Nota Bene

Heistbox (popularly known as Dropbox) has now permanently altered the accounts of its original users. (See my post, “Dropbox and the Snake Oil Sales Model of Tech Firms,” June 12, 2015). I think I have removed or updated all of my original Heistbox links; please write or tweet if you click somewhere and cannot get to the review or feature you would like to read. Thank you.

Sep 10, 2017

Victoria and Abdul

A still from the movie Victoria and Abdul  features Judi Dench as Queen Victoria and Ali Fazal as her "munshi" or teacher Abdul. (Photo courtesy of Peter Mountain/Focus Features)   

The upcoming film, Victoria and Abdul, about Queen Victoria’s relationship with an Indian man in her senescence, is likely to garner Oscar attention for its star performer, Judi Dench. Ms. Dench also portrayed a younger Victoria in John Madden’s Mrs. Brown. Excellent direction by Stephen Frears, lush cinematography and a terrific cast of characters, will make it the talk of the fall season. My review is here: Check back for my interview with Frears in Film Journal International.

Aug 30, 2017

Dolores Huerta: Written Out of History No More

Dolores Huerta at a Delano Grape Boycott in California.

Peter Bratt’s documentary Dolores corrects the historical record of the United Farm Workers—and it needs correction. The labor movement that originated in the late 1950s, and that grew into a union, erased from its corporate memory one of the most charismatic labor organizers of the 20th century, Dolores Huerta, replacing her with the equally well-known organizer Cesar Chavez. The two were actually co-founders of the UFW. My interview with Dolores and the filmmaker is here: Bratt's documentary represents a great way to celebrate Labor Day weekend in New York City. It will open on 9/1 at the IFC Theater.

Aug 14, 2017

Movies I Don't Want to See Anymore

Francis Ford Coppola has said many times over the years that the American film industry churns out the same movies every year because it is built on profit. He's right. It is not that Americans don't want to see well-made, engaging films, or that we do not produce great filmmakers, it's that investors are risk-averse. And, actually, it may be harder to make an original film today than it was in Coppola's heyday. Anticipating the fall season, one of the busiest times of year for film critics, I thought I would do a bit of my own griping.

Movies I don't want to screen anymore are ones that . . .

Are about competitive female relationships, or about women who are obsessed with other women because they’re jealous or needy, especially not ones made by male directors.

Feature evil female characters when the people they refer to are male historical figures. Note: a woman did not invent nerve gas.

Are about men rescuing women, except in cases where the woman may be drowning.

Feature a white person who rescues an African-American from a life of poverty. Maybe it's happened but this is not the historical moment for that narrative.

Feature ladies of a certain age who are scoffed at.

Are about women who are serial murders. I think there have been four in the entire history of the world.

Are lesbian romances that are obviously intended as soft porn for heterosexual men. (Really, we know these movies when we see them.)

Are geographically challenged. All deserts are not alike. There are no mountains in Texas, nor are there tigers or lemurs on the African continent.

Are about grown men or male buddies who are acting like frat boys. They’re never funny, in real life or the movies.

Are male fantasies in which women rescue men who are ignorant, lazy or abusive, and need a second chance.

Are about rapists, pedophiles, sociopaths and psychopaths that suggest they can be rehabilitated. It is not true and we shouldn't tell our children that it is.

Are about rape and that suggest that the motive for rape is sexual attraction. It’s not. Rape is a motivated by violence, not sex. 

At the end, I can’t answer the question: Why did the filmmaker make this movie?

Aug 8, 2017

International Cat Day

Ever cat lover knows that Jean Cocteau's Beast in La Belle et la Bête (1946) is a feline creature. Look at those lion ears and that noble nose! Cocteau's lover, Jean Marais, endured five hours of preparation by the make-up artist every day of the on-location shoot in order to be transformed into this magnificent creature. He could only spring from the imagination of an ailurophile. Cocteau's masterpiece was long the inspiration for my recently published book, Cinematic Quests for Identity: The Hero's Encounter with the Beast.

Check my Twitter page for my favorite cat movies.

Jul 8, 2017

Getting Away From My Computer

The long holiday weekend was a slow time for press screenings, and that allowed me to stay ahead of a few writing deadlines . . . and to get away from my computer!

