Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries." (Julius Caesar; Act 4, Scene 3).

Author: Connie Wilson (Page 2 of 81)

The Lego Batman Movie Has Something for Everyone

Genre: Animated children’s comedy
Length: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Director: Chris McKay
Stars: (voices) Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Mariah Carey

Director (and sometimes vocal talent) Chris McKay gives the audience a solid sequel to the 2014 “The Lego Movie” with an opening that takes aim at skewering the opening of every Superhero saga ever made: black screen, ominous score, etc.

The hero is Batman, voiced again by Will Arnett, who hides out in his lair with his butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Ralph Fiennes). Another major vocal players are Michael Cera as Robin, aka, Richard “Dick” Grayson, who is adopted by Batman—sort of. Batman seems intent on being a loner and isn’t too keen on adopting the eager novice he meets at a social event, but Robin expresses his undying enthusiasm for Batman and bemoans his life in the orphanage, where “Kids call me Dick.” Arnett’s Batman says, “Well, kids can be cruel,” (providing one of the biggest adult laughs of the evening).

We were accompanied by eight-year-old twins who were well behaved and interested throughout. They seemed to follow the story of how Alfred shames Batman into adopting Robin and urges Batman to make real friends and not just depend on his vast array of enemies. Batman has famous enemies like the Joker (Zach Galifianakis), and it is the Joker who unleashes a plethora of other baddies on Batman (all of them previously confined in the fortress of Solitude in the Phantom Zone).

Batman must take action to put the bad guys back where they belong, but he will need help to do it. Young Robin is just the right assistant for the job (because he’s the right size), and Batman also adds the kicker, “He’s 110% expendable.” Alfred tries to set Batman on the path of good parenting, causing Batman to respond, “How dare you tell me how to parent my kid I just met!”

It is lines like those, the mystery of why Robin wears no pants, and lines like, “Alfred, you’ve been watching way too many Lifetime movies and drinking chardonnay” (to which Alfred responds, archly, “It’s pinot grigio.”) that cracked up those of us over the age of eight.

There are other pearls of wisdom, like, “Sometimes, to right a wrong, you have to do a wrong right” that seem timely, as well as this gem, “Sometimes, losing people is a part of life, but that doesn’t mean you quit letting them in.”

The gags fly by so fast that you can barely keep track of them, steering the plot toward a plot of family values, as well as the entire “No man is an island” John Donne message.

Along the way, you’ll laugh and enjoy the movie for entirely different reasons than your young companions.
I, personally, laughed very loudly at the fact that “Iron Man Sucks” was the computer password. I laughed even louder when I saw that the new Secretary of the Treasury under Donald J. Trump, Steven (“no chin”) Mnuchin was Executive Producer on the film.

Here is a partial list of the voices you’ll hear that could be considered “famous,” (some of them in very small roles):
Will Arnett as Batman
Michael Cera as Robin/Dick Greyson
Rosario Dawson as Batgirl/Barbara Gordon
Ralph Fiennes as Alfred Pennyworth
Siri as the Computer
Zach Galifianakis as the Joker
Conan O’Brien as The Riddler
Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face
Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman
Eddie Izzard as Voldemort
Seth Green as King Kong
Ellie Kemper as Phyllis
Channing Tatum as Superman
Jonah Hill as the Green Lantern
Hector Elizondo as Jim Gordon
Mariah Carey as the Mayor
Brent Musberger as Reporter #1, and
Chris McKay (the director) as Pilot Bill/additional voices

I laughed. I cried. I ate dinner (Alamo Drafthouse style). I cleaned up shakes spilled by twin 8-year-olds and made three trips for extra napkins.

Well, mainly, I laughed. It’s that “Toy Story” kind of movie that gives the kids the action they want while entertaining adults, too, complete with kitschy music (Lorne Balfe in charge) like “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” and “Man in the Middle.”

Super Bowl Sunday: Not Feeling So Super

I’m posting this before I begin to attempt to clean up and go off to a Super Bowl party.

Being a newcomer to Austin (TX) as a snowbird, I cannot afford to turn down any invitations, but I am in the throes of a head cold that has rendered sleep somewhat peripatetic and caused my nose to run.

Here in Austin, the biggest and closest grocery store is one with the name H.E.B. I have no idea what “H.E.B.” stands for, but “Help! Everything is Bolloxed!” comes to mind. On the bad side, you walk for miles trying to find anything. The store is roughly the size of a Sam’s Super Store in the Quad Cities. On the good side, the prices see far lower for most things (although the quality of the meat is suspect).

Let me be specific: all I wanted was a Coricidin type cold remedy that would staunch the runny nose I am experiencing, which, I think, I may have caught from my son, who also has a cold. I gave son Scott the last of my cold remedy medication from home and the Tylenol thing I bought yesterday does not mention stopping a runny nose. Nor has it done so.

On the bright side, I could breathe in the night, but I turned like a chicken on a spit, tossing and turning as I experienced all the fun drainage of a cold.

Two days ago, it was 83 degrees here, tying a record set in 1963. Then, it dropped about 40 degrees and spit rain. The problem (besides exposure to the virus somewhere) is that I had to go out in the spitting rain 2 days in a row, to secure the necessary vitals for a Saturday night dinner. I also wanted to purchase a painting to put on the wall of the guest bedroom, as the one I had originally seen at a store called “Tuesday Morning” had sold in one day. I like the painting and the son with the cold was going help the husband hang it on the wall of the guest bedroom IF I had it. So, 2 days in a row when I already felt sort of punk and the weather was not ideal I went out in the spitting rain and visited a minimum of 3 stores each time.

Now, I’m paying the price. Oh, well, last year there was no moisture at all in the entire month of February, so hopefully the predicted warm-up will take my cold with it.

On another front, gas here at some stations is $1.83.

As for the Super Bowl, I could care less who wins or who plays, but I would root for the underdog (Atlanta) in any contest and most certainly would do so when it is common knowledge that the Quarterback of the Patriots is a big buddy of the Trumpster. Go Falcons!

“Trump & Consequences” Fun and Safe Only for the Rich and Elderly

Trump & Consequences


Lifting from the newest issue of “Vanity Fair,” I return peripherally to a discussion of presidential politics. Some of you may remember that I followed 3 presidential campaigns, writing about ’04, ’08 and ’12 for Yahoo (3 million hits on over 1,000 article).

My writing(s) of 2008 even led to an invitation to come cover the Democratic National Convention in Denver and the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

I had planned to follow the presidential race of 2016 and started out by attending a Jeb Bush rally. After that, a Bernie rally, one by Hillary and—the coup de grace—- (some might say coup d’etat)—a Trump rally at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, Iowa.

That was it, for me.


I came home and said to my long-suffering Republican husband. “I’m not going to cover the presidential race any more. It’s not fun any more.”
When he asked for specifics, I referred him to video clips of AP photographers being roughed up and Trump belittling and denigrating registered press from outlets such as CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS and MSNBC. Trump enjoyed penning them up, if you recall, and hurling abuse at them, and he still enjoys calling journalists “Among the most dishonest people in the world” and other such over-the-top insulting hyperbole.

Since I am one of the most honest people I know (to my detriment, usually), I wanted no more of Mr. Trump, and I switched back to my long-time love: movies. After 15 years as the Quad City Times critic back in the day (1970-85, roughly) I began reviewing for www.QuadCities.com and continued the reviewing I have always done on this blog.

I now am also a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics’ Circle and write for one of the six largest movie blogs in the country, www.TheMovieBlog. Thanks to the wizardry of Anthony Whyte, my offerings on such things as “The 20 Best Films of Paul Newman” or “The 35 Best U.S. Films on Politics Ever Made” appear with lots of pictures and trailers to add to the text. And, most importantly, it is fun. Thanks to writing film reviews for national readerships (over 600,000 for The Movie Blog) I could, in theory, attend any film festival I might wish as Press. (SXSW in March; Chicago in October).

Today’s article is not about movies, however, although I love them dearly, but is about the “Vanity Fair” article entitled Trump and Consequences which Michael Lewis wrote in the February, 1970, “Vanity Fair”

DONALD TRUMP GAMES

Apparently, Donald J. Trump tried to have games made much earlier than 2017.
There was Trump Collector’s Edition Monopoly (“The Fast Dealing Property-Trading Game.”) After that, in 1989, “Trump: The Game” (“It’s not whether you win or lose, but whether you win!”) And, following on the heels of those two failed attempts came 2004’s “The Apprentice” game (“I’m back and you’re fired!”)

