory. And the third category is reserved for movies that may have been impressively put together, but there's just something offensively anti-humanistic about them.
Saturday, March 19, 2022
Friday, August 27, 2021
RODRIGO REYES ON 499, FRIDAY THE 13TH - INTERRUPTING HISTORY
** "You appeared one morning from the East, on the beaches of Veracruz. By a strange coincidence, you arrived almost 500 years after crushing the Aztec Empire - a secret miracle had shipwrecked you into the future. What brought you to our time..."
What does Friday the 13th, 500 years commemorating the colonial invasion of a doomed Mexico, and the number 499 have in common.
This August, Friday the 13th, marks the 500 year anniversary of Spain's invasion, carnage and destruction of a doomed Mexico - and actually much of the Western hemisphere back then. And those horrors and the aftermath are the subject of the unconventional Mexican film 499. And directed by Rodrigo Reyes, whose interest in is probing the legacy of that fateful encounter on this anniversary - and hopefully enlightening the Mexican masses historically and ideologically.
The director is on the line from Mexico City to discuss that Friday the 13th dubious anniversary this month - and his stunning film mixing drama and documentary, and laced with poetic imaginative historical storytelling. With Reyes concluding that 'we can interrupt history, and we can invent it - I hope audiences can feel that when they watch my film.'
And as seen through the eyes of the confounded, nameless military invader, played by Eduardo San Juan, finding himself dazed on the beaches of Veracruz, inexplicably washed ashore today as an ironic undocumented immigrant among the masses. And encountering real people, not actors, caught in the resulting historical ramifications of violence, poverty, misery and racism in the present time - and the indigenous 'wandering hungry and barefoot, he does not know how to write on the pages of his soul - all he knows are coal ovens...'
Friday, January 1, 2021
With a few outstanding exceptions that you're not likely to hear about at the Oscars, or on most critics organization lists whose members are still predominantly white, male and middle class - and most starkly absent is any working class or left perspective membership - the narratives invariably follows the same old trajectory no matter what the year. Namely, whatever the daring political or historical subject matter, there is the inevitable detour along the way to either retreat into the family as more important than anything else, or the death of the heroic figure along with his cause - the latter ultimately deemed disappointing or corrupted. Not to mention a question I like to pose to filmmakers of suspect ulterior motives when they consistently bash progressive history - who funded your movie.
Best Improbable Holiday Movie: Fatman. This Santa Noir finds Mel Gibson as the portly grouch, sparring with the worst kid/best young actor of the year in a movie - Chance Hurstfield as a filthy rich, kind of mini-Trump who won't take no for an answer when subjected to coal in his stocking for Christmas. And who then proceeds to hire hitman Skinny Man, to assassinate Santa. But he's preoccupied with pressing issues of his own - as orders plummet due to the decline of good kids deserving gifts. So Santa is reluctantly forced to produce military products for the Pentagon instead - no surprise in this declining capitalist economy propped up by the US military industrial complex - to make ends meet. Meanwhile, this darkly comical, strange satire reveals a seemingly penitent Gibson deferring to his perhaps reluctant feminist side, and boasts the best screen couple of the year - counting eminent Afro-British actress Marianne Jean-Baptiste as the frequently scolding spouse who wears the pants around this Santa.
The Mauritanian: This devastating docudrama is based on Guantanamo Diary, the prison writings of Mohamedou Ould Salahi, an innocent man incarcerated and subjected to a brutal ordeal of 'enhanced interrogation' torture there for decades. Jodi Foster is his ACLU lawyer battling the corrupt US government and military to finally free him. A viscerally traumatic experience for audiences as well, placing them in those torture chambers right alongside Salahi, played by Algerian French actor Tahar Rahim.
Emperor: Yet another greatest story never told of all too often buried courageous black history. A rebel slave uprising political action thriller, Emperor is based on the life of Shields Green, African royalty kidnapped and enslaved on a Southern plantation - who escaped and fought with John Brown at Harpers Ferry. And though released by chance in this BLM moment, Emperor could not be more timely. Along with bracing Brechtian interludes confronting essential ideological issues.