On July 4th, my husband and I headed to the East River for New York City's Macy's fireworks. The crowd was so relaxed, and it was fun to hear everyone oooing and ahhhing throughout the magnificent spectacle. We met a young Canadian couple from Toronto who told us that they did not expect so elaborate a show.

The next day, I was walking home from the supermarket and stopped to snap a picture of these delightful sunflowers someone planted in a 23rd Street tree well. The flowers are nearly six feet high.

The same evening, we took our usual walk along the river, except this time we crossed the highway near 12th Street. As we walked uptown, we found this fascinating live sculpture, a cracked orb about 3 feet across; inside is a tiny yard. (We did not see a sign that named the artist.)

It is as though this gifted artist let us see inside his or her head where this lovely place exists as a memory. The artfully cracked openings draw the viewer in, providing differing perspectives; the portholes also let in the sunlight that nourishes the live plants. We were reminded of eggs, a symbol of life, and of Christmas ornaments we hung on the tree as children.

Sometimes, New York City even surprises a native New Yorker.

Jun 20, 2017

"All Eyze on Me"

Actor Demetrius Shipp, Jr., who bears a striking resemblance to rapper Tupac Shakur, is the best thing about the new biopic. (Photo courtesy of distributor Summit Entertainment)
By now, everyone will have read Jada Pinkett's tweets about "All Eyze on Me," in which the actor explained that her friendship with the late hip-hop star Tupac Shakur is misrepresented in the biopic. In my review on, written before Jada's tweets, I explain how Tupac himself is shortchanged in the film. You can read it here:

Jun 13, 2017

Just Updated HRWFF Coverage

I just added a link to my interview with Cristina Herrara Borquez for No Dress Code Required (see below) that screened at Human Rights Watch Film Festival. The film will be opening in New York City in August.

Jun 12, 2017

Me at Maysles Cinema with Filmmakers of "Raising Bertie"

L to R, Margaret Byrne, Jon Stuyvesant, and me at Maysles Cinema, New York City (Photo credit: Savio Zigbi-Johnson).

Last night, I moderated a post-screening Q&A with "Raising Bertie" director Margaret Byrne and producer/director of photography Jon Stuyvesant at Maysles Cinema in West Harlem, a wonderfully intimate place to see movies. (Those who remember the West Village venue The Thalia will love this theater.) The documentary is quite unusual, first because it spans several years in the life of its subjects, three young Black men, and second because these teenagers are not inner-city—but rather from a rural area in Bertie County, North Carolina. It was a terrific audience and a lively discussion. Next, the filmmakers move on to L.A. where the film will begin screening on June 23rd.

Jun 8, 2017

Human Rights Watch Film Festival

A still from Pamela Yates's documentary 500 Years: Life in Resistance, which is about the struggle for indigenous rights among the Mayan people of Guatemala. (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch Film Festival).
This is a festival I cover every year for Film Journal International. While HRWFF's films are not always easy to watch, the commitment and courage of human rights filmmakers and, often the people they profile, are inspiring.

A strong line-up this year will introduce audiences to the travails of those living in Chile, China, Guatemala, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Mexico, Turkey and Qatar. Two documentaries, one about racism and another about a First Amendment rights struggle, are set right here at home. My overview of HRWFF is here:

An interview with the winner of HRWFF's Nestor Almendros Award for courage in the filmmaking, Zaradasht Ahmed for Nowhere to Hide, which is about an Iraqi nurse whose city falls to Islamic State, can be found here:

An interview with Tiffany Hsiung for The Apology, which about three women who were forced into sexual slavery during World War II, is here:

Check back on Monday for an interview with Cristina Herrera Borquez for No Dress Code Required, that portrays the struggle of a gay couple in Mexicali, Mexico against institutionalized homophobia:

May 30, 2017

Kudos to Jessica Chastain!

What Ms. Chastain had to say after serving on the Cannes Film Festival Jury and watching 20 films in 10 days:
"I do believe that if you have female storytelling, you also have more authentic female characters. This is the first time I’ve watched 20 films in ten days. And I love movies. And the one thing I really took away from this experience is how the world views women, from the female characters that I saw represented.
And it was quite disturbing to me, to be honest. There are some exceptions, I will say. But for the most part, I was surprised with the representation of female characters onscreen in these films. And I do hope that when we include more female storytellers, we will have more of the women that I recognize in my day-to-day life. Ones that are proactive, have their own agency, don’t just react to the men around them. They have their own point of view."

