! Women Art Revolution (2010)

I feel fortunate to have just seen a screening of Lynn Hershman Leeson's new film at Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center. It may be awhile until it rounds all the film festivals and is available for wide release.

She has been working on this for forty years. In the meantime, Hershman made the intriguing, Strange Culture, just a few years ago. This retrospective of feminist art explains the invisibility of women in art throughout history and sheds light on the evolution of contemporary women artists in America. She begins by showing the emergence of women in performance art of the late 1960s and beyond and weaves historical film footage and photos with later interviews.

Judy Chicago, Miriam Shapiro, Carol Scheneeman, Hannah Wilke, Anna Mendieta, Marcia Tucker--and so many more are featured, including in-depth interviews and actions by Guerilla Girls. The art activist group formed in the mid-1980s to point the finger at the art world's role in keeping women out. Their efforts sparked changes...The Whitney Museum featured more women than men in their last Biennale exhibition. Marcia Tucker, a curator who got her starts at The Whitney, later created The New Museum, an art space that has always shown a great number of women artists.

This film holds the story of late 20th century women in art that is lacking in the libraries. The art world that has become so much more accessible to women of the last couple decades need to know that this was achieved like the right to vote or reproductive choice--after persistent effort.


Crazy Sexy Cancer (2007)

Kris Carr has created a beautiful film of her cancer experience from diagnosis to surviorship. She was diagnosed with stage IV of a rare cancer of the vascular system in 2003. Due to the rareness of this condition, there was no known protocol for treatment. A thirty-one year old actress living in NYC, she set out to investigate all the possible treatments. Her movie tagline is "looking for a cure and finding your life."

Cancer became her full-time job. She became a healing junkie. Along the way, she met Jackie Farry, an alternative rock show promoter who had been diagnosed that year with multiple myeloma. She tells about her struggle as a single woman to manage being ill--too old to move in her parents, but without great resources to cope with the dilemma. "Having cancer is awkward," she says. Kris also profiles Erin Zamett, a young writer with cancer and her sister, a 28-year old married pregnant woman who is diagnosed with lymphoma.

Kris refers to "B.C." as before cancer and asks "How can I move forward until I go backward first?" She seeks out every new age therapy and spiritual path. She concludes that "cancer is a metaphor for fear." She seeks out Bhagavan Das, who tell her that an ailment is an assignment to heal the body." Another specialist tells Kris that all sickness is due to improper PH balance of acids and states "a fish is only as healthy as the fluids it swims in."

Kris talks to others. She falls in love. She even gets married. Four years after the diagnosis, she calls herself a survivor and says "Life is messy and brilliant, gorgeous and staggering, crazy and sexy--just like cancer."

We heal our bodies eight times faster with exercise. There is plenty of practical advice about exercise juicing, diet, and other health issues. Kris went on to create an holistic social network of "wellness warriors" at...

I first saw this film four years ago, but I enjoyed seeing it again. This movie really nails the experience of living with a terminal illness--it is a wonderful film for anyone touched by cancer or anyone seeking health. Kris Carr's illness became her new career as an advocate for cancer prevention. She has a new book, Crazy Sexy Diet.


Catfish (2010)

I have a feeling there are many interesting films to come by the handsome Schulman Brothers. Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman directed this one. Filmmaker and photographer, Yaniv Schulman, is the central character of this docudrama.

This story begins during late 2007 when Nev (Yaniv Schulman) receives a request on myspace from a 8-year-old girl named Abby who saw one of his dance photos in the newspaper and wants to make a painting of it. He soon receives the small charming painting in the mail from his young friend in Michigan. He is oddly amused by all this and so he begins sending her more photos to paint from. The talented young artist strikes up a rapport with Nev on facebook, where he soon connects with her family. Much of this film is told through the facebook or touchphone screen. Part ducumentary and part reality thriller--full of love, deception and grace.

