Wednesday, November 25, 2015

SPOTLIGHT 11/25/15

if you want to understand the process by which four investigative reporters - each with his/her own expertise - function as a team working for the “Spotlight” unit of The Boston Globe’s newspaper in 2001, exposing what will become a Pulitzer Prize (2003) winning probe of the Catholic Church’s furtive silence and the Boston Archdiocese’s cover up of pedophile priests who molested guileless young boys and girls in their Massachusetts’ parishes, see the movie SPOTLIGHT, a docudrama written and directed by Tom McCarthy.  A film that is not histrionic in its presentation, but slowly and methodically builds a case which unearths the horrific breach of trust between “believers” and those who are anointed as their spiritual sentinels in the secular world. The aftermath of the newspaper’s disclosures reverberated beyond its local sphere of examination into an international autopsy exhuming shame and dishonor upon the Church and its leaders.

SPOTLIGHT  opens with a feeling of tension; we sense the apprehension of a close-knit circle of reporters - the Spotlight investigative  division of The Boston Globe - a small corps of journalists who focus on one important story oftentimes for over a year -  when an “outsider”, Marty Baron (a self-possessed, beautifully understated performance by Liev Schreiber) is recruited from The Miami Herald to become their new Editor. Baron realizes the potential of Spotlight to substantially examine an issue and shifts their target unto a story that over the years had been buried deep into the paper, occasionally surfacing to be interred again - eruptions of accusations appearing in print expeditiously extinguished. Marty Baron understands the need to look at the Institution itself - not just pinpointing individual perpetrators and victims, but examining the Catholic Church and its powerful influence on other authoritative organizations in predominantly Irish Catholic Boston, well aware that there will be attempts to stifle any exploration that cuts deeper into the skin of corruption.

The meticulous and disciplined search for the “truth” of a story involves interviewing victims  now in adulthood, who reveal lacerating facts on their loss of innocence at the hands of the very people they trusted most to protect them - a spiritual shock as well as a physical one. Sacha Pfeiffer (a non-glamourous Rachel McAdams who is turning into a wonderful actor) conducts many of the painful interviews excavating devastating memories - her empathy and concern are both convincing and authoritative. One weeps for the hidden secrets that are divulged and the overwhelming feeling of powerlessness that these young people must covertly endure. 

Michael Keaton, who stars as Walter “Robby” Robinson, communicates through expressive facial nuance, and the hunch of his shoulders, the conflicted burden and courage that being leader of the Globe’s coverage exacts on his innate view of himself - an Irish Catholic member of the church; a man who rubbed shoulders with the Cardinal and other politically connected elite Church officials; a person who despite the distressing revelation that while he was Editor of the Metro Section years before - the glimmerings of this  scandal were literally kicked underground into files gathering dust in the storage bins of the newspaper.

Mark Ruffalo, another terrific actor is  frenetic as Mike Rezendes - a Spotlight columnist who is in constant motion, a whirlwind of  physical movement - ascetic in his dedication to spending long hours following leads, questioning defense attorneys, ferreting out important documents, petitioning court papers, and at the same time imbued with an equally impassioned integrity in lifting the lid on this pressure cooker of deceit. I responded to his innate decency and inexorable belief in the need for Spotlight  to yield a  scalpel of precision in cleansing the fetid decades old duplicity of the Church.

The fourth participant of Spotlight is the numbers man, Matt Carroll, (Brian d’Arcy James,) an individual who makes sense of the mounds of accumulated data, once the stick has pierced the hornet’s nest. Carroll intuitively makes necessary connections and has the tough “unglamorous” job of putting fact to “fiction.” 

SPOTLIGHT has an ensemble cast ie:  Ben Bradlee Jr. (played by John Slattery of Mad Men fame), son of Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post Watergate scandal fame) supervises the Spotlight team; Stanley Tucci excellent as Mitchell Garabedian who is portrayed as a querulous, cantankerous attorney whose firm to date has represented more than 1000 victims and survivors of clergy abuse. In 2001 Garabedian played a pivotal part in The Boston Globe’s explosive revelations. 

