Category Archives: Film Reviews

‘The Body Fights Back,’ Documentary Review

Mojo, ‘The Body Fights Back’ (courtesy of the film)

How do you feel about your physical body? Are you slim, gorgeous, buff, married to a hot man or woman? Or do you fear getting on the scale or if you’re a guy, looking in the mirror because you haven’t been able to work out for two weeks and you know that the flab is growing in leaps and bounds around your middle? Do you have an inner voice that screams don’t eat another piece of pizza or have that cronut? Or do you annihilate that voice and go unconscious eating everything in the fridge after being “careful” and eating only salad and a small piece of fish for your entire food calories daily for one week, though you go to bed hungry?

Cat Walk in Trafalgar Square in 'The Body Fights Back' (courtesy of the film)
Cat Walk in Trafalgar Square in ‘The Body Fights Back’ (courtesy of the film)

The Body Fights Back written and directed by Marian Vosumets shadows five individuals from diverse backgrounds that represent all of us at one point or another in our lives as we confront issues of weight, appearance guilt, body shaming, appearance perfection and the subterranean condemnation that the media lays on men and women through the marketing industry, the fashion industry and most predominately the weight loss industry. And this includes you, too, icon of “superior weight loss,” Weight Watchers.

If that is a mouthful about what Vosumets tackles in her documentary, it is because she highlights all of the problems the culture presents for everyone as they attempt to find happiness in getting to the next day. Meanwhile, they must navigate through the dangerous rocks, the images of perfection that are everywhere and that brainwash and bamboozle everyone to internalize self-condemnation because their appearance just “doesn’t have what it takes to get anywhere.”

Rory, 'The Body Fights Back' (courtesy of the film)
Rory, ‘The Body Fights Back,’ (courtesy of the film)

Vosumets interviews Mojo, a feisty, adorable, overweight black woman, Rory Brown a buff-looking white male, Hannah Webb, a thin, quiet-speaking, young white woman, Imogen Fox, a thin, out-spoken, confident gay white woman, Tenisha Pascal, a confident, bubbly overweight black woman and Michaela Gingel an outgoing, overweight white woman. Each of these individuals is a courageous star who has confronted and battled body shaming, self-ridicule and unhappiness with their appearance identify which was beaten into them by the diet industry and culture at large. Mind you, diets don’t work. Indeed, as one researcher in the film points out, 85% of the individuals who diet again and again go back to their former weight and many gain even more weight. Of course, the diet culture keeps that statistic under wraps.

Recording her subjects’ prescient and brilliantly honest presence and commentary, the documentarian gets at what the diet culture and all of its octopus tentacles (the fashion industry, marketing industry, media in all its forms, health industry) do to destroy the souls of millions of individuals, predominately in the U.K., U.S. and Australia by making them feel inferior and deserving of condemnation, unless they look perfect. Appearance is everything to the diet culture octopus. Unless one fits the image in the billboards, magazines, media, people are the equivalent of worms to be outcast from community and companionship. Importantly, they are not deserving of love, most importantly self-love. Thus, they HAVE to go on a diet to look better. Their lives, which are boiled down to appearance only, and never includes their treasured souls, depend on dieting to look good. If they don’t diet, they face the outer darkness.

Cat Walk, The Body Fights Back (courtesy of the film)
Cat Walk ‘The Body Fights Back,’ (courtesy of the film)

If this sounds like hyperbole, it is. Diet culture and all of its psychotic means to make billions of dollars a year exploiting fear of fat, will stop at nothing to twist the minds and hearts of everyone. Let’s face it, women, if you’re not a BMI 18-20, you’re a pig. The sacrosanct thin people who fit this weight category are most probably in some form of eating disorder or addicted to pills, cocaine, smoking, crack, heroin, etc. Celebrities have revealed their disorders and addictions to stay thin: anorexia, bulimia, binging and purging, cocaine addiction, speed addiction, crack, heroin and more.

Hannah Webb truthfully discusses how doctors missed her eating disorder because they, too, had fallen for the lie that healthy people are always thin people. She weighed within a normal range of BMI, which is not an accurate indicator of health; other factors must be taken into consideration. Thus, Hannah lived a lie which made her miserable until she confronted it. In poignant discussions with her mother captured by Vosumets, she discusses battling her issues with eating, for example, a croissant and constant fears of gaining weight. With her disorder she was on the verge of life and death. Yet, she was able to come out of it with the help of her family and therapy.

Hannah is the opposite side of the same coin as Mojo, Michaela, Tenisha and Imogen, all of whom had or have issues about weight. Imogen also battled a disability and discusses that when she was heavier, the hospital staff were very insulting and annihilating about getting her a gown to fit (get her a man’s gown which is bigger) and other obnoxious calumny in front of her face, almost as if they enjoyed and felt sanctified in their sadism.

But this is par for the course. Overweight in the culture is anathema and grounds for banishment from normal society. It deserves vilification, ridicule, jokes and shaming. How unhealthy these fatties are!!! Of course, this emerges from colonialism, white male paternalism (women must be quiet, thin, beautiful and sexually available 24/7 and perfect until they can be thrown away for another model) and capitalism-make that money even if you have to step over the bodies of those you kill in the process.

TRAILER The Body Fights Back OUT July 13 from The Body Fights Back on Vimeo.

The diet culture, thus, reinforces the most nihilistic of values at the expense of truth and health. Vosumets has researchers and scientists comment that one could be thin and on the verge of death; overweight is not correlated to healthiness. Indeed, based upon appearance, Hannah and Imogen who are at the epitome of thin (according to the diet culture and Octopus standards) are perfect and sanctified. Ironically, they are not; one battled for her life just to eat certain foods without fear and the other is disabled. Thus, the diet culture lies. It is its own profitable myth. (diets don’t work) And this is one of the key points in Vosumets’ wonderful documentary. What is healthy should include physical, mental, emotional, psychic well being. We are, after all, not only a body; we have a soul and spirit. And indeed, the body disintegrates. However, what are we doing about the interior of our lives? No wonder with eating obsessions individuals are miserable, regardless of how thin and buff they appear.

Vosumets cleverly includes Rory Brown to show that he, too, is a slave to conformity. For men the idea that you have to be buff and gorgeous is what life is all about. Yet, he confides that as he goes to the gym, he is depressed. As he looks in the mirror, he is glad he looks “great,” but he can’t carry a mirror around with him every second of the day. He’s worked on his exterior, but his interior is miserable. Like Mojo, Hannah, Michaela, Tenisha and Imogen they have all been enslaved to the octopus (the diet culture and its attendant industries) who siphons off their emotional well being and eventually their physical well being. Sadly, the brainwashing of not being able to measure up to perfection has been internalized. Each discusses how daily, they’ve lived with judgment, self-condemnation, self-loathing and fear.

Vosumets’ editing is thematic and she builds in an arc employing the commentary of her stars to chronicle the beginning of the problem, usually with parents and upbringing. The stories then evolve so that we understand how the subjects began to realize what they were up against in themselves from rebellion, to acceptance, to self-love. Interspersed with these interviews of Mojo, Hannah, Rory, Tenisha and Imogen she interviews researchers, doctors, therapists, journalists who have written on the subject or who counsel individuals with eating disorders. They identify first hand from the testimony of their clients the noxious attitudes of the diet culture octopus. And they explain how once internalized early on, the attitudes and voices become the self-destroying tormentors within the souls of those who wrangle with emotional issues at the heart of body image problems and eating disorders.

One of the most enlightening and uplifting final segments in the film is the sequence with Rebecca Young’s Anti-Diet Riot Club and the Cat Walk. With the Cat Walk, men and women, some disabled, many of all shapes and sizes and colors and races go on a Cat Walk wearing whatever they like to proudly present who they are. They are not their bodies only but their beings who ask that they be recognized holistically. It is truly a celebratory experience to see them receive the applause from an appreciative audience of onlookers. Vosumets also examines the Anti-Diet Riot Club as a force for change. Weight and rejection of bodies has been a political and economic and health issue, it seems, since colonialism rose and is finally setting into a sea of oblivion, eventualy.

Researchers make important points that must be considered. Eating disorder issues arise when there are tremendous gaps between the rich and the poor. For example fast foods are mostly found in lower socioeconomic areas (food deserts) where there aren’t markets like Whole Foods. Thus the unhealthier food is offered to encourage the lower classes to fit the inferior body image that the more wealthy class can look down on in addition to shaming them with regard to health. Mojo poses interesting questions about why around dinner time there are so many McDonald’s commercials and fast food commercials but few commercials about organic foods and no commercials about Whole Foods. Also, the point is made that fast foods are easy and convenient to feed families when single parents are working two jobs. Families who are wealthier can have home cooked meals that take longer to prepare.