Only now are we ready for another Trump game.

Here are the rules for Trump & Consequences:

Six participants (minimum) are required. Half of the number are designated “Members of Trump’s Court.” The other half are assigned the term” Citizens.”

Each “Citizen” selects a “Character,” pulled randomly from a bowl or hat that contains descriptions of that character. If you can get hold of a large shoe or boot from Ivanka Trump’s collection that would serve nicely and fit into the spirit of the game. All the characters are rather stereotypical and defined mainly by race, religion, gender and a few other characteristics.

For example, the character card might say: “45-year-old white Jewish female without health insurance” or “young Muslim male whose house is at risk of being flooded by rising sea levels,” or “male Catholic Mexican undocumented immigrant.”

Amidst the several hundred character descriptions are “Trump Cards.”

These Characters are actual relatives of the presumed president of the United States, by blood or marriage, and they go straight to the top of a miniature replica of Trump Tower to sit out the round.

Other players’ tokens rise, step by step. The roll of a pair of dice determines the rate of their climb. If a player rolls a 12, he climbs a dozen steps up the escalator staircase The Donald descended with Melania to announce his candidacy for the most important political position in the world. (It’s not moving; it’s been stopped, momentarily, so he may enjoy yet another Victory Lap basking in the golden glow of his Russian-enhanced win over Hillary Rodham Clinton.)

Some of the steps on the way up the (stationary) escalator or staircase are harmless.
Some are inscribed with terms like: “You’ve been re-tweeted!” If a player is re-tweeted, he or she draws from a stack of cards reminiscent of Chance or Community Chest cards in real Monopoly.

The cards drawn describe various life situations that might occur to a citizen of the United States trying to live through the Trump regime, along with strategic consequences,
such as “Your company gets a great bribe from the U.S. government! Take the escalator or elevator up five floors.” Another might read: “You’re deported! Or “Your public school is defunded and the money given to Christian charter schools by Betsy DeVos!” or “Join an undocumented immigrant wherever on the escalator/staircase he may be.”

The player reads aloud his Life Situation card and then chooses between 2 options:

1) He can accept his fate and move his token as directed.
2) He can plead his case to Trump’s Court. That is, he can argue that his character does not belong in the Life Situation assigned.

The argument might go something like this: “As a white Christian male I am highly unlikely to be deported.” Or, “As a 50-year-old Asian female, I won’t be affected by the closure of a public school or the defunding of Planned Parenthood.”


This is where the Game-within-the-Game begins.


The Courtiers discuss the likelihood, in Trump’s version of America, of the character ending up in any given Life Situation.
Therefore, they are compelled to think in stereotypes, just as Trump does, and to imagine the radically different outcomes that might be experienced by different kinds of people in identical situations, [since “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”](Animal Farm, George Orwell).

No white male is likely to be deported or sexually assaulted, for example, though he is plausibly a recipient of a corporate bribe. The Court’s deliberations on such matters are at the heart of the game. If you think this sounds unfair or unlikely, you should have watched the 2-hour special on Tom Brokaw, where he told Oprah Winfrey that he, himself, wonders how many of the Big Breaks in his career he would have gotten if the color of his skin had been one shade darker. He defined that concern (racism) as among the biggest we face as a nation, second only to climate change.

The Court’s deliberations on such matters are at the heart of the game.
Courtiers will find themselves saying things like: “Too bad you’re black!” Or, “God, it really sucks to be a Muslim in Trump Land!” Or, “Too bad you’re a member of that Rainbow coalition at this time in history.”

Each round ends when one citizen reaches The Donald’s Penthouse.
All Citizens then become Courtiers, and all Courtiers Citizens. No one ever actually wins the game, but all the players experience the elation and terror of the new realities of Trump’s America and the ever-shifting odds facing a great number of Americans in a variety of different circumstances, who find themselves, discriminated against and at the mercy of Trump and Pence’s whims. Not a Christian? Bad on you. “Venezuelan immigrant with a green card who is just learning to speak English and has minimal funding.” Good luck!

Trump also has the power to occasionally pardon an undocumented immigrant the way the president usually pardons a Thanksgiving turkey; that player gets to stay and graduate at the top of his class. Think “The Hunger Games.”

On the other hand, Cabinet Courtier posts are handed out primarily to those who were, in their previous lives, diametrically opposed to whichever Cabinet post they are appointed to, or, as a corollary, have no experience whatsoever for the job they are assigned. Examples of this abound, such as Rick Perry’s appointment to the very Cabinet post and department he famously wanted to eliminate (but couldn’t remember the name of), and the EPA head being a climate change denier. And, of course, there is Betsy Devos, who never taught a day in her life, was never a school administrator, never was in charge of a large budget for any business, and apparently does not believe in the separation of church and state, since her family (Amway and Blackwater billions) has given money to Christian schools…and, of course, to those on the Committee that, today, forwarded her nomination for Secretary of Education to the floor for confirmation. (The split was 11 Democrats voting against Devos and the 12 Republican members voting for the woman who has never experienced anything that even remotely smacks of taking out a student loan for college, nor run or taught in a school of any kind.)

Actually, the LESS qualified you are for the office, the more likely you will be to be appointed to head it up. “Heckuva’ job, Brownie! Times 100.

After a negative Court verdict, the Citizen discards his Character card for another randomly drawn card and so, as the game proceeds, the less fortunate Characters will naturally be purged from it and replaced by the more fortunate ones. (Let’s hope that The Donald is not a fan of “The Purge” films or we’ll end up with that scenario!)

In a process that resembles natural selection (says Michael Lewis in the Vanity Fair article), “the Characters ascending to Trump Tower will become whiter and older and, most likely, male.”
American will once again re-invent themselves in the old, white, male image of the 2008 RNC, which had only one black person anywhere near it (I was there and inside) and he was an Obama impersonator hired for the occasion.

A player who started his climb as a Muslim immigrant on food stamps might end up as Ivanka Trump through the luck of the Character draw, perhaps.
In short, the game, as it goes, will reveal the predicaments of entire classes of Americans caught in the chaos. The Court will be forced to contemplate, as voters apparently never did, the character of the president and the consequences for great swaths of our society. For instance, all those coal miners who voted for The Donald so blithely and are now finding out that Obamacare and The Affordable Care Act are one and the same and they are going to lose all their health insurance just as their pensions ran out on Dec. 31, 2016, are experiencing Buyers’ Remorse. [Too late for that, Coal Miners. Should have thought about reading up before you voted. A good book to start with would have been one on all of Donald J. Trump’s previous business dealings (and I don’t mean the one he didn’t write.)]

For children, their fate in Trump’s America will obviously turn on their race, religion and socio-economic status, as there is no longer an Obama figure fighting for them to receive health care and equal opportunity.
The shrewder players of the game will shun them as a group. Their “weakness” is their personal exposure to the distant future, which, if Leninist and Disrupter-in-Chief Bannon is in charge, almost certainly involves another war. (Wars are SO good for business!)

Says Lewis: “Politicians often stiff the future on behalf of the present, but no one in the political landscape has cut so many Draconian bargains with the future as Trump. An indifference to the long term is one of the keys to his behavior.” His treatment of his fellow human beings has left him in the odd position of having no real friends except those toadies who hope to profit by kissing his Trumpian ring. Trump’s willingness to borrow money that he does not repay has led many Wall Street banks to refuse to do business with him, which is why he probably is in debt to Russia by as much as $12 billion (we’ll never know, since he won’t release his tax returns, which also show him paying no taxes for literally years.) If he owes them that much money, they could ruin him by calling in the debt, but now all they have to do is dictate to him what he should do to de-stabilize the United States of America until it becomes the Divided States of America and Russia wins.

The cannier players of Trump’s America will realize that they are better off limiting their exposure to the future, so the older their Character is, the less likely it is to suffer the consequences of Donald Trump.
I can personally attest to this, as one of my friends, a Trump supporter, said, “Come on, Connie. You’re in the group that will benefit from all of his plans. Get with the program.”

If you play a character that depicts even a 60-year-old Muslim woman, you may live to play on. Play with a token that represents any child and you are eventually out of the game. It may take a while for less thoughtful folk to wake up to this reality. After all, it’s tough to say to your 8-year-old granddaughters: “Too bad you’re a kid and female.”