What sets SPOTLIGHT apart from other movies that dramatize political “cover-ups” is the directness and restrained tone of its presentation. There are no “deep throats”, midnight trysts lurking in the background, but rather a deliberate, efficient system of operation which slowly yields results that withstand legal scrutiny - conclusions backed by strong research that will detonate Institutional complicity and dissimulation - echoing around the globe generating further investigations like a chain of illuminations in a tunnel of obfuscation, lighting up the shrouds of darkness.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


MEDITERRANEA  written and directed by Jonas Carpignano who has been working on this film for 5 years. Initially in 2010, he intended the project to be a short documentary on the African immigrants who were mainly farm workers in the town of Rosarno in Calbria, Italy protesting against their discriminatory treatment and horrific squalid living conditions.

“… several thousand immigrants live in and around Rosarno while helping with the harvest of oranges and clementines…On the Gioia Tauro plain which encompasses Rosarno, they are collected each morning by overseers and driven into citrus groves for work that can last from dawn to dusk…"They earn €25 a day", said Father Ennio Stamile of the Roman Catholic charity Caritas. ‘They have to send money to their countries to maintain their families and also live here. Not much is left for them. The economic crisis has exacerbated their situation…On the plain, there are about 2,000 African immigrants who sleep the night crowded together in a former paper mill and another large building, said Monsignor Pino de Masi, the vicar-general of the Oppido-Palmi diocese. ‘If anyone from central government were to see the conditions in which they live, without sanitation, electricity, water or heating, they would not be surprised by what has happened.’ “
(The Guardian, John Hooper 1/2/2010) 

Nights of violence between the migrants and the Italian locals led to many injuries and during the day demonstrators - marched on Town Hall to demand  an end to racial intolerance. Into this highly-charged milieu, the Director Carpignano met an Aftrican migrant, Koudous Seihon from Burkina Faso whose powerful presence changed the trajectory of his original concept - from a short documentary to a full-length feature film based on the life and stories told to him by  Seihon who also agreed to play the lead character, Ayiva - a beautiful, nuanced performance conveying steadiness of character with a deep longing for his homeland and the seven year old daughter he left behind, combined with an optimistic view of a future that is fraught with barriers based on color, and economic bleakness.

MEDITERRANEA follows the well worn path to “the promised land” which unknowingly is often seeded with hopelessness and despair. In this fictional dramatization of Koudous Seihon’s own trek,  Ayiva must first obtain the money to leave Burkina Faso and is forced to pay unscrupulous brokers high fees to get a seat on a truck filled with fellow travelers - herded together like lambs going to slaughter. 

I am an artist whose focus has been on refugees and migrants for the past 14 years and the images on the screen reflected my paintings like a mirror - literally pictures moving. I wanted to cry out “hold that frame, and the next one, and the one after, etc. etc!!!!” Once on their journey to Europe the exhausted bands of wanderers have to go through many difficult and life threatening trials - all on foot - over Algiers; stumbling through the dry vast seemingly limitless Libyan desert, where bandits/ human vultures prey on the vulnerable; and the final “labor” - maneuvering a small boat without a seasoned navigator through the volatile waters of the Mediterranean Sea  exposed to nature’s moods  - be they light-filled or threatening storms - until those that endure arrive in Calabria - the toe of Italy where the local welcome is wary and impassive and often downright aggressive and dangerous.

Wyatt Garfield’s cinematography is immediate and intimate. The hand-held camera bounces along with the fleeing characters contributing to the chaotic climate and the confusion of flight - we don’t know where we are; there are moments when the lens is in and out of focus, an arm, a leg an eye bounces on the screen, distance is compressed - near and far become a blur, and we in the audience experience the tension and agitation of the approaching unknown.

We follow Ayiva and his best friend Abas (Alassane Sy), a languid, narcissistic, spoiled man envisioning Europe as a huge Hollywood fantasy with a dream of sexy women responding to his “handsome charms” - who smashes up against reality filling him with anguish at the fetid and wretched circumstances he and his friend are forced to  occupy,  falling into depression and despondency, eventually striking back in frenzied frustration.  

