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).

Category: Pop Culture (Page 2 of 32)

World Premiere of “Life” with Jake Gyllenhaal & Ryan Reynolds Closes SXSW in Austin, TX on March 18, 2017

Genre: Science Fiction Thriller
Length: 103 minutes
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihvichnaya
Reviewer: Connie Wilson

Sony’s new sci-fi film (being heavily advertised on television recently), “Life,” with Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal headlining a cast from all over the globe closed the SXSW Film Festival in Austin Saturday night at the Zach Theater. Director Daniel Espinosa, who will celebrate his 40th birthday on March 23rd, typifies the international aura: he was born in Sweden of Chilean parents and attended the National Film School of Denmark. [His 2010 film “Easy Money” was Sweden’s biggest box office success that year.]

The rest of the cast supporting Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal in this Alien-esque film about a deadly monster that gets loose aboard the International Space Station while the crew is conducting the Mars Pilgrim Space Mission are accomplished actors whose very names scream “international”: Rebecca Ferguson as Miranda North (Swedish and raised in Britain); Olga Dinvichnaya as Katerina Golovkina (Russian); Ariyon Bakare as Hugh Derry (British); and Hiroyuki Sanada as Sho Kendo (Japanese).

If you’ve seen the trailer on television, you know that Hugh Derry, the science expert aboard the ship (Ariyon Bakare), should never have poked his gloved finger into the new organism the crew has discovered and is bringing back from Mars. As Ryan Reynolds’ character, Rory Adams, says: “You’re playing around with that thing like it’s your buddy. It’s not your buddy. I’m your buddy.”

Derry, who (in the plot) is partially paralyzed since childhood, thinks that perhaps the organism, named Calvin (through a national competition amongst elementary school children), will yield medical breakthroughs, since—much like Ridley Scott’s “Alien”—-the crew has re-animated the dormant creature, using electrical shock, glucose, variations of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and other tinkering.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays the medical officer. He’s been up in space for 473 days, longer than anyone previously. When asked why he doesn’t want to return to Earth, he reminisces about time spent in Syria and says, “I can’t stand what we do to each other down there.” He also says, “It’s hard to watch people die, isn’t it?” and that becomes a large part of our viewing experience after Calvin escapes from the lab and, as the script says, “It could be anywhere.”

The music by Jon Ekstrand is good. Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography was as impressive as “Gravity” or any other recent sci-fi opus. The sets and visual effects are great. The acting is spot on, and it was very nice to see the writers, Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, receive credit from the director and cast as “brilliant.”

In the Q&A afterwards, the director hedged on whether sequels will be in the works, but the ending suggests that to be highly likely if the film is as successful as it should be.

Asked about why this Sony film closed out this year’s festival, Producer Bonnie Curtis said, “Austin is where it’s at these days.”

As to the origin of the plot idea, Director Espinosa mentioned “the usual suspects” like “Alien” and “Gravity” and even paid homage to John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” He also called “Life” a tribute to film noir and “The Twilight Zone.” I can think of other films going all the way back to Bruce Dern’s 1972 film “Silent Running” or Kubrick’s iconic “2001: A Space Odyssey” that might have been mentioned, and “The Martian” (Matt Damon) came up during the Q&A.

Jonas Rasmussen gets credit for the horrible look of the creature named Calvin, equal in awfulness to “Alien’s” monster. One interesting difference, pointed out during the Q&A, is that this creature is completely silent. Director Espinosa said it was scripted that way by the “brilliant”writers, (who were then called up onstage).

Director Daniel Espinosa shared that the first long prolonged shot involved the set rotating around the actors and took a month to film. We were also told that each one of the cast was simulating zero gravity, while actually rigged up with wires. Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Miranda North, shared that their movement coach, Alexander Reynolds, worked with the cast. She said, “One day I was floating so brilliantly that I forgot my lines.”

Asked what struck them as “memorable” about the shoot, Jake Gyllenhaal said, “Being able to wear socks with no shoes was my memorable moment. This might be the first shoeless zero gravity movie.” Reynolds, who was the more light-hearted of the two, in the manner of his character in “Deadpool,” when asked if the cast had worked weightlessly in zero gravity, said, jokingly, “We were given limited permission to go into space because they weren’t doing anything important in the space station that month.”

Ryan Reynolds’ most memorable moment?
“We spent so much time joking around that one day one of the producers said to me, ‘Quit joking around and get to work. You’ve wasted $100,000.’ And I said, ‘We’ve wasted $100,000 on this film, so far?’ and she said, ‘No. You’ve wasted $100,000 today.’”

One questioner in the audience asked facetiously why Matt Damon wasn’t hired for Reynolds’ part, since he’d already been to Mars,( referencing Damon’s recent film “The Martian.”) Reynolds, laughing, said, “F***** Matt Damon.” And added, “The fact is, he didn’t want to die in the first act.”

