Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Hellfire & Damnation: The Perfect Halloween Collection

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Click to buy the e-book at Amazon.

There are three books in the “Hellfire & Damnation” series, all short stories that illustrate the 9 Circle of Hell in Dante’s “Inferno” and give examples of each.

As New York Times best-selling author Jon Land said of the books: “Hellfire & Damnation‘ is a remarkable collection of somber, noirish, flat-out scary and altogether satisfying stories that seek to find hope in a dark world that defies it. Her subtle irony and penchant for finding terror in the least expected places will generate comparisons to Stephen King and Ray Bradbury, with just a hint of Philip K. Dick thrown in. But don’t be fooled: Wilson has a wondrous voice in her own right, and her tight, twisty tales establish her as a force to be reckoned with.”

Hellfire & Damnation 2 Cover

Click to buy the paperback and  e-book at Amazon.

Click on the link to purchase the 15 stories in “Hellfire & Damnation,” Volume I, or move on to the creepy blue cover of Volume II, with an additional eleven stories, a forward by Jason V Brock, and an informative “From the Author” appendix that tells about the inspiration for each story in that volume. Volume III will provide an additional 10 stories to bring you nearly forty stories that will haunt you right up until Halloween and beyond.

As two former Bram Stoker winners and icons in the genre said: “‘Hellfire & Damnation‘ is an impressive collection, a series of remarkable tales—some based on true stories—organized around a brilliant and unifying theme that echoes Dante’s Inferno. Wilson’s harrowing work will stay with you long after you finish the final page.”

Click to buy the paperback and e-book at Amazon.

And, as William F. Nolan, a Living Legend in Horror and author of “Logan’s Run” said: “Let me start right off by saying that Connie Wilson presents what I call ‘matter-of-fact’ horror…Frankly, and I consider myself well read in the shock genre, I have never encountered a style such as she displays here, in story after story. She writes solid declarative sentences rife with dark undertones…Connie Wilson’s dark talent is unique, and readers will stagger away from her icy tales stunned and groggy. I have a final word for it: WOW!

And, echoing the more famous writers (above), reviewer Adam Groves of www.Fright.com said, “In horror fiction, as in most any other sort, true originality is an increasingly rare commodity. But it does exist, as proven by ‘Hellfire & Damnation,’ an anthology that is genuinely, blazingly original.

Listen to Weekly Wilson’s Podcast

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“Storm Lake” & “Writing With Fire:” Journalism Under Fire (Documentaries)

Two new documentaries detail the gradual death of journalism in this country and the rise of digital journalism in India. Both agree that newspapers—whether print or digital—can make a difference and that, without them democracy is at risk.

Rintu Thomas ad Sushmit Ghosh shepherded “Writing with Fire” through to completion and this story of women in India who started a newspaper in 2002 and risked their lives to make it successful won the Audience and the Grand Jury prize at Sundance.

The newspaper, Khabar Lahariya (which translates to “Waves of News”) is the only all-female newspaper in India and its chief reporter, Meera, put it this way: “I believe journalism is the essence of democracy…This is how one fights for justice in a democracy. “ She adds, “Journalists must use this power responsibly. Otherwise, the media will become like any other business.”

Watching the India documentary at the same time as the PBS documentary set in Storm Lake, Iowa and entitled “Storm Lake” provided an interesting contrast.

Art Cullen, the Editor-in-Chief of the “Storm Lake Times” for 40 years would agree with Meera, but the problems of Storm Lake, Iowa—the town where my Aunt and Uncle lived out their lives—seem infinitely less dire than those in Meera’s northern Indian Utar Pradesh area. The saying in India about the area where Meera and her team are writing and working is “as Utar Pradesh goes, so goes the country.”

SUBTLE RACISM

For Art Cullen’s newspaper, which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Journalism, “The newspaper weaves the fabric of the community in ways large and small.” When Art’s paper won the Pulitzer, it made it harder—not easier—for Whitney Robinson, Sales and Circulation Manager,to sell advertising, because one of the crowning achievements of the “Storm Lake Times” was to trace the life path of a young man who was deported from Storm Lake after a raid at the large Tyson Meat Packing Plant, which was an IBP plant, at that time (Iowa Beef Products).

Julio Barroso was a smiling, happy second-grader, age 8, and then he was gone. Art and his team investigated to find out where Art ended up and discovered him living in Guadalajara, Mexico, twenty-two years later, married, with three children.

Art’s writing about how Julio’s life trajectory was changed by the raid for illegal immigrants and his subsequent deportation may have earned kudos from the awards-panel, but the residents of Storm Lake in northwest Iowa don’t hold with Art’s Democratic-leaning views.

Storm Lake is Trump country. The immigrants who flock to work in meat processing plants in places like Storm Lake and Columbus Junction (the poorest town in the state) have a strong streak of anti-immigrant prejudice. There are 2200 packing plant workers. In the local elementary school 50% speak Spanish and 10% speak “other” languages besides English. (The documentary was filmed in 2019).

It is easy to imagine the residents griping about their formerly lily-white town gradually being infiltrated by Mexican (and other) immigrants. I grew up in such a town—although one without a meat-packing plant—and many of the residents of northwest Iowa were Dutch immigrants or from other largely white European countries. With good-paying jobs being out-sourced to other countries, the locals tend to get  restless about losing out to immigrants from anywhere, (even though the locals aren’t generally likely to take on the back-breaking work in the meat packing plants, which offer no medical insurance).

During the pandemic, Iowa’s Republican Governor, Kim Reynolds, forced workers back into unsafe working conditions at meat-packing plants. The meat-packing company let it be known that workers who did not show up for work, perhaps because they were sick, would not get paid. I remember when the medical students at the University of Iowa were volunteering to staff a van to drive to Columbus Junction (IA) to offer workers in that town health screenings for pap smears and the like, because the meat-packing companies offer no health insurance.

There is a discussion of how Big Agra has bought up small family farms and, whereas, a decade ago in the 90s, a farmer could survive on 350 to 400 acres, now he would have to own 1,000 acres.  The big companies now control both the raising of the hogs or cattle and the processing of them. I remember when Rath Packing Plant in Waterloo, Iowa, had unions, but the big companies have all but stomped out concerns that tried to look out for the workers and their welfare.