Millennials: GET ON THIS! I protested Vietnam. I protested for Free Speech (Berkeley, 1965, Mario Savio). I protested for civil rights. It’s up to you, now, to protest these pre-determined Character Outcomes and right the wrongs that Donald J. Trump (et. al.) represent(s) to our country’s Constitution and its long revered ideals of freedom of religion, among other principles. If you don’t start paying attention and reading up, you run the risk of becoming like those coal miners in West Virginia, hoodwinked and flim-flammed, with no health insurance (“I’ll be okay. I have the Affordable Care Act, not Obamacare” was a real quote on my Facebook page), no job, and no pension. The average life expectancy of a mine worker today is only 42 years, and that was before the complete destruction of Obamacare and Medicaid.

Good luck, Players! Pick your Character and start praying (Pence likes that).

“20th Century Women” Will Give You Laughs & Truth

Genre: Drama/Comedy

Running Time: 119 minutes

Actors: Annette Bening, Billy Crudup, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann

There are so many good lines in “Twentieth Century Women” and so much wisdom and information imparted that I can heartily recommend the movie on that basis alone. I’m going to share some of that wisdom with you momentarily.

Add to that the fact that Annette Bening turns in another great performance (she was Golden Globe nominated) and that the film has actually put titles of some of the better books on feminism and other idealistic pursuits onscreen at key moments, and it can certainly be considered educational. What books and films are cited? “Forever”, 1975, Judy Blume. “The Road Less Traveled”, 1978, Scott Peck. “The Politics of Orgasm,” 1970, Susan Lydon. Another by Zoe Moss about the aging woman, written in 1970, which professes that“It hurts to be old and obsolete and alone.” “A Crisis of Confidence” by Jimmy Carter. A film by Koyaanisqatsi, 1982, by Godfrey Reggie and Philip Glass. (onscreen, the dates for the film are listed as 1971-1975).

It’s also a very, very funny film. Who would expect that—right?

THE GOOD

As mentioned above, Bening gives a great performance, but so does the young boy who plays her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), whom she often refers to as “Kid.”

Director/Writer Mike Mills hasn’t made a big movie for 6 years, but the movie he made 6 years ago, “Beginners,” won Christopher Plummer the Best Supporting Actor in 2010 for his role as an elderly widower who comes out to his adult son (Ewan McGregor) as gay at the advanced age of 75.

Mills, who has worked extensively in graphic design and has won many film awards prior to this film, is going to be around for a while, and he’s going to be doing good work, judging by this film. This effort made me think of Matt Ross’ “Captain Fantastic,” which was Ross’ maiden voyage into directing and was honored this year at Cannes. (It also was up for the Best Picture of the Year at the SAG awards, but did not win.)

Mills admits that “Beginners” was autobiographical in nature, and so is “20th Century Women.” Said Mills on IMDB: “Making a movie is so hard, you’d better make movies about something you really know about. And even more, it’s really good to make movies about things you need to figure out for yourself, so you’re driven the whole way through. It’s going to make things more crucial for you.”

The mother in this film is a woman who had a son in 1964 when she was 40. It is now 15 years later, and Jamie’s mother (Annette Bening) is trying to raise her son alone in 1979 California. She is worried about the lack of a father figure, but feels that she can draw strength and support from those close to her in the film and close to Jamie.

Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) the pivotal character in the film, smokes Salems non-stop, wears Birkenstocks, drives a Volkswagon (Mills once did graphic design for the brand) and would have qualified as a bona fide hippy if her birth year weren’t 1924. She’s a bit too old for the communes of Berkeley (Mills, who was born in 1966, grew up in Berkeley), but Dorothea’s also young at heart. She works as a draftsman, the first woman to be hired by the Continental Can drafting department. Probably not coincidentally, Mike Mills’ mother worked as a draftsman.

The film opens with the car Dorothea and Jamie had left in a parking lot, a Ford Galaxy, ablaze.

Dorothea decides that the roomers in the large, old house she is renovating and one of Jamie’s friends from school (Elle Fanning as Julie, daughter of a therapist) can assist her in raising her son. Those two friends are the man working on her house, William (Billy Crudup) and a young woman fleeing from her previous life and parent and dealing with the fact that she may be infertile due to DES prescribed her mother in Santa Barbara while her mother was pregnant with her, Abigail “Abby” Porter.

Jamie asks his mother “Why are you fine being sad and alone?” He also chides Mom about her non-stop smoking. She responds, “When I started, they weren’t bad for you. They were just stylish—edgy.”

I’m a woman who had a son born in the sixties and, twenty years later, had a second child at 42. I could relate to mothering a son born in 1964 (although my son was born in 1968) and I could relate to being considered a fossil by the time my daughter was born, twenty years later. Dorothea’s response about cigarettes caused me to nod my head knowingly. I think I was the only one of my high school clique who didn’t take up smoking with a vengeance (“Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should!”) and most of them are still smoking up a storm today (and quite defiantly, I might add.)

Whenever Jamie finds his mother’s advice inconvenient, he’ll say, to others, “Don’t worry about her. She’s from the Depression.” I said exactly the same thing about my parents, who were considered old when they had me at 38 and 43 and actually were “from the Depression.” Nobody else had old parents but me. My parents didn’t “get” the music of my generation and neither does Dorothea, although she makes several efforts, with the help of the young Abby, to try to learn the difference between The Talking Heads and Black Flag. Her young teacher Abbie tells her that “pretty music is used to hide how unfair and corrupt society is.” Dorothea attempting to meditate with Billy Crudup is a hilarious scene.

Dorothea has some ironic and interesting observations about life and men. To wit:

“Having your heart broken is a tremendous way to learn about the world.”

“Wondering if you’re happy is a great shortcut to being depressed.”

“Men always feel like they have to fix things for women or they’re not doing anything.”

“Being strong is the most important quality. It gives you durability versus the other emotions.”

“Men don’t want to be contradicted. They just want to live in their fantasylands.”

“Whatever you think your life is going to be like, just know that it’s not going to be anything like that.”

“I just picked the best solution at the time.”

To her young friend Abby, Dorothea says, of young Jamie: “You get to see him out in the world as a person. I never will.”

The human situations in this movie are so real and portrayed so touchingly and realistically that patrons in the audience, including my husband (who didn’t want to go, but we had missed the start time of “Gold”) were laughing out loud. I can’t tell you the set-up for the best laugh of the movie without ruining it, but just know that it involves a fist fight that Jamie is involved in and why he comes home with bruises and a black eye.

THE BAD

Some people do not want to be given the complete backstory of a character, including his date of death. They like endings where they can read into it whatever they want and muse on the probable denouement. I’m not that person. I liked the way Mills chose to give us more information than I’ve ever had given me about every single character in a film, including where they end up after the film has ended.

If you ever watched the television show “Six Feet Under,” which completed its run by giving you the dates of death of every single major character, you’ll get the idea. You’ll either hate this technique, or, if you’re me, you’ll love it. Interestingly enough (no coincidences here), Mike Mills’ real-life mother died of lung cancer from smoking in 1999 and so does Dorothea Fields, the onscreen version of Mom.

The line in the film that sums it up is this: “I will try to explain to my son what his own grandmother was like, but it will be impossible.”

It’s that kind of movie, about a very unusual and quirky set of characters. It gives rise to a line in the film describing one of them: “How did you get to be this person that you are? You’re so unusual.”

I loved the movie and would highly recommend it. It comes out in Blu-Ray, DVD and digital HD on March 28th.

The 35 Best U.S. Films About Politics Ever Made

The 35 Greatest U.S. Political Films of All Time

By Connie Wilson

In preparing a list of “the greatest” of anything, you are limited by your own exposure to the films (i.e., ‘Did you see these movies?”) If you did see them, do you remember all of them?

Fortunately for those of you longing for a political fix that isn’t nauseating (but actually entertaining), I have personally seen every single movie on this list—some of them more than once.

I concentrated on the American political experience, not that of another country. For that reason, films like “Z” by Costa-Gravas, or his equally impressive “Missing” (Chile) or Helen Mirren’s“The Queen” were deleted, as they focus on the political process in other countries. Warren Beatty’s movie “Reds” would have qualified if we wanted to open the list to Mother Russia.

But my emphasis is on politics here in the good old United States of America. (Also known, recently, as the Divided States of America, but that’s a topic for another day.) Steve McQueen’s 2008 film “Hunger” about the Irish Republican Army prison inmates certainly deserves a place on a list of great political films, but not if we’re concentrating on America, American politicians, and American politics. Similarly “The King’s Speech” (2010) had to go. “V for Vendetta”(2005): out. “Metropolis” (1927): a classic, but not really a film about American politics.