Things are changing. For some not fast enough because the younger generations are suffering from the abuses of the older paternalistic, Colonialistic, white supremacist generations whose fascist images of perfection have been used to exploit people and make them feel inferior for profit. However, Vosumets ends on an uplifting note. Change is coming and the backlash will be present as old myths and money die hard. But change must come because too many have lived lives of quiet desperation internalizing the lies of the criminal profiteers who have sold their souls to enslave others for money. The young are aware and they are throwing off the lies and myths so the generations after them can live and breathe with the freedom and joy of self-love.

The Body Fights Back is a must-see film especially if you have ever felt to go on a diet to lose weight or you looked in the mirror and were not overjoyed at the image that stared back at you. It is streaming on all platforms. For more information and to stream CLICK HERE.

‘Love Type D’ A Semi-Satire About ‘Born Losers in Love’

Obsessive love stinks. When women or men are attacked by Cupid, they may move on a scale from fools to killers. Love is potent stuff. But what happens if you have a gene to be “lucky in cards and unlucky in love?” Love Type D written and directed by Sasha Collington is a crowd pleaser that removes you from reality which is a necessity, but it also disavows the serious topics it touches upon with a too light tone. A missed opportunity for this comedic, ironic film.

The premise is high concept; it is easy to understand how the pitch for this film worked. However, in its execution, the plot has dead spots, ups and downs, moving from laugh riot (infrequently) to gentle gruntles to “yeah, ho hum.” If only it mined the gold in the themes it touches upon! The group ensemble scenes work well as do some of the implausible farcical moments. The background music “mostly lighthearted” not so much.

Frankie Browne (Maeve Dermody) winsome, twenty-something in love with Thomas Lacey (Oliver Farnsworth) waits for him at a lovely London restaurant for their romantic dinner. Surprised by 11-year-old Harry Potteresque Wilbur (Rory Stroud) Thomas’ brother, she wilts at the message Wilbur gives her. To avoid a scene, Thomas has sent the pipsqueak to break up with Frankie forever in a humiliating, abrupt, “let her down hard so she can’t come back to bug me” way. The devastated Frankie attempts to discover why Thomas has dumped her to no avail.

To make matters worse, Wilbur who is involved with his friend in a research competition takes advantage of her neediness. He eventually reveals (Frankie pries it out of him) that she most probably has a “loser love gene.” Her love relationships starting with tweenhood have ended worse than badly; she reflects about her past loves. Collington fills in her heartbreaks with two flashbacks. Look for Natacha Basset playing the young Frankie.

As many women are wont to do, Frankie judges her past eleven breakups through the eyes of her failed relationship with Thomas. She must have an inherent fault as a “love loser,” a liability in her DNA, says scientist Dr. Elsa Blomgren (a scary Tovah Feldshuh). She is a Type D (the dumped on type). As commercials do subliminally, the ones made by Epigenica featuring Dr. Elsa promote guilt and pile on condemnatory negativity, converting watchers to losers in every aspect of their lives, particularly in love. Affirmed again and again as a loser, Frankie watches the sales pitches and becomes convinced that via Type D, she irrevocably has been and will be dumped in love relationships. It’s terribly depressing, and an imperative to purchase a $500.00 test to see if genetically she is destined to be dumped eternally.

In human beings’ worst moments, including suicidal moments, the misery of humiliation, the thought of being a loser, and feeling that things will never change have persuaded more than a few to end it. The film flirts with this notion of love’s impossibility and nihilism in the human heart and mind. And it flirts with the gene theory of irrevocable inherent inferiority (rather fascist, master race stuff) as a subliminal, noxious message. However, this message is converted mildly to farce and keeps that terror at bay with light humor.

There is a missed opportunity here. The farce could have been broader and more extreme. That Frankie so willingly accepts this “scientific” designation is alarming. And somehow, the signals are muddied as we laugh. If the humor was darker, more sardonic, the film’s themes would have been strengthened. But that involves adding a character with a critical, observer’s eye and that character of reason is absent in the midst of those who are either “perfect” or “inferior.” (a main problem with the plot and themes of the film)

Frankie, with the help of Wilbur, eventually goes through a journey of twists and turns, some of which are hackneyed, others surprising. First, after getting tested for the gene and finding she is irrevocably a loser, she collaborates with her work colleagues in a love loser cult of “woe is me.” Some of these ensemble moments are beautifully paced and LOL funny.

However, in her attempt to still reconcile with Thomas, who has picked a lovely winner for his girlfriend (an astronaut, fit, brilliant, to be envied) she eventually works with Wilbur to find a solution to the “love loser” problem. Wilbur and his friend have discovered if the losers dump their first love to reverse the “curse” of being dumped and do this with all those who dumped them, then the gene will somehow switch off. It is at this point that the plot goes into the stratosphere and not necessarily in a good way. However, for all those who have “lost” in love, been defamed, humiliated, reduced to worms and slugs, the idea to “dump the dumper” is appealing, if not vengeful and psychically/emotionally unregenerative and narcissistic.

Frankie is such a loser that she is “stuck” on trying to get Thomas to love her. She uses every deception with the help of Wilbur (hypnosis to name one) to get close enough to “dump” him. However, Cupid’s arrow is so deep, she’s a hopeless case. Her obsession is so ridiculous, that he is forced to take out a restraining order against her. By this point older, seasoned women will throw up their hands in exasperation, while younger women will be rooting for her, indignant at the cruel and heartless Thomas. Meanwhile, Frankie’s work colleagues have been successful at going back and reversing the tables with former boyfriends/girlfriends by dumping them.

In a Deus Ex Machina (the miraculous intervention) solution, Wilbur and his friend develop a liquid “Love Potion Number 9” made of pheromones at “elephant strength,” (that’s how much of a turn-off Frankie has made herself to Thomas) to use on Thomas to get close enough to dump him and trigger a reversal of the gene. The scene at the nightclub where Frankie croaks out a song which the power of the potion converts so that she has the voice and allure of Katy Perry (all the men including Thomas are entranced) is hysterical.

The conclusion ties up neatly with a protagonist who walks into the camera speaking her wisdom philosophically. But the depth of what she has learned is surface and the danger of what she and others have missed in all of the machinations of cultural definitions of success and failure, genetic engineering for “success,” and mastering ourselves so that we love ourselves “for who we are,” remain unsatisfactory. But, since it’s all in good fun, it doesn’t really matter what we consume, does it?

Love Type D screened at the Charlotte Film Festival, Manchester International Film Festival, RiverRun International Film Festival and Washington DC Independent Film Festival where it won awards. Look for it screening online 9th July.

‘The Lost Leonardo’ World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival 2021

Robert Simon inspection of the Salvator Mundi at the National Gallery (2011). Copyright Robert Simon - Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. Updated by Charlotte Sather for Tribeca Film Festival 2021
Robert Simon inspection of the Salvator Mundi at the National Gallery (2011). Copyright Robert Simon – Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, updated by Charlotte Sather for Tribeca Film Festival 2021

The Lost Leonardo directed by Andreas Koefoed and written by Duska Zagorac, Mark Monroe, Andreas Dalsgaard, Christian Kirk Muff and Andreas Koefoed. The film is a fascinating documentary that delves into the nail biting discovery of the painting Salvator Mundi (a portrait of Jesus) that was ill-used, in ragged condition and an obscurity for decades or centuries depending upon what you believe. It was sold for a mere $1,175 in 2005 by New Orleans auctioneers who didn’t really pay much attention to provenance or the possibility of its potential greatness. However, purchasers who hunt for sleepers (undiscovered renowned works) thought it might have value. They wanted it to be restored with the intention of reselling it. How lovely if it slipped under the radar of the New Orleans merchants who were not schooled in high Renaissance art. Finders keepers and all that!

Thus begins the journey of a painting that remains a mystery to this day and has been examined, pawed over and quibbled about by some of the most prestigious art galleries, museums and their curators in the world. Like a well-heeled detective, Andreas Koefoed cobbles together the video clips of individuals who pondered over, investigated and worked on the Salvator Mundi. He also interviews art critics, museum curators, experts, scholars, art historians, investigative journalists, the Founder of the FBI Art Crime Team and shady art dealer businessmen who profit off of billionaires who purchase such costly works privately or at auction. These wealthy could care less if the provenance is in question as long as the perception remains that it is authentic. They do this in order to bury their money in the painting purchase which hides a record of their wealth from the pernicious eyes of tax collectors.

