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!

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“Cruella” Success Sets Up Sequels for the “101 Dalmatians” Villainess

Cruella De Vil, the big budget Disney picture starring Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, debuted on May 28th and screams “Sequel” from the moment the last scene fades. Director Craig Gillespie has pulled out all the fashion stops on this one, and it shows.

In the last 23 hours, the Hollywood Reporter has confirmed those sequel suspicions, with these remarks:

“We are very pleased with Cruella’s box office success, in conjunction with its strong Disney+ Premier Access performance to date,” a Disney spokesperson said in a statement. “The film has been incredibly well received by audiences around the world, with a 97% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes, in addition to A’s in every demographic from CinemaScore on opening weekend, ranking it among the most popular of our live-action re-imaginings. We look forward to a long run as audiences continue to enjoy this fantastic film.”

Emma Stone in Cruella (2021)   Everything I had read about the performances (Top Notch), the soundtrack (great), and the costuming (exceptionally great) was confirmed. There is even an acceptable backstory for how Cruella got so cruel, crafted by  Dana Fox, Tony McNamara, Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly  Marsel and Steve Zissin.  My remark to my companion, as we left the theater, was that it was obvious there would be a sequel that would pick up where this film left off. And I was right.

Cruella is a 2021 American crime comedy film based on the character Cruella de Vil from Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians and Walt Disney‘s 1961 animated film adaptation.

Unlike other films that have spun off from animated beginnings, this one seems to have more interest in developing sympathy for the devil that Cruella becomes (one of the many soundtrack choices from the Rolling Stones that is heard throughout the action). Audiences didn’t prefer the film versions of Disney offerings like “The Lion King” to the Disney animated pictures, but this one may be the exception to that rule. That song, by the way (“Sympathy for the Devil) released on November 1st, 1968, is but one of the many 70s punk songs like “These Boots Are Made for Walkin,’” “Time of the Season,” “Whole Lotta’ Love,” “Should I Stay Or Should I Go,” and on and on. The music is a large part of the success of the film.

COSTUMING & SETS

Cruella (2021)Emma Thompson in Cruella (2021)Cruella (2021)Emma Thompson in Cruella (2021)Emma Stone, Joel Fry, and Paul Walter Hauser in Cruella (2021)

So are the fashions and with a $200 million budget, you see some over-the-top fashions. “Screen Rant” reports that the film is far pricier than most Disney re-imagined fare. Cruella’s production budget is reportedly $200 million, making it a very expensive endeavor. That price tag is higher than other Disney live-action re-imaginings like Aladdin ($183 million)Beauty and the Beast ($160 million), and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil ($185 million). Cruella’s budget is more in line with what one would expect from a tentpole comic book adaptation. Disney’s upcoming Black Widow also cost around $200 million to make.”

So, we have established that the soundtrack and costuming and make-up will scream “Oscar” in March.

What about the acting?

ACTING: Competent, as one would expect from the two Emmas (Stone and Thompson). Also doing good work are the supporting players, namely Joel Fry as Jasper and Paul Walter Hauser as Horace, with a stylish turn from John McRea as Artie and Billie Gadson as the 5-year-old Estella/Cruella. Mark Strong also has a pivotal role as John the valet, a role that reminds of something Stanley Tucci would play.

 

Joel Fry in Cruella (2021)Cruella (2021)

PLOT:

Set in 1970s London  amidst the emergence of the punk rock movement, Cruella traces the trajectory of Estella (Stone), and the tragedies and ecstasies that mark her formative years. Her mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham) plays a seminal role in shaping her worldview. Despite being a loving and nurturing presence, Catherine often encourages Estella to “fit in” in order to stay out of trouble. Estella is viewed as somewhat different for her beautiful, black-and-white ombré hair and her  rebellious nature. As Estella defends herself in talking about the mother/daughter relationship, “It wasn’t her I was challenging; it was the world.”

As the film progresses, our heroine (Emma Stone) declares, “I want to make art, and I want to make trouble.” At first, she is constrained by her loving mother (Emily Beecham) from realizing her full potential in either field. The pair then begin a journey to London, where Estella hopes to become a fashion designer.

Derailed along the way by circumstances beyond their control (“Happy accidents can change the whole course of your life…Happy may not be the right word.”), Estella ends up living and working in an abandoned building, alongside a couple of childhood grifters straight out of a Dickens novel, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser).

Top cast

One of the fast friends, Jasper (Joel Fry) submits an application for Estella to work at the Liberty House Fashion Firm that she so admires. That opens the door to frustration, followed by eventual fame and fortune when the Baroness (Emma Thompson)—THE arbiter of fashion in the swinging 70s scene— sees Estella’s potential and hires her to be her assistant, ripping off her originality and vision at every turn while lording it over the rest of society.

