Saturday, December 30, 2017


GET OUT directed by Jordan Peele is like no other film that I have ever seen; not a  conventional comedy, nor a conventional horror movie - but rather a trenchant psychological thriller about black/white relations incorporating myth, history, and racial symbolism resulting in an intelligent, profoundly moving fable. GET OUT opens with an abduction of an innocent young black man who is lost, aimlessly searching for an address on a quiet suburban street in the dark of night - this one abbreviated cinematic moment encapsulates years of racial violence, forecasting what lies ahead for the viewer.

We witness a young couple who appear to be disarmingly happy - a young African American man Chris Washington (an excellent Daniel Kaluuya) and his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (a lovely Allison Williams) packing in preparation for a visit to her parent's home in the suburbs. Once they are in the car leaving the city they allegorically cross a “color line”  and the mystery and tension mount with baleful incidents that augur a grim future.

When they arrive at their destination, we observe in the behavior towards Chris, a cool veneer that is draped over each character like a shroud of duplicity, particular Rose’s “liberal” parents (the wonderful Catherine Keener as her mother Missy) along with a groups of friends who are invited to an annual lawn party. Each character is satirically delineated with a familiarity that betrays their inner bigotry. GET OUT is so biting that the ensuing marks claw deeply under our skins. 

Jordan Peele (formerly of Key and Peele) in his directorial debut makes memorable use of his powerful comedic skill, but this time we do not laugh with joy, but we drown in the despair of a modern-day allegory of stereotypical attitudes and conspiratorial stratagems towards Afro-Americans that are as original and devastating as a science-fiction tale. 

Monday, December 18, 2017


WONDER WHEEL, written and directed by Woody Allen falls flat. It is redeemed - only slightly - by the nostalgic soundtrack and the overly-saturated colors blanching out the inherent seediness of Coney Island in the 1950’s. I am familiar with the intensely restless lure of hot summer days at the beach, having ridden the A train for up to 2 hours from my family’s Washington Heights apartment with groups of friends to the gritty sands fingering the wide expanse of the Atlantic Ocean - though Rockaway and Orchard Beach in the Bronx were my destinations. Shops nestled into the makeshift enclaves of the boardwalk wooing us with games of chance, hawking prizes that when we finally won - felt like jewels; “making out” under the boardwalk where it was dark and dank, the sunlight creating stripes on our exposed arms and legs was a familiar “go to” place - our hearts and groins throbbing. 

Alas, I felt none of the above ambiance in Allen’s latest movie - despite the gorgeous backdrop. Wonder Wheel  is a melodrama replete with gangsters, a dreamer poet, a wife-beating drunk and a failed actress as well as a strange pyromaniac child - “symbols” of thwarted “fate” - a point repeatedly stated by the earnest, lightweight poet Mickey portrayed by a cooly detached Justin Timberlake who is having an affair with the frustrated housewife, Ginny ( a harried Kate Winslett) who is turning 40 years old, mired in a miserable marriage, working as a waitress instead of pursuing her thespian ambitions, and in a constant state of hysteria which quickly becomes boring and repetitive losing its emotional impact. What has happened to Allen’s originality with language? Instead, the actors resort to over-the-top Brooklyn accents - a contrivance that is a blanket smothering the insipid dialogue with affectation. 

Juno Temple plays Caroline, a beautiful young woman,  the most complex and fully written character in Wonder Wheel  - with her shining blonde hair gleaming like a star, fleeing to her working-class father (Jim Belushi) and stepmother in Coney Island where she hides out from pursuing mobsters becoming the fulcrum for the ensuing narratives. 

Woody Allen has been relying on “place” (envisioned by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro) and recruiting wonderful actors in minor roles to enrich his most recent works, but I get a sense that no one’s heart is in this film least of all Woody Allen. Wonder Wheel feels like a “one-off” - the requisite yearly production that keeps this once great director occupied.  Questions of betrayal, aging, the illusion of creativity’s power, and ultimately the direction that our lives take - all these issues are brushed up against with the lightest of touch, but never held in a firm generous grasp.

Friday, November 24, 2017


I binge-watched: 10 episodes in 5 hours of Director Spike Lee's new Netflix series SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT where Lee attempts to address the Brooklyn of today in contrast to the original Brooklyn that he filmed in 1986 - 31 years ago. We see how much has changed in the Borough, impacting the local populace both optically and financially. White people have taken over brownstones in the neighborhoods - buying up properties which then propel shops and cafe's to dot the streets serving their needs. Gentrification is addressed in the film loud and clear.

