Saturday, August 31, 2013

Jim Fouratt's Reel Deal: Movies that Matter
Westview News September 2013

Blame our neighbor Harvey Weinstein for the grand deluge of quality films that will fall almost daily from the sky between September 1st and December 31st. Harvey invented the now standard template for influencing the Oscars, Golden Globes, Spirit, and Screen Actors Guild awards.  Since narrative films must run one week in both LA and NYC to be considered for nomination, we will have this wealth of films on screen in NYC. Some will sneak into town and some will be splashed all over the media.  It may take months for them to return, so be prepared.

Given that we are a monthly newspaper, I will highlight smaller films of merit that you should be aware of this time of year.

Let’s Go To The Movies!

BLUE JASMINE dir Woody Allen

It’s true what you may have heard This is the best Woody Allen film in decades.
There is nothing fluffy or light about this very 2013 look into the world of hedge
funds, greed, and power, rather than how we see it romanticized and lionized in
mass media. Cate Blanchett has everyone buzzing.  This beautifully cast film,
perfect example of ensemble work.  Sally Hawkins is a standout. All I could think
about after watching was, where was Ruth Madoff and how much of other people's
money does she really have?

Fruitvale Station dir Ryan Coogler

This Sundance Grand Jury prize winner should certainly be a contender this
year. First time director Coogler, who went through all the Sundance mentoring
workshops, could not have made a more contemporary observation on how race
and digital technology intersect today. Based on a real New Year’s Eve incident
that took place at a Fruitvale BART station in Oakland, California, where a young
black man returning from celebrating New Year's Eve with friends is subjected to
a group stop and frisk by the police in a moment that went terribly wrong but was
recorded on the smartphones of his friends and passengers at Fruitvale Station.
Octavia Spencer, Oscar winner from The Help, is given a multi-dimensional
character to play.  She makes universal the trauma of a mother who finds that what
she had asked her son to do, be safe, has turned into a race-bias nightmare.  It still
reverberates in my memory as we talk about stop and frisk in the city.

A Teacher dir Hannah Fidell

A searing depiction of a woman who loses all sense of control and propriety when
she lusts after a student and falls into obsession. We have met this kind of woman
before, usually through the eyes of a male director e.g.  Gus Van Sant's vivid To
Die For.  Yet here we have a female director/writer who positions herself into the
psychic of a woman whose intentions were to risk acting on inappropriate sexual
desires and stay on top of it. She does not.  Fidell shows insight into the young
male student on the verge of manhood who sees their trysts as his sexual prowess
and conquest.  The Teacher finds herself falling into a sinkhole of possessiveness
and jealousy that blinds her to the reality of what she has initiated. For a first time
director, Fidell has accomplished almost a Bergman-esque portrait of a woman
whose emotions overcome her ability to stay in charge of her emotions as if she
were speeding car out of control – disruptive, passionate, and challenging.  Both
Lindsay Burdge and Will Brittain bring a depth of complexity to their characters
that in the hands of less skilled actors would have almost verged on a soft-core sex
film. The actors and the writer/ director should, in a just world, be very much in the
Spirit Awards spotlight.

Mother Of George dir Andrew Dosunmu

You will not find on any screen big or small this fall, a more ravishingly beautiful
movie to watch.  The film shows an almost traditional look at the clash between
immigrant country of origin and American values and feminist gains.  It is set and
actually filmed in Crown Heights and parts of Bed-Sty, among the close-knit
community of Nigerian immigrants.