The other continuing theme in “Storm Lake” dealt with candidate visits from the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Andrew Yang. Dr. Jill Biden. They all make appearances at places like the Better Day Café and we are shown caucus night, 2020, in Storm Lake, Iowa.

Art Cullen—who has a dimpled grin like Billy Bob Thornton, but a shock of white hair like Mark Twain—says, “The main anxiety in Iowa was, ‘We’re gonna’ screw this up. And we did.” The father-son team agrees, onscreen, that Iowa will probably lose its “first-in-the-nation” status in presidential elections as a result of the colossal screw-up caused by trying to integrate new technology into the voting process without a series of dry runs, first. You might liken it to the roll-out of Obamacare, which was not without hiccups.

We hear a lot about the 300 “news deserts” that are springing up in the Hawkeye State as one in four local newspapers fold. Two-thirds of Iowa counties are declining in population and, as people move to the cities, small local papers fold. Mom and Pop stores are gone because of the corporate take-over of corporate agriculture and so are Mom and Pop newspapers. Still, those who majored in Journalism, as I did, write because it is what we do. (*Admission: I am a card-carrying member of the National Women’s Press Association, Illinois chapter, and was the official photographer at the 2019 Baton Rouge convention.) So, Art and his team attempt to cut wherever they can, thereby preserving their small hometown newspaper. They were always a “break even” newspaper and, once the pandemic hit ( advertising revenue plunges 50% in March), the question is whether they can keep the lights on. They do, but at what price glory?

INDIA’S “Khabar Lahariya” NEWSPAPER

On the other side of the world in India, the  women who started this journalistic enterprise are of the Dalit, or “Untouchable,” caste. India has four main castes:  priests, warriors, traders, and labourers. Woe unto you if you are born into the Dalit caste.

The opening interview is with a married woman of that caste who is being repeatedly raped by the men of her village. Although she has reported this to the local police, they refuse to do anything. Her husband even initiated a hunger strike to get sympathy for their plight. As the victim, Rampal Yadov, says, “These men can do anything. They can even kill both of us.”

Meena, who was married at 14, has a Master’s degree in Political Science and Teaching. She says, “Working was important for me, and I did not want to waste my education. And we needed the money.” She adds, “Power is very important.  Being a journalist gives me the power to fight for justice.” Her husband (representative of the males of India, it seems) is quoted this way:  “I never expected them to achieve anything. They’ll have to shut down soon.”

Meena’s husband is wrong. She leads the group into digital posts on YouTube and the hits on their stories rise from one million to 150 million over time. Meera Devi leads a staff of 24 who seem to be having great difficulty trying to use cell phones to write, illustrate, and post their stories. The stories deal with rape, murder, illegal Mafia mining operations, and, ultimately, the election being held that puts a Trump-like figure named Yogi Aditajanath of the BJP Party into power. The parallels are unmistakable.

Yogi stirs up chaos by making much of the election be about protecting sacred cows, rather than the real issues of the area. Here is one of Yogi’s pronouncements:  “When the law of the land becomes ineffective, then society must take matters into its own hands, and I believe the time has come now.”

One of the reporters dares to ask him what he would do about Hindus who misbehave and he answers, “Hindus can never be terrorists” with a straight face. Meena says, “Freedom of women will be snatced.  A climate of fear is being created.  Everything is about religion and discord.”This seemed very much like the United States of America at this point in history.

Meena insightfully points out that “The symbolism of the cow is a distraction for this government’s corrupt policies.” She is more interested in the average Indian household being able to have “a toilet in every house.” (Reminded me of “a chicken in every pot” from the Hoover years.)

Reporter Shiyankali does a story on the police failure to investigate rape accusations and, one week after her story, a suspect is arrested on a rape charge.

The brave women of “Khabar Lahariya” face real risk. A female journalist in Bangalore who had been critical of the Hindu national party was murdered. Meera, herself, says, “Neither are we a democracy nor are the women free. Hail Mother India.”

However, by film’s end, she says with justifiable pride:  “We made our journalism the voice of democracy.  We didn’t let the Fourth Pillar fall, and we continue to hold a mirror to society.”

“Writing with Fire” won both the Audience and the Jury Prize at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. ‘Storm Lake” is going to be screened (and available virtually) at the upcoming Denver Film Festival.

Salaries for James Bond Films Through the Years

The pay has gone significantly up after each Bond movie.

Sean Connery
Dr. No : $17,000
From Russia With Love : $250,000
Goldfinger : $500,000
Thunderball : $750,000
You Only Live Twice : $750,000 + 25% of net marchandise profits = $1,000,000
Diamonds Are Forever : $1,200,000 + 12.5% of net US profits = $6,700,000

George Lazenby
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service : $80,500

Roger Moore
Live and Let Die : $1,000,000
The Man with the Golden Gun : $1,000,000
The Spy Who Loved Me : $1,000,000
Moonraker : $4,000,000
For Your Eyes Only : $3,000,000 + 5% of net US profits = $4,607,500
Octopussy : $4,000,000 + 5% of net US profits = $5,265,800
A View to a Kill : $5,000,000 + 5% of US gross = $7,515,000

Timothy Dalton
The Living Daylights : $3,000,000
Licence to Kill : $5,000,000

Pierce Brosnan
Golden Eye : $1,200,000
Tomorrow Never Dies : $8,200,000
The World Is Not Enough : $12,400,000
Die Another Day : $16,500,000
(Wanted salary for Bond 21 : $20,000,000)

Daniel Craig
Casino Royale : $3,220,000
Quantum of Solace : $7,245,000
Skyfall: $17,000,000 plus bonuses for certain box-office milestones
Spectre: $24,000,000 + endorsements

No Time to Die – $25,000,000

Interesting how low George Lazenby’s salary was for “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service:” Less than 10% of what Connery got for Diamonds Are Forever, even before Connery multiplied it over 5 times with his share of the U.S profits.