MEDITERRANEA  is not delusional cinema - it is a heard-hitting view of displacement, contrasting cultures with moments of shared humanity. The flight from the homeland - is a painfully difficult one which requires a steeliness of will and some humor. That humor is injected by a teenaged Italian boy Pio (Pio Amato), a consummate tradesman who barters with the African immigrants and is a dead-panned comic. In contrast the immigrant women are often exploited by the Italian men, and we catch a glimpse of how they are sexually abused - barely witnessed by the camera, silhouettes in the act of fellatio behind a dim, closing door. 

The film climaxes with the immigrants’ fierce uprising on the streets of the city after the destruction and collapse of their tawdry makeshift “homes” - demolished by the Italian Police - Carabinieri. The locales in the community are brutal in their response  - a retelling of the original Rosarno outbreak, where Director Jonas Carpignano first met Seihon (Ayiva) who would galvanize this movie; an attempt to narrate crossing borders without any simple answers to what we see daily in the “headlines”.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

TRUTH 11/16/15

TRUTH a film that often felt like a theatrical stage production, directed by James Vanderbilt is reminiscent of a much better movie, KILL THE MESSENGER - both docudramas about investigative journalism and the virulent consequences of digging into the actual facts - the "truth"- and the complicated process of vetting, double-checking data, and ultimately getting a controversial story aired and the consequences of doing so. The aftermath/repercussions from the "higher up" media power-brokers (often linked to big corporations) includes impugning the integrity of the correspondents and their searching methodology to the actual loss of jobs; winning a Pulitzer Prize does not make you immune to virulent attack.…

TRUTH focuses on the CBS 60 Minutes' investigation into President George W. Bush's service with the Air National Guard in 2004 - when he was running for re-election against then Senator and now Secretary of State John Kerry. The "military service" issue was relevant because of the outrageous "swift boat attack" political ads waged against Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, during a nasty campaign at a time when we were fighting a disastrous war in Iraq.

The film's heroes and victims were Dan Rather (Robert Redford) - respected anchor of CBS news and his producer, Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett.) TRUTH is a cautionary tale extolling those journalists who have the courage to question, and the fortitude to continue digging into political events that affect all our lives, stories that are floating out in the ether - like the first inklings of Watergate - eventually brought to the attention of the public slamming us with the "truth".

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


The struggle for the right of women to vote is an international one and the bruising fight continues to this day. The 19th Amendment to the US Constitution: Women’s Right To Vote was ratified in August 18, 1920 after decades of civil disobedience, strife, marching, humiliation, hunger strikes and incarceration -  a battle with simple but enormously important consequences - the necessity  for women to have a voice in who represents them in making the laws of the land and how those laws which often affects a woman’s life are interpreted. Without the vote, we are ignored, invisible and betrayed. Here is a link to a Library of Congress’ paper Why Women Should Vote written sometime after 1896 by  Alice Stone Blackwell giving 16 compelling and poignant reasons why women should vote - as relevant today as ever:

SUFFRAGETTE directed by Sarah Gavron focuses on a group of both working class and wealthy British women in 1912 whose ideologies and wretched situations at home  propel them to risk jobs and marriages in order to crack the male shell of resistance to the idea of women’s equality. Led by Emmeline Pankhurst, (a cameo performance by Meryl Streep) who in 1903 founded the more militant Women’s Social And Political Union (WSPU) - participating in demonstrations and hunger strikes where she herself was violently force-fed - acts that contributed to her mystique and the adoration of her followers. The bleak ambience of SUFFRAGETTES characterizes with historical accuracy the streets of London, the  wardrobes, and homes of women in different socio-economic groups, just before the advent of World War I - a time when women were more expendable and vulnerable to their male bosses; wages were a mere pittance and escape, a mirage. Husbands had absolute control over wives and children - both through physical abuse and the power of the British legal system. 

