CRITICS CHAPTER

'Criticism is the only thing that stands between the audience and advertising.' - Pauline Kael


WHO WE ARE



Dr David Archibald, University Of Glasgow
Film International, Financial Times, Cineaste


Steve Ashton,
Filmvision.net

Dan Bessie
Filmmaker and Culture Critic

Prof. Dennis Broe
Jump Cut, NY Newsday, Boston Phoenix

Dianne Brooks
The Film Files, Writemovies.com

Paul Buhle
Brown University

Lisa Collins
Filmmaker

Benjamin Dickenson
Bright Lights Film Journal, UK

David Ehrenstein
Quarterly Review of Film and Video

John Esther
Los Angeles Journal

Miguel Gardel
Proletaria Press

David Spaner
KPFK Los Angeles, UprisingRadio.org,
Vancouver Georgia Straight

Michael Haas
Culture critic

Laura Hadden
Pacifica Radio

Gerald Horne
University Of Houston

Reynold Humphries
British Film Historian

Sikivu Hutchinson
BlackFemsLens.org, KPFK Radio

Jan Lisa Huttner
TheHotPinkPen.com, Films For Two

Cindy Lucia
Cineaste Magazine

Pat McGilligan
Film Historian

Prairie Miller
WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network

Logan Nakyanzi
Go Left TV, Huffington Post

Victor Navasky
The Nation

Gerald Peary
Boston Phoenix

Louis Proyect
Counterpunch, Marxmail.org

Luis Reyes
Film historian

Nancy Keefe Rhodes
NPR Radio WAER-FM,
Syracuse City Eagle

Nancy Schiesari,
BBC, Channel 4,
Univ. of Texas, Austin

Rebecca Schiller
Culture Critic

Michael Slate
Beneath The Surface, KPFK Radio

Christopher Trumbo
RIP, January 8, 2011

Dave Wagner
Mother Jones, Film International

Linda Z
LFC Film Club

Noah Zweig
Telesur


Paul Robeson With Oakland, Ca. Shipyard Workers, 1942

Black August

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.

Stay tuned......

The Organizer

WBAI ARTS EXPRESS RADIO

**ARTS EXPRESS AIRING HERE NOW** 
 
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Hosted By Prairie Miller

ARTS EXPRESS RADIO: EXPRESSION IN THE ARTS


CLASS DISMISSED....

Age Of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas
 
Medieval mumblecore. A missed opportunity class warfare saga with peasants serving mostly as props, and settling on a personal grudge portrait of the emerging bourgeois peeved protagonist instead, in determined revenge against a shadowy at best aristocracy.  And social conflict more as a backdrop to the scenery in this dramatic momentum-free travelogue, while a personal property fixated fanatic exploits the serfs around him by sending them into battle on his behalf. Rarely cutting to the chase, this feudal epic feels as long as history, especially given that the most action packed moment of all is that of a pregnant horse in labor. Poverty porn as high art, and a treat solely for arty snobs and couch potato political dilettantes.


DEVIL'S KNOT, OR DEVILS NOT? ATOM EGOYAN DECIPHERS 


Distinguished director Atom Egoyan's Devil's Knot is a fact based dramatic feature delving into the notorious and still controversial 1993 West Memphis Three child murder court case, involving the disappearance, torture and drowning of three second grade boys. And which arrives on screen with considerable cultural baggage preceding it.

Including not only countless books and documentaries, but an abundance of investigative articles and studies demanding the convictions of the three accused teens in question be revisited. But that continues to fall on Arkansas bible belt deaf ears, despite all sorts of questionable judicial procedures plaguing the original case.

All of which is related to evidence rendered dubious, with the more recent introduction of DNA investigations in criminal cases. And that would seem to both exonerate the long incarcerated but recently released trio, and raise questions about other potential suspects never previously pursued.