Mother Of George authentically explores how African culture, with its patriarchal
values, conflicts with new world culture. We see how the value of a wife is reduced
 to her ability to make babies; a newlywed couple are having a hard time producing
 a family and it seems everyone is watching, not the least the mother-in-law. When
the young wife, fully dimensioned by Danai Gurira, is on a verge of a nervous
breakdown, a more assimilated female friend suggests she might not be the one
 responsible for the fertility problem and suggests she and her husband seek out medical

However, her mother-in-law will not accept her son might be responsible.  She
suggests an old world secret solution and demands the wife agree.  Mother Of
George could have been a black kitchen sink feminist drama.  Yet thanks to the
sensitivity of Darci Picoult's script to Yoruban culture, the film becomes much
more a story of how culture, community, and values clash, set in the neighborhood
of hard working people determined to become successful in the promised land
without losing their identity.  Prepare yourself to see a story visually landscaped
through the artistic vision of a director who comes to film making from the world
of fine art photography.  His wise choice to work with Bradford Young, one of the best new cinematographers to emerge on the festival scene in years, arcs the film visually in a
non-traditional way that seduces the viewer in sumptuous detail. Both choose never to
 let the eye rest on the expected, but from a point of view that grabs attention.

Someone please give an award to costume designer Mobolaji Dawodu and
production designer Lucio Seixas. It would be a cinema crime if anyone but Danai
Gurira is offered the role of Nina Simone.

VOD: ITunes


After Tiller dir Martha Shane and Lana Wilson

A more provocative or challenging documentary you will not find anywhere
this year.  Not as masterfully done as The Act of Killing, yet as riveting. Third
trimester abortions and the women who want them and the doctors who might
provide them are the subjects.  Ever since the Tea Party and the religious Right
hijacked a woman's right to control her body, men have led the discourse in Congress,
in tabloid media and on talk radio; it has been extremely difficult for most people to
have an open mind on the subject.

We are able to listen to the women in need and the doctors who might help.  Dr.
George Tiller, who performed third trimester abortions, was murdered in 2009 by
a religious nutcase as he came out of church one Sunday in a small town in Kansas.

The filmmakers wanted to take the politics out of this controversial procedure
and have the audience meet women and sometimes couples in need and the four
doctors brave enough to still perform these medical procedures.

What we learn from the doctors is why they provide this service to women despite
the danger and how they decide who should actually get the procedure. Their
answers will probably surprise most people.  Gaining the trust of subjects is always
a documentary filmmaker’s challenge and with this subject even more so, given
the shaming and danger that swirls around this issue. Yet both provider and seeker
open their hearts and practice to Martha Shane and Lana Wilson.
watch a scene:

(cc) jim fouratt August 24, 2013 NYC

Free Tarek and John - an appeal by filmmakers Atom Egoyan & Arsinee Khan...


AND Watch this video from one of my favorite Directors and his brilliant actress wife.
Fate of Canadians Detained in Egypt Remains Unresolved
Filmmaker John Greyson and physician Tarek Loubani were arrested on August 16 in Cairo. Prosecutors failed to show at a hearing scheduled for August 29.

Sarah Woolf August 30, 2013

The family and friends of two Canadians detained in Egypt did not receive the news they have been waiting for—or any news—when an Egyptian prosecutor failed to appear on Thursday for a scheduled hearing.

Award-winning filmmaker John Greyson and emergency room physician Tarek Loubani have been detained in Tora prison, near Cairo, since August 16. The two landed in Cairo on August 15 with the intention of visiting Gaza’s largest medical complex, Al-Shifa hospital, where Loubani was to continue medical work and Greyson was to explore the possibility of a new film project. Upon their arrival, the men were unable to make the trip into Gaza because the Egyptian government had closed the Rafah crossing the previous Monday, citing security reasons. (Rafah is Gaza’s only access point to the rest of the world, other than the tightly controlled borders with Israel).

The pair decided to stay in Cairo and await the border’s reopening. The following night, the men apparently became lost after curfew and stopped at a police station to ask for directions to their hotel. At around 10 pm Cairo time, Justin Podur, their emergency contact, received a ten-second phone call from Loubani: “We’re being arrested. It’s the Egyptian police. Call the Consulate. I have to go.”