Using fantastic settings like the Tower of London (yes, THAT Tower of London) doesn’t hurt the film at all. Gorgeous mansions and even more gorgeous gowns are a treat for the eye.

As the plot thickens, Estella realizes, “I’m not sweet Estella, try as I might. I’m Cruella. Born bad and a little bit mad.” She adds, “People do need a villain to believe in, so I’m happy to fit the bill.”

We’ll be seeing a lot more of Cruella in future films, and I hope the films are as entertaining as this one was.

“A Quiet Place II” Is Terrific Sequel to the 2018 Original Film

Director John Krasinski said, on an appearance on Seth Meyer recently to promote “A Quiet Place 2,” “If you’re a fan of the movie, I wanted to bookend the pandemic for you.” He was talking about the delayed release of one of the season’s most anticipated sequels, “A Quiet Place 2.” It actually premiered in New York City on March 8, 2020, and we all know what happened after that.

I remember the premiere of the original film at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas, as opening night of SXSW 2018 and how amazed the audience and I were at the film we had just seen. It was great! Original. Fresh. Scary. Thrilling. Well-acted. The audience gave it a well-deserved standing ovation.

All those adjectives can be used for the sequel, and, thanks to jump scares and a terrific Marco Beltrami score coupled with great special effects and convincing acting, you’re in for a wonderful time scaring yourself silly viewing “A Quiet Place 2.”

The boys from Bettendorf, Iowa, who thought up the fresh idea (which languished on the Black List of great movie scripts for 10 years or more before Krasinski became involved as a vehicle for his wife, Emily Blunt) now get an opening credit as the creators of the original characters, but Krasinski has taken over with expert help from his cast, Marco Beltrami’s heart-pounding score, and the special effects genies of Industrial Light & Magic and Lucasfilm.

There is a brief flashback involving John Krasinski as Lee Abbott, who died at the end of “A Quiet Place, #1.” His real-life wife, Emily Blunt, reprises her original role as Evelyn Abbott and the surviving children, Millicent Simmonds as Regan and Noah Jupe as Marcus, plus her new-born baby are all back. Co-stars, this time out, are Cillian Murphy as neighbor Emmett and Djimon Hounsou as a man on Long Island (who is given too small a part).

The film opens in the very same pharmacy/general store that we know from the first film, and Lee (John Krasinski) is quickly picking up some water and some snacks to take to a baseball game that is ongoing. (I noticed that he must have a running tab at the store; at no point did he pay for the goodies.)

While the baseball game is underway some sort of strange aerial event takes place, which, even now, I cannot explain properly. Is it the arrival of aliens? Is it a bombing? Not sure, but the baseball game is quickly abandoned. It must have been an invasion, because the spectators in the small town are suddenly being picked off on Main Street by the creatures we know from the first film. Chaos ensues.

It was this scene, with Emily Blunt trying to flee in her vehicle, that Krasinski talked about shooting early in the film. It took six weeks of planning and 3 weeks with stunt people to make sure that Blunt would be able to do the action-packed scene without injury. A pod was built on top of the vehicle she is shown to be driving, and it was operated by an expert stunt driver who, according to husband John, reassured her, “Don’t worry, Miss Emily. I’m the best.” They did the scene one time. It is truly terrifying and is completely thrilling.  Krasinski described it as “definitely the hardest scene” to film.

As the film proceeds, the surviving Abbott family (post Film #1) must abandon their home, which is both flooded and on fire. They begin walking, barefoot, to one of the neighboring homes where signal fires have been burning at night.

The neighboring residence turns out to be occupied by Emmett, played by Cillian Murphy (“Inception,” “Dunkirk,” “The Dark Knight Rises”), whose own children died the day of the invasion and whose wife is also dead. He has holed up in what appears to be some sort of abandoned steel furnace that has a soundproof  interior. It has a secure door and one must climb down to enter it, so it is relatively safe from the creatures.

Shooting inside the steel furnace set as a bunker for the Abbott family proved difficult because of its small size. Production designer Jess Gonchor built three different sizes, with removable front and back and sections that pulled out.

“Often we were on a jib arm with small remote heads on the end of it,” added Morgan, “and we would literally push in and out through the tube with the characters as they entered and exited. It was like a scene out of ‘Alien.’”

Emmett is not thrilled that he has been joined by a woman with three children in tow.