Reese Witherspoon lends emotional depth and despair to a relatively slim role, as the grieving mother of one of the slain, tortured, bound and naked young boys found in a local creek. And Colin Firth provides a compassionate conscience to the narrative, as the town's grim gumshoe not buying the judicial scenario. While the slice of southern regional life surrounding the ensuing events, plays out with a solemn even when eccentric authenticity, consciously bypassing caricature.

And Oscar nominated Egyptian born, Canadian director Egoyan [The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica], rather than rehashing the long obvious detials, seems to have considerably more on his mind with Devil's Knot. Namely, a US culture that has repeatedly thrived on difference intolerance and demonization. And in this case seemingly convicting the three youth in question, based mostly on their interest in satanic lore and rituals. Along with a widespread terror among this insular, deeply religious community that came to be known at the time as 'satanic panic.' Lending a rather ironic twist and spontaneously horror movie tone, to the Devil's Knot film title in question.

And though criticism has been leveled against Devil's Knot in the nature of skimming over the facts at hand, that approach may in fact be an alternate bid to bring something new and different to the table beyond the already overly visited details. And essentially delving not into so much how, as why. And providing both a social and historical context to the alternately tragic and bizarre proceedings. Which in this case, makes bitter mention through one of the suspects - the accused satanic cult ringleader Damien Echols, who was singularly sentenced to death - that the perceived witch hunt bears frightening similarities to the 1792 Salem Witch Trials just about 200 years earlier, condemning many innocents as the perpetrators of witchcraft.

And to further place the hysteria surrounding the West Memphis Three trials in context, it should be noted that all sorts of questionable accusations and false witness testimonies surfaced against the West Memphis Three, just months following the first Al Qaeda linked World Trade Center bombing in February 1993. Raising widespread alarm about a different kind of religious fanaticism, and fear of all Muslims in general. Then there's the bible belt conformity in a traditionally uneasy coexistence with any religious differences, let alone satanism.

Additionally speculated but not pursued in Devil's Knot, were suspicions arising that the sensationalistic trial at hand conveniently served as a coverup of imminent charges the local authorities were facing, concerning disappeared drug seizures.
And years later, when the unrelenting, numerous far-reaching advocates for the convicted youth finally succeeded in discrediting the Memphis authorities involved in the case, the latter initiated a bizarre deal with the three imprisoned males. Namely, that they could be released on parole under what is known as the Alford Plea. Which would allow them to officially proclaim their innocence, but only with acknowledgement that there is still enough evidence to convict them. Go figure.

And though the defense and advocates of the Memphis Three continue to pressure for a retrial, their persistent pleas have been turned own. Meanwhile, in an additional bit of irony, Damien Echols - who was accused of being the satanic cult leader - has since relocated to Salem, Massachusetts.



DRONES: WHEN HORROR MOVIES AND HISTORY MEET
















It's possible that the best choice for director of a movie about the horrors of history may actually be a horror movie maven. Which is precisely the case of Halloween series filmmaker Rick Rosenthal, at the helm of the moral thriller submerged in the muck of the present day horrors of history in progress, in Drones.

Provocatively displaying equal parts conviction, courage and conscience, Rosenthal unmasks the misleading antiseptic spin of drone warfare, in targeting the minds of those manipulated into carrying out these macabre hi-tech, remote control joy stick judge, jury and executioner assassinations. The setting for this tense, claustrophobic execution chamber workspace is a trailer somewhere on a secret Air Force base located in the remote Nevada desert. Disgruntled officer Sue Lawson (Eloise Mumford) arrives at this drone steering station to replace an African American kid from Compton, who recently committed suicide under mysterious circumstances.

Lawson joins young hotshot airman Jack Bowles (Matt O'Leary) at the command kill station. Who is as clearly and eerily into real life target assassinations over in Afghanistan via his computer screen on the base, as he is into the recreational video game thrill of it all while dialing up instant pizza deliveries with the works on down time.