The adventure Koefoed embarks on is thrilling, and he unspools the clues like a master mystery writer. The chase of whether this work is truly the “lost Leonardo” keeps one enthralled. However, there is no conclusive finality and uncertainty reigns with every word his subjects use to speak about the painting.

Perhaps conceived with hope initial buyers Alexander Parrish, sleeper hunter, and his friend Robert Simon (an old masters paintings expert) fantasized about what the Mundi was and who painted it. They acted on their conceptualizations, and to satisfy the curiosity of their wallets, they brought the Mundi to top art restorer Dianne Modestini who had partnered with a spot-on expert recently deceased, from whom she had learned. With his assistance, over the years, she had gained expertise and knowledge restoring fine paintings.

As Modestini worked on the Salvator Mundi, she nearly fainted examining the mouth of the figure in the painting. The Salvator Mundi‘s similarities around the right side of the upper lip resembled that of the Mona Lisa. The more she worked, the more she concluded that only one individual could paint in this way: Leonardo da Vinci. As time progressed, the Salvator Mundi in verbal shorthand is referred to by ironist art critics as the male Mona Lisa.

‘The Lost Leonardo,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021, (Sony Picture Classics)

Only eight known paintings are globally attributed to the Renaissance master who was “forward thinking” by about 500 years; among his papers are drawings of space ships and underwater submersibles. He was a scientist, painter, mathematician, inventor and all-around genius. However, that this is a “da Vinci” turning up at auction, like a ghost from the backwaters around New Orleans, remains as implausible and incredulous to some global art experts as unicorns are to empiricists. And these scholars are prepared to deny the work’s authenticity as are those experts who are prepared to defend it to the death as a Leonardo. Belief and faith in the power of money trumps any concern about whether it is a fake that a highly skilled genius painter tossed off and was happy to get some money for.

The problem with any work of fine art, is to establish the provenance and period when it was painted based upon the artist’s technique, any underpainting, the chemicals used to mix the paint as well as the chemical composition of the pigments. Art restorer Dianne Modestini affirms on pain of death that the Salvator Mundi, which sold in 2017 for a record-setting $450 million, is the “lost Leonardo” based upon her understanding of the demonstrated technique and brush strokes.

On the other hand, art critic Jerry Salz who is knowledgeable about the corruption embracing high art sales, auction houses and art galleries who benefit from them is the receptacle of a vast skepticism about the Mundi. Saltz’s demonstrated wisdom is not to be underestimated. Indeed, the art industry has been taken over like other arts industries, for example theater, by the philistines. When money is concerned, auction houses and dealers allow the presence of fakes to take a backseat to money, power and the perception of authenticity, backed by lucid, clairvoyant analyses and explanations.

If you can get away with billionaires offering you hefty sums for works they believe to be authentic, but may not be, who is hurt? If the billionaires are squirreling away their treasures for the purpose of tax evasion in Freeports (tax free airport storage, above the law of all countries) no one will see these fakes anyway and the benefiting institution and billionaire are content. By the time they may have to sell them at a loss, most probably they’ve made twice as much in their corrupt enterprises in the interim. These rich guys are good for art; they are easier than the overhead of collecting subscriber donations and the hard work of charitable fund raising galas to run galleries and museums sometimes at a loss.

Examining ‘The Lost Leonardo,’ Tribeca Film Festival (courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

An additional factor to consider as to why the allure of wealthy anonymous buyers is so great for the art industry is that running public museums and private art galleries, one must pay exorbitant insurance costs and for security to prevent the little people from thieving works off the walls and reselling it to rich clients who can only display them privately. Better that the art dealers, auction houses and galleries contract with these billionaires who risk purchasing fakes which will most likely be kept in locked rooms in their mansions, Freeports, villas or one of their 15 million-dollar condos neatly situated in favored cities around the world.

The only ones concerned about fakes are the renowned public museums with a rich history of standing by their experts’ knowledge, respected institutions like the Louvre or The Metropolitan Museum of Art or the British Museum. They do not take kindly to displaying fakes or works that are questionable alongside their incredible proven treasures. And perhaps millionaires who don’t have the money to burn on fakes might be concerned. Other than that, billionaires have entered the art world and they are a sure thing for art dealers and auction houses.

In this amazingly instructive film about the upper classes and the corruption of geopolitical wealth, the filmmaker and writers launch off into three thematic threads emphasizing the concept at work which is the “game.” Sectioning off three segments to keep our understanding regular, he amasses a tremendous amount of research in video interviews, archived photos of works and voice overs. These are structured as the “Art Game,” the “Money Game” and the “World Game.”

It is in this discussion of how art is a game, we begin to understand the shadowy dark money world that fuels fakes and authentic pieces alike. Clearly, the filmmaker reveals that one doesn’t engage in this game naively or without experience and circumspection or you will be taken and regret it. How well can you play the game? How well can you game the auction houses and art dealers? How thoroughly can you game yourself?

If you (like the Russian oligarch who purchased the Salvator Mundi from a French Freeport owner are stuffing away your potential fake in Freeport storage units, then art is a safe, untraceable transaction far from Interpol or Vladimir Putin. As an investment it is unrecorded in any bank unless it’s the safely corrupt Cyprus Bank which deals with foreign transactions from corrupt leaders, and practices money laundering.

Such art has no significance to oligarchs, least of all the meaning of “the savior of the world” Salvator Mundi, which may be a joke to the oligarch or afterward MBS who purchased it anonymously as revealed by the FBI art crime bureau. If you truly care about seeing the Mona Lisa or a work of Rembrandt, then the corruption of viewing a fake is monstrous. The reason why the public purchases memberships in museums and donates millions is because they believe what they view is the “real deal.” The fiasco with the sales of the Salvator Mundi and its dubious authentication based on faith has exposed the art industry’s realm of “alternative realities” and the grand con possibilities. Is it or isn’t it a fake? Only the “little people” are self-righteously outraged if what they look at are fakes hanging in the walls of prestigious museums.

Auction houses and galleries and museums have bridged the reality gap into the alternate Donald Trump/Vlad Putin universe (my intimations, not the filmmakers though it is an important theme for our time). These dealers, auction houses and their buyers justify the authenticity or value of the works they sell because they can, especially if the industry trafficks in bullshit. The honest critic or expert is unwanted then, no matter their weight in gold. These themes Andreas Koefoed raises in this profound documentary which is a sweet siren’s warning. And it gives the average museum goer the fodder to ruminate and feel rage at how art has become an untrustworthy commodity, not a historical, cultural legacy.

Bruce Lamarche, Yves Bouvier’s business partner, ‘The Lost Leonardo,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021, (courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, Bruce Lamarche)

But billionaires don’t mind the cache that goes with owning various works, for example, MBS who was anonymous until the great reveal by the FBI. Why would the murderer of WaPo reporter Jamal Kashoggi be interested in a painting that means “the savoir of the world?” The thought of his repentance at his villainous acts of killing family and the “traitorous” reporter is laughable.

On the other hand the notoriety of buying it because he could, was alluring. Owning the painting was a way to gain acceptance and prestige. This was so much so that he enticed the curators of the Louvre that he would loan the Salvator Mundi to them as representative of the “Lost Leonardo,” the male Mona Lisa with its provenance and authenticity in doubt. They were interested, until they heard his conditions. They must hang his purchase with the clouds of fakedom wafting off it—next to the Mona Lisa. The publicity alone would be tremendous. In 2011, the UK’s National Gallery displayed the male Mona Lisa with all its warts of uncertainty so that crowds could show up and imagine it was real. For the Louvre to hang the “Male Mona Lisa” next to the “Mona Lisa” would be a validation of it, sort of like riding the Mona Lisa‘s coattails into veracity, truth and art reality.

The Louvre refused. They were not willing to display a potential fake next to their acquisition whose provenance they were certain of. And MBS, annoyed that his offer was spurned, didn’t take them up on allowing them to display the Mundi in a separate room, explaining its restoration and questionable provenance. Of course the film does not go into the irony of a MBS with all his murders on his head, owning the portrait of Christ as the “savior of the world.” It doesn’t have to. The irony is stunning as is MBS’s arrogant longing.

With the exception of museums who display art so that the public can enjoy it, this whole industry is a philistine’s game (the money lenders and buyers who trade). They could care less if David Bowie (no offense meant to this fabulous artist whom I adore) smeared some of his dung on a canvas and signed it and sold it to the highest bidder. Such was the case with Pablo Picasso who became so disgusted with the “trade” aspect of art in the hands of philistines, he used to draw on napkins at restaurants and depending upon whether he liked the wait staff or not, signed the napkin and gave it to them. In some instances, he drew it, signed it and then destroyed it as they hungrily watched. For the artist commercialization of their work is loathsome and welcome, but only if they reap the rewards in their lifetimes, which usually does not happen. However, what can be done if the vultures pick their bones clean after they’re dead and gone? No wonder Banksy rigged the shredding of his “Girl With the Baloon” after the gavel hit in an auction that garnered a record price for his work.