The SHE is a young "struggling" artist, Nola Darling who is strikingly beautiful and seemingly self-confident, but defensively so - a woman who has no trouble juggling three lovers. I kept thinking that Spike Lee was desperately searching for sub-plots to keep this particular story-line going beyond a woman's insatiable sexual appetite, reversing how men behave toward women, but even that can get boring. Yes, women, today are free to treat the other sex like objects for gratification and temporary fulfillment - which seemed to be the in-your-face message. So to fill the gap there is lip service paid to almost every social issue affecting the community, except the opioid crisis - the ever-present weed (or the many names that it goes by) is now taken for granted and socially (if not legally) acceptable. I did rejoice in the fact that Nola took her art seriously, and spent a lot of time making it, not allowing her "suitors" to be a distraction.

Visually Lee does some "cool" things in SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT such as:
Filming a love poem to Brooklyn, NYC

Focusing on the sensuality of black women annexing all the senses including smell, taste, and touch.

Introducing pop up stills of the musicians and artists, and writers Lee admires which flash on the screen unexpectedly.

Referencing the November 2016 Presidential election with a powerful visual diatribe against newly elected Donald Trump.

And Lee's paen to the death of multitudes of historically distinguished black artists/writers/musicians/leaders is beautifully and simply done - with an image of a rose.

Those are the precious moments when the series moves us.

It is the characters themselves, particularly the three chosen men that are cardboard cut-outs; often defining a distinctive trait and representative of a specific class structure whose humanity has been veneered by caricature. One of the few exceptions is a homeless Afghanistan veteran, Papo da Mayor played by Elvis Nolasco, who is never without a cart brimming with "the detritus of the street - (garbage to most) which he transforms into art. Whenever he appears, his genuineness shines a light on the moral emptiness of the other characters.There is also Nola's mother (acted by Joie Lee,) who has acquired some wisdom and acts like someone you would want to know better and spend time with - a person who has been enriched by life experiences. She is no fool.

Spike Lee is trying to "do the right thing" by women and in the credits many of the writers are women - but most of the male characters cannot be penetrated - no pun intended.
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Sunday, November 19, 2017

LADY BIRD 11/19/17

Greta Gerwig, usually disappoints me - as an actress and now in her writing and directorial debut, LADY BIRD, a coming-of-age film about a seventeen-year-old girl growing up in Sacramento “…the Midwest of California…” (the best line in the film,) and the love/hate relationship she has with her working-class family and peers. Social distinctions figure prominently in Gerwig’s cinematic world of “ironic class strivers.” I keep wondering why I am left cold by her words and her characters and eventually understood that LADY BIRD is too self-consciously trying to be inclusive - inclusive of every contemporary issue - touching upon a diversity of characters and situations with momentary episodic flashes.The touch is light, illustrating concerns rather than delving into them, giving us tokenism - glossing over deep pain and longing with a CliffsNotes diminution.

Saoirse Ronan is excellent as Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson - a nickname she gives herself to appear distinctive. I am sympathetic to the aspirations of a young, self-involved teenager searching for a path to glamour and excitement. Youth is an innocent time - one open to endless fantasies - reality has not yet penetrated the hermetic world of dreams. The “firsts” of the teen years - first kiss, first sexual experience leading to the loss of virginity, first self-awareness of one’s own ethical and moral values, and the critical realization that the world is not always spinning for you alone - solely for your personal gratification.

The film opens with Lady Bird and her mother - a wonderful performance by Laurie Metcalf - who is driving and listening to Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath on audio tape - both simultaneously weeping, moved by the beauty of the spoken words; their mirrored responses reflect their enduring affection. And suddenly the mood is shattered and we see the other side of their relationship - a mother who works double shifts as a psychiatric nurse to supplement the family income so that her daughter can go to a private Catholic school; the burden of monetary expenses weighs heavily on her shoulders.  The ever-present resentment that comes with sacrifice is often unleashed on her oblivious daughter in a torrent of sarcasm, humiliation, and disparagement.

Greta Gerwig is at her best in the scenes between mother/father and daughter. A lovely tenderness exists which is often choked and stifled by the exigencies of financial straits.The underpinnings are there for a truly fine movie, but in the rush to cast a wide net, Gerwig compromises her subjects’ humanity, placing a veil of bromides over what could have been profound interactions. Maybe next time. I hope so.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


THE FLORIDA PROJECT directed by Sean Baker is a film that left me with a sadness I could not shake all evening. Still thinking about a movie which gives us the best performance by Willem Dafoe I have seen in years, finally shedding the horror edge he often exhibits to display a complex humane being. The action takes place in Orlando Florida's honky-tonk atmosphere of cheap motels and stores surrounding the "magical" Disneyland dream destination.