THE GOOD:

This is a professionally done, well-acted film. There are very few things to criticize. At different times, looking at the beautiful actresses onscreen, I was struck by their resemblance to a young Ingrid Bergman, (even with severe pulled-back hairstyles that would be appropriate for life in space). And a more dependable actor than Jake Gyllenhaal does not exist, with Ryan Reynolds easy on the eyes in the smart aleck-y role and manner that suits him.

THE BAD:

Because of the international nature of the cast, it was sometimes difficult to understand some of their dialogue. If I had been watching this at home on television, much as with Thomas Hardy’s series “Taboo,” I would have had the subtitles turned on. My only other criticism would be that “there’s nothing new under the sun,” so we’re seeing many things that are derivative of other science fiction films that have gone before, but they are still enjoyable, when done well. And the film is done well.

OVERALL:

It’s an engrossing film that will suck you in and keep you on the edge of your seat despite the nagging feeling that you have been down this cinematic road before.

“Hot Summer Nights” World Premiere at SXSW in Austin (TX) on March 13, 2017

Genre: Coming-of-age drama
Length: 120 minutes
Director: Elijah Bynum
Cast: Timothee Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Alex Roe, Maia Mitchell, Thomas Jane, William Fichtner
Review: Connie Wilson

Writer/Director Elijah Bynum of “Hot Summer Nights.”

On Monday, March 13th, 2017, at SXSW, Imperative Entertainment World Premiered first-time
writer/director Elijah Bynum’s coming-of-age film “Hot Summer Nights.” It played to a packed
house at the Paramount Theater at SXSW with all major stars in attendance.

Set in 1991 Cape Cod (really filmed in Atlanta, Georgia) , “Hot Summer Nights” stars Timothée
Chalamet (“Call Me By Your Name, “Interstellar”), Maika Monroe (“It Follows,” Independence Day
2”), Alex Roe (“The 5th Wave,” “Rings”) and Maia Mitchell (“The Fosters”), with appearances by
Emory Cohen (“Brooklyn,” “The Place Beyond the Pines”), Thomas Jane (“Hung,” “The Punisher”)
and William Fichtner (“The Dark Knight,” “Armageddon”).

Timothee Chalamet as Daniel Middleton in “Hot Summer Nights” at SXSW on March 13, 2017.

The film is told through the point-of-view of Daniel Middleton, a lonely and troubled teen-aged boy, despondent over the death of his father. In a voice-over from a minor character (who is not well identified) we learn, “This all happened a while back in the town I’m from.”

Daniel’s mother sends him away to his Aunt’s to spend the summer of 1991 in Cape
Cod
. Young Daniel at first finds himself friendless in Hyannis, Massachusetts..

Daniel’s not really a “townie” and he’s not one of the rich kids visiting for the summer. According to the voice-over, “Something changed inside of Daniel Middleton that summer he turned 13.” Thirteen seemed too young for what happens in the rest of the film. If Daniel is only there for the summer, how is he able to drive a hot car throughout the film, including in an opening scene car crash during a hurricane?

Alex Roe as Hunter Strawberry in “Hot Summer Nights.”


Daniel drifts into a friendship with the classic James Dean style bad boy in town,
a blonde hunk with the unfortunate character name Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe)
. Hunter is
the stereotypical screw-up. He has been kicked out of high school and also has been kicked out of
the house by his widowed father. Now he sells marijuana to tourists and locals. Daniel throws in
with him with a vengeance, despite Hunter’s uncontrollable anger issues.

Maika Monroe as Michaela Strawberry in “Hot Summer Nights.”

Hunter’s sister Michaela (Maika Monroe) is angry with Hunter for not giving up selling pot;
it was their mother’s one request of her son during her final illness, when Michaela was eleven.

Maia Mitchell as Amy in “Hot Summer Nights” at SXSW.

Daniel becomes allied with cool-stud-in-town Hunter when he helps him out by hiding some weed
Hunter has on his person while he is being stalked by the local cop, Sergeant Frank Calhoun.

Hunter takes up romantically with Frank’s daughter, Amy Calhoun. This liaison is certain to
cause problems for Amy at home, if her parents find out.

Maika Monroe as Michaela Strawberry.

Meanwhile, Daniel unwisely finds himself irresistibly drawn to the brooding Michaela.

Hunter makes it clear that he is overly protective of his younger sibling and forbids Daniel (whom he
calls “Danny”) to date her. That, of course, soon goes out the window, setting up romantic
scenes between Daniel and Michaela.

Alex Roe and Writer/Director Elijah Bynum on the Red Carpet at SXSW.