The Lost Leonardo presents a vital perspective of the “art industrial complex” as it were. Who decides what is great art, even if it is potentially fake and not all the experts can agree on its authenticity? The fact that it’s MBS who purchased it for (after a circuitous route of sales from $1175, to $87 million, then $127 + million) $450 million does nothing to establish its credibility. And after the National Gallery exhibited it to great celebration as a da Vinci in 2011, they mired themselves in the smut of gaming when the FBI revealed that MBS purchased it for a price which means it’s now unsaleable and unpresentable if he persists in riding on the coattails of other Leonardo paintings which he could afford, but which should not be sold to him. This is especially so after it has been proven that he ordered Kashoggi to be brutally murdered, an M.O. of his despite his vapid denials.

However, like many billionaires who remain anonymous he worked through an agent. Would the auction house have sold this work to him if they knew he was purchasing it? They know how to play the game. And as a result, they have smeared themselves and the art world with BS which is what the Dutch filmmaker subtly infers in The Lost Leonardo.

This is a film to see, if not for a good look at the painting which is mostly a restoration and therefore, is more Dianne Modestini’s effort than da Vinci’s. It finished screening at Tribeca Film Festival. Look for this beautifully edited and scripted documentary streaming on various channels or perhaps at your favorite Indie theater after its release on 13 of August. Don’t miss this Sony Pictures Classic if you love art and are interested in learning more about the specious and scurrilous art traffickers which unfortunately find dueling interests with renowned museums who cannot afford works of art, after the traffickers bid the works to obscene heights.

‘LFG’ in its World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival 2021

Megan Rapinoe, US International Women’s Soccer, ‘LFG,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (courtesy of HBO Max)

What does it take for women to achieve parity with men economically and socially? For the International Women’s Soccer Team (4X World Cup winners) to reach equity with the men’s team which never won a gold cup since 1930? Thus far, parity remains elusive. As a result, US Women’s Soccer are litigating their employer the US Soccer Federation for equal pay. The thrilling documentary LFG in its World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival explores their efforts.

Structurally, documentary filmmakers Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine intercut the women’s magnificent athletic feats with the drama of litigation. With unprecedented access to these world class women athletes, LFG showcases how the team survives the obstacles the US Soccer Federation puts before them. Acutely, filmmakers reveal the physical, emotional and psychic demands team members face. Also, filmmakers showcase the team’s courage and resiliency in risking their jobs to create long-lasting social change with the biggest fight for women’s rights since Title IX.

With timely determination, three months before the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the players filed their class-action, gender discrimination lawsuit. Interestingly, the class-action approach often takes years. And the women don’t have years. By the film’s conclusion the team hired a new litigator. As filmmakers chronicle events in real time, the action and suspense sweep up the viewer and elicit their support and empathy for the women..

Passionately, with expressive interviews and video footage, Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine, unspool a vital, must-see film. The directors follow the team throughout 2019 into 2020. Indeed, with charm and cogent arguments, key players raise awareness of the financial inequities between the men’s and women’s US Soccer teams. Disparities don’t only include financial remuneration. Players discuss differences in the way their employer poorly accommodates them (travel, hotels, medical resources) despite their successes and fan support. Because the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) paid members of the USWNT less than their male counterparts for the same work, they discriminated. And this pay disparity violates the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Jessica McDonald, US International Women’s Soccer, ‘LFG,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (courtesy of HBO Max)

With facts and figures solidifying their arguments, filmmakers illustrate the symbolism and importance of the USWNT’s lawsuit. This is especially so in a time when misogyny, a conservative political tactic (“feminazis displace men”) holds sway as a right-wing, “cancel culture” message. Initially, the women asked for $67 million, while USSF asked for the suit to be dismissed.

Undergirding the team’s worthiness, the Fines emphasize that USWNT remains the most successful in all of international women’s soccer. They won four Women’s World Cup titles (1991, 1999, 2015, and 2019). Additionally, they won four Olympic gold medals (1996, 2004, 2008, and 2012). For the coup de gras, they took home eight CONCACAF Gold Cups.

Yet, the men’s teams reap the rewards and perks despite their dismal record and fans’ lack of interest.. FIFA awarded a total of $400 million in prize money for the participants of the 2018 Men’s World Cup in Russia, including $38 million to champion France. It awarded $30 million for the 24 nations at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, including $4 million for the USWNT after winning the tournament. FIFA President Gianni Infantino has proposed FIFA double the women’s prize money for the next competition in two year’s time. Still, the pay would be grossly under the amounts offered the men’s teams.

As filmmakers indicate, fans overwhelmingly support the women’s team’s lawsuit globally. To publicize both sides of the case, the Fines reveal how the US Soccer Federation’s flimsy arguments nevertheless cloud the issues of parity.

Ironically, USSF does this using gender to argue its side. For example, they claim that women, not as strong as men, lack men’s skills. Thus, women don’t put forth a man’s effort and shouldn’t have equal pay. According to the USSF women’s inferior bodies inherently establish inequality. Thus, women deserve less money.

US International Women’s Soccer Team protest unequal pay with jersey turned inside out. Tribeca Film Festival (courtesy of HBO Max)

Additionally, District Court Judge Klausner created a Catch-22, then ruled against the USWST. Because the women accepted the union negotiated pay structure, the judge argued they made more money than the men. Speciously, the argument suggests a damned if you do, damned if you don’t approach. In order to play, the women had to accept the USSF’s unequal pay structure. Unfairly, women could take it or leave it. Then the judge ruled that the women received more money then the men and dismissed the case.

However, the women made more money because they won more and received bonuses. Maliciously, the USSF argued that they paid the USWNT more per game than the USMNT. Meanwhile, to do that the USWST performed at a far superior level throughout the past few years. Ironically, the USSF arguments belied the “inferiority” of women’s bodies. Indeed, the women vastly outperformed their male counterparts to begin to achieve monetary equity. Importantly, the men’s team’s base pay exceeds the women’s base pay which tops around $50,000. Thus, the USSF arguments circumvented the truth of unequal pay and the District Court bought it. Why should women have to vastly outperform men working with repeated excellence for equal pay, while men just get by on gender privilege?

Substantively, the filmmakers’ interviews and clips of the women working out, doing a second job to afford bills and supplying commentary provide the grist for this wonderful film. Unsurprisingly, Megan Rapinoe, stands out as a natural leader. Indeed, she and her team, warriors to the last, step up to their wins with ferocity. Also, filmmakers reveal the frustration and depression that follows the court decision currently on appeal. Rapinoe on the field and off spearhea ds the bravery each woman manifests in this obstacle-filled situation. Additionally, teammates Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, Samantha Mewis, Christen Press and Jessica McDonald prove why they win on and off the field.

In leading the fight for equal pay, these women represent women globally. And global fans back them. During the process the head of the USSF, Carlos Cordeiro, stepped down and Cindy Parlow Cone VP took his place. No matter, the team moves on, doing TV interviews and garnering even more support for their cause. Taking huge risks, they champion women’s demands for equal rights, equal pay, equal representation. In their celebration of these individual winners and our US International Women’s Soccer Team, filmmakers rally to the cry “LFG.” “Let’s F*cking Go.”

To see this frustrating, amazing and inspiring film, check into HBOMAX ON JUNE 24 where it is streaming.

‘Poser’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021

Sylvia Mix in 'Poser,' Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Brendon Burnett)
Sylvia Mix in ‘Poser,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Brandon Burnett)

The inherent charm of Lennon (Sylvia Mix) the protagonist in Poser, in its World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival 2021 is that she embodies what average talents reflect, the yearning to go past fandom, the need to be a part of something larger than herself; to be somebody, to belong. And if that means reporting on artists, to receive a smidgen of their glory, it is enough. On the other hand obsessions take root in stoking the need to crawl into the celebrity’s skin. This is especially so if one lacks the ability, confidence or ambition to work very hard to achieve what artists of all stripes have: talent and/or the work ethic to achieve the skill to stumble into talent and originality.

Such is the stuff that Poser is made of. Written by Noah Dixon and directed by Dixon and Ori Segev, Poser explores and provides a cross section of the soul of an individual who circles burgeoning artists. Oftentimes, like Lennon Gates (a coolly deep and therefore opaque Sylvia Mix) they are seekers and searchers who have not yet defined themselves but who yearn to ride the coattails of the celebrated and connected artist. And one way to achieve any connection with the talented is to report on them and therefore convince oneself of the illusion of being a part, yet remaining so apart, they never honestly connect because they are posing as celebrity, but are only a wannabe.