 Roger Moore was on 1 million for each of the first three movies and then his pay was multiplied 4 times for Moonraker. I’m guessing he was on a 3 movie deal and by the time they negotiated for his fourth film his popularity in the role was massive so he could command this. He commanded a share of the profits for each of his last three movies following “Moonraker.” Neither Dalton or Brosnan seemed to have an agent who could get that for them.

There are 3 films that are not part of the James Bond official canon, including the film that Connery agreed to do at age 53, “Never Say Never Again,” “Casino Royale” in 1967 and “Casino Royale” in 1954.

“No Time to Die” Is Worth the 18-Month Wait

Daniel Craig makes his final outing as Bond memorable. The log-line says: “James Bond has left active service.  His peace is short-lived when Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), an old friend from the CIA, turns up asking for help, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.” During a pandemic, a weapon that is a microscopic bio-rocket that can enter your bloodstream via the slightest contact with your skin is certainly timely. No wonder the studio pulled the $250 million-dollar film for 18 months. The ploy seems to have worked, as it grossed $56 million in 4,407 North American theaters this past weekend and was the fourth-best opening in the 25-film series history.

I’m not a particularly avid Bond fan—(although I am the target demographic, as the audience is primarily older)—but I really liked almost everything about this Bond epic. The cinematography and score (Hans Zimmer), including a Billie Eilish song that opens the film, are Top-Notch.

ACTING

Daniel Craig is great as Bond. He really seems to be doing all the fighting in the many fight sequences. The stunts are spectacular and, again, special mention should be made of the contribution to the mood and tone from Hans Zimmer’s score. Of course, there is also the Billie Eilish song at the beginning of the film, which will, no doubt, be remembered come Oscar-time.

The female lead, Lea Seydoux, while not as glamorous in appearance as previous “Bond girls,” was a good actress.

Lashana Lynch as a Black female 007 could have been omitted to shorten the film, and Ana De Armas’ appearance seemed sort of gratuitous, to me. If you added up the screentime of these two and remove them from the 2 hour and 43 minute run-time, the film would come down closer to what it should have been. This is a movie that should be seen on a big screen, as the cinematography in Norway and England and Jamaica and elsewhere is breathtaking, but the long run-time and other factors may well cause otherwise dedicated theater-goers to stream it at home when it is available. More’s the pity.

Rami Malek is weak as the villain and Christoph Waltz’s Hannibal-Lecter-like appearance was simply weird, but the main love story between Bond and the Bond girl makes up for a lot.

WRITING

Writers never get the credit they deserve. This film’s script is credited to Neil Purvis, Robert Wade, Director Cary  Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”). Here are some memorable lines:

(1) “There’s something I need to tell you.” (Lea Seydoux)

“I’ll bet there is.” (Daniel Craig)

(2)  “We all have our secrets. We just didn’t get to yours yet.” (Daniel Craig)

(3)  “Seems intelligence isn’t central any more” (re the blonde aide, Ashe, of Felix Leighter’s)

(4)  “I gave up trusting pretty faces a long time ago.” (Daniel Craig)

(5)  “You seem like a man who only has time to kill—nothing to live for.” (of Bond)

(6)  (Felix Leighter after being shot by Ashe)  “I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a feeling in my gut that Ashe may not be on our side.”

(7)  (Bond to “M”)  “Either the desk is getting bigger or you’re getting smaller.” (Followed by “Definitely not the desk.”)

(8)  “I wanted to give you an empty world like the one you gave me.” (Rami Malek to Daniel Craig)

(9)  “I wanted everything with you.  I have loved you, and I will love you, and I do not regret a single moment of my life except putting you on that train.” (Bond to Madeleine).

(10)  “Life is all about leaving something behind.  We want to be told how to live and then die when we are not looking.  We are built for oblivion.” (Bond)

(11)  “We both eradicate people to make the world a better place.” (Rami Malek to Daniel Craig as Bond.)

(12)  “I just showed someone your watch.  It really blew their mind.” (Bond about the Cyclops device)

(13)  “We are two heroes in a tragedy of our own making.” (Bond to Madeleine)

(14)  “You made me do this.  This was your choice.” (Rami Malek to Bond)

(15)  “Our function is to live, not to exist.  I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” (Bond)

 

As of Sunday, global grosses for “No Time to Die” were estimated to be over $313.3 million. The film cost $250 million to make and another $100 milliion to advertise, but it is on target. Said Head of Distribution for United Artists Releasing Erik Lomis, “It’s right where we thought it would be and right where tracking predicted it would be.”

One factor in the improvement at the box office is that 25% of movie-goers returned to theaters for the first time in 18 months this past weekend. Many audiences erupted in spontaneous applause at the end of the film; it’s definitely a crowd-pleaser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Many Saints of Newark” Strolls Down “Sopranos” Memory Lane

“The Many Saints of Newark” is a prequel to the well-loved television series “The Sopranos.” We could justifiably expect to learn all about the early years that shaped young Anthony Soprano, played in his youth by Michael Gandolfini, the son of James Gandolfini. The elementary-school-aged Tony is played by William Ludwig, who is also good in the role.

The Big Come-on in this David Chase-directed drama is that the biological son of James Gandolfini—Michael Gandolfini—-a young actor with 10 professional credits who played Joey Dwyer on “The Deuce” in 2017—is going to provide the Gandolfini vibe, in the same way that Liza Minelli’s channeled her mother, Judy Garland.

There is a resemblance in Gandolfini’s eyes, although they are far from “dead ringers” for each other, as Cindy Crawford’s daughter Kaia Gerber is for her famous model Mom in the new “American Horror Story” series.

Writer/Director David Chase has commented on the Gandolfini eyes:  [on James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano] “His (Gandolfini’s) eyes are very expressive. There’s something about him that’s very caring, which you see in him no matter what he’s doing. There’s a sadness there. As cynical, bullying, vulgar and overbearing as he could be, there’s still a little boy in there. He did a lot of mean things, and he enjoyed vengeance, but he didn’t seem mean. Somewhere he believed that people are good. There were some roads he was not going to go down, because there was no coming back.”