Nearly forty-eight hours passed before family and friends knew they were okay; the Canadian consulate determined their whereabouts and managed to visit them at Tora prison on Sunday, August 18. A hearing with an Egyptian prosecutor was announced in the next few days. The two possible outcomes of this much-anticipated hearing: an extended detention period of a further fifteen days, or their release. “It’s not obvious to me if [the delay] makes either one of those possibilities less or more likely when the eventual appearance with the prosecutor happens,” Podur remarked, expressing disappointment with the delay and telling The Nation that receiving no news “fall[s] right in between the worst and better outcomes.”

The exact circumstances of Greyson and Loubani’s arrest remain unclear. Ramses Square, the site of Azbkya police station where they were arrested, was at the center of violent clashes between anti-military pro-Morsi supporters and government security forces on that day. Some eighty people were killed August 16, mostly in Cairo, during one of the bloodiest days Egypt has seen since the Arab Spring.

Adam El Shalakany, one of their lawyers, says Loubani and Greyson have been accused of a “general bundle of crimes that everyone else detained that day [in Azbkya district] was accused of.” This includes at least 385 other people, including four Irish nationals, two Syrians and one Turkish national, who were arrested in Ramses Square’s Al-Fateh mosque, according to Egypt’s interior ministry. The entire group of arrestees, including Loubani and Greyson, are being accused of the following crimes: belonging to an armed gang; possession of weapons; threatening security and social peace; inciting violence; disabling public transport and communications. Though they cannot be charged with such a count, the prosecutor has insinuated that the accused were involved with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Loubani and Greyson’s support team have opposed the decision by Egypt’s prosecutor to hoist the full set of accusations onto the entire group of people arrested on August 16, calling the move a “clear attempt to put a group of foreigners arrested at different times and places into a single group to create a far-fetched story about foreigners to justify ongoing imprisonment.”

Loubani and Greyson are being detained under those accusations –“not ‘charges’ exactly,” according to El Shalakany—at the prosecutor’s discretion. It is only once the accusations and evidence are presented to a judge that the “accusations” would become “charges.” According to Egyptian law, the prosecutor may keep the accused detained for three consecutive fifteen-day periods. After forty-five days, the prosecutor must “refer [the case] to a judge and refer to formal investigation,” says El Shalakany.

Yesterday, some thirty or forty lawyers waited all day outside Tora prison for the prosecutor, Mohamed Heti, or a member of his office to begin the detention renewal hearing. With curfew approaching and no sign from the prosecutor’s office, the lawyers had to leave.

El Shalakany has not received an explanation for the prosecutor’s absence, but he speculated that it was “most likely because of anxieties or insecurities about [Friday] and the upcoming events on the weekend—it is supposed to be a dangerous day because the Muslim Brotherhood has called it a ‘day of reckoning.’”

The first fifteen-day detention period has now lapsed without a renewal hearing, and nervous supporters of Loubani and Greyson in Canada and around the world are unsure what to make of it. El Shalakany emphasized that he doesn’t know for certain, but he believes that the prosecution likely has automatically renewed the detention order, thus entering into another fifteen-day period. “On Sunday [the beginning of the work week in Egypt], we’ll know if an order has been finalized for a renewal to the detention process”.

A doctor who visited the men relayed to the families that Loubani and Greyson were in “good health [and] high spirits,” though their legal team has cited concerns about the cell’s overcrowding. Since their arrest on August 16, Loubani and Greyson have not left the interior of Tora prison—from which former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was released on August 22—because officials, citing security concerns, have banned use of the courtyard for all prisoners. Accompanied by Canadian consular officials, lead defense counsel Marwa Farouk and Emad El Sissi last saw Loubani and Greyson over a week ago, on August 22.

In the meantime, family and friends of the men have banded together to agitate for their immediate release. Cecilia Greyson, spokesperson and sister of John, remarked on the outpouring of support, telling The Nation: “it has brought together people very rapidly. People care about them so much that we’re all able to put everything else on hold until we see this situation is resolved. That’s what anyone does when their loved ones are in crisis. But because of the high profile nature of their work…it becomes a little bit bigger than a regular story.”