But there is evidently much more going on than simply stalking officially designated bad guys halfway around the world while up close and personal on screen, as dubious military 'perception management' posters planted around the asphyxiating premises relentlessly urge the cyber-executioners on. And while an impatient, irritated commander berates the pair via online hookup, whenever moral misgivings surface. Concerning not only a dismissive attitude toward wives and children in the vicinity of the drone homicide, but questions arising as well about whether a target for elimination is a terrorist or inconvenient human rights activist instead.

Drones, with its disturbing and discomforting persistent dread is in no way conventional entertainment, nor should it be. Or as Rosenthal's master of metaphorically laden cringe cinema colleague, Night Of The Living Dead's George Romero once conveyed with such piercing wit - if you want comfort, there's always the popcorn stand. And sadly to the point as well is Dirty Wars documentary director Jeremy Scahill's solemn observation, 'You can't surrender to a drone.'


A LONELY HERO AND I CAN QUIT WHENEVER I WANT: ITALIAN ECONOMIC CRISIS CINEMA IMPACTS OPEN ROADS FILM FESTIVAL

                    Antonio Albanese Is L'Intrepido

With the surging jobless rates concurrent with slashes in subsistence benefits around the globe, governments may act oblivious but filmmakers have certainly taken notice everywhere. And, turning out dramatic features that no matter what the subject, more often than not are part of a repeatedly noted trend of economic crisis cinema. And dismal circumstances which increasingly inhabit film festivals as well. Including Open Roads: New Italian Cinema, a current presentation unreeling at New York City's Lincoln Center.

Among those offerings is Sydney Sibilia's dark comedy, I Can Quit Whenever I Want [Smetto Quando Voglio]. In which a determined band of unemployed and underemployed egghead professors, researchers and scientists reluctantly turn to a life of banditry in order to survive. A subversively satirical descent into desperation intimating Breaking Bad and Trainspotting, and a daffy when not dark parody channeling the plight of the Italian middle class, caught as well in the web of the downwardly spiraling EU economic crisis.

           I Can Quit Whenever I Want [Smetto Quando Voglio]

Likewise a US premiere intimating universal economic misery, is Gianni Amelio's L'Intrepido [A Lonely Hero]. Antonio Albanese is the Chaplinesque doomed but determined figure of Antonio Pane, a middle-aged, jobless schoolteacher struggling to survive as a day laborer drudge, while financially exploited by the corrupt boxing gym racketeer assigning him to a series of random, transient eclectic positions. Including instant jack of all trades high rise construction worker, laundry presser, sports stadium sweeper, trolley driver, dishwasher, shoe store salesman and elder home care attendant - for a withdrawn, clueless mute invalid to whom he tells all his troubles.

And though persistently stoic no matter how dismal or dubious his daily fate, Antonio's optimism does come close to cracking under this enormous psychological weight on occasion. In particular when confronting the even greater hopelessness and destructive despondency being visited upon the younger generation to follow. Counting his vulnerable musician son, and an emotionally fractured young woman he befriends at a government exam attended by hundreds, for potential employment that likely exists for none of them.

A Lonely Hero is a stinging and sobering portrait, yet simultaneously laced with muted comedic charm. And a triumph in pulling off a cautionary contemporary tale steeped in magical realism, a resonant fusion of political reality and personal human pain.



FUCK FOR FOREST: Accidentally Important Film  


  










Not exactly akin to the IMF turning up in countries bearing dubious donations that dupe and subsequently enrage economically enslaved, unsuspecting countries stretching across the Third World to the EU in Southern Europe, the Fuck For Forests Collective and its less hip than sleazy jungle sex tourism exploits do bear some negative similarities. Along with an anti-social when not pathological menu of brazen public sexual activities that in most places outside of their Berlin headquarters would elicit fewer handshakes than handcuffs. And which is the subject of the documentary, Fuck For Forest.

