The Portrait of a Lady: Everyone Loves Isabel

The Portrait of a Lady:  Everyone Loves Isabel

We have heard much questioning about if and in what ways women directors add something new to filmmaking. The Portrait of a Lady seems to me to be exhibit A for contending that some do. However, in revising Henry James’s novel as no man would or could, Campion demonstrates more than the changes that have taken place since 1881; she demonstrates the changes that have not taken place. In thoroughly missing the organic relationship of Isabel’s fantasy life to the plot, earlier critics just assumed Campion was flamboyantly showing off her directorial chops, or sensationalizing James. We failed to see that she was giving the audience a piercing, feminist insight into what happens, at least in some cases, on the road to gender equality. But hang in there, Isabel. Many of us are not running anymore.

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HOMECOMING: Mirror, Mirror

HOMECOMING: Mirror, Mirror

Historically, thrillers have softened the blow of their depictions of helplessness and confusion by etching clear distinctions between the good, vulnerable, but nevertheless conquering heroes with whom we identify and the powerful, evil villains onto whom we can project our anxieties. More recent thrillers, however, have become more challenging, demanding that we recognize that the world is not that easy to read. Homecoming (2018), an Amazon Studios streamed series created by Micah Bloomberg and Eli Horowitz, is such an evolved thriller, or at least it is in its auspicious first season. As it peels away the layers of appearances toward its big reveal, it makes us feel that too often good is sleepwalking and evil is not easy to comprehend, let alone battle.

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BLONDIE JOHNSON: A Fresh Dame

BLONDIE JOHNSON: A Fresh Dame

Blondie Johnson (Dir. Ray Enright, 1933) is the only American gangster film ever made in which a woman, the eponymous Blondie (Joan Blondell), travels the road of Paul Muni, James Cagney, and Edward G. Robinson, from destitute nobody to affluent somebody by becoming a mob boss.

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RUSSIAN DOLL: The Epic of A Sweet Birthday Baby

RUSSIAN DOLL: The Epic of A Sweet Birthday Baby

Stories about journeys made by men in which women play supporting roles as inspirations, antagonists, and helpers have been the foundation of Western Civilization. The old Bards stuck to narratives in which the old heroes explained the patriarchal cosmos through their exploits as they conquered death in one way or another. Options are now more various. The new, gloriously audacious Netflix series, Russian Doll), gives the ancient male quest a modern, feminist twist as Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne), whose name emphasizes her femininity, finds herself on a woman’s voyage for more modern purposes in a female inflected universe.

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INSPECTOR LEWIS: Crime, Art, Imagination, and Fantasy

INSPECTOR LEWIS:  Crime, Art, Imagination, and Fantasy

Dialogue between imagination and fantasy happens. It happens both in the mass media and in high culture, and, as might be expected, the home team has the advantage. When great works of the imagination explore fantasy, they express a high culture perspective on fantasy as intense and dangerous, likely to run amok, as for example in Blake’s epics, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the works of David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock, and Orson Welles. When fantasy looks at art, it serves an opposing impulse, a low culture, leveling urge to cast itself as more genuine and delicious than what it points to as dry, high-fallutin’ art.

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Movie Review: ROMA, Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking

Movie Review: ROMA, Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking

The very ephemeral nature of moments in which life and death come to a head unweaves the old neo-realist assurances of the powerful weightiness of the least of us. Rather, Cuaron distances us from any pretensions to human importance as he opens the door to his vision of how fleeting, brief, and weightless human life is. This is a realism that is harsh medicine to the individualist American and to all cultures that are Americanized.

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Movie Review: VICE: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, but there’s nothin’ aplenty

Movie Review: VICE: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, but there’s nothin’ aplenty

Vice is a film about Dick Cheney and his partner in crime Lynne, to be sure, but it’s also about the way we talk about history, how we know what we know, how we fill in the gaps in our partial knowledge with our own fictions, and who has a voice in creating historical narratives.

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Movie Review – BLACKkKLANSMAN

Movie Review – BLACKkKLANSMAN

In Blackkklansman, a movie with a title that makes it sound like it’s a Mel Brooks high concept farce from the 1970’s, Spike Lee Has dipped back into historical events that began in 1978 to hold the mirror up to the dangerous racial chaos of America in 2018. And it’s no farce. At the same time, both Lee’s film and the book of the same name on which it is based, a memoir by a black undercover police detective, Ron Stallworth, working in Colorado Springs, do create cognitive dissonance. A black man in the Klan? How?

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Movie Review — BEING JULIA: Madame Has a Beer

Movie Review — BEING JULIA: Madame Has a Beer

Being Julia ( 2004) is a dazzling, fourteen year old romantic comedy whose time has come for a closer look. Based on a Somerset Maugham novella, Theatre, and set in 1938 London, at first glance it seems to be the essence of what has become offensive to progressive people. Successful British actress, Julia Lambert lives in a bubble of class privilege and audience adulation, to the exclusion of all else in society. But, don’t turn away. Being Julia offers an opportunity for feminists to mine unexpected gold and to examine our own prejudices and myopia.