Director Bynum shared with the audience, after the film, that the plot was one he heard while in college.

Said Bynum, “I’m from Massachusetts, but from a different part of the state. The story came
from a couple of kids I knew in college. They talked about two drug dealers who, as their business
grew, their friendship also grew, and then both disappeared. I was always intrigued by that.”

THE GOOD
The principal actors all did a good job in their roles, especially the two male leads. The
cinematography by Javier Julia was fine. He also worked in actual film footage from Hurricane
Bob, which was a key element in the plot. Those in charge of the music (Will Bates and Liz
Gallagher) also did a good job, including David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and “All the Young Dudes,”
among others from the era.

THE BAD

The plot has some problems. For one thing, early on the lead character’s age (Daniel) is set at
thirteen. If Daniel is only thirteen, how can he spend most of the movie driving and doing a number of other things more appropriate for older teens)? And, when Daniel is driving, he is driving a car so hot that it would draw unwanted attention to a drug dealer trying to operate without being apprehended. Not only would the cops be a problem, what about Michaela Strawberry? Doesn’t she wonder where Daniel, who lives with his Aunt Bar (who is poor) has gotten the money for these wheels? And how could the young couple possibly hide their romance from her brother Or, conversely, how could Michaela not know that Daniel was her brother’s new accomplice in the drug trade? Also, given Hunter’s explosive temper, which we see unleashed with a fury when Daniel is threatened, what would the conversation with Amy’s policeman father (Thomas Jane) really have been like? It seemed unusually tame on both sides I also had problems with the way the writer/director has chosen to end the film.
I was never sure who the young person at the window was (supposedly doing the voice over)
and the ending is almost as bad and as big a trope as the themes that my junior high school students used to turn in
where the ending was always, “And then he woke up and it was all a dream.” It almost seemed as though no one had Beta read Writer/Director Elijah Bynum’s script before it got to the big screen. Each of the principal actors talked about the script as their reason for buying into the first-time director’s project, but, for me, the script had holes wide enough to drive a Mack truck through and an unsatisfying ending.

On the positive side, it’s a good first directorial effort, with good music, fine cinematography and
some promising newcomers in the cast. For me, Alex Roe was the break-out star, but all four of
the main characters are promising.

OVERALL

I’d give the film, overall, an “A” for effort and a low “B-/C+” for execution. However, I’ll be interested in watching the budding careers of the four principal characters as they are cast in other projects.

THE HERO with Sam Elliott Screens @ SXSW 2017

Genre: Drama with Western roots
Length: 90 minutes
Director: Brett Haley
Actors: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman, Katharine Ross

The mythic spirit of the western, our American archetype, is alive and well at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival.
I’ve seen two westerns in two days at the Festival. “The Hero,” which showed at the Zach Theater on Friday, March 10th, was the better of the two.

“The Hero” was an unusual picture because it focuses on a 71-year-old actor (Elliot) who has been playing western parts for most of his career. Now, he is in the twilight of that career, and most of his work seems to be voice-over work (primarily for a BBQ sauce). He’d like to get a feature like “The Hero” that catapulted him to fame back in the day, and he’s phoning his agent, looking for more work. And then he is derailed by a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

There are parallels here between “The Wrestler” that featured Mickey Rourke and this plot. Both men find they have a potentially terminal illness and are dealing with that knowledge the same way. Both are initially in denial and tell no one. Both have a daughter from a failed relationship (real-life wife Katharine Ross plays the ex) and both men want to make peace with their only child before it’s too late. But the daughters aren’t cooperating much in moving towards reconciliation.

I wanted to see Katharine Ross (“The Graduate,” “The Cincinnati Kid”) after all this time, if only to see how she has aged alongside her silver-maned real-life husband, Elliott, whom we have seen in the TV series “Justified” and, earlier, as the narrator in the Coen Brothers classic “The Big Lebowski.” There is no doubt that Elliott has the best hair of anyone his age in pictures. (Robert Redford might be a close second.) Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross were in “The Cincinnati Kid” together, way back in 1969, but did not officially meet and begin dating until 1978, ultimately marrying in 1984, 33 years ago. (They have one daughter born that year)
The love interest in this film is not Elliott’s true-life wife, but Laura Prepon, who played Donna on “That 70s Show” (“The Girl on the Train.”) (Prepon announced that she is pregnant by fiancé Ben Foster in January.)

The two meet cute through their mutual drug dealer Jeremiah, played by Parks & Recreation’s Nick Offerman. A budding romance erupts, although Laura’s character (Charlotte Douglas) nearly kills the romance at the outset by making fun of romancing older men during her stand-up comedy routine.