So we were all drawn to this prequel to “The Sopranos” to see if the Gandolfini “eyes” have it. They do, but we don’t get to see as much of young Tony Soprano’s eyes as we do of the other stock characters that we remember from the television series. And some of them—since Silvio and Big Pussy and the boys are played by other actors here—are not that recognizable. Nancy Marchand, who played Livia Soprano, has now shuffled off to that theater in the sky and has been replaced here by Vera Farmiga, who does a great job as the reincarnation of David Chase’s real mother, Norma, whom he described as “abusive.”

Chase has been mining his family pain for years (he is now 76) and is described as so depressed when in college that he had panic attacks and slept 18 hours a day. I remember him onstage in Chicago shilling for the only film he has directed in the past decade since “The Sopranos,” “Not Fade Away” (which did fade away). He would have been voted the person you would least like to be trapped in an elevator with. He was withdrawn, taciturn and spoke very little. His nickname is  Cylinder Machine.

In 2012, David Chase (real surname DeCesare) directed a movie, “Not Fade Away,” set in the sixties about a young boy who wants to be in a successful rock band. This, too, is autobiographical from Chase’s youth in the sixties, when he really did want to play drums and bass in a rock band. His parents were not supportive of that career choice, nor of his desire to make movies.  His success came about writing for television for “The Rockford Files” in the early seventies. It was his real-life therapy that he wove into Tony Soprano’s story on “The Sopranos.” The huge success of the series surprised many people, including Chase.

Chase has a fairly low opinion of television and Hollywood, historically, seems to have had a fairly low opinion of him. As he has said, “I wrote many, many, many a script and they never got made. I could not get arrested, as they say. Nothing started to click movie-wise for me. All the scripts were either too dark or too this or that. Their appetite for me didn’t get whetted until The Sopranos (1999), and once they see you are someone who can make a billion dollars, they let you do anything. That’s all it comes down to.”

Since “The Sopranos” went off the air, Chase has made just one feature film (“Not Fade Away,” 2012) and created one additional television series (“Altindagli,”2013). Now he has returned to television with this star-studded vehicle, with voice-over by Michael Imperioli, who portrayed Christopher Moltisanti on “The Sopranos” series. (“Moltisanti” translates to “many saints” and explains the title of the film.)

This time out, Chase is the producer. The writer is Lawrence Konner, based on Chase’s “Sopranos” characters. The directing is by “Game of Thrones” alumnus Alan Taylor. I enjoyed the stroll down memory lane, although the disjointed plot with emphasis on everyone except Tony drove many of my friends into critical carping territory. It was a fairly entertaining, if non-linear, look into the past.

 

 

Todd Haynes “Velvet Underground” Documentary Hits Festival Circuit

 

Velvet Underground

Todd Haynes, USA, 110 min.

Thursday, October 14, 7PM Premiere (AFS). Streaming on Apple+ on October 15th. (Also showing at Chicago International Film Festival).

 

“Austin Film Society will present a Doc Days Opening Night presentation of Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground: a look at the cultural, social, musical, artistic and cinematic forces that created one of the world’s most enduring bands. Far from your typical rock documentary, Haynes goes deep into the source inspiration of the sounds The Velvets would be known for, while tracking and connecting the band’s rise with and through New York’s independent and experimental film scene.

Haynes weaves a cinematic portrait of a band that was essentially birthed and defined through cinematic ideas and images, using footage from the films of Andy Warhol, Jonas Mekas, Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, and Shirley Clarke, among others; and interviews past and present with those who experienced the brief reign of The Velvet Underground.”

According to Wikipedia, “Rolling Stones” named the “most influential bands of the Sixties” and the bands ranked first, second and third were the Beatles, James Brown and the Famous Flames, and the Velvet Underground.

As a sixties music afficionado, I was “in” to music, especially music from my own sixties generation. I subscribe to “Rolling Stone” and brought back a British record release of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in 1967, carried home from my time as an exchange student abroad. (The record was slightly different from the U.S. release.)

In England and Europe I took in James Brown and the Famous Flames in Paris and bought the U.K. version of the Beatles seminal “Sergeant Pepper” record breakthrough. When in England I attended a concert at the Savoy Hotel, a posh hotel in Birmingham, with a light show, at which an unknown band that had no record contract (yet) appeared. That band was Pink Floyd.

 

So, how did I miss out on being a fan of the Velvet Underground in their hey-day?

 

Now that I’ve seen Todd Haynes compilation of old photos and interviews with original members of the group and heard some of the songs, I think I know why I didn’t jump on the Velvet Underground bandwagon at the time. They were hugely experimental and are credited with giving birth to the punk movement and the New Wave movement many years later. With Welsh band member John Cale (who is interviewed prominently in the documentary) playing the viola and supposedly obsessed with sounds that are droning noises (like a refrigerator humming), that doesn’t sound much like the Beatles or James Brown, does it? It didn’t, to me. Then or now. To show how film was supposed to have merged with music (years before it did), some YouTube links like Nico’s singing with Warhol’s art in the background, should perhaps be included in this documentary. I’ve given you a couple video links.

 

I did not become very aware of the Velvet Underground until David Letterman featured Lou Reed on his Late Night talk show many years later. Since Lou Reed has been dead since 2013, these appearances must have happened 9 or 10 years ago, but I remember that Reed was always held forth by Letterman as the King of Cool, sitting in with Paul Schaffer and the Late Night Orchestra.Lou Reed was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame not once, but two times, once as a member of the Velvet Underground and once for his own music, which continued for many years after the break-up of the group. His big hit was “Walk on the Wild Side.”

 

In fact, as one learns from reading up on the Velvet Underground (but not really from this documentary), the parting of the ways for this band came about when Reed felt that Cale had to go. And the primary reason Lou Reed felt that John Cale needed to go in one direction while Lou Reed went in another was that Cale, an odd bird from the first (a weirdly-coiffed intellectual Welsh guy who played the viola), was taking their music in a fairly eccentric and probably unmarketable experimental direction. Lou Reed had already had a job turning out 99 cent songs for Pickwick Records and he knew how to craft a tune that didn’t sound like the drone of a refrigerator. He also wanted to become a well-known star; he needed to do that on his own.