Emotionally a cypher, Lennon Gates, a dishwasher and hotel worker by day and music groupie by night, insinuates herself into the art and music scene in Columbus, Ohio. Persistent in first digitally recording via her phone then transferring the recordings to tapes, she collects experiences and teaches herself to interview for her own podcast in a DIY fashion. Her subjects are the musicians and artists who are beginning to “make their bones,” in the business.

As she meets these singers and bands who identify their own music with hysterical abandon as they take themselves seriously, Lennon does too. She keenly watches and provides an audience and the publicity, however, smallish it is. She, too, is “making her bones,” as a quasi reporter who is not quite a hanger on, though Dixon satirizes reporters who never are the talent, but who ride the coattails of celebrities so some of the glam rubs off.

(L to R: Sylvia Mix, Bobbi Kitten in 'Poser,' Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Brendon Burnett)
(L to R: Sylvia Mix, Bobbi Kitten in ‘Poser,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Brendon Burnett)

Being in the right place at the right time after hanging on and around the Columbus, Ohio’s underground music scene, Lennon has a breakthrough. She endears herself to the charismatic, energetic and fun-loving Bobbi Kitten (the real Bobbi Kitten) and becomes a member of Kitten’s crew for partying and enjoying their youth and drugs. That Lennon perceives her relationship with the talented Kitten means she has arrived is reflected in a turning point which is symbolic and foreshadows the abrupt ending.

For company Gates keeps a goldfish. The irony is superb, for the “pet” requires nothing deeply emotional from her caretaker except a shake of food and clean water. Apparently, even those simple tasks are too onerous for Lennon. When we see her flush the goldfish down the toilet bowl to join the sewage of Columbus, this signals her transformation to come. She plays guitar and sings for Kitten who encourages her. Influenced by her relationship with Kitten and her posse, Lennon attempts to come into her own, except she has little to recommend herself. However, riding Kitten’s magnanimous, compelling and sterling coattails, Lennon believes her own delusion that she, too, can be a singer, performer and entertainer like Kitten.

Noah Dixon’s intriguing script and the spot-on cast, especially Kitten and the superb Mix and other performers who city natives will recognize provide a thrilling and compelling expose of the dangers of fandom, the need to be worshiped and admired, and the absolute consummation of music and art in the souls of entertainers, performers and wannabes of the burgeoning next generation that is happening. Segev’s and Dixon’s direction is anointed. The music from the Columbus “scene” to the ancillary moodiness and suspense riffs that overtake the warmth of the various groups also is spot-on and memorable.

From music to editing, to cinematography and acting, Poser delivers from beginning to ending. For a first time out, every “i” is dotted and every “t” crossed. Poser is one to see. It’s screening at Tribeca Film Festival until 23rd of June. Click HERE for details.


‘TRUMAN & TENNESSEE: An Intimate Conversation’ Telluride Film Festival, Hamptons International Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival Review

American journalist and writer Truman Capote sitting on a low wall in front of the small harbour of Portofino with his bulldog in his arm. Portofino, 1950s (Photo by Leonida Barezzi/Mondadori via Getty Images)

Truman Capote and Tennessee William were friends over the forty year period they wrote, teased/ridiculed each other, basked in each other’s humor and love and grew envious, only to meet for dinner one last time before Williams died of a barbiturate overdose and Capote followed him, dying of alcohol complications 18 months later. Tennessee, the 13-year elder, met Truman when he was 16-years-old. He was charmed and delighted by his wit and personality and Truman believed Tennessee to be a genius. From then on they became fast intellectual friends whose relationship provides a fountain of lyricism, wisdom and exquisite writing for the curious.

This beautifully rendered poetic account of these two giants of American literature by Lisa Immordino Vreeland is a haunting, must-see, cinematic in memoriam. What makes her film doubly enjoyable is the superb and spot-on voice-over narration by Zachary Quinto (as Tennessee Williams) and Jim Parsons (as Truman Capote). Without their appreciation of these individuals, the realism that they brought to Capote’s and William’s voices and intentions would not have been as acute.

Vreeland selects choice quotes from the writers’ letters, telegrams, articles, TV interviews (David Frost and Dick C avett) and illustrative snippets from the original films of their work (A Streetcar Named Desire-1951, Baby Doll-1956, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof-1958, Suddenly Last Summer-1959, The Fugitive Kind-1960, Sweet Bird of Youth-1962, The Night of the Iguana-1964, The Glass Menagerie-1987, Breakfast at Tiffany’s-1961, In Cold Blood-1967, The Grass Harp-1995). The last three films in the list are from Capote’s works.

The filmmaker astutely supplements these clips with many archived photos (a rare one of Laurette Taylor in the original production of The Glass Menagerie). These also include historical, personal photos from Capote’s and Williams’ youth through the aging process. Thus, we see photos of their parents, relatives, studio portraits, friends and imagistic reflective moments. Also presented are their visits to Ischia and video clips of Rome and elsewhere with intriguing voice-overs by Quinto and Parsons.

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES – 1946: Author Truman Capote at work on his first novel in the Tower Room at Yaddo Colony. (Photo by Lisa Larsen/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

Vreeland wisely moves in chronological order starting with their beginning successes, after she introduces both individuals in their separate David Frost interviews. David Frost and Dick Cavett remind us of their insightful, sensitive attention as listeners. Their winsome charm elicits the trust of their interviewees who allow them to go to places which at times are uncomfortable. Just seeing these clips as a remembrance of how in-depth interviews were conducted is a historical record. It was something the seeing public was used to (not duplicated anywhere on mainstream TV today).

Success for Williams began in 1945 with A Glass Menagerie (one of the most performed plays on the planet). With Capote his first novel Other Voices, Other Rooms was published to acclaim in 1948. Vreeland carefully organizes her subjects with refreshing candor. She often backtracks according to Capote’s and Williams’ responses to the searching questions by David Frost and Dick Cavett. The hosts ask them about friendship, love, self-identification, sexuality, parents, upbringing and more. Then Vreeland extrapolates and illustrates with voice-over quotes and snippets of their work. She ties all together with narrative and bridge photography of scenery or stills that relate to their lives (where they lived, traveled, partied).

As a result of this varied structure, she remains flexible in her use of archived photos, videos and films and Williams and Capote’s thoughtful comments that Parsons and Quinto narrate. This is a kaleidoscope that elucidates brilliantly; it is a fascinating intimate capture of both men as writers, celebrities and individuals.

Heightening the exceptional and seamless account are the voice-over quotes spoken by Parsons (Capote) Quinto (Williams). Their inflections, accents, the expressed emotion, pacing and silences immeasurably resonate to meld with the carry-over shots. The visuals and the audio with smooth synchronicity are stunning because of the matched cinematography; it’s like words and music that cohere and inform one another.

The film is a tone poem. What Vreeland and her creative team deliver is breathtaking. Importantly, because it is so well crafted, the personal information we learn becomes a delightful exercise in the study of who these mysterious writers were and still are, for their impact on our culture and global culture continues. Certainly, these artists have achieved a timeless immutability in their work. Vreeland’s respect for these artists helps us appreciate them and their relationship all the more. Whatever the weather between them, it is clear that they influenced and impacted each other’s work.

Foremost, Williams and Capote considered themselves artists, then writers and celebrities. Brutally honest in the interviews with Frost, they also reveal their playful mischievous natures. They express their reactions to their homosexuality growing up and afterward when they had to reside in worlds of pretense which sheltered them. Both were rejected by parents. Williams mentions that he and his father didn’t get along; his father didn’t like him very much the more he stayed home and got to know him. Capote’s mother remarried. She took him to a doctor because of his homosexuality and asked that he be given shots. Capote interpreted this to mean she thought him a monster.

Their honesty about whether they “like” themselves, if they think friendship is more important than love, whether they had affairs and a discussion of their thoughts as writers and how writing is paramount to who they are remain telling. Both battled depression with drugs and alcohol. Dr. Feel Good was their man for escape as it was for many celebrities at that time. Their responses to Frost’s questions, “Are you happy?” are both wise and intensely human. Williams’ discussion about the subjects in his plays (lobotomy, mental illness, cannibalism, rape) are philosophical and realistic.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Dan Grossi/AP/Shutterstock (6657519a) Tennessee Williams Playwright Tennessee Williams at his typewriter in New York. Williams’ “The Eye That Saw Death,” will appear in the spring issue of The Strand Magazine. “The Eye That Saw Death” has a fable-like quality even as its plot recalls Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart Books Tennessee Williams, New York, USA

Capote discusses how his work and effort on In Cold Blood took so much out of him, he was never the same again. He did witness Perry’s death which must have given him PTSD. The research and interviews of the murderers so impacted him, he asked his great friend Nell (Harper Lee) to join him to keep him company as well as have her help him solicit interviews with the otherwise aloof townspeople. He says that in a way, he died working on In Cold Blood; the metaphoric comment is just the tip of the iceberg in what Capote wanted to achieve and achieved in creating a new genre: narrative non-fiction.