In the film, western star Lee Hayden is going to be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by an organization known as The Western Appreciation and Preservation Guild.
Since he also has just learned he has pancreatic cancer, he is struggling with the thought that his only chance at prolonging his life slightly may be a grim procedure known as the Whipple Procedure, which would remove part of his pancreas, his gall bladder and part of his small intestine. Even then, his odds don’t sound that great. And Laura actually seems interested in getting to know him better and agrees to be his date for the awards ceremony (after Lee’s estranged daughter turns him down).

THE GOOD

Elliott does some truly fine acting in the scenes where he is auditioning for a part in a film and must speak lines as though to his daughter. Real life impinges on fictional life as he is overcome with emotion. When Lee’s new female friend Charlotte reads Edna St. Vincent Milay’s poem “Dirge Without Music” to him, Elliott’s reaction is also spot on.

All the characters play their parts well, although it was difficult to understand how Elliott’s character of Lee Hayden was so forgiving of Charlotte, after her cruelty towards him onstage during her comedy act. The elderly: one of the few remaining groups under fire; it seems it is just fine to make fun of someone for being old. That is exactly what Laura Prepon’s character does, without mercy, in her act. Yet Elliott’s character, Lee Hayden, is quite forgiving.

During the Q&A, Director Brett Haley was asked why he has made more than one film about old age. (His 2015 film “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” starring Blythe Danner and Sam Elliott, was also about an older woman facing old age, death, and being alone.) Haley first responded that this film was built around Elliott’s persona, but went on to say, “This film is about legacy…about looking back on one’s achievements. There’s something very interesting to me about older people who are toting up their achievements in life and trying to cope with the end of it all. Ageism is a problem in film and it’s a problem in society. That’s just something I’m drawn to.”

There are many beach scenes in the film which cinematographer Rob Givens photographed beautifully. Haley shared with the audience that the crew shot all the beach scenes in one day but when they went back to film they had to find a cliff for the principal actors to stand on (Elliott and his daughter Lucy, played by Krysten Ritter) because 6 to 8 foot swells had covered the beach.

One very big positive about the film, for me, was the use of Edna St. Vincent Milay’s poem “Dirge Without Music.”
I asked Haley whether they had to pay the poet’s estate to use the film, and he said, ”They were very nice, and they let us use the poem for free. Her estate said, ‘Any time we can get the word out about her work, we’re happy.’” The director went on to say that, in his experience, “I think it is through music and poetry and film that we communicate. That’s what we all do. It’s why I have a recurring theme in the movie involving the Buster Keaton film clips. If I were dying and wanted to talk about death, that’s what I’d do. To me, it felt like a real thing that real people would do, and Milay is one of my favorite poets.”

Asked about Sam Elliott’s ability to roll a real joint for key plot scenes, Haley made it clear that Sam Elliott does not smoke marijuana, but knew exactly how to roll a doobie.
Nick Offerman (“Parks & Recreation”) playing his drug dealer and friend Jeremiah from co-starring in a television series, was very complimentary about Elliott’s work ethic and what an honor and education it was to work with the old pro.

Said Offernan: “On the set of Parks & Recreation (Elliott had a recurring role as Nick’s doppelganger), I always tried to show up early. So, to work with a giant like Sam Elliott, I wasn’t going to show up less than thirty minutes early or not knowing my lines. It’s the same way I felt working with Michael Keaton. These guys are legends. So, one morning we’re shooting at 4:30 a.m. and I show up half an hour early, and there’s Sam, already leaning against the truck.” (laughs)
Director Haley shared that the film was originally supposed to be called “Iceberg,” which had to do with a metaphor in the film and the image of an iceberg on the drug dealer Jeremiah’s computer, but, just before shooting began, the title was changed because, “’The Hero’ is a closer portrayal of what the film is about. The title came to me right before we shot, and some of the early producers weren’t as keen on it, but I think it works.”

THE BAD

There are some random scenes meant to show Lee Hayden’s career in movies. In one, Elliott emerges from a small pup tent, wearing a cowboy hat. When you see him in the scene, it is unclear whether this is a flashback, a flash forward, or simply present history. Likewise, a scene where Lee (apparently dreaming?) sees a man hanging from a tree is in the film, but the message it is supposed to be sending is unclear.

OVERALL: It was nice to see a film that acknowledges that some people do live into their 7th decade of life and are not necessarily total fossils. An examination of any woman’s magazine “beautiful at any age” issue would convince you that there is no woman (or man, for that matter) who lives past 60 and could be considered handsome or beautiful. The fact that Lee is also obviously still virile (there are numerous love scenes, chastely shot) is also a gift to the AARP generation. That was unexpected and nice. Only a few films of the past decade have focused on characters in their golden years and done so sensitively. This is one of them.

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.”

“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.”

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