And that brings me to another criteria for my list. The primary focus of the film had to be on politics or the political process or a political candidate. One other list I consulted while researching my list included “Children of Men” (2006) and “The Godfather: Part II”.

The second “Godfather” movie definitely brings politics into the plot. But let’s be honest about “The Godfather” films. They’re about the Mafia family the Corleones. They’re not purely about politics, except peripherally. When it seemed like it might be a good idea for the Corleone family to become involved in the political process, by hook or by crook, they were buying Senators, yes, and perhaps planning more, but the films do not scream POLITICS to me.

Nor was Coppola’s other masterpiece, “Apocalypse Now” a movie about politics (as one list would have had me believe). Yes, Martin Sheen is traveling up the river to find Kurtz (Marlon Brando), but don’t most of us think of “Apocalypse Now” as a war movie? I know I do; I was surprised to see it on lists of “greatest political films” and I was equally surprised to see Orson Welles’ 1941 masterpiece “Citizen Kane” or Gregory Peck’s turn as Atticus Finch in “To Kill A Mockingbird” listed as “political” movies.

Well, yes, there is politics involved in both,— if you really stretch the definition of what you want your list to represent. Were they really short of candidates when they made their list(s), because I had no problem at all listing 35 films that I guarantee you that you will find enjoyable, entertaining and informative. (No attempt to say, “THIS is the very best one.”)

I eliminated documentaries, such as Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” because it isn’t a feature film. A great documentary like the Oscar-nominated “The Look of Silence” about the Philippines therefore lost out on two counts: it’s a documentary AND it is not about the United States. There are any number of great Errol Morris documentaries (“The Fog of War,” “The Unknown Known”) that would have been included, if I included documentaries. But these are all feature films on this list, made about the U.S. and being recommended to you for future viewing.

For those of you still reeling from the election of 2016 who want to see a good movie that will both entertain and enlighten you and is about politics in the U.S. of A, this is the list for you!

I admit to having seen every single one of them, which demonstrates why I get so little real work done. After the thumbnail sketches of the films, I’ll list a few “oldies-but-goodies” that I admit woulda’/shoulda’/coulda’ made the list—if I had seen them. Or, in at least one case, if I remembered it, which, apparently, I do not, or I would have included it.

Most of those films pre-date my movie-going career, (which has been very, very long).

THE FILMS:

1949 & 2006: “All the King’s Men”
– Broderick Crawford won an Oscar for playing Huey Long in the original movie (and then moved on to television, where he had a long-running role on “Highway Patrol.”) Sean Penn took on the part again in 2006. I’ll take the original over the remake, especially for the scene featuring Huey’s violent death as he exits the Capitol building. The film was based on Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and here’s what IMDB says it is about: “The rise and fall of a corrupt politician, who makes his friends richer and retains power by dint of a populist appeal.” Amazing how these old movies retain their timeliness.

1962 & 2004: “The Manchurian Candidate” – For many years, this was my All-Time Favorite Flick. Laurence Harvey as the hit man who was brainwashed and is now the pawn of the evil Angela Lansbury (his mother) is magnificent, and Frank Sinatra is racing against the clock to prevent catastrophe in this plot that involves putting a Russian pawn in the White House. After the assassination of JFK, the film was withdrawn from release for many years, but re-emerged and the John Frankenheimer (“Black Sunday,” “Seven Days in May”) version was re-shot with Denzel Washington and Liev Schreiber in the title roles and the conflict updated to the Korean War. Direction in 2004 was by Jonathan Demme (“The Silence of the Lambs”). Both are good films, but I vote for the original 1962 version.

1962: “Advise and Consent” – Otto Preminger directed this film that starred Henry Fonda and Franchot Tone. The film was adapted from the Allan Drury novel that I once had to read for and with a young student from Chicago who was enrolled in a political science class at Augustana College and had been assigned to read the book for his class. The IMDB plot write-up: Senate investigation into the President’s newly nominated Secretary of State, gives light to a secret from the past, which may not only ruin the candidate, but the President’s character as well. (Nothing like this could ever happen in today’s world—right?)

1964: “Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” – Stanley Kubrick’s film with Peter Sellers in multiple roles is so good that I once cornered my entire family and made them watch it on Christmas Day. After all, what is more entertaining than the sight of Sellers’ facing off against Sterling Hayden and George C. Scott. I’ll never forget the scene where Sterling Hayden is ordered to machine gun a Coca Cola vending machine and Hayden defiantly says, “Well, all right, but you’ll have to answer to the Coca Cola Company,” or words to that effect. The plot (IMDB): An insane general triggers a path to nuclear holocaust that a war room full of politicians and generals frantically try to stop. Oh! THAT could never happen in real life, now, could it? Slim Pickens riding the bomb. This film cries out for viewing in today’s political climate.

1964: “Fail-Safe” – Henry Fonda steps up to the political plate once again, in a film directed by Sidney Lumet (“12 Angry Men,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Network”) that features a rogue attack on the U.S.S.R. (Remember the Cold War when Russia was our adversary and not our good friend?). The launch a mistake caused by an electrical malfunction and the question is: “Can we avoid an all-out nuclear war?”

1964: “Seven Days in May” – John Frankenheimer directed the original film that starred Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Fredric March, Ava Gardner and Martin Balsam about a plot against the President of the United States by military leaders because the president supports a nuclear disarmament treaty and the military fears a Russian sneak nuclear attack. Nominated for 2 Oscars.

1972: “The Candidate” – I still have a political button that says “Bill McKay: A Better Way.” The theater gave them out to advertise this Robert Redford starring movie about a candidate running for the Senate in California and his handlers. Real Senators Alan Cranston, Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern had cameos. Howard K. Smith of ABC News played himself. I always felt that this treatment of the run for office was probably more accurate than most.

1974: “The Parallax View” – An ambitious reporter played by Warren Beatty gets in way-over-his-head trouble while investigating a senator’s assassination. Everyone who knew anything about the Senator’s death seems to be dying. He discovers a vast conspiracy involving a multinational corporation behind every event in the world’s headlines. Directed by Alan J. Pakula (“The Pelican Brief”) and co-starring Paula Prentiss.

1975: “Three Days of the Condor” – A bookish CIA researcher (Robert Redford) finds all his co-workers dead. (You never know what you’ll find your co-workers up to when you return from a coffee run). He must outwit those responsible and figure out whom he can trust. Directed by Sydney Pollack, Robert Redford’s kidnapping of Faye Dunaway (he needs a place to hide out while he figures things out) leads to some moody cinematography of her photography and, ultimately, to the salvation that releasing facts to the media (i.e., the “New York Times”) used to mean. Ah, for those good old simpler days.

1976: “All the President’s Men” – Starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as Woodward and Bernstein of the Washington Post, the two uncover the details of the Watergate scandal (primarily from informant “Deep Throat” played by Hal Holbrook) that leads to President Richard Nixon’s resignation from office. Again directed by Alan J. Pakula, based on Bernstein and Woodward’s books. I showed this to a class at Eastern Iowa Community College to illustrate “whistle-blower” films, and the credits are of an old manual typewriter banging out the information, so its credit opening seems very dated.

1979: “Being There”
– The great Peter Sellers plays Chance, the gardener, and Shirley MacLaine co-stars. I’ll never forget Chance saying, “I just like to watch.” Jerzy Kosinski wrote the novel on which the plot is based and also wrote the screenplay for the film, which was directed by Hal Ashby (“Harold & Maude,” “The Last Detail”). A poor simple gardener becomes an unlikely trusted advisor to a powerful businessman and an insider in Washington politics (These days, that phrase is redundant). Is Chance really dumb, or is he crazy like a fox? Melvyn Douglas won the Oscar as Best Supporting Actor, but the film also had another 13 wins and 15 nominations for a variety of film critics’ awards that year.

1981: “First Monday in October” – This film starring Jill Clayburgh and Walter Matthau was about the appointment of the first woman to the Supreme Court. Jerome Lawrence wrote the play and the screenplay and Ronald Neame directed. Clayburgh is the Conservative (think Scalia) and Matthau is the liberal (think Ruth Bader-Ginsberg). It eventually leads to a romance not unlike that of the Ragin’ Cajun of the Democratic party, James Carville, and his Republican wife Mary Matlin—[before she bolted from the GOP, anyway].

1992: “Bob Roberts” – Tim Robbins wrote it. Tim Robbins directed it. Tim Robbins starred in it. Here’s the IMDB plot summary: “A right-wing folk singer becomes a corrupt politician and runs a crooked election campaign. Only one independent muck-raking reporter is trying to stop him.”