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Movie Review: THE DEATH OF STALIN

Movie Review: THE DEATH OF STALIN

In a perfect farcical fusion of pain and laughter, The Death Of Stalin presents us with images of the men who held the highest positions in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin as they absurdly perform all kinds of physical and verbal contortions not only to curry favor with the dictator, but also, once he is dead, to curry favor with anyone because the habit of mindless kowtowing is so deeply ingrained.

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New York Film Festival Review: THE FAVOURITE

New York Film Festival Review: THE FAVOURITE

Have you ever wondered what sexual politics would be like in a matriarchy? In their rompin’ stompin’ film, The Favourite, shown as the opening night feature for this year’s New York Film Festival, director Yorgos Lanthimos and writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, give you space to imaginatively explore that possibility.

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KEEPING UP WITH HUGH GRANT

KEEPING UP WITH HUGH GRANT

On IMDb.com, a biographical note by Steve Shelokhonov, who has made his mark, such as it is, as the author of IMDb mini-biographies, describes Hugh Grant as an actor known for “playing characters projecting warmth and sincere happiness.” It’s not an important piece of scholarship, but it is widely read, due to its venue, and it is, unfortunately, typical of the kind of entertainment journalism that promotes reductive stereotypes of star reputations.

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Movie Review: BLACK PANTHER, Wakonda Forever!

Movie Review: BLACK PANTHER, Wakonda Forever!

Full disclosure: I don’t like superhero movies as a rule and might not have seen Black Panther for years if I hadn’t been bored during a flight to Seattle. Thus, I am late to the parade of journalists and academics offering their opinions about it, but I hope not too late to ask you to join me in a march to a somewhat different drummer, as I comment on the subtext of this movie devised by Joe Robert Cole, writer, and Ryan Coogler, writer/director.

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Movie Review — THE SQUARE : Conflicts between Civilization and Chaos

Movie Review — THE SQUARE : Conflicts between Civilization and Chaos

Swedish director Ruben Östlund explores the nature of art, the relationship between art and life, but most of all whether human nature is wired to fulfill the ideals of openness and inclusiveness that The Square embodies, a question that is particularly sensitive, painful, and timely as we battle the duly elected (?) fascist who is now in the White House.

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REPRESENTING TRUMP

REPRESENTING TRUMP

The recent furor about Oskar Eustis’ open air production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in New York City in which Caesar was dressed up to look like Donald Trump and Calpurnia had a Slavic accent started me thinking about the larger issue of imaginatively representing the current occupant of the White House. There is an obvious desire to reflect on the terrible plight of America under the Trump administration through humor and storytelling, and our friends around the world support that inclination.

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Movie Review — JACKIE: The Power of Cheap Music

Movie Review — JACKIE:  The Power of Cheap Music

Working within several time frames, Pablo Larrain’s new film, Jackie, starring Nathalie Portman in the title role, recounts the way Jacqueline Kennedy dealt with the terrible days right after the assassination of President Kennedy, and also how in retrospect she came to think about her role and that historical moment. The film adopts a low key, talking-head rhetoric about the woman, her trials and tribulations, and the ordeal the United States went through. But it ends with the (inordinately) triumphant strains of the final song from the Broadway musical Camelot, as Richard Burton sings, “Don’t let it be forgot/That once there was a spot/For one brief shining moment/ That was known as Camelot.” What are we to make of this ecstatic explosion of kitsch as the culmination of an essentially quiet film about one of the most wrenching episodes in modern American history?

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Three Trembling Cities, A Web Series

Three Trembling Cities, A Web Series

​Three Trembling Cities, written and directed by Arthur Vincie, is an innovative web series about immigrants in New York. Wait, don’t run for the exit. It’s not an earnest and/or sentimental diatribe about America as a country of immigrants; or a timely warning against the repulsive policies of Donald Trump, although this is a good time for America to consider its immigrant heritage. ​But the word “immigrant” has become heavy, fraught with anxiety, anger, and melancholy, and Three Trembling Cities is anything but that.

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Movie Review: A Cat’s Tale

Movie Review: A Cat’s Tale

A Cat’s Tale is an independent film. Very independent. It defies all the current norms of studio production. Recently debuted at the Chelsea International Film Festival in New York, it is the recipient of both Best Director and Best Ensemble Cast awards from the Best Actors Film Festival in San Francisco. And no wonder. For this story of a pair of middle-aged fraternal twins, Rob and Carla (Marty Grabstein and Lisa Barnes), Director Rick Mowatt has crafted a fluid cinematic style to create individual and shared spaces for the embattled siblings. Read on…

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EQUITY is an Economic Fable for Our Times – Movie Review

EQUITY is an Economic Fable for Our Times – Movie Review

Equity, directed by Meera Menon and written by Amy Fox, starring Anna Gunn, is an economic fable for our times, with the punch and cultural insight of The Big Short, without the faux celebrity razzle dazzle of The Wolf of Wall Street, and with much greater freshness than either. It’s a movie by and about women in the upper echelons of investment banking and the drinking, sex, and wheels and deals this entails that propels independent production with a female perspective to new heights of achievement.