I guiltily found myself feeling terribly judgemental towards the single-almost-children-themselves moms in the throes of "hard" living; their hand to mouth struggles to exist, and the laissez-faire attitude towards taking care of their offspring. Yet, I admired a certain freedom that comes from a who-gives-a-damn- about- me - attitude when you know you are fighting a losing battle and anything is possible - where time is compressed into the moment.

The children were not sentimentally cute but cunningly so. Kids who are growing up running wild; a total lack of respect for others a mini-version of their parents but with their innate empathy still unbroken. The insights of Moonee ( a terrific Brooklynn Prince) are penetrating, her intelligence spurs the pack of friends onto new adventures whether it is scamming a tourist for the ice cream cone which the group takes turns licking with the innocent sensuality of children; or sitting on a curved, bent tree with her best friend, telling her why it is her favorite tree - appreciating its visual history.

Here is an enchantment that is not produced commercially by the Disney Corporation; Moonee's childhood delight is raw and grating full of laughter and at times perilous mischief-on-thin-ice.

Monday, October 16, 2017

MARSHALL 10/16/17

Josh Gad and Chadwick Boseman

MARSHALL is a movie directed by Reginald Hudlin which is worth seeing. Injustice makes me choke back tears of anger as we meet a young Thurgood Marshall, the sole attorney for the NAACP in 1940 being sent all over the country defending black men falsely accused of crimes. A cocky, confident Marshall who is well-aware of his own brilliance, teams up with an inexperienced white, Jewish Insurance lawyer, Sam Friedman in Bridgeport Ct. on a case of rape and assault of a white woman by a black man - a story which inflames the East Coast news media.
The story is based on a true event and the film has the intensity of a courtroom drama but carried out in a Northern city where hatred and bigotry are as powerful as anywhere in the South. This occurs in 1940 just before the US enters into World War II to fight against Hitler and his dream of an Aryan nation.
L. Josh Gad C. Chadwick Boseman R. Sterling K. Brown

Thurgood Marshall became a great Supreme Court Justice and this movie gives us a glimpse into his "beginnings" and the passion he had early on for the Consitution's ideals of equality for all. The Law was his mantle and he knew how to wear it with cunning, intelligence and compassion.
Thurgood Marshall - Supreme Court Justice

Saturday, September 16, 2017


Tig Notaro at Radio Station

Stephanie Allynne and Tig Notaro
Tig Notaro’s Mississippi - a state that has a history of segregation and fierce support of white supremacy encapsulating the evil that is racism - is filled with eccentric characters who are authentically and unselfconsciously themselves, often oblivious to the appeal of their awkward presence. Notaro’s ONE MISSISSIPPI series on Amazon involves lots of talking. Notaro is a radio host telling stories which ramble on, and on, often biographical as when she discusses breast cancer and her double mastectomy, narrated with a nonchalance that is punctuated with the abyss of cramped silences. 

Community functions highlight the slow pace of daily life where we meet many of the fictional town’s personalities. Some names are changed but Tig who is played by Tig remains herself - wearing the same dungarees, shirt and sneakers in every episode, as she observes her idiosyncratic family’s dynamics, forays into the gay dating scene, and work issues at the Radio Station - all told with an equanimity of a person who totally accepts who she is. 

The second season (6 episodes) is both funny and bitingly serious dealing with issues of sexual abuse, the election of Trump, and the sweet tenderness of falling in love with someone who turns your idea of a “suitable” partner on its head. The earnestness of trying to please the other, involves a wavering courage that is all too familiar. 

I am particularly fond of Tig's step-father (John Rothman) - a man living a compulsively ordered existence in the midst of chaos in contrast to her brother (Noah Harpster) who attempts to hide his lovely originality under the guise of good-ole-boy bravado. Stephanie Allynne who is actually married to Tig plays her sounding board at the radio station, and their courtship which involves many conversations, weaving in questions of sexual identity and its fluidity, is played out in the series.