1993: “The Pelican Brief”
– Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts are on the trail of who murdered a Supreme Court Justice of the United States and why. Based on the John Grisham best-selling novel. Alan J. Pakula (“All the President’s Men,” “The Parallax View”) wrote the screenplay and directed.

1995: “The American President” – Aaron Sorkin wrote it, Rob Reiner directed it, and Michael Douglas and Annette Benning play the widowed President, who falls in love with a lobbyist. I actually knew the guy who made sure the dye in the carpet was the same as the real Oval Office. (He also dyed the Trump baby’s layette for a photo shoot for “Vanity Fair”, but that “baby” our current president’s second daughter, with Marla Maples, is now the young Tiffany Trump.)
1997 : « Conspiracy Theory » – Mel Gibson & Julia Roberts. A man obsessed with conspiracy theories becomes a target after one of his theories turns out to be true. Unfortunately, in order to save himself, Mel has to figure out which theory it is. Directed by Richard Donner (“Lethal Weapon”).

1997 – “Wag the Dog” – Shortly before an election, a spin-doctor (Robert DeNiro) and a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) join efforts to fabricate a war in order to cover up a presidential sex scandal. Directed by Barry Levinson (“Diner”) and co-starring Anne Heche. My favorite scene involved a young girl clutching a bag of potato chips to simulate a baby, which would be “green screened” into a touching war scenario that would distract from the REAL scandal. The movie is a hoot and a half and rings even truer today!


1998: “Primary Colors”
– A man joins the political campaign of a smooth-operator candidate for president of the USA, played by John Travolta and loosely modeled on Bill Clinton’s charisma. Directed by the late great Mike Nichols, who joins Alan J. Pakula in heaven as one of the best directors of a political movie since 1970. Based on the Joe Klein novel that hit New York Times best-seller lists as written by “anonymous.”

1991: “JFK” – Oliver Stone directed from a script that he and Zachary Sklar co-wrote. The bio-pic explores the assassination theories that New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison believed to be true. Too many courtroom scenes, but a decent bio-pic about the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, starring Gary Oldman as Lee Harvey Oswald, Brian Doyle Murray as Jack Ruby, Sissy Spacek, Kevin Costner (as Garrison), Tommy Lee Jones, John Candy, Jack Lemmon, Ed Asner, Vincent D’Onofrio, Wayne Knight and Michael Rooker among a very large cast.

1992: “Malcolm X” – Spike Lee directed from the book “Malcolm X” by Alex Haley (“Roots”). Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett and Delroy Lindo starred in this bio-pic about the Black Muslim leader who was assassinated in New York at the age of 39 on Feb. 21, 1965.

1995: “Nixon” – Anthony Hopkins, Joan Allen and Powers Boothe headed up the cast of this Oliver Stone bio-pic. I have to admit that I thought Hopkins was the wrong physical type to play Nixon, but he did his usual great job. Film was nominated for 4 Oscars. It got nominations for its screenplay, its original music, and both Allen and Hopkins were nominated, but did not win.

1998: “Bulworth” – Warren Beatty wrote this, starred in it, and directed it, with Halle Berry as his co-star. Bulworth is a liberal politician, Senator Jay Billington Bullworth, who is so suicidally disillusioned that he puts a hit out on himself. At that point, he feels that he can now be completely honest with his constituents. I did not like this movie as well as most of the others on the list, which was because the plot had Bulworth embracing hip hop music and culture as he waits to die. But it’s a Warren Beatty film and deserves to be on the list as an examination of to what lengths (or depths) politics can drive a candidate.

1999: “Election” – A very young (and obnoxious) Reese Witherspoon is Little Miss Goody Two Shoes in teacher Matthew Broderick’s classroom. A compulsive over-achiever, Broderick’s life becomes very complicated (and the film becomes very hilarious) when the campaign and run for Class President comes down to a vote or two against opponent Chris Klein (“American Pie”). I loved this movie and laughed out loud; it didn’t hurt any that the inexpensive film used the Midwest chain Younkers in the background of some shots, because you’re not going to see THAT every day! (Founded in 1856 in Keokuk, Iowa, Younkers stores only exist in 50 Midwestern locations.)

2000: “The Contender” – Joan Allen strikes again, this time as a Vice Presidential contender named Laine Hanson. Information and DISinformation threatens to derail her confirmation. What a cast! In addition to Allen, the co-stars include Gary Oldman, Christian Slater, Jeff Bridges, Sam Elliott and William Peterson. (I met Joan Allen at the Chicago International Film Festival a few years back, when she was being honored as a local girl made good. She is a Rochelle, Illinois native who attended both Eastern Illinois University and Northern Illinois University, my husband’s alma mater).

2005: “Good Night & Good Luck” – George Clooney wrote, directed and was one of the stars of this film about Edward R. Murrow’s attempts to bring down Senator Joseph McCarthy. Clooney admitted it was a passion project for him. David Straithorne played Murrow, with Jeff Daniels, Patricia Clarkson, Frank Langella, Matt Ross and Robert Downey, Jr., also in the cast. Nominated for 6 Academy Awards.

2007: “Charlie Wilson’s War” – Tom Hanks portrayed Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson, who attempted to covertly supply Afghan rebels with the weapons to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. The film’s tag-line was: “Based on a true story. You think we could make all this up?” Co-stars were Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman (again), and Amy Adams from a script written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Mike Nichols.

2008: “Frost/Nixon” – Ron Howard directed Frank Langella (Nixon) and Martin Sheen (Frost) in this film adaptation of the Broadway play that detailed the information that Nixon finally admitted during David Frost’s interviews of him on national television. It was essentially a two-man play, but the movie also featured such name actors as Kevin Bacon, Toby Jones, Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt and the director’s brother, Clint Howard.

2008: “Milk” – Sean Penn beat out Mickey Rourke this year (in “The Wrestler”) to take home the Oscar for Best Actor in this drama about California’s first openly gay elected official. Emile Hirsch and Josh Brolin (as the shooter) star in this Gus Van Sant project.

2008: “W” – Josh Brolin portrayed George W. Bush in Oliver Stone’s bio-pic, with Thandie Newton as Condoleeza Rice, Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney and Scott Glenn as Donald Rumsfeld. Toby Jones portrayed Karl Rove, Jeffrey Wright played Colin Powell, Ellen Burstyn was Barbara Bush and Colin Hanks played a speechwriter.

2011: “The Ides of March” – Ryan Gosling portrays an idealistic staffer for a candidate who learns more than he wants to about dirty politics. The play on which the film was based was written by a former Howard Dean staffer, Beau Willimon, who now helps helm Kevin Spacey’s “House of Cards” TV series. George Clooney, who directed and co-wrote, also played Governor Mike Morris. Others in the cast included Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood (“Westworld on television now), Marisa Tomei and Jeffrey Wright.

2012: “Game Change” – Jay Roach directed from the book of the same name, in a film about Sarah Palin’s ascendancy to the vice presidential slot on John McCain’s ’08 presidential bid. The film starred Julianne Moore (as Palin), Woody Harrelson, and Ed Harris as John McCain. (These were “the olden days” when we thought Sarah Palin was the worst know-nothing candidate one could put on a presidential ticket.)

2012: “Argo” – Ben Affleck both directed and starred (along with Bryan Cranston and John Goodman) in this film based on Tony Mendez’ book “The Master of Disguise.” The book detailed how a team posing as filmmakers scouting a location for a sci-fi movie rescued 6 of the Iranian hostages in 1980. Won 3 Oscars, including Best Picture of the Year.

2012: “Lincoln” – Based on the Doris Kearns Goodwin book, Stephen Spielberg cast Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and he won the Oscar this year as Best Actor for the bio-pic about Lincoln’s trials and tribulations as the Civil War raged. The film was also nominated as Best Picture. Co-stars were Sally Field (as Mary Todd Lincoln), David Straitharn (again), Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Tommy Lee Jones, Jackie Earle-Haley, Hal Holbrook and John Hawkes.

2012: “Zero Dark Thirty” – Kathryn Bigelow helmed this story of the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by Navy S.E.A.L. Team Six in May of 2011. The film starred Jessica Chastain, Chris Pratt, Joel Edgerton and Kyle Chandler. It won one Oscar.

2014: “Selma” – Ava DuVernay directed from a script by Paul Webb. The film documents the Martin Luther King civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965. David Oyelowe played Martin Luther King, and would later make his mark again in “Twelve Years A Slave.” Carmen Ejogo portrayed Coretta Scott King. Won one Oscar.