Henry and Ariel begin documenting the unfolding of online intrigue as Nev begins a friendship with Abby's mom, Angela (Angela Wesselman-Pierce), followed by Abby's sister, Megan (Amy Gonzalez). Angela reports on Abby's prolific outpouring of art featuring dancers and horses and girls that have sold for as much as $7,000. They have even purchased an abandoned JC Penny store to make into a gallery all for her. Abby sends a portrait of Angela to Nev and he is surprised to learn how attractive she is. Abby tells Nev that she puts a strand of her own hair into each painting and even spits into the paint so that her DNA will be part of it. Really? An 8-year-old girl thinks like this?

19-year-old Megan turns out to be another artistic dynamo. She composes, sings plays instruments--has a band with her brother called The Casualities (sends Nev the t-shirt). Megan also paints and dances. Plus, she is gorgeous. Nev is curiously drawn into this seemingly creative world far from New York City. Phonecalls and texts with Megan heighten the connection. He begins falling in love. She tells him that she purchased a horse farm and this sparks Nev's fantasy even further at a time in his life when he is sick of making bar mitzvah videos. He indulges in the fantasy of country life with a gorgeous woman. You know.

Megan's dad, Vince, is a hip guy with an earring. Who are these people? A few discrepancies begin turning up. The boys hash over the minute details of these folks as Nev carries on his his growing romance with Megan.

During the summer of 2008, Ariel and Henry follow Nev to a dance fesitval in Colorado. On the drive back, they stop in Michigan for a surprise visit to these "friends." The second half of the film takes place in Michigan as truths are revealed.

This is very well done. The films raises so many questions about the nature of illusion and the virtual world. The internet is a place where "truth remains in limbo." We all become a character in this realm. The idea of "living novel" is explored. The choices we make in life add up.

There is an enlightening bonus Q & A with the Schulmans and Joost where they talk openly about their experience of making his film. It has a feel of faux documentary, but they report that the events did occur and there was a lot of editing. I think it reflects a core aspect of 21st century life. This would be a great film to watch with a group for discussion later.

I will run to see their next film.

20/20 did an in-depth review on the film and interview with the cast of characters that tells all (spoiler alert--as they say)......


Blue Valentine (2010)

Another film to see before the Oscars at the end of the month. Michelle Williams is nominated for best actress in Derek Cianfrance's low-budget ($1million) film shot in super 16mm. The tagline calls this "A Love Story." It is very much a 21st century romance about a typical sort of American couple. The story weaves flashbacks with the current life Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling) to tell how they happened to become a married couple with an adorable young daughter named Meg. Events unfold around Brooklyn during a six or seven year timeframe.

The pair begin as fresh-faced young adults in their late teens. We see Cindy with high school boyfriend, Bobby (Mike Vogel) and caring tenderly for her elderly grandmother. Dean and Cindy are likely only in their mid-twenties or so by the end of the film, but physical aging is evident. This is very ordinary story that highlights how mismatched individuals often fall in love and face difficulties down the road. The qualities that attract two people at the beginning are often the very qualities that can tear them apart later on. This film does a wonderful job of showing us snapshots of how this works.

Dean is a good man who considers himself lucky to have a job (house painter) that allows him to drink throughout the day. Cindy is a nurse with unmet ambitions. They attempt to rekindle their romance during a night in a spaceship-themed motel room (seems to be Atlantic City). She asks Dean..."Isn't there something you want to do?" I heard an interview with Williams and Gosling. They spent a month together living in the house on the movie set, where they celebrated together an entire year of special occasions together and got to know each other in order to convey a convincing married couple--they do appear quite natural together.

Gosling has a perpetual teenage boy quality that was featured in an earlier film, Lars and the Real Girl. Williams has a quality of depth from her actual lived life of caring for a young daughter and the loss of the child's father, Heath Ledger. They create a film that is a beautiful, sad, heartfelt story that reflects contemporary life in the most real way. This may not be her year to win an Oscar, but she will one day.