John Rothman and Sheryl Lee Ralph
ONE MISSISSIPPI flows so naturally that a superficial viewing can be misconstrued as commonplace. A caustic dry wit permeates each episode and I continue to watch this understated, generous view of “ordinary” lives lived extra-ordinarily. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

DETROIT 8/6/17

My tears have dried up but my throat is still choking from the injustice that the characters experienced in the incredibly tragic film DETROIT, directed by the great Kathryn Bigelow. Sticking close to the facts that occurred in 1967, this movie is a docu-drama about the events leading up to, and the aftermath of the Detroit riots, when a city was trashed, looted and set afire - a red-hot blaze that spontaneously erupted spewing forth all the hatred and resentment that racism had wrought.

DETROIT is expansive and intimate, coldly brutal and deeply felt, where stereotypes are upended and a portrait of the white/black divide is bleakly demonstrated. Bigelow focuses on a particularly merciless incident that occurred at the Algiers Motel - sited in the midst of the fuel-filled horror, seemingly far removed from the screeching of sirens and the acrid smoke of burning buildings, but historically primed to become a symbol of vast psychological and physical brutality, echoing the conflagration outside.

Detroit police officers searching the Motel for a sniper, led by a sadistic bigoted white cop, terrorize and murder 3 black teenagers in cold blood. How that episode of blatant criminality impacts the surviving participants is heart-wrenching for its razor sharp depiction of our American Judicial system, and the stench of racism which has penetrated into and perverted every aspect of both black and white lives. Fifty years later - not much has changed.

Monday, July 24, 2017

DUNKIRK 7/23/17

The movie Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan was quite moving....I was surprised how often the tears were coming out of my eyes slowly falling down my face - silent weeping. Trying to figure out why I was so emotional and realizing that this film presented an expansive AND personal view of a crucial incident in history - Dunkirk - a place where for nine days in 1940 - @400,000 British, French, Belgium, Canadian troops were caged - trapped by the sea in front of them with powerful Nazi weaponry at their rear, being bombarded in the air by Luftwaffe aircraft, and by torpedoes under the sea - just 47 miles from Britain.

We witness what has been called the Dunkirk "miracle" - an armada of @ 800 boats belonging to the populace propelling through the English Channel - a show of ingenuity and bravery coming to the rescue of 330,000 men who were evacuated through the aid of their fellow citizenry. Prime Minister Churchill decided after the British Expeditionary Forces were safely moved, to continue the operation helping their allies - French, etc.

Britain had a leader - Churchill who gave his people through the power of his words, the will to survive odds that were at that moment against them and instilling hope for the future.
I think of President Trump whose words are only about his narcissistic persona - who is not a leader - who is a despicable person and who does not give a damn about anyone unless it benefits him. Loyalty has no meaning for this man. That is why I was crying - a wail of frustration and despair.

Monday, July 10, 2017



“ I fall into a world that I am pulled into - a world of depth, a world of shine…”

In an East Village walkup - situated in a neighborhood which despite gentrification still has an edge of desperation - I followed the artist Sandra Payne to her studio, pulling myself by the railings, up five flights of stairs, totally unprepared for what I would encounter when we arrived breathless at our destination. When Sandra opened the door, the illumination of radiant objects created a resplendence that flooded the room with a veiled light that was both ethereal and unearthly. I have never experienced an apartment where every inch of space was conceived as a beautifully composed art installation - a respite from the realities of the outside world; a sanctuary built on a love of acquiring unnoticed materials and transforming them into objets d’art by endowing them with a  splendor and uniqueness through a poetic dislocation of expectation.

Childhood memories of growing up as an African- American girl in a close-knit family in the West End of St. Louis, Missouri with many of her relatives living nearby, had an enduring impact on Sandra Payne’s future as an artist. She recalls the appearances of the women in her family being dramatically transformed when they put on feminine “adornments” retrieved from mysterious boxes filled with gleaming stones. Her mother, a registered nurse and a graduate of an historically black nursing school, owned a “nice plump jewelry box” packed with curiosities including a black cameo (a relief of a woman of color,) and other ornaments. One day when she was in second grade, Sandra bedecked her school girl body with her mother’s “costume” jewelry - an iridescent necklace and bracelet - and left for school. When she arrived, her teacher took one look at the bespangled 7-year-old who believed she was wearing the world’s most precious “crown jewels” and contacted Sandra’s mother resulting in little Sandra getting “her ass whopped…” 

Sandra’ particularly admired her Aunt Verna, who was not only an amazing cook but “fully accessorized” with a well- categorized assortment of jewelry encompassing rhinestones, trinkets in glistening colors, and compilations of perfume bottles, hats, and scarves. “ Women love beauty and this is a way of expressing that appreciation…”  After attending Washington University and getting a degree in multi-media arts, Sandra Payne too began collecting things that were both extraordinary and mundane, including 400 aprons, pearls, African beads, jewels, twigs, crochet potholders, baskets, music and postcards/photographs of the sensational entertainer/activist Josephine Baker. “She was very sparkly,” Sandra whispered to me with a smile.