I’d just like to add that 1964’s “The Best Man,” as well as 1939’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and 1957’s “A Face in the Crowd” would have made the list if I had a better memory. I know I saw them, but they are lost in the mists of memory, while I do remember all others on this list. Also, haven’t seen “Snowdon” (Oliver Snow) and perhaps “Dave” with Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver could make the list, but I was trying for films with the stature of “Argo” and “Lincoln,” so some (like “War Games”) were intentionally omitted.

Enjoy!

M. Night Shymalan Returns in Great Form with “Split”

Genre: Horror, Thriller
Running time: 157 minutes
Stars: James Mcavoy, Anya Taylor-Joy
Review: Connie Wilson (www.ConnieCWilson.com)

M. Night Shymalan burst onto the scene in 1999 with the blockbuster “The Sixth Sense” and followed that up with “Unbreakable” in 2000.

Then some not-so-hot movies began.

Recently, he was responsible for executive producing the television series “Wayward Pines,” but loser films like 2006’s “Lady in the Water” or “The Village: caused some of us to stop waiting for the next big M. Night Shymalan film.

Those days are over and it’s a pleasure to welcome this Philadelphia-born Spielberg admirer back to the fold.

THE GOOD:

“Split” opened on Friday (Inauguration Day) with twice the numbers of “xXs: Return of Xander Cage” at $34 million. With 3,038 screens showing the film on Friday, January 20th, it netted $14.6 million. The film’s budget was under $10 million. “Split” premiered at Fantastic Fest on September 26, 2016.

James McAvoy does an outstanding job portraying a man with 24 distinct personalities, some of them female. His severe case of disassociative identity disorder (D.I.D.), i.e., multiple personalities represents the sort of acting tour de force that won Jo Anne Woodward an Oscar for “The Three Faces of Eve”in 1957. Sally Field also took a crack at playing a woman with multiple personality disorder in the television mini-series “Sybil” in 1976.

Within Kevin Wendell Crumb dwell 24 distinct personalities, including a 9-year-old boy named Hedwig, a stern dowager named Priscilla, a take-charge type called Dennis, and 21 others. To fluidly change from one character to another so convincingly was quite the challenge, and McAvoy more than met that challenge. As writer/director M. Night Shymalan told Joseph Hernandez in an exclusive interview, “So, on a particular day, we just had him (McAvoy) play Dennis, and then the next day Patricia, and tried to keep the characters he’s playing as separate as possible so that he was emotionally clear where he was.”

Veteran character actress Betty Buckley plays the friendly and sympathetic psychiatrist, Dr. Karen Fletcher, who attempts to help the troubled Kevin. The other major part of female captive Casey Cooke is played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who is nominated for the Rising Star Award by BAFTA (2017) and was nominated as Breakthrough Artist Award by the Austin Film Critics Association for “The Witch: A New England Folktale” (2015).

Taylor-Joy plays one of three girls who are kidnapped following a birthday party they were attending. They are taken to an underground location where they are held prisoner. The girls are not really close friends; in fact, one of them (Taylor-Joy) is a bit of an outcast, herself, due to childhood trauma, and one of my reservations about the film’s denouement concerns what, if anything, the kidnapping experience will lead to for young Casey. While imprisoned, the trio tries to determine why this strange individual has taken them and, also, attempts to figure out a way to escape.

The tension mounts as the three girls (Haley Lu Richardson of “The Edge of 17” and Jessica Sula portray the other two) try to agree on an escape plot. We see frequent flashbacks to Cassie’s childhood training in guns and hunting with the comment, “The thrill is whether you can or cannot outsmart this animal.” Young Casey is played as a five-year-old child in the flashbacks (that Shymalan has often employed) by talented newcomer Izzie Coffey. Never under-estimate Shymalan’s eye for childhood talent, also on display in “The Sixth Sense.”

The Cinematography is outstanding.
Michael Giouilaki, who helmed “It Follows,” has interesting shots of beautiful staircases and, in one scene late in the film, the stark silhouette of a parking meter. All are highly effective. The maintenance area/ basement of the Philadelphia Zoo setting adds to the film’s overall creepiness.

The music, this time, is not by James Newton Howard, but provided by West Dylan Thordson, who does a great job with pounding sounds that create mounting tension.

The crawling on the ceiling effect harken back to Japanese films; the technique has been used sparingly in other horror offerings.

The dialogue in the film presents us with this thought: “Have these individuals unlocked the potential of the brain? Is this where our sense of the supernatural comes from?” Dr. Fletcher in the film (Betty Buckley) offers the information that “They are what they believe they are. The brain has convinced them.” From there, she presents case studies of multiple personalities where one identity has high cholesterol, but another does not, or situations where the I.Q. of multiple personalities differs. Hedwig, the child in this film, is diabetic, but the others are not. The plot also says, “You protect the broken. They represent potential.”

Lured by the ads that show the 9-year-old identity, Hedwig, saying, “He’s done awful things to others and he’ll do awful things to you!” audiences flocked to see “Split” opening night. We were not disappointed.

THE BAD

My complaints about the film are few and far-between. I had questions about the plot’s resolution but listing them here would qualify as spoiler material, so I will not share any specifics.

Suffice it to say that this is one extremely fast-paced, action-packed film that will keep your interest from start to finish and a welcome return to form for M. Night Shymalan. (*Look for him playing the part of Jai, the computer geek.)

Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking” to Show

I read that HBO was going to re-show Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking” one-woman show on Sunday.

I cannot testify that this is true, but, if you were a fan, as I was, you might want to check it out and see if this information turns out to be accurate.

I know there is a heartbreaking scene in the documentary I saw that shows her with her father just days before he died. (Eddie Fisher died 10 days after having knee surgery). That scene was used in “Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher,” although Director Fisher Stevens said she was at first reluctant to have it included and ran from the room when it was shown in rough draft form.

I know I will be checking to see if, indeed, this one-woman show based on her book is showing this Sunday, or any time in the forseeable future. The networks are still trying to decide when to air “Bright Lights.” (I was checking on that, as well, and that’s all I could find, other than testimony from Director Fisher Stevens and his co-director wife about how shocked they were that both Debbie and Carrie are now gone, so soon after this project.)

New Film “Claire in Motion” Echoes “Gone Girl”

You will recognize Betsy Brandt in the film “Claire in Motion” immediately if you ever were a fan of “Breaking Bad” or are now a fan of “Life in Pieces.” In “Breaking Bad” she played Walter White’s sister-in-law, Marie—the one married to the FBI agent. In “Life in Pieces” she is Heather, the wife married to the goofy doctor.

In “Claire in Motion,” she portrays Claire Hunger, the college professor wife of Professor Paul Hunger, who teaches ornithology at Ohio State University. Paul has been taking off and walking into the woods on survivalist missions that seem risky, at best, where he lives off the land and disappears for 4 or 5 days at a time. When the film opens, he is leaving on one such adventure and is saying good-bye to his sleeping wife.

She urges him to “be careful” and, after responding that he will “see you in a few days” he says, “You know me.” Discordant music is heard in the background as the film opens, which reminded me of nothing so much as a band or orchestra tuning up. (The original music was by Xander Duell, who was born Alexander McMahon and is the founding member of the 5-piece band Inouk).

THE GOOD

Betsy Brandt is a fine actress, and the other performers match her scene for scene. The subsequent search for her missing husband which leads her to uncover a world of secrets, is a promising premise for a film. After all, “Gone Girl” took the idea of the missing wife and ran with it quite successfully, but “Gone Girl” had an innovative twist-y plot with that (hard-to-achieve) surprise ending.

Brandt is terrific in her role.

In this film, three weeks after Claire’s husband Paul (Chris Beetem, “Black Hawk Down”) has disappeared, others have given up on the search, but Claire has not. Claire is still learning new things about the man she thought she knew well. There is a graduate student in art, Allison Lorn (Anna Margaret Hollyman) who may or may not have had an affair with the professor.

For sure, Allison shocks wife Claire with the existence of art work(s) that her now-missing husband was working on when he disappeared. To say Paul was a “closet artiste” is putting it mildly. [Judging from the artwork used in the film to represent Paul’s efforts (which resembled my Christmas tree lights, inextricably bound up in a giant mess adorned with feathers and rope) keeping his art in the closet was probably a good idea].