Truman ad William admitted that, like all authors, their work has elements of auto-biography and is personal. Additionally, they affirmed their compulsion to write and create worlds of their own inhabited by characters they liked to spend time with. Williams pointed out the loneliness of writing. Though acknowledging it, Capote didn’t mind that as much.. Vreeland makes clear that their writing and the characters in their works occupied them with surprising turns of behavior. Capote likened writing to artistry that can reach a form of grace. Without mentioning the G-o-d word, he implied that there is a divinity or extraordinary place that great writing touches making it human and identifiable.

This certainly is a must-see film for anyone who is a writer or anyone who aspires to be a writer. They will be affirmed and encouraged by what these two icons share.

From editing to cinematography, from direction of Parsons and Quinto and the selection of all the quotes, video clips and archived material, all kudos to Vreeland. Her amazing work should be shown to literature and drama classes in colleges and high schools who investigate and read Williams and Capote. The film flies by, never snagging in dead spots, a feat in itself.

TRUMAN & TENNESSEE: An Intimate Conversation opens JUNE 18 in New York at Film Forum. It opens in Los Angeles at The Nuart and Laemmle Playhouse & Town Center 5. The film also is available in virtual cinemas nationwide through KinoMarquee.com

‘United States vs. Reality Winner,’2021 SXSW FF Review:

Reality Winner in 'United States vs. Reality Winner,' directed by Sonia Kennebeck, 2021 SXSW FF (courtesy of Codebreaker Films)
Reality Winner in ‘United States vs. Reality Winner,’ directed by Sonia Kennebeck, 2021 SXSW FF (courtesy of Codebreaker Films)

This chilling documentary directed by Sonia Kennebeck indicates how far government goes to hide damning information. Using video clips of interviews and access to information not released before, the director exposes the facts about Reality Winner’s arrest and incarceration for leaking classified information. Ultimately, Kennebeck elucidates the scurrilous intent of the former Trump Administration to lie and cover-up Russian interference to get Trump elected. In 2017, the 25-year-old Reality Winner took a stand. United States vs. Reality Winner in its World Premiere at 2021 SXSW FF reveals what happened.

Reality Winner leaked the documents shining a spotlight on Trump and the 2016 election. When Trump commented to the contrary about Russia’s help, extensively investigated in the Mueller Report, we can thank Reality Winner’s patriotic, courageous actions. Her whistleblowing led to a high U.S. alert on election security in 2020. However, she still suffers retaliation with the longest prison sentence of its kind under the Espionage Act. Created in the early 20th century, Kennebeck reveals how misapplying the Act in Reality’s case speaks to injustice, punishment and retaliation. Not only did Reality not receive bail, she currently sits in prison today under a plea deal. Her jailing and labeling as a traitor for heroism to alert the public about Putin breaching election security identifies as cruel and unusual punishment.

Kennebeck obtained access to Reality Winner’s interrogation by suing the FBI in a FOIA request a few years ago. Happily, the Biden administration had the tapes released just in time. Acutely editing the audio tapes, Kennebeck intersperses them with audio of a phone call with Reality in prison. To supplement with salient information she uses video clips of interviews with NSA whistleblowers Thomas Drake and John Kirakou. Throughout, the director includes interviews with Reality’s parents, family and friends. In a full revelation Reality’s story comes to light.

Reality Winner in 'United States vs. Reality Winner,' directed by Sonia Kennebeck, 2021 SXSW FF (courtesy of August Chronicle)
Reality Winner in ‘United States vs. Reality Winner,’ directed by Sonia Kennebeck, 2021 SXSW FF (courtesy of Augusta Chronicle)

When we hear the FBI agents questioning her alone outside and inside her house, we empathize. And we especially note her answers with no lawyer present.

Clearly, the documentarian portrays her risks, the danger and her isolation. Additionally, the director, whistleblowers Drake and Kiriakou excoriate the betrayal by the reporters Matthew Cole and Richard Esposito. Winner mailed a copy of the classified document to The Intercept. Unconscionably, to “verify” the document, Cole and Esposito contacted the FBI, as if they didn’t understand it. Coded, encrypted, dated, the FBI knew exactly who had access to it. Of course this led to Winner’s subsequent arrest and being held without bail. That Donald Trump enjoyed election favor by Putin and received his hacking help and interference clarifies in light of this film and Winner’s brave actions.

When agents visited her house, tipped off by The Intercept reporters, their presence shocked her. Believing The Intercept stood by its sources, advertising themselves as a highly credibly online journal, she anonymously sent the document to them. She should have gone to The Washington Post which appears to be one of the soundest, most secure papers for whistleblowers. The Intercept made famous by Edward Snowden, Laura Poitres and others discredited itself by harming Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou. Indeed, the Intercept leaked those NSA whistleblowers to the FBI. During video interviews, Drake and Kiriakou disclose that Matthew Cole’s and Richard Esposito’s integrity as journalists remains questionable. They hint at subterfuge.

The audio tape discloses how the agents calmly, with benign manner questioned her conversationally. Conveniently, they didn’t read her her Miranda Rights. And the questioning lasted for hours. Later, when Kennebeck asked why Winner cooperated, Reality reveals her fear. She feared that they might harm her cat Mina. And she considered that she, herself, might be harmed. In other words, she remained calm, however, alone, she felt she had no recourse but to speak to them. Both Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou, who understand the terror of interrogation, back Reality. Pointedly they and others discuss that the moment the FBI stood on her property, unofficially they cast the net to pressure an arrest. Reality knew that. They had all of the information they needed before they went to her house because of The Intercept.

Reality Winner in 'United States vs. Reality Winner,' 2021 SXSW FF (courtesy of Codebreaker Films)
Reality Winner in ‘United States vs. Reality Winner,’ 2021 SXSW FF (courtesy of Codebreaker Films)

After the arrest, Reality’s parents held protests and spoke to the media. Taking a stand for our free elections, punished with a five-year prison sentence, seems harsh and politically motivated under the guise of “endangering national security.” A foreign power endangered national security. Reality blew the whistle and told the public to heighten the alert to national security. Indeed, those like Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn convicted for their criminal service to protecting Trump paved the way for Russian meddling and quid pro quos. Yet, Reality’s service to our democracy and the American people in warning us about breaches in election security deserves jail for being a traitor. The reversal is mind-boggling.

Kennebeck highlights Reality’s background, military service, brilliance with languages and qualifications. Indeed, she deserved her high security clearance. In contrast the former administration handed out security clearances undeservedly to unqualified friends and family like candy. On the one hand Reality leaks a document jeopardizing her clearance for a vital moral imperative. Anonymously, she made public election penetration by a foreign power. That attack by Russia remains an extreme danger for our democracy. However, in a corrupt, criminal political culture, the morally bankrupt and corrupt distort right from wrong. Thus, Reality’s justified, heroic action to preserve our elections, the corrupt in the courts and the Department of Justice (Trump) judged as a crime.

Ironically, Kennebeck interviews Edward Snowden from his perch in Russia, the place of the meddling. His presence as a former whistleblower rings hollow. In contrast Thomas Drake who supports Reality with the true grit of one who has been through suffering and retaliation, who stayed and fought for his nation, deserves a National Medal of Freedom. Of course, this won’t happen. However, an impartial, non partisan eye would consider it and for John Kiriakou also. But above all, Reality Winner indirectly delivered our 2020 election alerting us that Russia meddling occurred and it must not happen again. In helping to preserve our democratic process of free elections, she lost her vote. If that isn’t worthy of a National Medal of Freedom, I don’t know what is.

In United States vs. Reality Winner the director raises vital questions.When does leaking a document serve the public interest? Should exposing corruption be retaliated against? Indeed, the film levels judgment against those corrupt who support Reality’s jail time, despite the law breaking and hypocrisy of the former administration. Kennebeck’s laudatory work is a must see. Look for updates on this website about the next screenings. https://www.codebreakerfilms.com/

2021 SXSW FF Midnighter Reviews: ‘Broadcast Signal Intrusion’ and ‘The Feast’

'Broadcast Signal Intrusion,' at SXSW 2021, (courtesy of the film)
‘Broadcast Signal Intrusion,’ at SXSW 2021, (courtesy of the film)

Midnighter World Premiere films, Broadcast Signal Intrusion and Feast represent the SXSW 2021 genre in their creepiness and slow build to an edgy, shocking ending. Broadcast Signal Intrusion keeps one steeped in mystery throughout to present the reveal in the last ten minutes. Feast burns slowing giving substantial clues throughout about the protagonist who speaks sparingly and surreptitiously “carries a big stick.”