The FFF by way of bizarre explanation, comprises a band of neo-hippie youth performing live sex acts at times outdoors to the strumming of impromptu folk tunes on guitar, when not accosting strangers in public for porn photos or filmed sexual performances. Which they mount and sell as subscriptions on their website for the professed purpose of raising funds to save endangered natural habitats, as a self-declared NGO bearing the slogan, 'saving the planet is sexy.' And though exceedingly less harmful than say, typical NGOs sent forth by imperialist entities into the world
as pseudo-humanitarian front line invaders - just as the church in colonialist times once obliged - this primarily copulating charity is beyond questionable as to its methods and monetary programs, if those even exist.

Which led Polish filmmaker Michal Marczak to challenge the sleazy sexual exhibitionists to do more than just further satisfy their sexually confrontational urges in his documentary Fuck For Forest - though there's plenty of that tedious porn on hand as well. That is, by putting their money where their well, mouth has been, and tagging along with him to actual Amazon jungles to help out the equally endangered indigenous denizens of remote Peru.

And it is at this point, that the simply annoying, self-indulgent pornographic vanity project and pandering reality show masquerading as a film becomes not just politically revealing, but in an odd way, a perhaps unintentionally important film. As these fanatical freaks face off against, let's say, the real world. Where their anti-establishment, full time pursuit of pleasure back home within their permissive haven of white privilege, has no meaning among these jobless, starving and furious masses.

Leading ironically - and with perhaps more resistance than they ever encountered back in European society - to the resentful locals perceiving them as the usual Euro-centric sex tourists turning up to exploit them unhampered by any prevailing laws in their own country. Which well they might have, had they not been booted from the premises by the angry villagers. And, however economically and educationally deprived - and this historical consciousness is nowhere to be found in the film but should have been - who have a long, proud history and legacy rooted in Inca rebellion against European colonialism, and later emerging in Sendero Luminoso and Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement [MRTA] resistance.

All of which plays out in the documentary at this point, with astonishing revelation. As the clearly frustrated band of self-deluded paternalistic perverts with warped priorities are rendered simply pathetic. And cling to one another whimpering, as they are quite differently exposed for a change by their hosts. Who tell them, 'naked is not freedom, jobs are freedom. We need jobs. We live in extreme poverty. And this poverty will last all our lives. What are you going to do about that? We've heard enough lies, especially from Europeans. You're not believable. Please leave.'

Which likewise provides telling though again unspoken insight regarding the filmmaker himself, with his own historical origins in a once socialist Poland. But now similarly to FFF, hopelessly in search of a 'third' way to make sense and order out of a damaged world, beyond capitalism and communism. And leading to the unmistakable conclusion in no manner openly professed in this film but present all the same. That indeed, there is no petty bourgeois imaginary third way - call it freedom that is sexual or whatever - to salvage the beyond dire global reality at hand.

Fuck For Forest does have its postscripts of sorts for the hedonistic band - following their discovery that clothes do serve some purpose after all,  to at least ward off jungle mosquitoes - and after their traumatic rejection by the locals. In seeming psychological denial of their lack of acceptance, they move their act into the village streets and among the only ones still listening to them - the children enjoying their serenading musical entertainment.

Later still, they're reported to have scattered around the continent, one fighting personal depression by 'secluding himself high in the Andes.' Others reconvene back in Berlin months later, to 'work on a new master plan to save the planet' by spiffing up their porn peddling website. While another returns to his home in Norway, where he's seen urging homeless Palestinian refugees to come to a street protest he's organizing.

The Palestinians diplomatically humor him. What are you protesting, everyone is running away from something, we run from war. 'All of you could be naked with me there, we want people all over the world to be naked and make love.' And do you expect a big demonstration? 'No, I'm afraid I will be all alone.'

And to their question, what if you fail? There is of course no coherent reply, to how we're all fucked.

Prairie Miller
 


**CLASS DISMISSED**

BIG JOY: The Adventures Of James Broughton

The class distinction of fame or fortune entitling the privilege to perceive women as property to be discarded at will, once again.