Films distort by the very nature of their structural limitations which are usually 2 hours. In that compressed amount of time and  a director’s subjective view of history, we follow the political radicalization of a laundress who labors under deplorable conditions (having begun as a mere child) named  Maud Watts (an actual composite of a suffragette named Hannah Mitchell - beautifully played by Carey Mulligan, coming to the realization that she has no legal recourse over her detestable working environment, and in her personal world no claim over the welfare and future of her child. Maud comes to the conclusion, along with a group of fellow activists after hearing Mrs. Pankhurst speak, that years of peaceful protests had not altered their situations; shocks of violence were the only means of getting the attention of the government controlled Press and Parliament. The consequences of  these menacing actions are woven into the film’s drama. The wonderful actor Brendon Gleeson plays an Inspector Jarvert-type police official who is relentless in the prosecution and strategy of dealing with political “agitators” personifying the authority of the British legal system which enveloped ALL women who were subjugated to the daily slog of male dominance vitiating their every breath.

SUFFRAGETTE is not a great film, but the  inequities that befall the heroine and her “co-conspirators” made me fiercely conscious of society’s injustice to those who are seen as  defenseless. I was overcome by the overwhelming powerless of an individual to enact change without organizational support. Transformation is possible where there is courage and the remaining choices have been eliminated - when one is caged there are few alternatives other than shattering the bars.

At the very end of the movie there is  a timeline listing when women got the right to vote and the list was astonishing. There are many country's that in 2015  still do not grant women that right such as Saudi Arabia where it is still pending!!!!

Timeline of Women’s Suffrage Granted, by Country
1893 New Zealand
1902 Australia1
1906 Finland
1913 Norway
1915 Denmark
1917 Canada2
1918 Austria, Germany, Poland, Russia
1919 Netherlands
1920 United States
1921 Sweden
1928 Britain, Ireland
1931 Spain
1934 Turkey
1944 France
1945 Italy
1947 Argentina, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan
1949 China
1950 India
1954 Colombia
1957 Malaysia, Zimbabwe
1962 Algeria
1963 Iran, Morocco
1964 Libya
1967 Ecuador
1971 Switzerland
1972 Bangladesh
1974 Jordan
1976 Portugal
1989 Namibia
1990 Western Samoa
1993 Kazakhstan, Moldova
1994 South Africa
2005 Kuwait
2006 United Arab Emirates
2011 Saudi Arabia3
NOTE: One country does not allow their people, male or female, to vote: Brunei.
1. Australian women, with the exception of aboriginal women, won the vote in 1902. Aborigines, male and female, did not have the right to vote until 1962.
2. Canadian women, with the exception of Canadian Indian women, won the vote in 1917. Canadian Indians, male and female, did not win the vote until 1960. Source: The New York Times, May 22, 2005.

3. Women in Saudi Arabia will not be eligible to vote until 2015.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

STEVE JOBS 11/1/15

Watching the STEVE JOBS  biopic directed by Danny Boyle and written by Aaron Sorkin was a nostalgic experience, bringing me back in time to 1992 when I purchased my first Apple Computer which regretfully turned out to be a “rotten apple with so many problems that Apple’s headquarters sent a technician to my home in NJ to change the “motherboard.” This was the “dark phase” of  the company when it was on the downswing - the percentage of Apple users were declining and IBM’s P.C.’s were on the rise.  Because my “mentor” was a rabid supporter - never wavering in his belief in Steve Jobs and Apple products, I too followed his lead despite the fact that Jobs was not with the company having been “fired” in 1985. The film STEVE JOBS gives us a glimpse into the man who today is considered a visionary having changed the way we communicate and navigate the world.

I once wrote a Letter to the NY Times extolling the power of film “… to re-vise, re-invent and re-position history and historical figures within popular culture… Too often ideas, whether they be political or cultural, permeate into the general consciousness through the membrane of a director…”  And this holds true for director Danny Boyle’s depiction of Steve Jobs. There is a frenetic pace to the film - and  Boyle uses the moments before the  presentation of new products to an audience of devotees as a vehicle “exposing” the complexity of Steve Jobs’ personal and professional history. 