John Greyson, an associate film professor at York University in Toronto, is one of Canada’s most prolific filmmakers. His work, including Zero Patience (1993) and Lilies (1996), has inspired a number of career retrospectives nationally and internationally, most recently at the California Institute of the Arts in 2010 and at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Art Gallery of Ontario last year. Greyson has been involved in a range of activist work, particularly around HIV/AIDS and Palestinian human rights.

Tarek Loubani is an assistant professor at Western University and an emergency physician at the London Health Science Centre in Ontario. Born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents, he arrived in Canada as a 10-year-old refugee. A member of Canadian Doctors for Refugees, he has advocated for equal healthcare access for refugees and other marginalized patients. At Al Shifa hospital, where he was headed with Greyson, Loubani launched the first certified Advanced Cardiac Life Support course for physicians in Gaza, in partnership with Western University. Friends estimate that he dedicates as much as four months of the year working in Gaza as a volunteer.

To date, the family and friends of Loubani and Greyson have gathered nearly a hundred letters of support from a wide range of prominent institutions and individuals. On Monday, Canadian filmmakers and artists Atom Egoyan and Arsinée Khanjian released a video in English and Arabic appealing for the safety and freedom of their friends.

From the Sundance Film Festival and Director’s Guild of Canada, to the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Canadian Medical Association, a nearly universal demand to “Free Tarek and John” has been building. While the Canadian government continues to call for their release, a petition has accrued over 93,000 signatures, and the national newspaper The Globe & Mail wrote a strongly worded—if obnoxiously titled—editorial on the duo’s behalf.

Canadian consular officials have told Loubani and Greyson of the massive mobilization for their release, and relayed that the two men are “moved and humbled by the support.”

There is no doubt that Loubani and Greyson have longstanding, admirable commitments to civil rights and humanitarian work. Indeed, as spokesperson Justin Podur commented, “you imagine people who don’t have that level of visibility in the community and what happens to them. I do think it’s very important they have this level of support—it hasn’t gotten them out yet, of course, but I think it’s very important.”

Sharif Abdel Kouddous on Cairo: silence at night and bloodshed in daylight.

Sarah Woolf August 30, 2013

Thursday, August 8, 2013

REEL DEAL: Moves that Matter review: THE BUTLER director Lee Daniels

The Butler dir Lee Daniel

As the nation is still reeling from the after effects of  the verdict in the Trayvon Martin trial and is coming to terms with the realization that racial profiling creates a huge risk for youth of color and is part of the jim crow that Michele Alexanders writes about in her book THE NEW JIM CROW(, Lee Daniels 

steps up and answers back to the false reality projected by the award-winning film THE HELP about the lives of blacks in the South.

The Butler is based on the true life story of Eugene Allen. He worked at the White House as a staff member from 1952 to 1986, rising from “pantry boy” to the highest staff position of chief butler. It is written by Danny Strong, best known as  Jonathan Levinson, his role in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and for writing HBO award winner Recount. His resourceful script covers the legacy of slavery and the impact of emancipation on black Americans as they became part of the US underclass and today are still stigmatized by the mental branding of slave culture.  Strong documents the rise from slavery to the complicated race relations that exist today even with a black President in the White House.

Using a docudrama form, Daniel’s raises the stakes in myth dispelling through truth telling as he has paints the ancestral history of plantation life and the master-landowner ability to both depersonalize and sexualize the “negro” and the
exploitation of a human being for his/her own use. We see early on how casual the power over life and death is implemented. We see the making of what some would call an “Uncle Tom” when a field “nigga” is brought into the home as a “house nigga” as Vanessa Redgrave brings to life a patrician, benevolent, racist plantation mistress.