But keeping her attention focused elsewhere and not being present in the now for her spouse may have been Claire’s fatal flaw in what seemed a happy marriage, complete with a young son, Connor. Several times we see the same piece of home movie film replayed, in which an obviously preoccupied Claire is asked to “look at me” by her husband, the cameraman. Claire responds, in an annoyed fashion, “I’m looking at you.” Paul retorts, “No, you’re not. Not really.”

Co-writers/directors Lisa Robinson and Annie J. Howell said, “With this film, we were interested in telling a story about something that’s been lost—both physically and spiritually. It was intriguing to give Claire a life crisis that leads to a bigger mystery, one that unravels her perception of all she thought she knew to be true. We wanted this experience to be closely observed and to bring intimacy to every element of the film: the acting, the landscapes, and especially the camerawork (which is quite good and courtesy of Andreas Burgess).”

The writer/directors went on to say: “Claire’s quest to understand her shifting world after a crisis is a metaphor for more universal questions. How do we keep changing throughout our lives?…Can we ever really know anyone? These were the ideas we explored through the writing and directing of Claire in Motion.”

THE BAD

I write fiction—both novels and short stories—and have for decades. Writing a kick-ass ending, long or short, is hard. Every time you step up to the plate, you don’t hit a home run. Sometimes, you are grateful just to score a single or a double. You don’t want to have to bunt or—worse yet— to strike out. Ideally, you’ll be able to hit that story finale out of the park every single time.

Halfway through “Claire in Motion” I said to my spouse, “This is really good. I’m liking everything so far: the acting, the cinematography, the music, the setting, the plot. I just hope we’re not going to have one of those Sopranos/Nocturnal Animals moments at the end, where, story-wise, we’re left high and dry.”

There’s enough good content in the first hour of this film to justify a thumbs up and pronounce it a triple (acting/cinematography/theme). I just hope the talented filmmakers keep swinging for the cheap seats when scripting. Because movie-goers (or readers) always seem to crave a denouement that knocks their socks off (or, at least, ties things up neatly at the end). Maybe that’s just what I’ve experienced, but, if you agree, keep this reservation in mind when viewing “Claire in Motion.”

“Blood on the Mountain” Documentary Recaps Plight of West Virginia Coal Miners

Genre: feature-length documentary
Length: 90 minutes
Director: Mari-Lynn Evans and Jordan Freeman
Producers: Deborah Wallace, Mari-Lynn Evans and Jordan Freeman
Release date: November 18, 2016 from Abramorama
Reviewed by: Connie Wilson

The opening scenes from the impressive documentary “Blood on the Mountain” show the beautiful forested hills of Appalachian coal country from the air. West Virginia, second in the nation in coal production (and second poorest state in the nation), looks beautiful from hundreds of feet overhead.

And then we go to ground and reality rears its ugly head.

A litany of mining disasters is listed: Hawks Nest, West Virginia: 764 African-Americans in unmarked graves with 10 to 14 dying in the mine(s) daily.

The conflict at Blair Mountain.
Buffalo Creek (125 killed, 4,000 homeless, engulfed 17 towns with coal slurry).
Brushy Fork Slurry: 9 billion gallons of coal slurry released to bury nearby towns.
52 dead under Donald Blankenship’s Massey Energy.
Sago Mine Explosion, Jan. 2, 2006.
Aracoma Mountain Fire, in 2000, 2 dead.
Upper Big Branch Explosion, April, 2005, in the #9 mine. Seventy-nine went in; 50 came out—“the worst explosion since 1984”—29 dead.

And yet Don Blankenship’s (Massey CEO) e-mail, read into the Congressional record during the post-disaster investigation, said: “You need to ignore them (federal rules and regulations) and run coal.”

Anyone who wants to know what a mine that is trying to evade regulatory efforts might resemble need only take in Antonio Banderas’ 2015 film “The 33” about gold and copper miners trapped underground in Chile for 69 days before rescue (Banderas played Mario Sepulveda, the group’s leader). The precious metal may be different, but the methods to avoid ensuring the health and safety of the mine workers comes very close to coal mining in 2016. Any time a federal regulator was on the way to make an inspection, the word was put out; efforts were made to avoid detection/correction of any infractions of rules put in place to safeguard the health and safety of the workers.

THE GOOD:

Blood on the Mountain starts with a brief history of the rise of coal at the end of the 19th centur
y. Because of the abuse of workers, unions began to form to fight for the rights of the working man. (Sylvester Stallone’s 1978 film “F.I.S.T.”, for which I attended the World Premiere, was about the fight to unionize in the face of brutal opposition from management). A voice onscreen says, “That’s how we got the New Deal.” FDR in a Fireside Chat is shown telling the nation that government should “seek the primary good of the greater number.” Between 1935 and 1938 Roosevelt championed the New Labor Act and the Fair Labor Act and progress was made.

But the demand for coal as a cheap energy source peaked in the 1920’s and there are only 500 mines left in the United States today.

Of that number, those in Wyoming are far and away the biggest producers of coal (4x more than West Virginia), but West Virginia, long associated with coal mining, is second. It is also the second poorest state in the Union.

Once the heady days of the passage of Fair Labor Acts were past, Homer Adam Holt, Governor of West Virginia in 1939, tried to amend educational literature in the schools to make it more to his liking. Changing history by writing it to the Governor’s liking was recommended by those in power this way, “It is better to have a mediocre book than to antagonize the Governor.” Corrupt governors abounded before and after Holt.

The comment, prescient and predictive today, is made that “industrialists have been able to get by with whatever they want” and, as the documentary attests, “there were a continuous stream of accidents and treatment of others as less important” by those in power.
(*Recent Reference: “Deep Horizon” Mark Wahlberg film about the BP catastrophe in the Gulf.)

Corruption of the officials in West Virginia was a given. Between 1984 and 1991, under Governor James Manchen, more than 75 state officials went to jail. While this does not seem unique to West Virginia (witness Illinois and Louisiana officials, for openers), Davitt McAteer, head of mine safety and featured as a talking head in this documentary, does lay out their repeated attempts to break up unions, beginning in 1984.

The miners, for their part, are quoted in Blood on the Mountain this way: “You have a kid to feed. Do your job.” McAteer says, “A proud heritage came to a crashing end in the 1980s,” referencing the UMWA (United Mine Workers Association) looking out for the health, pensions and safety of its members. As a former worker said, “Production was the name of the game at all costs…We had to produce to keep our jobs.”

Cecil Roberts (a mine worker) refers to “the power of intimidation” and talks about one mine administrator with a wife with cystic fibrosis whose medication cost $5,000 per month. Threaten that mine worker with loss of his position if he does not do your bidding. If someone tried to stand up to then-president of the UMWA, Tony Boyle, as Jock Yablonski did in 1969, that individual risked his life. Murder was used as a tool. Wikipedia entry: Joseph Albert “Jock” Yablonski (March 3, 1910 – December 31, 1969) was an American labor leader in the United Mine Workers in the 1950s and 1960s. He was murdered in 1969 by killers hired by a union political opponent, Mine Workers president Tony Boyle.”

Therefore, the number of mine workers steadily declined from a high of 500,000 to, currently, 80,000—and all but 14,000 of those members are retired. It is obvious that, like Social Security where those taking out money are outnumbering those paying in money, the funds to support miners in their retirement or ill health are drying up, while, simultaneously, the demand for coal (and coal miners) is declining.

While President Obama’s regulations against coal are used to urge coal miners to vote for the opposition, the reality is that such EPA regulations began under Republican President George W. Bush. The reasons for the precipitous decline in jobs in West Virginia mining coal are many and varied and blaming “tree huggers” just won’t fly in the face of facts.

Mechanization and automation has idled thousands. “Appalachia is a shell of its former self…Parents are telling their children to go.” No less an authority than Jay Rockefeller is seen telling his audience, “It’s a disservice to coal miners and their families to pretend that things can be as they were.” Coal is a finite mineral and mining has been going on since the 1800s. Is it any wonder that now you have to go deeper and deeper into the ground to mine? Instead of even trying, mines have resorted to simply blowing off the tops of the mountains using explosives, which damages the environment and the topography of the state.

Despite the fighting words “Coal IS West Virginia,” coal mining is a dying industry. 80% of coal mines are owned by out-of-state corporations. Mines have destroyed 352,000 lush forested acres using explosives as of 2009. Wendell Berry is heard to say, “The global economy is built on the principle that one place can be destroyed for the benefit of another.” [What comes to mind is the Brazilian rain forest and attempts to save it, or the Arctic and attempts to ban drilling beneath the polar ice caps.]