The  dramatic focus of the movie STEVE JOBS  hinges upon 3 major “computer launch” events - the original Macintosh in 1984 in competition with the Apple II - the commercial bedrock of the company; the unveiling of NeXT cube in 1988 - what it did is still a mystery; and the beautifully designed iMac in 1998 - the start of the “iEra”.  The products were an extension of the man himself - a person who controlled every aspect of his brand - obsessively committed and singleminded - never one to compromise - as witnessed by his battles with childhood friend and co-founder Steve Wozniak - Seth Rogan doing a great job as this decent, burly “nuts and bolts” man who actualizes Jobs’ idealistic concepts. Michael Fassbender is excellent as Jobs - cool, detached  and charismatic  encased in armor that is rarely penetrated except by the always-by-his side assistant Joanna Hoffman (a staid and respectful Kate Winslet with a weird  undertone of an accent) and his daughter Lisa, (whose paternity he once renounced,) - a pivotal character functioning as a catalyst and humanizing foil to the self-absorbed and fervid Jobs.

There is a claustrophobic feel to the film - an undercurrent of acute tension created by Job’s contentious and  truculent interactions with his colleagues and family; the need to micro-manage every one of life’s moments leaving no room for respite - we the audience suffer from the lack of air. I also left the theater wondering WHAT exactly did Jobs do as co-founder of Apple Inc.outside of being a genius marketing promoter? 

 I recommend reading Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography of Steve Jobs, particularly after seeing a movie which gives you a narrow, surface view of an impassioned man who deserves to be seen more fully  to understand his historical importance as that rare individual whose accomplishments touched people all over the globe. Regrettably STEVE JOBS gives very little inkling of the man who  anticipated much of the 21st century’s technological innovations.

Monday, October 19, 2015


Went out to  Jersey City, NJ to MANA contemporary  which is becoming a MALL of art studios and exhibitions. A lot of the art I saw was mediocre as were the rash of shows. I was very disappointed by Saul Ostrow's curated "Here's Looking Back at you: Images of Woman from the ESKFF Collection." There are big names with small works and lesser known artists whose works were larger and cuddling up to cheap gimmickry highlighting bravado brushwork signifying nothing. Tour-de-force photo-realistic paintings that were a shallow display of technique- all surface and nothing to plunge into.

The best exhibition by far was curated by Phong Bui titled INTIMACY IN DISCOURSE: REASONABLE SIZED PAINTINGS. Each of the artists showed a series of works - all beautifully curated - chosen with intelligence and hung with an awareness of how they played off against one another. There are varieties of paint surfaces and styles from aluminum to burlap; abstraction to figuration and a few that were a combination of both. I was immediately attracted to the 4 simple, lovely paintings of trees silhouetted against the sky by Sylvia Plimack Mangold - her brushwork was so fluid that I was thrilled. Minimalism meets figuration with a loving hand.

A wonderful mini, mini retrospective of works by Bill Jensen- ranging from the 1970's to 2013 and a good choice of terrific paintings by Thomas Noskowski. I also responded to Robert Storr whose small strangely colored paintings - had lost some of the awkwardness that I remembered and actually loved; but though more confident there is a still a quirky color palette that threw me off balance. Rackstraw Downs showed images from his Barbed Wire series and one slightly larger more panoramic view. I am less and less of a fan of his work - feeling that the colors and brushwork are in a tradition in which he is perhaps too comfortable - despite being successful.