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BROOKLYN: Or “The Girl” as Universal Solvent (New York Film Festival Review)

BROOKLYN:  Or “The Girl” as Universal Solvent   (New York Film Festival Review)

What’s not to like about Brooklyn? It’s a small, but polished, intentionally artful looking indie; moderate budget but not low enough to preclude multi-national locations—County Wexford Ireland; New York; and Montreal–and quiet, well-turned performances by Saoirse Ronan, Julie Walters, and Jim Broadbent. And it gives you an opportunity to learn about Irish culture and what America was like after World War II, which is when it is set. Well OK, maybe you don’t learn that much because if there was any reference to the war I don’t remember it, and there certainly was no attention paid to the equivocal shot in the arm that the destruction of European economies gave to the American GNP.

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THE JENNIFER-PENNY CHRONICLES: MAKING HISSS – Chapter Eight

THE JENNIFER-PENNY CHRONICLES: MAKING HISSS – Chapter Eight

THE REMOVED OBSERVER GETS THE LAST WORD is the final chapter in an eight part exploration of the failure of the American-East Indian co-production of >Hisss (2010), filmmaker Jennifer Lynch’s greatly anticipated third feature film. Despite Lynch’s previous cinematic successes, Hisss, a tale about the Indian snake goddess Nagin, turned into an artistic and box office disaster that derailed its talented director. The making of Hisss and the aftermath for Lynch are the subject of Despite the Gods, an intimate documentary by Penny Vozniak, whose feminist perspective offers rare insight about the troubled production and its outcome.

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THE JENNIFER-PENNY CHRONICLES: MAKING HISSS – Chapter Seven

THE JENNIFER-PENNY CHRONICLES: MAKING HISSS – Chapter Seven

IT ENDS BADLY is the seventh chapter in an eight part exploration of the failure of the American-East Indian co-production of >Hisss (2010), filmmaker Jennifer Lynch’s greatly anticipated third feature film. Despite Lynch’s previous cinematic successes, Hisss, a tale about the Indian snake goddess Nagin, turned into an artistic and box office disaster that derailed its talented director. The making of Hisss and the aftermath for Lynch are the subject of Despite the Gods, an intimate documentary by Penny Vozniak, whose feminist perspective offers rare insight about the troubled production and its outcome.

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THE JENNIFER-PENNY CHRONICLES: MAKING HISSS – Chapter Six

THE JENNIFER-PENNY CHRONICLES: MAKING HISSS – Chapter Six

THE SILENT WATCHER is the sixth chapter in an eight part exploration of the failure of the American-East Indian co-production of >Hisss (2010), filmmaker Jennifer Lynch’s greatly anticipated third feature film. Despite Lynch’s previous cinematic successes, Hisss, a tale about the Indian snake goddess Nagin, turned into an artistic and box office disaster that derailed its talented director. The making of Hisss and the aftermath for Lynch are the subject of Despite the Gods, an intimate documentary by Penny Vozniak, whose feminist perspective offers rare insight about the troubled production and its outcome.

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THE JENNIFER-PENNY CHRONICLES: MAKING HISSS – Chapter Five

THE JENNIFER-PENNY CHRONICLES: MAKING HISSS – Chapter Five

A SILENT WATCHER is the fifth chapter in an eight part exploration of the failure of the American-East Indian co-production of >Hisss (2010), filmmaker Jennifer Lynch’s greatly anticipated third feature film. Despite Lynch’s previous cinematic successes, Hisss, a tale about the Indian snake goddess Nagin, turned into an artistic and box office disaster that derailed its talented director. The making of Hisss and the aftermath for Lynch are the subject of Despite the Gods, an intimate documentary by Penny Vozniak, whose feminist perspective offers rare insight about the troubled production and its outcome.

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HOUSE OF CARDS: Will Frank Underwood be the Next Captain Kirk?

HOUSE OF CARDS: Will Frank Underwood be the Next Captain Kirk?

I’m aware that this blog might make it seem that I’m out to get Beau Willimon, and for that appearance I apologize in advance. I’m not. My only reason for taking apart House of Cards, Season 3, in such detail is that it has been hyped as a prestige television production and I think that the reality is otherwise. It is a missed opportunity that requires attention from that part of entertainment journalism that seriously delves into what is really going on in the American media, which is such an important part of our culture. That said…….

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