 

“Walk on the Wild Side” was written by Reed for use in the film version of Nelson Algren’s book of the same name. That book and that movie have a special place in my heart, because I sat across from Nelson Algren at the Englert Theater in Iowa City (Iowa) watching Nelson Algren watch the Jane Fonda/Laurence Harvey movie version of his work. I was glued to watching the author watch his book be interpreted onscreen by Hollywood. The song played over the film credits, if I remember correctly, and it had a haunting, beatnik vibe, as, indeed, Lou Reed represented throughout his life and work.

 

The other tune of Reed’s that broke through my consciousness was the song chosen for the movie “Juno” called Sticking with You,” which I remember thinking was a good choice for the theme of the unwed pregnant teenager who decides to stick with the young man (Michael Cera) who impregnated her, who was her best friend, if not technically her “boyfriend.” In keeping with the entire tone of the Velvet Underground and its pushing of boundaries, it seems somehow fitting that the female lead of “Juno,” Ellen Page is now Elliot Page. Here is a version of the song from that movie, sung by the Moldy Peaches:

 

 I had to read up on Lou Reed to be able to interpret and fully understand this Velvet Underground film tribute.

 

I learned that Reed took listeners of his songs on unsettling journeys that detailed his drug use or the electro-shock therapy that his parents put him through. Reed always said he thought his parents made him undergo the shocking (no pun intended) therapy to “cure” him of what might have been his homosexuality. One source says he lived with a trans-sexual individual for three years, but he was also married three times, so I’m not sure if the homosexuality was a correct diagnosis—maybe pan-sexual?— but he was definitely a drug addict and an alcoholic for much of his life and wrote about it in songs like “Heroin.”

 

There was a story told of a falling out between Reed and one of his biggest supporters, David Bowie, who told Reed he was going to have to straighten himself out. Lou had gone on a tour of England and was so strung out that he never took the stage, causing the promoters to hire Ike & Tina Turner to fill his spot. There was talk of Reed, himself, finally deciding to quit using drugs in about 1979. He had contracted hepatitis early in the years of his intravenous drug use and he died shortly after a liver transplant in 2013, living less than 6 months after that treatment.

 

But if Lou Reed—the band’s lead vocalist and its most successful member—is gone, we have John Cale telling us of the years when Andy Warhol was the band’s manager (1966) and pictures from Andy’s work would be projected onto the stage behind the band. Warhol had decided the Velvet Underground would be the Factory’s “house band.” The band toured wearing dark sunglasses because there were so many things happening onstage at times, including impromptu composing of songs  in a sort of improvisational music fashion, and so much happening with lights, etc.. that the sunglasses were to help the band.

 

The female drummer of the Velvet Underground, Maureen “Mo” Tucker, didn’t like cymbals and stood up to play drums in a sort of tom-tom fashion. She is also featured on the documentary talking about her time with the band. Angus MacLise was the drummer and then Moe Tucker in 1965. The band reunited in 1993 and for their 1996 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but were primarily done as an entity by 1970.

 

Various voices tell us that they had to change their name a lot “because we were bad” and that “With Lou we were going to blaze a trail, which we eventually did.” One woman even gives an impromptu dance of “The Ostrich,” which Reed wrote as a satire on the ridiculous dance tunes of the day, like the Monkey.

 

Reed, himself, was described as insecure and angry. Shelley Corwin said he was “angry at people for rejecting him,” which seemed odd, since he was always seen as Mr. Cool and managed to keep a career going even after associates like Tony Conrad tell us, in the documentary, “Lou was always falling down, was sick, and had to be raced to the hospital numerous times.”

 

A large part of the documentary shows how Andy Warhol’s P.R. “juice” would have helped them to succeed, and Andy decided that Nico—a gorgeous blonde—would sing. She couldn’t really sing all that well, so it was short-lived, but she was certainly very pretty and would draw a crowd. (She had a bit part in “La Dolce Vita” as one of the girls behind Anita Eckberg in that Italian film.)

 

Talking heads like Jackson Browne and John Waters pass judgment on the Velvet Underground and Lou is quoted as saying, of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” “That’s what I wanted to do, except with a drum and a guitar.”

 

I was at a poetry reading at Berkeley once where Allen Ginsberg came out, sat on the floor with finger cymbals, and mumbled incoherently. He was so stoned that they finally had to go get the janitor to physically carry him off-stage. And th-th-th-that’s entertainment, Folks! Reminds me of the slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Ginsberg’s was being wasted that night in the summer of 1965, and Lou Reed’s talent was wasted for many years until he decided to depart from the Velvet Underground and clean up his personal act.  They never “shocked the gayness out of him,” but whatever measure of gayness he possessed seems to have been mixed with a fair amount of heterosexuality, as well. [Remember: in those days, you could get 20 years in prison for being gay. It was not embraced by society.]

 

I enjoyed the old clips of Bo Diddly and Mick Jagger, the pictures or film of Andy Warhol and his coterie of avant garde followers.

 

I was less impressed by drummer Maureen Tucker or the viola-playing John Cale, original members of the band.

 

I enjoyed reading the story of a band member (Angus MacLise?) who never showed up on time for practices and/or appearances. Once, he showed up half an hour late for a performance, so, after everyone else had quit playing, he stayed onstage and played solo for half an hour to make up for his lateness.

 

Obviously, these disparate personalities—Reed’s included—were quirky and different and, yes, creative.  All contributed to the assessment that the Velvet Underground, as Todd Haynes’ documentary testifies, was “One of the most influential bands in rock, underground, experimental and alternative music.”

 

I was hopelessly square (apparently) and from Iowa and preferred the Beatles (seen “live” at the San Francisco Cow Palace in 1965) and James Brown and the Famous Flames (seen “live” in Paris in 1967) and seem to have learned what little I knew about Lou Reed and friends from David Letterman and from research done for this documentary.

 

If you’re a big Velvet Underground fan you’re going to probably be older than I am old, which, since I’ve been reviewing non-stop since 1970, means you are not “young.” To follow John Cale’s “Velvet Underground” you had to like often discordant sounds presented as “music,” but, hey! To each his (or her) own. You’ll love this slice of sixties Americana if you were “in” to the Velvet Underground’s music way back when. It’s easy to see the genesis of Bob Dylan, MTV, music videos and so many other staples of today’s music scene.