James Siena had some beautifully painted meticulous op-art-y works that lit up the room as did Ann Pibal and Tom Burckhardt. Robert Feintuch's weird and often grotesque figurative paintings had me return to look at them again and again because they felt so compelling in their distorted beauty. Ellen Altfest's image of a leg - an abstracted form cut off floating in the center of the canvas - combined the sensuous with the mysterious - a small work that makes me want to see many more. This is just a taste of what is available to see and worth the trip to 888 Newark Ave, Jersey City, NJ 07306.
A raw, unedited video is available on youtube at:

Saturday, October 17, 2015


Director Steven Spielberg is the conscience of American film-makers, delving into the dark places of our history - the morally shaky ground of policymaking in a country that prides itself on its belief in upholding the principles of the U.S.Constitution. In his latest film, BRIDGE OF SPIES, he pokes a stick into the headlines of Cold War events - the 1960 U-2 Spy plane incident, in order to shed air and light into the shadowy reaches of official myth-making. Aware that this can be done most powerfully through precise direction, detailed sets, soaring soundtracks, and cinematography that echoes the dreary mood of the times - bright sunshine recedes behind the shadows of deception. The audience is always entertained, despite the subject matter’s depiction of  the  murkiness of ethics and morality. Like the great illustrator Norman Rockwell - we are seduced by an “apple pie” ethos, except there are worms wriggling around in the crust.

Tom Hanks is perfectly cast - an actor who I cannot remember ever playing a “bad” guy - as James Donovan, an insurance lawyer conscripted by the CIA in 1957 during the height of the Cold War hysteria to defend the arrested Soviet mole, Rudolf Abel, (an academy award winning performance by Mark Rylance,) and participate in a US government programmed “kangaroo-court” trial. Except James Donovan believes in the right of an individual to the best defense as the bedrock of our democracy, not willing to compromise his deeply held integrity.

BRIDGE OF SPIES begins with a panning of a dreary Brooklyn street with the Manhattan Bridge in the background looming over the landscape, the camera eventually lands upstairs in a tenement building where Mark Rylance/Rudolf Abel is looking at himself in a mirror painting a quite good traditional self-portrait. This double view is our introduction to the personality of a seemingly Walter Mitty-like individual, his physiognomy imprinted with a haunting and magnetic expressiveness, conveying adversity and conviction. Rylance's sympathetic portrayal of Abel is seductive and thrilling; this spy is a mystery and remains so.

Tom Hanks/James Donovan - a  reincarnation of Jimmy Stewart (thicker in physique) lives a 1950’s  dream life in suburbia; three children and a clueless stay-at-home wife and mother (played by Amy Ryan in a thankless part.) Women are just accessories in this movie - indicative of how they were considered at the time. Thank goodness for the Feminist Movement 20 years later! Getting involved with cloak and dagger politics does not change Donovan - he is incorruptible and strongly rooted to the ideals of American values as put forth in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

At the same time as the Abel trial - America is preparing to send a U-2 spy plane equipped with surveillance equipment over Soviet territory and the Central Intelligence Agency recruits a young pilot Francis Gary Powers (a bland, handsome Austin Stowell) to complete the reconnaissance mission. In 1960, the operation is implemented and shortly thereafter the U-2 spy plane is shot down by a Soviet surface-to-air missile and Powers parachutes unto Russian soil still alive and is captured and sentenced to a long term of imprisonment and hard labor. A politically heated issue and an embarrassment for the Eisenhower administration - the incident was vigorously denied by the USA and a cover-up was attempted, but the covert military maneuver was ultimately exposed.

Attempts are made to return Gary Francis Power to the USA in order to interrogate him about how much classified information he revealed to the Soviets. The authorities turn again to Attorney James Donovan to negotiate the exchange of spies on Glienicker Bridge in East Germany - Rudolf Abel for Gary Francis Powers; the tension and drama of BRIDGE OF SPIES begins against the backdrop of the Wall being erected in East Berlin - a bleak city in contrast to its counterpart in the Western sector.

 Pragmatic political behavior by officials in the KGB, CIA and FBI are all stick figures in the chess game of diplomacy and Tom Hanks deftly navigates his way through the labyrinth of innuendo and deceit. Espionage, duplicity, betrayal are at the heart of this film. What makes it palatable is the humanity of both Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance’s characters who bond with mutual respect, despite their opposing ideological viewpoints. Director Spielberg can be sentimental, but is able to tunnel through the sappiness with humor and affection. He really likes his two leading men and so do we.