Broadcast Signal Intrusion directed by Jacob Gentry, written by Phil Drinkwater and Tim Woodall gives a nod and a bow to analogue tapes. Taking place in late 90s, the foreboding story takes place in the late 1990s at a turning point in media. A lonely video archivist, James (Harry Shum, Jr.) unwittingly discovers two macabre broadcast interruptions while viewing old programs. Alone and internalized after his wife’s disappearance, James becomes obsessed with uncovering the sinister conspiracy behind them.

With an intentional minimum of specificity, Gentry brings James’ journey to completion effectively. By slowly unspooling the information, we remain enthralled and attentive. Picking up clues and tidbits from unusual sources James ties in the pieces and relates them to a missing third tape. Lighting, cinematography, music, sound design and editing stir the foreboding and audience jumpiness. Though the guessing game continues throughout, the story aligns with James overarching fixations. To what extent does the circumstance of his wife’s going missing relate to these weird momentary broadcasts? Additionally, to what extent have the signals been tailored to his nature and bedevilment to find her?

Others assist James’ search (Alice portrayed by Kelley Mack). And they provide interest in a random, happenstance way. When James unearths what yields the payoff to his quest, the climax incites. Yet, Gentry leaves the viewer wondering about the last event and James’ journey. There’s always one more road to cross and tape to view.

Annes Elwy in 'The Feast' at 2021 SXSW FF (courtesy of Joio Productions)
Annes Elwy in ‘The Feast’ at 2021 SXSW FF (courtesy of Joio Productions)

Less mysterious and centrally horrific, The Feast settles into a conflagration as screenwriter Roger Williams exposes the protagonist Cadi’s intentions. Directed by Lee Haven Jones, the music, cinematography, editing plumb the depths of atmospheric. And horror edges into a conclusion that satisfies with the gruesome.

Shot in the Welsh Language with subtitles, the atmosphere and eerie, hypnotic portrayal of Cadi (Annes Elwy) intrigues. As the character evolves, her placement as server of the feast twists into a generating, supernatural force. Thematically, The Feast offers a sumptuous if terrifying meal for the eyes, ears and soul.

Ironically, Glenda (Nia Roberts) the matriarch of the elite, materially well-off family, who hires the demure Cadi suspects nothing about who she is. This family of four lives in blindness and worships craven, empty values of modern success. Obviously, by sacrificing their farm to mining, they’ve eschewed the old wisdom which aligns people’s souls to venerating sacred nature.

Consumed by greed for power and money, Glenda holds the lavish 8-course dinner for her farming neighbors. Exploiting her land, she and MP husband Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones) hope to persuade their guests to do the same. Ready with future contracts to seal the deal, Euros (Rhodri Meilir) attends the high-stakes dinner. Most probably, Euros, Glenda and Gwyn arrange kick backs when the neighbors cede their land to fossil fuels to “make a killing.”

Evocative evidence of the land’s meaning, withheld until the end figures into Cadi’s behavior and ethos. Glenda’s seemingly luxuriant house remains a weird eyesore of misplaced, sterile architecture in a lush nearby forested setting. Interestingly, the exterior and interior clue the viewer in to the crass debasement of the MP and his family. Symbols abound subtly, like strange pieces in an ill-formed puzzle. And Williams and the director characterize the family as hyper ambitious and corrupt, especially the two sons. Dislocated, self-consumed, unattached to the land, one prepares for a triathlon. Sensitively, the other son appears to reject his parents, a cover. In her interactions with him, Cadi reveals his drug addiction.

The Feast, dramatic, paranormal and horrific in its own right compels until the end. Though its genre differs from Broadcast Signal Intrusion, both films find appropriate synchronicity in the Midnighters category. Look for them on digital platforms soon.

2021 SXSW FF Reviews: ‘Here Before,’ & ‘Violet’

Narrative Feature Competition film Here Before and 2020 Spotlight film Violet have women as their central characters. Happily, the women directors Stacey Gregg and Justine Bateman approach their subjects and protagonists with authority and sensitivity. In each film the protagonists must stand up for themselves, take their power and establish their agency. Though Here Before takes place in Northern Ireland and Violet in Hollywood, California, by the conclusion we appreciate how both women overcome their internal crises.

Uniquely, Here Before‘s character Laura (the superb Andrea Riseborough) establishes a solid, wholesome, family unit. Interestingly, she keeps it smoothly running even we learn of the loss of their daughter in a car accident years before. Living with the ache in her heart, she encourages their son in his schoolwork and maintains the balance with her husband. However, when a family moves next door in the duplex with a young daughter Megan (Niamh Dornan) the age of Laura’s daughter, circumstances turn inside out

Initially, Megan appears to be canny in her interest in Laura and the family. Returning the interest and fascinated by her, Laura invites her to dinner. Clearly, Megan’s response at dinner reminds her of her lost child, Josie. Events intensify and the son becomes upset that his mom’s obsession seeing and visiting with Megan can’t be healthy. When the husband echoes the son’s comments and expresses his angst, the director throws the audience into the weeds. However, whether Megan channels her daughter Josie, as Laura appears to believe at one point, or as her son considers she’s gone over the bend, the character remains sympathetic.

Psychologically, the stresses caused by, Megan who the husband accuses of lying threaten to break the family apart. Indeed, when Laura challenged by her husband tells him to leave so she can restore order with her son, Stacey Gregg also the writer, shocks us with Laura’s audacity. Clearly, within she tears herself apart by wanting Megan to be Josie. Yet, by yearning for this fulfillment, she fears and she’s losing her hold on reality.

Substantively, Here Before‘s flirtation with the mystical psychological appeals. However, reality lands with a blow and Laura confronts the truth revealed by Megan who wishes the best for both families. Gregg’s strengths of storytelling lie in her editing and shepherding the actors to deliver stunning performances. As they circle around the paranormal and bridge the heavenly and the earthly, we willingly follow Laura’s journey deep into herself. By the startling climax, we understand her statements of forgiveness and reconciliation to what she can bear.

In Violet (Olivia Munn) the titular character reels in a cataclysm of self-doubt. Bateman who also wrote the film creates Violet’s interior monologue that spools in a constant drone of demeaning comments. Ironically, these come in the hyper-critical voice of Justin Theroux. Brilliantly, his snide, cruelty only abates when Violet chooses some self-effacing decision to bow to a male (i.e. her boss or someone else). Interestingly, the acquiescence ultimately infuriates her, as she suppresses her agency and autonomy for another.

Cleverly, Bateman chooses to reveal Violet’s interior rage by fading the screen into a muted red. Ironically, Theroux’s cryptic statement follows, “There! Don’t you feel better?” Of course the antithesis is true. The suppressed rage intimates self-betrayal, accepting someone else’s ideas and abuse. Indeed, Violet retains the power and intelligence to gain agency over herself to respond to them appropriately, but she listens to “the voice. Finally, she discusses “the committee” with a friend and receives help.

Through a number of instances, we note that Violet’s brilliance as a film development executive at a creditable boutique agency places her in forward momentum. Interestingly, the boffos in the agency mistreat her; her boss demeans her with backhanded compliments. Though she ignores their behavior, she takes notice when a black executive who has it together identifies her power and talent and their lame uselessness.

This moment establishes a turning point. And gradually we note that friends like Lila (Erica Ash) abound to her account. The adorable Red (Luke Bracey) provides his caring guidance and support. Incisively, his and other’s love assists, so that she can turn off the “committee” of despots (Theroux’s nasty insults) in her mind. Most probably this committee hails from past negative encounters with her mother, aunt and brother. All it takes for us to understand how misaligned they feel with her includes a few phone conversations and their sardonic facial expressions. Obviously, not close to her brother who resents her, she finally decides to separate, choosing her mother’s funeral to cut the hangman’s noose.

Clearly, Bateman wants the audience to feel and understand the hellishness of Violet’s careening upheaval within, under the duress of her own internalized Nazi. Can she rescue herself from herself? When distinguished looking guys from another outfit approach Violet and offer her a plum position, we hope she takes it. Instead, loyalty to her miserable boss Tom Gaines wins out. Then occurs a superb moment in the film. Helped by Red’s growing love she asserts herself. She explodes the myths Gaines uses to embarrass her for the last time. I imagine this marvelous scene in a theater without the pandemic yielding a chorus of cheers and loud applause.