May 19, 2017

Taking Flight

In case you have not noticed, I just added my new Twitter handle to my Bio: I am still a fledgling, having sent only one tweet, but as a colleague said, there is no turning back now! I expect to use this platform sparingly, to tweet about films worth screening, and perhaps to draw attention to my print work that is not available on the Internet. I hope my former students will tweet, and those who follow this blog. Cari amici: Che c'é di nuovo?

May 5, 2017

Laura Poitras's "Risk"

Filmmaker Laura Poitras (Courtesy of Praxis Films).

Laura Poitras won an Oscar for Citizenfour (2014), which was about whistle-blower Edward Snowden. In her new documentary, Risk, she profiles Wiki-Leaks founder Julian Assange. My review of the documentary is on

Apr 28, 2017

My Tribeca Coverage

Whitney Houston in the mid-1990s. (Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)

Below are links to my Tribeca Film Festival coverage:

Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives (review):

Elián (review):

Frank Serpico (review):

Newton (interview):
Videotaped Interview:

The Reagan Show (review):

An image from Zohar Kfir's virtual reality installation, Testimony, about survivors of sexual assault. (Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)

Testimony (interview):

Whitney. Can I Be Me? (review):

Apr 22, 2017

Screening at Tribeca: "The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson"

Transgender activist Martha P. Johnson in one of her signature headdresses of fresh flowers.

Place almost any adjective in front of the word “woman”—poor or gay or immigrant—and she disappears. This is especially true in federal crime statistics: African-American women, and other marginalized groups of women, including Native Americans, are not differentiated in those numbers, although it is common knowledge among law enforcement and legal authorities that they are more often victims of violent crimes, including sexual assault. Marsha P. Johnson’s adjectives were “transvestite,” “transgender” and “African-American.”

Marsha was a drag queen, a fixture of the Manhattan neighborhoods of Chelsea and the West Village. She was a hero of Stonewall, the 1969 riots that marked the gay rights movement. Marsha's broad smile and her kooky outfits led passersby who knew nothing about the gay rights movement to stop and speak with her. She sometimes gave them flowers or a string of beads she happened to be wearing.

In The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, documentarian David France (How to Survive a Plague, 2012) profiles his eponymous subject’s lifelong activism through an investigation into her death. In 1992, Marsha’s body was found floating in the Hudson River; although authorities ruled it a suicide, fellow activists never accepted the finding. Neither did Victoria Cruz.

This is a still of Ms. Cruz from David France's documentary. (Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)
 An investigator for the New York City Anti-Violence Project (“AVP”), Ms. Cruz revisits the “cold case,” reopened in 2012 by the NYPD—and France chronicles her dogged search for the truth. The result is a disturbing story of discrimination and corruption, as well as the tale of a persistent, although little-discussed rift in the gay community, that of the lack of acceptance of trans women.

Through interviews with family members, lovers, friends and fellow activists, we get a glimpse of Marsha's charm, but France’s documentary is also a quest for understanding, a profiling of the cultural, political and economic forces that oppressed Marsha. They are emblematic of the forces that often fell heroes.

Apr 21, 2017

Tribeca Film Festival 2017

It’s spring in New York, and that means the Tribeca Film Festival is underway. Opening night was at Radio City Music Hall with the premier of Chris Perkel’s documentary, Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of our Lives. About the eponymous music mogul who began his career at CBS, it will screen this weekend. (My review is here:

A very young Clive Davis with Patti Smith.(Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)
The documentary was followed by a show honoring the 85 year-old executive, best-known to the general public for his longstanding professional relationship with the late Whitney Houston. He signed Houston to a recording contract when she was 19 years old, and was with her on The Merv Griffin Show, her first T.V. appearance.

Jennifer Hudson, who was the first to perform on Wednesday’s Opening Night tribute, celebrated Whitney and Davis with her rendition of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me).” She was followed by Earth, Wind & Fire, Dionne Warwick, jazz clarinetist Kenny G, and the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

Here is a link to a review of "The Reagan Show," another documentary screening at the festival: Most of my coverage of the Tribeca Film Festival will appear on and on Film Journal International’s “Screener Blog.” You can also check back here for links. Short posts will appear on my Facebook page.