Milk (2008)

I enjoyed seeing this when it was first released. Like many who lived in San Francisco during the Harvey Milk years, there was a lot of nostalgia in watching it. I lived just blocks away from Castro and had my film developed at Milk's camera shop, a place I recall as nothing special--just a small, casual business. I especially went in to use the the color Xerox photocopier that was not found many places.

Gus Van Sant's film tells the story of Harvey Milk's rise to notoriety during the 1970s, using flashbacks as Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) narrates his own story by talking into a tape recorder days before he was murdered. The tale begins on the eve of his 40th birthday in the New York subway when he meets Scott Smith (James Franco), a younger, shaggier, pot-smoking man of the early 1970s. Milk sheds his closeted conservative insurance company life to flee with Smith to the more open-minded Castro neighborhood of San Francisco. This is 1973--a bearded and pony-tailed Milk wears a uniform of denim. They open a small photography shop and settle into the charming neighborhood of local Irish catholic residents who not happy with the growing population of gay men.

Harvey becomes an activist and works with teamsters to head a boycott of Coors Beer, leading Coors to hire gay delivery truck drivers. Next, he runs for city Supervisor to promote affordable housing, youth programs, services for senior citizens, rent control and human rights for all. He began all his speeches "My fellow degenerates..." He lost, but tried again the following year--this time sporting a short haircut and suit. Scott eventually left Milk and the world of politics. Initially distraught, Milk quickly picked up with Jack Lira (Diego Luna). Milk had gained the help of Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch) who was his activist-in-training. He also hired a lesbian woman, Ann Kronenberg (Allison Pill) to run his next campaign.

Anita Bryant had begun her campaign in Forida against homosexuals. Milk fought even harder against her influence of bigotry that was spreading. He aimed to send a message of hope to all the young gays to not believe any of her fear tactics and remained devoted to fighting this as long as it took to protect the gay rights ordinance, Proposition 6, that he had won in SF. Right-wing Senator, John Briggs joined forces with Anita Bryant to repeal all the Proposition 6 wins across the nation. Milk finally won his seat as Supervisor and began making alliances at City Hall with Mayor Moscone (Victor Garber) and Dan White (Josh Brolin).

White became increasingly agitated by Milk's popularity and success. He resigned and tried to regain his position as he had a mental breakdown that ended in his shooting both Moscone and Milk at City Hall in 1978. Van Sant re-created the moving historic candlelit march of 30,000 from Castro to City Hall after the shootings. Milk left behind an entire community of gay rights activists who would carry on the fight. Penn is thoroughly convincing as Harvey Milk and brings him to life for the duration of this film.

White was found guilty of manslaughter and served just five years in prison. Two years after his release, he commit suicide. Cleve Jones went on to become an Aids activist and founder of the Names Project, responsible for the famous Aids Memorial Quilt in the late 1980s. Scott Smith was clearly the man behind the man at the start of Milk's rise to fame. He passed away in 2000. About James Franco...he is entirely convincing playing the the role of a gay man, but it turns out he has a longtime girlfriend who is thin, blond--all Hollywood. Of course.

Sonny (2002)

Catching up on a few James Franco films prior to Oscar night. This one was directed by Nicholas Cage. Set in 1981 New Orleans, Sonny (James Franco) returns in full uniform from the service to begin again. Jewel (Brenda Blethyn) is his "madame" Mother. Henry (Harry Dean Stanton) is Sonny's stepfather. When Sonny's plans to start a new job fell through, he is faced with the world of prostitution that he grew up around.

Yes, he is once a male prostitute. Carol (Mena Suvari) is Jewel's young protege. Kindred souls in this seedy world, the two strike up a friendship when they are asked to share a bedroom at Jewel's home. The movie tagline is "His life was the morning after, until he decided to change the night before." I would have not have watched it through to the end without the younger, slimmer Franco in the role--he's a good actor. It is a glamorless version of American Gigolo, a film that would have been nothing without Richard Gere.

Sonny falls back into his old ways when he runs into Meg (Brenda Vacarro), a former client. We watch him work his way through the pain of finding his way back out again.