 How many Velvet Underground fans remain in 2021? Judging from the rave reviews at Cannes (and elsewhere), more than you’d think.

Cancun, Mexico, September 18th-October 2nd, 2021

It’s been a while since I’ve been around to post. I was in Cancun and these pictures will give you a rough idea of what I’ve been doing.

Captain’s Cove at sunset. Cancun, Mexico.

Here we are dining in style at Captain’s Cove: (L to R) me, Craig, Stacey and Scott.

 

Aside from a sun burn I sustained 2 days before we left, the 2 weeks were uneventful.

We learned that the Royal Sands is putting in 2 new whirlpools, which bodes well for our April return, and we were only a unit or 2 away from our own assigned unit (C5108), as we were in B5107 and B5106.

The Welcome Party is still defunct, as is the Tuesday taco party for members.

Here is a shot from Harry’s, right across the street from our lodgings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Night House:” Great Psychological Thriller from Director David Bruckner

“The Night House,” a 2020 break-out success at Sundance that Searchlight Pictures bought for $12 million, is playing now at 2,150 theaters for a 45-day run, which is almost over. So far, it has garnered about $8 million worldwide. The studio showed its faith in the film by not releasing it to streaming first and Director David Bruckner admitted in an interview that it could have been a studio film but wasn’t. He’s glad it wasn’t overly supervised by a studio, but became the independent movie success it is. “The Night House” has given me a new name to add to my list of “favorite directors.”

David Bruckner, the 44-year-old director of “The Ritual” and the accident sequence of the “Southbound” film anthology, filmed this completely frightening psychological horror thriller in 24 days in Utica, New York. I realized that I had seen “The Ritual” when I went back to try to find any previous films by Bruckner.

The film starts with a shot of a small rowboat bobbing dockside outside a modernistic lake house. The woman going up the steps of the house-under-construction has obviously just lost a family member, as her female companion is telling her to call her any time in Detroit, if she feels the need. Rebecca Hall (who also executive produced) as Beth Parchin is a no-nonsense teacher. After her friend leaves, she immediately dumps the hot dish (lasagna?) that her well-meaning friend has given her and breaks out the booze.

The film then picks up the story of life after loss, because Beth’s husband, Owen, got in the rowboat, rowed out into the lake outside the modernistic house he is building, and shot himself in the head. It is ironic that it was always Beth, the wife, who was the depressive one with dark dreams, not Owen, because Owen is the one who has succumbed. Why?

We see Beth trying to cope at work during a meeting with a parent who seems to want to complain about her son’s grade. In an interview, Rebecca Hall says it was this scene that sold her on the script, as Beth shows all the earmarks of a woman who is struggling to hold it all together while under terrific stress. All of the acting Ms. Hall does is convincing, but the directorial decisions that Director David Bruckner has made in order to scare us all are brilliant.

In an interview of his own, Bruckner described how the script for “The Night House” had been “laying around for a couple of years” when he was contacted and, he said, “Here’s this crazy movie that nobody will make. Rebecca Hall read it and understood it and we were off.” Noting that he is the kind of director who works fast and decides in a split second (“I’m definitely a filmmaker who likes to lean into a space.”), Bruckner says, “You really have to go with your gut.”

Lead Rebecca Hall, who is onscreen in nearly every scene and has some difficult situations she creates that involve working opposite a mysterious spirit that isn’t really there, said, of Bruckner, “I loved working with David and think he’s brilliant and well on his way to owning the genre.” The “genre” is horror, and Bruckner has been tapped to re-create “Hellraiser.” He said, to “Shockya” magazine that “It’s a dream come true to a horror person like myself.”

The script for “The Night House” was written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski.  The psychology of the script intrigued both Bruckner and Hall. It asks a question about whether we can ever really “know” the people closest to us. We spend a large part of the film feeling sorry for the recently widowed Beth and thinking that her husband, Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) is a good guy. Or was he? He may have been a good guy in the same way that Ted Bundy seemed like a good guy to his live-in girlfriend at the time .

Bruckner called the film “a complex drama” and a character piece. Mirror logic is a recurring motif in the film. The expert use of sound to create terror is handled beautifully. The film was one of the most original approaches to a horror film in some time.

I asked my husband what part or parts scared him the most in the movie. He singled out the spot when a stereo goes off in the dead of night, seemingly for no reason, at maximum volume. For me, it was the sight of several young girls running to a cliff and jumping off. One of the ghost-like figures seems to walk almost through Hall’s character. It happens so quickly that I physically recoiled. But it’s not a gory slasher film, which was welcome, to me.

When Beth’s husband commits suicide, he leaves behind a note that reads: “You were right. There is nothing. Nothing’s after you. You’re safe now.” I immediately wondered if the term “nothing” could be capitalized and represent an evil entity, Nothing. This was long before the film got into the idea of CAERDROIA, which are Welsh turf mazes, or the Louvre doll, which appears to be a metal doll that has had a number of metal rods driven through it in a voodoo “curse” motif. (The original doll is in the Louvre, hence its name).

The premise: if you do things backwards, it will throw off evil spirits. When Beth discovers that her husband was building an exact replica of their new house on the other side of the lake, things take a nasty turn. We suspect that Vondie Curtiss Hall as Mel is somehow involved. Or is he?

SPOILER ALERT

Don’t read further if you don’t want to know some important plot points.

After I realized that the various pictures of women who resembled Beth were simply “stand-ins” for Beth, blameless victims whom Owen dispatched in an attempt to lure the evil spirit away from her by using doppelgangers, I wondered why Beth never mentions so much as one word of bodies buried in the basement of the new “backwards” lake house. There are several scenes after her discovery where Beth could have told someone about her grim discovery, but she says nothing, and we are not given a reason for her silence. Is she trying to protect everyone’s image of Owen as “a good guy?” There is no way of telling. I found this to be one of the biggest flaws in the admittedly out-there script. Why? Why wouldn’t a responsible person like Beth, a teacher, not inform the authorities of such a horrible discovery?