This elaborately conceived portrait of the prolific post-WWII San Francisco poet and experimental filmmaker James Broughton, is at its best when offering immensely pleasurable and playful reminiscent readings of his verses. But the fawning, overwhelmingly male-centric documentary lacks any reasoned balance, with its too casually dismissive when not utterly into denial perspective regarding both the discarded women and offspring in Broughton's life - including the eminent film critic Pauline Kael, thoughtlessly reduced to a cameo irritant here - along with the conveniently disappeared AIDS plague that redefined in enormous ways in its own right, that far more complex era and the hedonism extolled in the film.


**Arrested Developments, A Bishop 'Converts' To Occupy Wall Street


At the turbulent juncture of religion, politics and culture, Bishop George Packard was famously seen going viral across cyberspace, as he led the way in scaling a Trinity Church NYC fence in full ceremonial robes, to liberate the vacant lot for a new OWS encampment. Bishop George discusses with Arts Express his subsequent arrest as political prisoner of the NYPD, along with scores of others that day. And what also went down with the police assault on New Year's Eve.

LISTEN TO THE SHOW HERE


 Plus, the retired Bishop's frustrating attempts to negotiate with his Trinity Church, to donate the space in question and concede to OWS demands; police brutality witnessed against his wife that day, her breasts kicked repeatedly and then thrown bodily like a weapon on top of protesters; Bishop George's difficult and troubled journey from Vietnam combat soldier to post traumatic stress and the priesthood, and from killer to healer; taking an Occupy hunger striker home for some dinner; and the real truth about the false police scissor assault arrest on New Year's Eve.


Stay tuned for continuing features of Arts Express: Expression In The Arts. Airing On WBAI Radio's Pacifica Network and Affiliate Stations, including WPRR: Public Reality Radio. And if you'd like to Express yourself too, you can write to: ArtsExpressradio@gmail.com


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**The First Occupy Film Festival. Occupy Movement filmmaker Travis Wilkerson phones in from LA to talk about the OWS Film Festival in NY this month, where his documentary An Injury To One, about the historic, valiant uprising of the Montana copper miners is screening. Also, what went down when 1300 cops raided their LA encampment, and current directions of Occupy LA.

LISTEN TO THE SHOW HERE

And, what this film about the horrific hidden history of the US labor movement has
to do with the Wobbly roots of OWS and the mic check; capitalist crime scenes and WWI copper weaponry; the Klan, Vietnam, Dashiell Hammett's Poisonville, TV's Dragnet, and the Michigan labor archives; the dreaded Pinkerton police, and the mysterious and brutal vigilante frontier justice numbers 3-7-77.

And, the still unsolved, or rather uninvestigated, state sanctioned assassination of legendary labor leader Frank Little nearly a century ago. 

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**Learning To Live Out Loud. A conversation with veteran screen actress, Piper Laurie. Phoning in from LA to delve into her memoir about struggling to find her own voice and her craft in the Hollywood studio system gauntlet, of sex symbol caricatures and casting couches; a predatory Ronald Reagan and Howard Hughes; McCarthyism and the Great Depression; and rising from the ashes of studio system sexist typecasting, after tossing an Audie Murphy script into the fire. Also, revisiting scenes with Paul Newman and the pool hall classic, The Hustler.

LISTEN TO THE SHOW HERE


**The Art Of Movie Conversation. Brothers McMullen director Edward Burns discusses his latest film Newlyweds, and the rich tapestry of Irish American urban culture teeming in his work; what he learned from Woody Allen; plus unconventional attitudes towards love, and even more unconventional methods of making movies without money.

**Reflections on the New Year In Music And Words.
The Occupy Wall Street Movement Arts Express Best Of The Net Hotspot this week on a quest for liberating spaces, and James Taylor.