In addition to silicosis (“black lung disease”) which has made the average miner’s life expectancy only 42 years of age, in Charleston, West Virginia, “They poisoned people’s water and commerce goes on.” The chemical MCHM used by Freedom Industries to process coal caused a Flint, Michigan, water situation (for different reasons) where water could not be consumed, used for washing, or considered safe in any way. Dr. Rahul Gupta, a medical director, is shown speaking to that issue, and Chris Hedges, an author, says, “They tried to make it appear to be an anomaly.” Nine counties were affected and a state of emergency was declared. Bottled water had to be delivered to anyone living in those nine counties.

Immediately thereafter, on January 17, 2014, Freedom Industries declared bankruptcy.

The declaring of bankruptcy is a common ploy used by unscrupulous coal companies to avoid having to pay reparations or retirement sums due or health care promised to workers when they began in the mines. It’s a bit like the plot of “The Producers” (i.e., Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel plan for a play to fail so they can use it as a tax write-off) where a mine is set up to fail and then bankruptcy can be declared, relieving the unscrupulous mining company of any obligations to the men who risked their lives underground mining the coal. Seven thousand coal mining jobs have been lost in West Virginia since 2011. In 2015, over 11,000 coal miners lost their jobs, according to “The Hill.”

“The Hill” goes on to attempt to blame the loss of coal mining jobs on federal regulations, but the truth is much more complicated.

To wit:

1) China is trying to clean up its pollution problem, so the Asian demand for coal from places like West Virginia did not measure up to expectations.
2) Clean, renewable energy sources are cutting into the concept of coal as king. Natural gas, for one, is cheaper and the head of Exxon is all for using natural gas rather than coal for power. In fact, the day the Paris Climate Control Pact took effect, the head of Exxon announced his support for the climate initiatives the Paris act endorsed, which included cutting back on coal to eliminate pollution and global warming.
3) Although Donald Trump hates wind turbines because they clutter his Scottish golf course view and kill birds, Obama supported wind and solar efforts, and, even in the coal state of Illinois where I live (Illinois is 5th in coal production), the nuclear power plant in Cordova (IL) recently received a death sentence reprieve from Republican Governor Bruce Rauner which is good for the next decade, despite consistently losing money operating it.
4) If the demand for coal were still high, eastern states have cleaner coal and it is easier to get Eastern coal to market.
5) Australia also is capable of producing coal for export.
6) Mechanization and automation, mentioned previously, have cut into the need for coal miners.
7) Changes in how coal is extracted from the ground also reduces the demand for coal miners.

THE BAD

Blood on the Mountain is a documentary with a point of view and those who do not accept climate change and global warming as fact will dispute its point-of-view. It also did not address the life-and-death struggle in the halls of Congress ongoing in December of 2016 to help save miners’ pensions and retirement benefits, gutted by unscrupulous companies who do not believe that promises should be honored. There is footage of a UMWA rally in September in Washington, D.C. regarding Senate Bill #1714, the Miners’ Protection Act.

After a huge coal miners’ strike in 1946, Harry Truman nationalized the mines and, in order to end the strike, hammered out a deal with UMWA President John Lewis and Interior Secretary Julius Krug that would guarantee coal miners certain benefits, like pensions and health care. That, to the miners and the UMWA, is the promise made that should be kept, but there are those who argue that the promise was not forever and not the government’s responsibility.

If you accept the premise that coal mining is a dinosaur industry that is dying a slow, tortuous death, quotes like this one from Jeremy Nichols, spokesman and director of climate and energy for Wild Earth Guardians are incendiary. When asked about the plight of coal miners in West Virginia (and elsewhere) Nichols said, “My initial response is tough shit…Keep it in the ground.” There is an obvious disconnect between the blue collar miners and the college-educated environmentalists who they see as a threat to their livelihood—even though the threats are far more wide-ranging.

The Wild Earth Guardians brought a suit in 2013 that threatened to shut down Colowyo and Trapper mines in Colorado, saying that the environment was “inadequately protected under the National Environmental Policy Act.” The mines were sued by the United States Office of Surface Mining.

Headlines in primarily Republican organs (“The Hill” was one) read: “Happy Birthday Clean Power Plan, Thanks for the Job Losses and Billions in Costs.” Another read: “Clean Power Plan: All Pain, No Gain for West Virginia” (The Hill). The same source made the dire prediction of 24,000 coal mining jobs displaced by the year 2020 blaming it all on EPA regulations and cited rising cost for electricity if coal were cut out of the power equation.

But the truth is that MANY factors play into the fall of coal as a power player. It is NOT just EPA guidelines that have put coal miners in the position of losing their pensions and their health care by Dec. 31, 2016.

The UMWA pension system is irreparably broken. No union members to pay in; no union money to pay out. “The looming insolvency is due to the precipitous drop in demand for coal in recent years…” say the experts. Union busting mine owners helped destroy the organization that had fought for workers at the turn of the century, and that began in earnest in 1984.

TODAY:

December 5, 2016:
Senate Democrats staged a last-ditch attempt to pass a stop-gap measure for miners who face the loss of their pensions and health care NOW (i.e., Dec. 31, 2016). Senate Bill #1714, the Miners Protection Act, was co-sponsored by Virginia senator Tim Kaine and it passed out of committee 18 to 8, with 8 Republican Senators voting with the Democrats to take millions earmarked for the cleaning up of abandoned mines and put it into a fund for displaced and retiring mine workers. Republicans who crossed party lines to vote for the bill included Orrin Hatch (R, Utah), Mike Crapo (R, Idaho), Pat Roberts (R, Kansas), Richard Burr (R, NC), Rob Portman (R, Ohio) and Pat Toomey (R, PA). Saying “Congress, in my view, has an obligation to the Miners Protection Act” this group tried to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote. But House Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has no love for the UMWA or President Obama, refused to allow a vote. (*Note: McConnell’s wife was just named Secretary of Transportation.)

Meanwhile, a variety of mining companies (Peabody, Freedom, Alpha Natural Resources) continue to file for bankruptcy and the courts have relieved the bankrupt companies of their obligation to pay retiree benefits. All of this hits home here in the Rust Belt when I think of the waning days of International Harvester, which went under and took many pensions with it.

Let’s also not forget how we all suffered financially in 2008 when the economy nearly collapsed and was rescued only in the nick of time by the stewardship of the incoming administration. Pension funds—like all of ours—took a hit then, too.

He’s not in Blood on the Mountain, but Joe Stowers, age 72, from DuQuoin, Illinois, a retired miner who worked 28 years, is thinking of coming out of retirement to try to find a job because, as many who were interviewed for “Blood on the Mountain” said, “I thought my tomorrow was safe. Apparently, it’s an entirely different story.” As of October 5th in a letter sent to 12,500 union members, Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Patriot Coal, have all told their union employees that their health care coverage will be lost on December 31, 2016 unless Congress acts. Following on the heels of those three companies are Walter Energy and Alpha National Resources, who have sent out letters announcing similar losses to miners in March and July of 2017.

In a December 9, 2016 article in Mother Jones, Katie Herzog wrote: “President elect Trump campaigned on bringing back those same coal miners’ jobs, through sorcery, perhaps. Someone is working to help miners, but it ain’t Trump—or many Republicans, for that matter.”

One coal miner quoted in this truly grim-but-important film says, “We’re like lepers. Put us in a colony and let us die off. We’re not losing it (the land); we’re sacrificing it for the good of mankind and we’re sick of it.”

About Connie Wilson

Connie (Corcoran) Wilson (www.ConnieCWilson.com ) was the Quad City Times film and book critic for 15 years and has continued reviewing film uninterruptedly since 1970. She also publishes books (31 at last count) in a variety of genres (www.quadcitieslearning.com), has taught writing or literature classes at 6 Iowa/Illinois colleges or universities as adjunct faculty, was Yahoo’s Content Producer of the Year 2008 for Politics, is the author of It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now, and writes on a variety of topics at her own blog, www.WeeklyWilson.com.

Carrie Fisher Dies at 60: “Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds & Carrie Fisher” Gives Us Her Story

With the sad news that actress Carrie Fisher has died at age 60, I am posting this review of the documentary about her life, “Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher” again, in memorium. i inserted an Oprah interview with the two that is well worth watching. I hope Carrie finds the peace in death that she sought so desperately in life, seemingly finding it belatedly if at all.

Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie … – The Movie Blog
www.themovieblog.com/2016/bright-lights-starring-debbie-reynolds-and-carrie-fishe

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