The 24TH: Yet another exemplary example of persistent filmmakers of conviction stepping in to exhume a suppressed black past - where US history and the dishonest education system fear to tread. And potentially ushering in a commendable Black Renaissance in movies. Based on real events in the long infamous US past, the historical drama takes place during WW I, and a Houston army contingent known back then as the 24th Regiment. But this is not a war movie, while at the same time it is, very much so. Namely, the endless war against African Americans from the inception of this nation, and essentially to this very day. And the repeatedly buried black history of defiant, desperate resistance and rebellion, however bereft of hope. Known as the Camp Logan Mutiny taking place on August 23rd back in 1917, a mass rebellion of those 156 segregated soldiers of the Third Battalion occurred in reaction to the Houston escalating racist assaults and outright massacres all around them.
On Night In Miami: Award winning actress Reina King has crafted an amazing feat with her venture into directing - burrowing into the souls, emotions and politics of prominent black men back then, that night in February 25, 1964 in Miami. This fictionalized account finds boxing ring triumphant Cassius Clay and the soon to be Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), debating racism, religion, FBI persecution, and the socio-political significance of emerging meaningful music in progress.
Escape From Pretoria: Based on the ordeal of filmmaker, author and actor Tim Jenkin, who happens to be the real life South African political prisoner and revolutionary fugitive on which this political thriller is based - and played by Daniel Radcliffe. His grueling predicament, the unimaginable escape from that maximum security prison, his continued struggle to set up a secret communications system to Mandela still behind bars, and the page to screen book he wrote about it all while playing a role in the movie as well, is extraordinary.
40 Years A Prisoner: Mike Africa Jr. revisits his six year old self during the police assault and murder of his family members at their MOVE home in Philly back then, all around him. Along with scenes from the jail cell where his incarcerated mother gave birth to him alone. Then his long struggle captured in this documentary, to free his parents since - political prisoners for four decades. And what all of this has to do with Malcolm, Martin Luther King, Mumia, the Panthers, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Best Foreign Film: Wasp Network.
Honoring the courage, bravery and sacrifice of the Cuban Five who posed as US defectors to defeat anti-Castro terrorist groups in Miami in the early 1990s and suffered the consequences, incarcerated here for decades. The docudrama bypasses the usual NGO financed propaganda productions, and pays tribute as well to the woman and wife of one who fought on their behalf, Olga Salanueva portrayed by Penelope Cruz
Movies About Women Saving Themselves: For a change, that is. This year counting: Radium Girls, The real life dramatic feature detailing the horrific and deplorable radioactive poisoning of Jersey female factory workers. While their struggle to demand that the corporation face responsibility, resulted in strengthening occupational labor laws - and the right of individual workers to sue corporations for damages. And mystery character Etta, played by African American actress Susan Heyward, as a political filmmaker herself and a communist back then who gets it about Hollywood, and who turns up from the Tulsa Massacre.
Along With The Women Of... Judy And Punch, Devil To Pay, All Joking Aside, Intrigo: Dear Agnes.
Black Lives Matter Checking In... A continued reinvention of Hollywood crime and horror genres that began with 'Get Out.' And Antebellum, with its BLM influenced moments of Janelle Monae declaring homage to Assata Shakur, when not freeing herself from bondage as she incinerates the cruelty of a Southern slave plantation.
The Last Vermeer: Simultaneously convicted, cursed and celebrated in his lifetime, the notorious Dutch art forger Han van Meegeren symbolizes beyond his situation in this dramatic feature, the questionable US and European powers who today claim moral authority - and continued assault in that regard against Third World countries they've targeted with genocide and exploitation for centuries. An elephant in the room, candid interrogation of what passes for truth or fabrication and self-proclaimed moral authority in history. And fueled by the deliriously elusive, perverse and mystifying Oscar-worthy performance of Guy Pearce. And, those eyebrows...
The Tobacconist (Der Trafikant) : Freud, fascism and a smokers guide to surviving history. One rural migrant's coming of age during the rise of Nazism in 1930s Vienna and Hitler's subsequent invasion of Austria, the young man's traumatic political transformation, and a chance encounter subsequent friendship with chain smoker Sigmund Freud. While moments of Freud wearily crashing on his own therapy couch out of historical exasperation, are indelible.
Best Movie Title: 'The Big Ugly' - A metaphorical reference to US imperialism in this Malcolm McDowell corporate crime thriller.