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**Red Squad:
Here's Looking At You Kid. Street activist filmmakers do reverse surveillance on US government spies. A conversation with director Joel Sucher, and the lessons for the Occupy Wall Street Movement today.

LISTEN TO THE SHOW HERE

**Cook County: Actor Anson Mount does a scary backwoods crystal meth patriarch in the film, and talks inhabiting and conveying through his character, what's up with the troubling meth epidemic across the American heartland.




 Screening Room: Zero Bridge. The psychology of political occupation in Kashmir, how storytelling interacts with history, militarized movie theaters, and the past on rewind. A conversation with filmmaker Tariq Tapa; High profile lawyer Kendall Coffey talks legal controversy, Socrates on the hot seat, and his new book, Spinning The Law: Trying Cases In The Court Of Public Opinion.



Listen To The Show Here:

 
 
                                                                                                                                
 Screening Room: Johnny Mad Dog: Child soldiers, and finding the characters to play actors. Director/screenwriter Jean-Stephane Sauvaire phones in from Paris; When We Leave: Writer/director Feo Aladag talks domestic violence, honor killings and male identity; A look at Alex Cox's irreverent recession blues satire, Repo Chick, and butting heads with corporate Hollywood.  


Listen To The Show Here:

 


The Anti-Oscars 2010: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly In Movies: What do Hugo Chavez, Sylvester Stallone, Jack Abramoff, Charlie Chaplin, Norman Finkelstein, Dalton Trumbo, Evo Morales and Elia Kazan have in common? The James Agee Cinema Circle Awards 2010, of course. Tune in for a look at the Good, the Bad and the Ugly in movies this year, with film commentary provided by JACC special guest, The Unrepentant Marxist.




Photo right: Yahima Torres, Black Venus




Listen To The Show Here:






 In The Arts Express Screening Room: Casino Jack. Actor Kevin Spacey on what he will and will not say about his rendezvous with felonious disgraced lobbyist Abramoff to get into character, and life after incarceration at a kosher pizza parlor; Nicole Kidman on channeling grief in Rabbit Hole; and Ruben Blades in a conversation mulling the music in language, and doing a damaged Viet vet in the movie Spoken Word.


Listen To The Show Here:




In the Arts Express Screening Room: A conversation with West Wing creator John Wells about his feature film delving into male identity and white collar jobless blues, The Company Men; Uk screenwriter Paul Laverty on Even The Rain, his drama touching on colonialism, neo-colonialism and water capitalism playing out in Bolivia. And current efforts by his longtime collaborator and esteemed filmmaker of the workingclass experience Ken Loach, to help raise bail and free Wikileaks political prisoner, Julian Assange; And, Texas Messes With Machete: How the Lone Star State played film critic and stiffed Robert Rodriguez, director of the provocative pro-immigrant satire.  








 Listen To The Show Here:




What's Wrong With The Media, And What's Right About Wikileaks? A conversation with former CNN and ABC reporter, Mark Feldstein. In The Arts Express Screening Room: A look at The Company Men and Casino Jack. And, The Pensive Voyager: Our Arts Express world traveler reports from around the corner and around the planet.

Listen To The Show Here:




In The Arts Express Screening Room: Scenes from hybrid tapestry biopic Howl, touching on the life, art and politics of the late iconic beat poet, Allen Ginsberg. And a conversation with Howl animator, graphic novelist, painter and illustrator, Eric Drooker. As he reflects on Ginsberg's creative and political historical moment in time that inspired his astonishing collaborative imagery, just how artistic censorship and self-censorship work, and why the Revolution will not be Facebooked.

Listen To The Show Here:


 


In the Arts Express Screening Room, Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton In Conversation about their new film, Morning Glory; A look at Love & Other Drugs; Eminent multimedia artist and filmmaker Barbara Hammer about her creative process and the experimental imagination; In the Writers Corner, Miguel Gardel reads from his work touching on state terror, rebellion and the turbulent Balaguer years in the Dominican Republic.

Listen To The Show Here:


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