Rebecca Hall admitted that she felt that some of her later scenes in a bathroom (mirrors, again) battling the spirit that is trying to lure her back to the underworld may have been a bit wonky. She was right, but I give her high marks for giving it her all.

The quick cuts where we realize, after the fact, that what we have just seen may have all been a dream were expertly handled. Kudos to the director and the music person (Ben Lovett), the cinematographer (Elisa Christain), and the film editor (David Marks). The production design and set and art directors also did a great job in making the night house feel as though Beth is probably never really quite comfortable in it, as it had a decidedly masculine feel. [I kept recommending grabbing her keys and splitting for any other port in a storm, once the weird sounds began, but it would have been a much shorter film if Beth had never stood her ground and battled her demons.]

As we learn during the set up for the plot, Beth already survived a horrible car crash in her youth and was clinically dead for four minutes. That is the set-up for much of what happens and also serves as a bit of a motive for all that is visited upon her.

It’s not as ambitious as “Us” was with its complex backstory, but there are so many things that go bump in the night in this one to truly frighten that it is a movie I’d recommend to anyone who likes psychological thrillers with original themes and lots of horror that isn’t “Saw”-like in emphasizing violence or gore.

 

“The Color of Evil” Trilogy Will Leave You Wanting More

The New Cover Of the book The Color Of Evil

Click to buy the paperback, e-book, or audiobook at Amazon.

The trilogy “The Color of Evil” traces the actions of a group of high school students in small-town America (Cedar Falls, Iowa).

Jonathan Maberry, “New York Times” best-selling author and multiple Bram Stoker Award winner described it as: “old-school psychological horror, artfully blended with new-school shocks and twists…Bravo!

Click to buy the paperback, e-book, or audiobook at Amazon.

Tad McGreevy has a power that he has never revealed, not even to his life-long best friend Stevie Scranton. When Tad looks at others, he sees colors. These auras tell Tad whether a person is good or evil. At night, Tad dreams about the evil-doers, reliving their crimes in horrifyingly vivid detail.

But Tad doesn’t know if the evil acts he witnesses in his nightmares are happening now are already over, or are going to occur in the future. All Tad knows is that he wants to protect those he loves. And he wants the bad dreams to stop.

This is a terrifying, intense story of the dark people and places that lurk just beneath the suirface of seemingly normal small-town life.

Click to buy the paperback, e-book, or audiobook at Amazon.

William F. Nolan, a Living Legend in Dark Horror, said, “Connie Corcoran Wilson is a born storyteller! Her novel ‘The Color of Evil’ is a real page-turner, and a very good one, indeed! ‘The Color of Evil‘ is total entertainment. Wilson’s got a winner here.” William F. Nolan went on to say, of “Red Is for Rage,” the second book in the trilogy, “Connie Wilson is back–and the return trip will be a joy to her readers. I’ve praised her work in the past and am happy to repeat the performance here and now. She’s good! She’s DAMN good! In a world of mainly bad-to-fair writers, she stands above the crowd with plot, description, and strong characters. Believe me, you’ll enjoy her latest. That’s a guarantee! Go Connie!

“Reminiscence:” Hugh Jackman Visits the Past

 

The budget for Hugh Jackman’s new film “Reminiscence” was $68 million. For this, you get a peek at Miami “after the flood” caused by global warming. This is a futuristic world in which a machine designed, originally, to interrogate prisoners via their dreams, is now used in the post-war society as a way to take a stroll down memory lane.

A private investigator of the mind (Hugh Jackman as Nick Bannister), assisted by his former partner in the military (Thandiwe Newton as Emily “Watts” Sanders), helps clients take a stroll back through time in a world where “nostalgia never goes out of style” and “the past is addictive.” One wonders how Nick Bannister (Jackman) cannot see that his kick-ass female partner would/should/could have been his perfect romantic partner, but nevermind about that potential plot point.

Various customers come and go in the converted bank building that Nick and Emily use as their dream-trip headquarters. Each individual that  gets in the tank, has electrodes attached to his/her head, and receives a shot in the neck, helping him or her to revisit the past. Each time traveler becomes a part of the plot puzzle, a plot that is tremendously complicated and is, perhaps, weakened by so many threads that must come together to form the complete story.

The set for sunken Miami was built in New Orleans in an abandoned theme park. It is impressive. Director Lisa Joy said that walking on the set for the first time was one of her biggest thrills. The sets were fantastic; it is not surprising to learn that Lisa Joy (the director in this, her film dbut) worked on “West World.”

THE GOOD:  CINEMATOGRAPHY

The holographic images used for the dream sequences were fantastic, created by Cinematographer Paul Cameron who said, “It needed a certain holographic reality, so the challenge, for me, was to create this illusion for the memories live on set.” Cameron, who had worked with Director Lisa Joy on “West World,” used halo gauze material, a projection system, and a curved screen. The thin mesh was stretched in the shape of a half cylinder and three 20K projectors mapped on the circular screen, including a Sony Venice 4K camera using TODD AO 2X anamorphic lenses for soft vintage-looking rear projection.

The cinematographer can take a huge bow. As he explained, “You’re laser projecting onto this fabric that has been stretched into this curved shape that’s a little out of focus.” Said Cameron, “It’s a layer within a layer and so that becomes the syntax of the film. It gets very tricky with Jackman and Ferguson, popping in and out of memory, especially when he even steps into hers for the most surreal moment.”

Let’s talk for a moment about that “most surreal moment.” Even made-up worlds usually have rules about how that world works. I commented to my companion that it didn’t seem “right” that Jackman’s character could simply step into a dream sequence that is being replayed, when it  was originally a scene between Rebecca Ferguson’s lead female character Mae and the crooked cop Cyrus Boothe (Cliff Curtis). Some of the “rules” of this future world are spelled out for us. For instance, we know that when a subject is in the tank, if they are asked to summon a memory that they don’t have, they have a fit, like a small child watching a video game who might fall to the floor and have a seizure. I wanted to know the “rules” for one character stepping into the memories of another on replay of the other character’s dream.  I still enjoyed the “step into my dream” sequence, but I wondered if it was really “allowed” in Lisa Joy’s Future World.