Forest Whitaker plays Eugene Allen with the subservient demeanor of the good negro. Daniel’s uses the life of Allen as a fictionalized template to show how blacks have been treated by white people. By being invisible under the smile and “yes sir” in the same way Booker Wright in the documentary Booker's World showed us in the deep South

Allen is all service and no opinion at the White House.  He knows his place as do the other black butlers including Cuba Gooding, Jr, who lights up every frame he is in, and Lenny Kravitz.  He brings this same contained inner life to the world of his family. Oprah Winfrey

plays his booze loving, flirtatious but tenacious, family- loving, black matriarch with two sons to raise in Washington D.C. where race rules are still played out but with less transparency than in the Deep South.  

The Butler moves back and forth between Allen’s professional life – his rise in the butler hierarchy through a succession of presidents including JFK, Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan (and the delicious, audience-pleasing game of who is playing who by stars such as Robin Williams, James Marsden, John Cusack, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber and some of their wives including an anorexic Nancy Reagan played with what must have been an inner hoot by Jane Fonda and Minka Kelly

as a disturbingly real Jackie Kennedy) – and his home life with a loving but bored wife and two sons.

Daniels, with great skill, seamlessly moves through critical arch of historical moments by bringing alive through vivid actor portraits and archival footage the Kennedy and King assassinations, the rise of black power and Malcolm X.  A timeline when his sons were coming of age. His oldest son finds himself becoming a freedom rider and eventually a Black Panther follower. The son's politics are in direct opposition to the choices his father made to survive and provide for his family. As this tension flares up, it does not overtake the thematic movement of The Butler.  This father/son relationship is what roots the film in a narrative tradition rather than documentary storytelling and opens the door for millions of ordinary people to enjoy and find those parts of this specific story that triggers their own experiences.

This is popular culture making at its best.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

REEL DEAL: Movies that matter REVIEW: LOVELACE

LOVELACE  dirs. Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman.

The birth control pill freed women from the tyranny of their body and gave them choice over sexual pleasure. It also made for a world that fundamentally changed the mating game. The rules had been that good girls do not fellate or god forbid put out until they were married. This drove men crazy. The pill changed everything. Women were free to use their bodies for pleasure and men took full advantage of this new freedom, resulting in many cases where women had even less right to say no than they did under the old rules.  In the early ‘70s, despite women’s liberation,  a porn based aesthetical representation of women and their bodies emerged.

It is against this background that Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman tell the story of the first above ground porn star, Linda Lovelace and her worldwide fame as the woman who could. Epstein and Friedman's background as Academy Award wining documentary filmmakers and their learning adventure into narrative film making (HOWL, the story of Allan Ginsberg infamous censorship battle) mesh into a triumph of historical and critical pop culture storytelling ,

LOVELACE world premiered at the 2013 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL.

Threading through a seedy, steamy story of the dark side of the porn industry with an appropriate soundtrack that embraced porn and glamorizes the exploitation of women against the Nixon years of puritanical outrage and a sanctimonious push for censorship, LOVELACE dramatically exposes the modification of moral values and the implicit commmodification of sexual freedom for profit.

Linda Lovelace is a would-be actress who falls in love with the wrong kind of men and will do anything to please them. For $200 to pay the rent, she stars in a porn movie for a mafia-related porn director and graphically performs oral sex that will forever change what men will expect from women regardless of what a woman wants or needs.

Against a cheesy Technicolor landscape of Miami and San Fernando Valley’s tacky glamour and an appropriately almost but not too overheated script by Andy Bellin, we meet a cast up to the demands of representing a world not as glamorous as the people in it think. Amanda Seyfried is perfectly cast because of her voluptuous body and over ripe lips.

One performance steals the film and should win her an Academy Award nomination. Unrecognizable as Linda Lovelace’s ultra conservative Florida mother is Sharon Stone. 

Hers is the real indelible performance in the film. Both the art direction and costumes are point perfect.

LOVELACE is a timely meditation on sexual freedom and the commodification of the body.  Epstein and Friedman have their fingers on the pulse of America.

(version of this review appeared in Westview News August 1st 2013)