Best Film Not Coming Out Anywhere: Wuhan Wuhan! - A remarkable journey capturing a cross-cultural collaboration with Chinese filmmakers in Wuhan shooting footage in Hazmat suits - as the pandemic was raging there. And, everyday people figuring out how to survive, endure - and how to help each other. Collective concern, not cash for care triumphs over the pandemic in China. And it goes without saying here that documentary directors with conviction step in as truth tellers, where the US media fear - or conspire - to tread. Unfortunately, MTV seems to have staged an intervention, claiming what appears to be the same production sources under a different name, for profit in this country.
Double Dose Of Acting Acclaim: The delightfully irreverent Latino actor and comic John Leguizamo is astonishingly eloquent as the unconventional teacher of an unlikely group of inner city high school students in Critical Thinking, who struggle against a racist education system - all the way to victory in a national chess tournament. And starring as well, as zany Detective Espada in Night Clerk, going eccentrically toe to toe with the autistic moonlighter in question.
And The Bad And Ugly...
Nomadland: Hollywood exploits the homeless crisis as cross-country great adventure by van. A pandemic wet dream escapist antidote in every worst sense of the word, Nomadland and its current breathless avalanche of critic accolades could not be further from its sobering reality. Exploiting pandemic free spirit fantasy rambler euphoria - while somehow making US socio-economic misery great again. No need for statistics on homeless female murders and rapes, and with essentially characters hugging and kissing their poverty. More Kerouac than Grapes Of Wrath.
Worst Film Critc: Dennis Harvey in Variety, mocking star Carey Mulligan, the date rape avenger in Promising Young Woman, as "not hot enough to portray the character." In effect perpetrating the lie that rape is about sex - not to mention emphasizing the need for more women film critics.
Saturday, August 22, 2020
Thursday, July 30, 2020
Move over, The Ugly American, boasting Brando front and center or not. A gangster thriller gone global that may endure for it's provocative title if nothing else, The Big Ugly could not have encapsulated planetary US imperialism thuggery more. Playing out in discovered West Virginia oil-rich land around a local creek known as Big Ugly, this Scott Wiper sophomoric sendup of well worn gangster territory, promises so much more while delivering exceedingly less.
Friday, July 17, 2020
Written and directed by first time filmmaker Tom Herman and narrated by Sam Waterston, Dateline: Saigon revisits the efforts of Viet Nam war correspondents - Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan, Malcolm Browne, Peter Arnett, and photojournalist Horst Faas, to record the truth on two war fronts, not just one. In other words, struggling against US government censorship bent on discrediting them, pressuring to report the Viet Nam War their way dishonestly, and as a winning venture.
And revealing not just about what transpired decades ago in that regard, but that nothing has changed - no matter which political party. And by extension, what the past can reveal concerning our present time, both historically and about the media.
While in the case of Peter Arnett, covering Middle East US invasions and wars, along the US assault on Viet Nam - the JFK/Johnson government, CIA and Hoover's FBI were bent on destroying Arnett by shutting him down professionally, And necessitating personal protection as well for reporting the truth.
Dateline: Saigon - A rigorous and scathing chronicle of devastating defeat: The US War on Viet Nam, and on the US media.
Sunday, January 5, 2020
~ Prairie Miller
Saturday, November 30, 2019
ARTS EXPRESS RED EYE MOVIE REVIEWS - Red Hot And Saucy
Served Up Here
**Karma Express: [That 'refurbished' Lionel train above was the company owned by Roy Cohn...]
THREE CHRISTS - OR POSSIBLY FOUR
Facing the hospital's 'unfeeling, conformist' determined backlash, Dr. Stone proceeds defiantly by scoping out two diagnosed paranoid schizophrenics claiming to be Jesus Christ. And in search of a third Christ to complete his planned assemblage, Stone sends his assistant on a quest through the institution to find one - which turns into a complicated affair as she comes up with 'three Cinderellas, two Eisenhowers, and one Duke Ellington' in the process.
Eventually the trio materializes (Peter Dinklage, Walton Goggins, Bradley Whitford), but what ensues is more erratic behavior and unorthodox therapy such as staff role playing as fictitious patients themselves, than any noted cure. Which tends to focus mostly on Gere and his complex state of mind, than the patients in question - who as actors give off vibes here as somewhat dramatically uncomfortable with portraying mental illness.
And Gere is to be commended for his principled choices on and off screen - including Avnet's Three Christs along with his compelling portrayal of a homeless man in Time Out Of Mind - and personally delivering water, food and other supplies this past summer to African migrants stranded on an Open Arms vessel off the coast of Italy.