Besides the Cinematographer’s revolutionary achievements, the sunken world created by the special effects and set people were truly outstanding. Some have mentioned “Inception” as a similar film, and that is not surprising, considering that Jonathan Nolan (a producer on this film and husband of the director) is Christopher Nolan’s brother.

Other films mentioned that have the same futuristic look are “Blade Runner,” “Inception,” “Minority Report,” “Strange Days,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Vanilla Sky,” “Total Recall,” “Déjà Vu” and, of course, television’s “West World,” the previous work experience of the director) The noir attitude, lighting and theme are comparable to “Chinatown” and “L.A. Confidential.” Visually, this film is their equal. In terms of the smooth intersection of the many plot strands, the acting, and the overall impression, it is not up to the standards of most of those I have listed, but it is enjoyable and certainly very ambitious in scope.

There were some totally original scenes, such as Jackman’s rescue from a tank full of electric eels and the near death-by-piano of the corrupt cop Cyrus Boothe, played by Cliff Curtis.

I found Hugh Jackman’s acting, as a man obsessed with finding Mae, the object of his affections, believable and on target. He’s definitely got the hypnotic vocal quality to lead passengers through time down the rabbit hole. I did wonder why, in every scene, whether or not Hugh Jackman had just taken part in a fight scene, he was slightly limping (his right leg seemed injured.)

THE BAD

I wasn’t as solidly onboard with the casting of Rebecca Ferguson, the Swedish and British actress who starred opposite Tom Cruise in “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” (and is set to star in the next “Mission Impossible” film) opposite Hugh Jackman.  Even though Ferguson previously appeared in “The Greatest Showman” with Jackman, portraying Jenny Lind, as a romantic duo they don’t have “heat.”

It’s hard to define this onscreen quality, but when the pairing onscreen has it and it works, you know it. When it doesn’t, you may find yourself saying, “What does he see in her?” or “What does she see in him?” Taylor and Burton onscreen (and off) had “heat.” Sigourney Weaver and Mel Gibson had it Big Time in “The Year of Living Dangerously” (1982) and so did Richard Gere and Kim Basinger in 1986’s “No Mercy.” If you want a more recent example, the recently canceled television series “Bad Girls” with Christina Hendricks as Beth and Manny Manolo as Rio provided sexual frisson whenever the two were onscreen together, although it is rumored that they didn’t really like each other in real life.

Prior to her lead in “Mission Impossible,” the 39-year-old Ferguson had smaller parts in “Florence Foster Jenkins” (2016) and “The Girl on the Train” (2016), but, for me, she was curiously unconvincing here as a femme fatale who instantly mesmerizes at least four of the male characters while singing in seedy nightclubs. The song “Where or When” is integral to the plot. We hear Ferguson singing it. Her singing is so-so, which I’ve also said about the singing in another recent offering, “Annette,” but not about the singing of Jennifer Hudson in “Respect.” Ferguson is distant, not involved emotionally, and could have been replaced by any attractive female leading lady. (SPOILER) When she ingested some mysterious drug and jumped off a building, I didn’t mourn her passing even for a moment.

 It was hard for me to understand how Ferguson could so reliably captivate so many men so quickly. I remember a display at the Field Museum concerning the real Cleopatra and how captivating she was to so many of her powerful male contemporaries, although her death mask showed her to be just average in appearance.

Rebecca Ferguson, for me, was part of the reason the film as a whole did not “work.” She is an oddly inert presence throughout.  She doesn’t engage us. She is remote. Detached.  Is it because Ferguson’s character (Mae) in the script is ambivalent, presented as both bad and good? For much of the film we are convinced she is a scheming manipulator. However, from Jackman’s POV, she is his angelic dream girl. It takes the entire film to sort truth from fiction.

Because both depictions of Mae are out there until the very end of the film, it is hard to root for her or against her. I noticed that she wore extremely high fashion dresses in most of her scenes. The high fashion gowns had midriff cut-outs and were used in blue, red, gold and every other color. Yet her apartment has no electricity when she first takes Jackman there after her duties as a chanteuse. [This caused me to jot down “Quite the wardrobe for someone with no money for electricity!”]

THE SCREENPLAY

Many have expressed their unhappiness with the script. It was on the Black List, as it is called, for some time, which is a list of the best scripts out there that have not yet been made into films. Personally, I liked the script, but I agree that it isn’t how “real” people talk.

I also found the water scenes (Jackman almost being drowned in an aquarium tan full of electric eels; Cliff Curtis’ character almost experiencing “death by piano” underwater) to be original, inventive, creative and well-executed.

But what about the actual words the characters speak?

Here are some lines from the script. Decide for yourself if these are good or bad:

“The past can haunt a man.”

“Just a series of moments, each one perfect. A bead on the necklace of time.”

“It’s us who haunt the past.”

“Late is a construct of linear time.  We don’t deal in that.”

“Time is no longer a one-way stream.”

“Nostalgia has become a way of life.”

“The past is addictive.”

“You can’t remember something that never made an impression.”

“We’re all haunted by something.”

“The city simmers with unrest.”

“Memories are like perfume: better in small doses.”

“People don’t just vanish.”

“There is no such thing as a happy ending.”

“To find where she’d gone, I had to know where she’d been.”

“You’ve been had and you don’t even know why.”

“Stay here in this life. Stay here with me.”

“The barons stay alive by drowning everyone else.  Only the rich mold the world to their delusions.”

“When you’re young, you think the future will play out like dominoes.  You have no idea the things that are lined up.”

“Nothing’s an accident with Mae.”

“When the waves came they washed away our lives.”

“You’re an empty man looking for a woman to blame.”

“The truth is not gonna’ set you free.  It’s gonna’ damn you.”

“I was so stupid to think that falling in love could save me.”

“Love is the thing we cling to.”

“Missing people is a part of the world.”

VERDICT:

Look back at the films listed that this one emulates. If you liked those, you’ll probably like this one—perhaps not as much as those, but it’s definitely cut from the same bolt of cloth.

 

 

 

 

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