Emily Blunt and Noah Jupe in A Quiet Place Part II.
Emily Blunt and Noah Jupe in A Quiet Place Part II. Photo: Paramount Pictures

At first, despite Marcus’ injury in a bear trap as they approach, Emmett insists that they must leave in the morning, but that soon gives way to an actual rescue that Emmett attempts, when the deaf older child, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), deciphers the message of non-stop playing of “Beyond the Sea” by a radio station as a message. They must go to the sea, she reasons.  She sets out to do this over the objections of younger brother Marcus (Noah Jupe of “Ford v. Ferrari”and “Honeyboy.”) and without her mother’s knowledge or permission.

The map that we catch a brief glimpse of clearly says the island is Long Island. Thanks go out at film’s end to Buffalo, Akron, Dover and Pawling as some of the sites used in filming AQP2.

The film ends in a way that screams: SEQUEL. Krasinski said, initially, that he did not know whether a third Quiet Place would happen, but he made plans just in case. “I set up a couple of tiny little Easter eggs in [Part II] that not only explain more about [the original], but would allow for more mythology,” Krasinski shared last year.

“I haven’t heard from the studio that they want a third one,” says Writer/Director John Krasinski, “But the good news is that the studio and I are on the same page in that this isn’t one of those franchises where we keep pumping them out if they make money. I think we’ve proven that this is an original idea that is really beloved by people in a way that… I don’t want to break that promise to people.”

Later, it was revealed that “A Quiet Place 3” is officially a go. Paramount Pictures has announced that the franchise is set to continue with a third movie, which is to be written and directed by Jeff Nichols (MudMidnight Special).

Krasinski got able help on #2 from a new (female) cinematographer, Polly Morgan, and the editor, Michael Schaever, had his work cut out for him as there are multiple quick cuts between action going on in the steel furnace, with action going on at the dock or on the island. Long shots with real film were the name of the game, an homage to the films of Steven Spielberg and to such influences on Krasinski as “There Will Be Blood,” westerns of yesteryear, and Steven Spielberg’s films, which, said Krasinski, kept the focus on the protagonist in peril.

In this film, it is the teen-agers who must cope with the monsters and with their loss of their father in the first film. Millicent Simmonds plays a much bigger role than in the first film and does a great job.

All-in-all, it’s one heck of a great film.  I look forward to seeing #3, when the survivors back at the steel furnace have to be transported to safety on the island, (as well as any other adventures the creative minds of the Paramount team come up with).

It’s great to have a “new Spielberg” coming out with novel, crowd-pleasing material, and I only hope he can keep up the level of cinematography, music, writing, acting and directing in the inevitable follow-up(s).

Some Humor on a Slow Day

McDonald’s: the Early Days.

My husband and I went through the McDonald’s driveway window and I gave the cashier a $5 bill.

Our total was $4.25, so I also handed her 25c.
She said, ‘you gave me too much money.’
I said, ‘Yes I know, but this way you can just give me a dollar back.’
She sighed and went to get the manager who asked me to repeat my request.
I did so, and he handed me back the 25c, and said ‘We’re sorry but we don’t do that kind of thing.’
The cashier then proceeded to give me back 75 cents in change.
Do not confuse the people at MacD’s.
We had to have the garage door repaired.
The repairman told us that one of our problems was that we did not have a ‘large’ enough motor on the opener.
I thought for a minute, and said that we had the largest one made at that time, a 1/2 horsepower.
He shook his head and said, ‘You need a 1/4 horsepower.’
I responded that 1/2 was larger than 1/4 and he said, ‘NOOO, it’s not. Four is larger than two.’
We haven’t used that repairman since…
I live in a semi rural area.
We recently had a new neighbor call the local city council office to request the removal of the DEER CROSSING sign on our road.
The reason: ‘Too many deers are being hit by cars out here! I don’t think this is a good place for them to be crossing anymore.’
IDIOT SIGHTING IN FOOD SERVICE.
My daughter went to a Mexican fast food and ordered a taco.
She asked the person behind the counter for ‘minimal lettuce.’
He said he was sorry, but they only had iceberg lettuce.
I was at the airport, checking in at the gate when an airport employee asked,
‘Has anyone put anything in your baggage without your knowledge?’
To which I replied, ‘If it was without my knowledge, how would I know?’
He smiled knowingly and nodded, ‘That’s why we ask.’
The pedestrian light on the corner beeps when it’s safe to cross the street.
I was crossing with an ‘intellectually challenged’ co-worker of mine.
She asked if I knew what the beeper was for.
I explained that it signals blind people when the light is red.
Appalled, she responded, ‘what on earth are blind people doing driving?!’
She is a government employee…..