On her first directing venture Bateman shepherds the rest of the cast to provide a satisfying conclusion after Violet kicks the horrific Nazi to the curb. However, until that occurs, one moves from one nail-biting encounter to the next, happy when loving friends show up to soothe.

For updates on film screenings, go to the website: https://www.violetthefilm.com/

‘How it Feels to be Free’ Athena Film Festival Review

Lena Horne, 'How it Feels to be Free,' directed by  Yoruba Richen, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
Lena Horne, ‘How it Feels to be Free,’ directed by Yoruba Richen, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
Abby Lincoln, 'How it Feels to be Free,' directed by  Yoruba Richen, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
Abby Lincoln, ‘How it Feels to be Free,’ directed by Yoruba Richen, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

The documentary How it Feels to be Free, directed by Yoruba Richen examines six pioneering, ironic black women at the crossroads of politics, culture, fashion, artistry and entertainment. These are Abby Lincoln, Lena Horne, Pam Grier, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll and Nina Simone. This exceptional film reveals how these amazing women of different backgrounds and talents were mavericks in their own time and for all time. Richen, using commentary from social activists, black feminists, critics, children and others in the entertainment industry identify how and why these trailblazers changed the historical and national perspective about black women, thus changing the nation’s perspective about black culture.

Richen begins with Abby Lincoln and focuses on a red dress she wore to indicate the importance of black identity in a white world of Hollywood. Then through various social categories like the culture of the film industry and awakening to black identity, Richen reviews how each of these icons braved the struggles of racism and discrimination and overcame them forging a path for all those who came after.

Diahann Carroll, 'How it Feels to be Free,' directed by  Yoruba Richen, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
Diahann Carroll, ‘How it Feels to be Free,’ directed by Yoruba Richen, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

Additionally, she covers how each of these women were activists in their own right using their careers to move the culture away from racism toward economic, and cultural freedoms and voting rights something which we fight for today. These women spoke out against injustice, police brutality and discrimination in a myriad of ways. By singing songs they wrote that highlighted the hells of racism. And by selecting film and TV roles which vaulted them to a wider perspective so that the white culture could understand black culture and make strides toward equality.

Abby Lincoln was an American jazz vocalist, songwriter, and actress. She was a civil rights activist beginning in the 1960s. Lincoln made a career not only out of delivering deeply felt presentations of standards but she wrote and sang her own material that stretched the limits of songstresses at the time with an undercurrent of black activism and anger. Lincoln, always her own woman, wore Marilyn Monroe’s dress in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and sang a hot, sexy number for the film The Girl Can’t Help It. However, she resisted the labels and the definitions of Hollywood. Throwing out Monroe’s dress to burn it, she treated it like a rag and said she wasn’t keeping a white woman’s “hand-me-downs.” Her independence, brilliant artistry and strength were known to the NYC Village crowd and black artists like James Baldwin. But the same independence frightened off jobs and kept her limited a good part of her life, though she appeared on talk shows to discuss her life and career.

As Richen melds clips of the commentators discussing each of the topics as well as the women themselves, we hear and see fascinating stories. The black character in films were types, maids, servants typical of the two black women icons in Gone With The Wind, ladies maid, Butterfly McQueen and Mammy, Hattie McDaniel. American actress, singer-songwriter, and comedian. McDaniel won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind, becoming the first African American to win an Oscar in 1939. Despite fabulous performances over the years from Dorothy Dandridge, Diana Ross, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Angela Bassett and Whoopi Goldberg, it was Halle Berry who was the first black woman to win an academy award for lead actress in her role in Monster’s Ball in 2002. No black woman had won since Hattie McDaniel.

As Richen follows each of the women, we learn of their beginnings, the twists and turns in their careers because of their skin color. For example Nina Simone a concert level pianist and brilliant woman, valedictorian of her class instead of going to Julliard,she decided to apply for a scholarship to Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Despite of a great audition, she was rejected and Simone herself said it was because of her skin color. She didn’t let that stop her. She ended up using her talents to accompany herself and sing jazz, R & B, show tunes, but her music style included every genre of music there was and if there wasn’t, Simone originated it and created her own songs, music and lyrics as a one-of-a-kind. An activist, her music reflected the growth of the civil rights movement. In a twisted irony that knows no bounds, the Curtis Institute of Music awarded her an honorary degree in 2003, days before her death.

 Cicely Tyson, 'How it Feels to be Free,' directed by  Yoruba Richen, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
Cicely Tyson, ‘How it Feels to be Free,’ directed by Yoruba Richen, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

Lena Horne, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll and Pam Grier were accepted into Hollywood. Horne first, who shares a story about her father strong-arming Louis B. Mayer about the type of roles he wanted his daughter to play. From a clip on the Dick Cavett show, Horne tells Cavett that her father, a gangster, wore a diamond stud pin. And he affirmed to a wide-eyed Meyer who couldn’t be daunted that he could buy his daughter whatever she wanted. She didn’t need to be in pictures. He used that as a preface to wanting to showcase her with dignity, honor and beauty as a representative of the “Negro.” Throughout her career, Richen uses interview clips of Horne discussing the trials she faced in looking for roles in pictures which were few. Thus, she supplemented her career with TV and as a singer. And the occasional film came her way, but black actresses weren’t offered the types of roles that white actresses were offered.

Thus, Cicely Tyson who was careful to select the types of roles that would feature her talent, managed to lift herself up from the stereotypes of black actresses as did Diahann Carroll who also had a substantial career on TV. And both actresses created a body of work that brought them films for which they were Academy Award nominated. However, it was Diahann Carroll who was the first black women to star in a TV series in a non servant role as Julia. And it ran for 86 seasons. She paved the way for other black women on TV series and of course, black men. Equally, carrying the dignity and talent of their body of work, they also were civil rights activists like Lena Horne, Nina Simone and Abby Lincoln.

Nina Simone, 'How it Feels to be Free,' directed by  Yoruba Richen, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
Nina Simone, ‘How it Feels to be Free,’ directed by Yoruba Richen, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

Richen coverage of Cicely Tyson who died in January 2021 includes her own TV interviews and interesting stories. There is one in which someone used the “N” word to refer to her and she threw an ashtray and hit and bloodied the man. The incident appeared in the paper to great acclaim from blacks who applauded her. Richen indicates. She was a giant of a woman of small physical stature but great nobility. Her whose career spanned more than seven decades playing icons and ferociously loving and strong black women. Tyson received three Primetime Emmy Awards, four Black Reel Awards, one Screen Actors Guild Award, one Tony Award, an honorary Academy Award, and a Peabody Award. She was also given the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

What is fascinating about the blaxploitation films of the 1970s that Pam Grier starred in was that they saved Hollywood from its losses to TV. Grier was the first black female action star in Coffy, Foxxy Brown, and other films that showed off her intelligence and cunning in catching white and black criminals. Richen indicates that Grier’s body of work, different from the other actresses and singers, revealed that black women couldn’t be labeled to type. They could forge their own brilliance. In Quentin Tarantino’s homage to Pam Grier, he wrote and directed the film Jackie Brown for which Pam Grier received a Golden Globe, SAG, Satellite and Saturn Awards. She has received two honorary Ph.Ds. and continues to work in films that will be coming out this year.

Nina Simone, 'How it Feels to be Free,' directed by  Yoruba Richen, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
Nina Simone, ‘How it Feels to be Free,’ directed by Yoruba Richen, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

How it Feels To Be Free is a testament to the stamina and grace of these women as the precursors to the black Queens who are currently coming into their own. However, though Richen shows the progression and evolution of black women in the arts and how they used their talents to gain their freedoms in the culture, we are not there yet. There is much work to be done. And the strides that have been made only recede when someone like Donald Trump can with the help of Russian Military Intelligence win an election in the US in 2016 and still claim he won in 2020, an abject lie which white supremacists and QAnon racists, misogynists and xenophobes affirm.

Pam Grier, 'How it Feels to be Free,' directed by Yoruba Richen, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
Pam Grier, ‘How it Feels to be Free,’ directed by Yoruba Richen, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

Applause to everyone in this film and particularly the director and her team who culled the massive number of film clips, cataloguing and editing them with the commentary. If is a magnificent historical work that should be used in Film History classes and African American History of the 20-21st Century as well as Gender Studies. Its intersectionality is key and as historical and political research it provides a first-of-a-kind look at these amazing ground-breaking women leaders who quietly with their deepest hearts changed our lives and perceptions.

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