But missing from this championing of psychiatrc therapy over prior methods, even as a postscript confesses 'Though I had failed to cure the Three Christs of their God-like delusions, they had cured me of mine' - is what should have been a crucial second postscript about the current terrible state of affairs regarding psychiatric care that followed this doctor's efforts. Namely in the present, replacing warehousing and the rest with simply tossing mental patients on the streets into burgeoning homelessness, and budget cuts that have denied them treatment.
Though that particular issue rears its head in another current frightening movie touching on that horrifying present reality - Joker.
The First Worst Film Of 2020
Richard Jewell: Truth Stranger Than Hollywood
"Don't become an asshole - a little power can turn a person into a monster."
"A little power can turn a person into a monster." That key observation by Sam 'Make My Day' Rockwell in Clint Eastwood's biopic Richard Jewell, sets the highly unusual tone for the conservative minded director, whether incidentally or accidentally, of the US moving progressively into police state mode.
The film is based on the true story of Jewell, an eccentric security guard underachiever aspiring unsuccessfully to be a cop, who is deemed a public hero helping save lives during the 1996 deadly Centennial Park Olympics bombing in Atlanta. But with a joint FBI/press obsession to rapidly collar a bombing suspect however inconclusive, Jewell finds himself abruptly morphed from an object of celebration into condemnation - simply because he appears to fit a vague psychological profile of frustrated, reclusive white male. And a trend on screen as well this season in movies, with the immense audience interest in Joker and The Irishman.
Actor Paul Walter Hauser has been praised for his clueless and impassive stifled portrayal of Jewell, which tends to border until an emotionally charged conclusive breakthrough finale, on the exclusively public persona of southern hillbilly bordering on caricature. While the powerfully conveyed resistance and rage against the authoritarian and repressive political drift in the country, is a burden placed heavily on the shoulders of Sam Rockwell as unheralded real life low rent Atlanta lawyer - who bravely rises to the formidable occasion rigorously denouncing the FBI and tabloid tendency press, with kickass fury and then some.
A tacit, cautionary wakeup call to what's going down ever since then in the drift towards a police state in collusion with the press, the film has resounding implications but could have weighed in on the surrounding political reality continuing to this day. Namely, a reversal reaction against the liberating Anti-War and Civil Rights Movements earlier in the last century, proceeding into the '80s Greed Decade and accompanying repressive political tendencies - the 1994 Mass Incarceration Crime Bill and privatized prisons cashing in.
Along with historically, the upcoming 1999 US/NATO bombing of Serbia and entire obliteration of that former country known as Yugoslavia. While their leader Slobodan Milošević was hauled off to the International Criminal Court, accused of 66 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes - only to have the charges dropped long after years of incarceration, following his death in prison due to chronic health conditions.
Cold Brook Review: Are You Ready To Be Different
Part ghost tale and part Bartleby The Scrivener while at the same time a captivating slavery reparations fable, Cold Brook flirts with the supernatural even as its heart is planted firmly in the social reality of the hear and now. And a story so delicately woven with a tender human core, yet grounded in sobering class and race issues reverberating today.
The Bartleby in question is Gil Le Deux (Harold Perrineau) an African American dignified yet determined seeming apparition haunting an Upstate NY history museum. And when asked to leave at closing time, somehow 'prefers not to' - and refusing to do so while vanishing repeatedly on the premises. What comes to light progressively, is that Le Deux is fixated on a glass enclosed antique scroll on display, a deed that would confirm his right to land left to him in this area by the New Orleans slave owner who freed him. But due to tragic circumstances back then in the 1850s (actually around the same time that Melville wrote Bartleby) Le Deux died and never arrived to claim his land - until now.
Meanwhile, a pair of museum maintenance men, George and Ted (Kim Coates and William Fichtner respectively - the latter the director and co-writer of Cold Brook), following a frantic period of disbelief, fear and ambivalence, set out on a mission, despite the risk of arrest and losing their jobs, to help this tormented spirit claim justice and closure. While one of the most radiant lines in Cold Brook uttered by Coates - 'I don't know if I'm ready to be different' - speaks to the human and historical challenges of fearlessness, risk, and rebellion in acting on convictions - and taking a stand no matter what.