“When I was a little girl, about 8 years old, Ebony Magazine had a spread on Josephine Baker…I remember her fabulous outfits, and eye makeup…she was from St. Louis. Interesting to me that she came from St.Louis…and that you could do something and be a creative person - a rebel and become known for doing what you love….I have collected her ever since…”

Today Sandra’s studio is her home and her home is the studio which she has aptly named SANDRALANDIA - a lived-in environment made up of residue from the past and aspirations for the future. She is an artist who passionately mutates in various media the “familiar” into the fantastical, often using elements that reference her own personal history; a biography that is both intimate and irreverent, inexplicable and recognizable. She combines seemingly incompatible materials which ultimately dissolve into one another, and are bewitchingly reborn.

The inspiration and source material for her PROPERTY OF A LADY collages come from imagery she finds at The Strand Book Store in downtown Manhattan, where Sandra is always on the lookout for jewelry and other auction catalogs, design and fashion magazines. She proceeds to cut out images that intuitively attract her, and with no preconceptions glues them onto Museum Board. ”Today I think I will only use sapphires….or work mostly with pearls and diamonds, etc…It is like opening the jewelry box of an insane Royal…”   Each artwork has a singular presence invoking desire with an elegance that is both temptingly seductive and exquisitely delicate. Pictures of gigantic rubies, sapphires, emeralds, opals, and aquamarines float together with changes of scale, dizzyingly arabesque patterns, and yet beautifully structured as if the “hand of reason” plucked down into chaos and inscribed the divine.


As I  walk around the apartment, my eyes are never at rest, looking up or down - every inch of space is crammed with another surreal congregation of disparate jars, containers, glasses, etc. teeming with “matter”, reconstituted and transmuted from its original embodiment into a phantasmagorical new entity. Every niche of the studio, every closet contains ingredients that have been or will be metamorphosed into the “totally feminine” enchantment that is SANDRALANDIA. Opening her flat files, I see drawer upon drawer of myriad jars brimming with dazzling, seductive, fine-grained sand, crushed stones, crystals and jewels all arranged by colors. On shelves are vitrines with peacock feathers with a jewel hidden somewhere in the plumage; smashed pine cones situated in snow white glitter; larger canisters of opalescent shells with pearls; wrapped driftwood with gilded paper and rhinestones; twisted wires poking out of bottles flecked with beads, glitter, and pearls which periodically fall off and drop into the bottom of the container; and branches imported from Japan with attached rhinestones disconcertingly displayed upside-down in glass bottles. Sandra Payne with her cryptic interventions unearths the lyricism of the unseen and we view what was once considered commonplace anew. 


I stop to look at the sides, tops, and bottoms of containers that catch my eye, boxes covered with mirrors creating an infinite space, and I am told that many hold secrets including Aunt Verna’s cooking recipes - face down file cards with a jewel placed on top of the pile - indicating the preciousness and redolence of lingering memories. Sandra shows me another group of white boxes - the lids tightly closed - which contains more of her Aunt’s belongings: folded aprons, peignoirs and nightgowns from the 1960’s, and containers that are private - replete with tags recording the words Property Of A Lady. Sandra describes them as “….a room of stacked locked boxes…a library of unopened secrets…a world of intimacy.”

Flower shop gold and pink aluminum wrapping paper, twisted over wine bottles evoke a gallery of “presences” - some reminiscent of Greek statues, ie: Nike/Winged Victory or attendees at a Royal Ball in France. Congregating in expressive, animated groupings, they populate the studio like cavorting sentinels - protectors of the rarified universe they inhabit.

Sandra Payne’s other persona was as a much-respected Young Adult Librarian for the NY Public Library where she worked for 28 years in different branches all over the city. Subsequently, she was promoted to Coordinator Of Young Adult Services for Manhattan, Bronx and Staten Island, charged with collection development and training the staff to serve and advocate for the particular needs of NYC’s teens. “Most of my job involved assisting other Librarians in planning programming opportunities for teens in their neighborhood libraries i.e. setting up Meet the Author programs as well as writing, art and photography workshops…”

Sandra Payne’s inner and outer cosmos meet in a cocoon of beauty where the objects she loves, live and breathe freely, nurtured by her sense of touch and tender care; an environs that I was privileged to enter.

“I love arranging…my favorite place is The Container Store…”