The film could have been shortened to pick up the somewhat sagging pace, when a brisk, suspenseful momentum was called for. And the narrative lost a key opportunity for socio-economic scrutiny, while skirting over the stark class differences within Ted's family - between the demeaned blue collar spouse and his bourgeois, educated college dean wife pretty much wearing the patrician pants in the family.
But remarkable in any case about Cold Brook, is a rare and commendable sighting of blue collar working class heroes like this duo, not the usual condescending proletarian screen buffoons, but instead graced with affectionate humor while treated with seriousness and dignity as principled, courageous protagonists. While the many metaphorical ghosts haunting the film historically within the darker recesses of this country, are bravely illuminated as well.
Official Secrets Review
"My motive was to stop a war and save lives - Yes, I'd do it again."
Yet another instance of filmmakers of courage and conviction stepping up where unfortunately and unlike Gun, politicians and the press (including critics) fear to tread. Which is the reason you likely never heard of this best female action hero this year.
While most attention when it comes to US invasions and wars, is paid to those who fight them, the truly courageous with unbroken resolve who battle for peace instead, are inevitably ignored or worse punished into silence. Such was the predicament of young British intelligence translator Katharine Gun. And venturing a guess you never heard of her.
Yet this fearless woman's lonely struggle nearly stopped the Iraq invasion and mass death and destruction - costing up to a million lives and many more injured - in its tracks. While her bold and plainly stated motivation was simply explained as caring about the world - and confessing her actions in order to protect her fellow workers around her from similar suspicion and persecution.
And sadly as well, too often investigative, truth telling filmmakers step up to the plate to bring such insidious government manufactured events like the WMD hoax in question here, to light, where more often than not politicians and the media fear to tread. Or as one persistent reporter is ordered by his boss in the docudrama Official Secrets - 'stop over-thinking it.'
And Official Secrets, directed and co-written by South African filmmaker Gavin Hood and based on the book The Spy Who Tried To Stop A War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion by Marcia and Thomas Mitchell, is both a politically inspiring and emotionally intense portrait. And of one woman's fiercely determined, solitary challenge in a faceoff against the illegally duplicitous UK government, that would already seem to have clearly earned Keira Knightley best female action hero acclaim this year - blockbuster babes move over.
That is not to say that movies reviewers - and that all too often dancing around controversy, elephant in the room film criticism - will be forthcoming regarding praise for this politically illuminating gem. Unfortunately as is already the case with Official Secrets.
Instead, reactions more likely avoid the kind of bravery demonstrated by the film's protagonist, however minimal in comparison, by diverting reader attention to unwarranted distractions like assessments of production values or dramatic pace over vision. And relegating the crucial importance of what matters in the real world to an inconsequential realm - instead a pressured meek press opting for feeling taking precedence over thought and ideas.
ENOUGH BOWLING - LET'S GO JOIN THE FARC
PARASITE: Deplorables, South Korea Style. Though billed as a kind of South Korean anti-capitalism satire - this eat the rich outing when not eating its own at the bottom of the economic food chain, comes off more as an empty plate...Parasite is screening at the NY Film Festival 2019 in progress.
A somewhat combo tale of two families and exceedingly twisted prince and the pauper dubious Seoul mates turned sour spree, Parasite plays out as the poverty stricken bottom feeder (literally basement dwellers) Kim clan conspires together to pull off an elaborate scheme posing as hired help at the home of the patrician Park family. All goes well until part of the ploy involving maneuvers to get rid of the existing household workers backfires into over the top mayhem, as a kind of chaotic both external and internal bloody class warfare ensues.
Director Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer, Okja) presents a condescending, pessimistic portrayal of human nature bereft of class consciousness or ideology - and a workingclass whose sole motivation is to go to extremes, or aspiring to do so, to replace when not feeding off the economic class exploiting them.and similar films exposing government deceit, intelligence manipulation, and mass murder in pursuit of avarice around the world - fear of denunciation from those in power for 'overthinking' what lies in plain sight, is marked it seems by press retreat from daring and truthful responses.
LARRY FESSENDEN TALKS DEPRAVED
** "I think horror has to address the current collapse of society, that is what it's always been good at. It's a cautionary genre that tries to shock people out of their complacency - and I really believe that it has a heroic purpose, horror films."
Understanding The US Obsession To Make War In Venezuela