Firefly II

When my wife and I arrived at a car dealership to pick up our car after a

service, we were told the keys had been locked in it.
We went to the service department and found a mechanic working feverishly to unlock the driver’s side door.
As I watched from the passenger side, I instinctively tried the door handle and discovered that it was unlocked.
‘Hey,’ I announced to the technician, ‘its open!’
His reply, ‘I know. I already did that side.’
STAY ALERT!
They walk among us, they breed, and they vote…….
(Lisa Sanderson)

“Those Who Wish Me Dead” is Dead On Arrival

Angelina Jolie appears in a new Taylor Sheridan film “Those Who Wish Me Dead” playing a “smoke jumper.” If you weren’t immediately familiar with the term “smoke jumper,” it’s people who parachute into a fire zone to fight wild fires. If you thought the 45-year-old screen goddess was an unlikely smoke jumper, join the club. The part could have been played by a younger Frances McDormand or Gwendoline Christie (Brianna of Tarth in “Game of Thrones”).

The ho-hum script was written by Taylor Sheridan, Michael Koryta and Charles Leavitt. It seems particularly shallow and insipid when you realize that Sheridan directed and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay in 2016 for “Hell and High Water.” Maybe we can blame Koryta, author of the book on which this script is based, or Leavitt (“Warcraft,” 2016).

The movie was shot in New Mexico in 2019, when co-star Finn Little, an Australian child actor who plays the young boy in the film, was 13. Sheridan and company actually built the river featured in the film and a small forest so that they could set its trees on fire. Too bad they didn’t build any interest in whether the characters involved in this script live or die.

The plot:  “A teenage murder witness finds himself pursued by twin assassins in the Montana wilderness with a survival expert tasked with protecting him — and a forest fire threatening to consume them all.” A forensic accountant (Jake Weber) realizes that two assassins—brothers in the book— (Aidan Gillan, Nicholas Hoult) are on their way to Jacksonville, Florida to kill him and his preadolescent son Connor (Finn Little) following the murder of his boss, a Fort Lauderdale D.A., in a great opening scene explosion.

The crime family accountant and son flee by car to Butte, Montana seeking assistance from his brother-in-law, Sheriff Ethan (Jon Bernthal of “The Walking Dead”). The killers anticipate this move, kill Dad on the road in a ruthless fashion, which leaves Connor wandering the Montana wilderness, where he encounters smoke jumper Hannah (Angelina Jolie).

Young Connor immediately hands over the vitally important information in his jacket pocket to Hannah and she completely understands its significance within 3 seconds, which is astounding. They go back to the fire tower in the middle of nowhere that Hannah (Angelina) has been exiled to, because of her PTSD after she mis-diagnosed the direction a forest fire would go, killing three children. There’s also Jon Bernthal’s pregnant African American wife, who is remarkably resourceful, saving the day with her plucky marksmanship.

While they try to make their way to the authorities, the killers start a raging forest fire, which threatens to consume them all. Plot points that are never made clear or never connected include Jon Bernthal’s previous relationship to Angelina (Hannah) or Connor; what happens to all the important data Connor gives to Hannah; and why  Angelina Jolie—after being beaten within an inch of her life—has only one small scratch on her nose?

Actually, the young boy was not being pursued by assassins simply because he witnessed a murder. It was more that his father—an accountant for influential criminal elements who wants to tell the world—had given his son a duplicate copy of the incriminating data about the evil-doers.  The murderers kill him in a spectacular car ambush, with his son in the car. The son does witness this murder, but it is essentially the sensitive information that the assassins are supposed to get—and then that entire plot line, which was never very well fleshed-out, is simply abandoned. The assassins were not “twins,” although brothers in the book. There were two of them, portrayed by Aiden Gillen (the short one) and Nicholas Hoult (the tall one). The bad guys get more lines than normal and considerably more fleshing out of their characters than either Angelina’s character or Connor’s.

I wanted to know what happened to the revelations that Dad put in young Connor’s pocket that set the entire plot in motion. I thought, “Wow! This guy is naïve enough to think that telling the New York Times or the Washington Post would be accepted in the world in 2021?” No belief in the fourth estate after Trump’s term in office. Trump worked overtime to destroy the public’s faith in what he termed “the mainstream (or lame-stream) media,” so getting such a list to the press at this point in history would simply have the evil-doers chanting that it was all “fake news.” The days of ‘Three Days of the Condor” when Robert Redford could save the day by contacting the NYT are long gone.

Angelina Jolie’s films have included such ambitious directorial challenges as “In the Land of Milk and Honey” (2011), “Unbroken” (2014), and “First They Killed My Father.” (2017) All were deadly serious film projects and Jolie helmed each. The person who would direct those complicated projects would not be playing a smoke jumper unless they were being paid a shitload of money to portray something so out of character and out of their wheelhouse.

Taylor Sheridan, too, who wrote “Sicario” (2015) and “Hell or High Water” (2016) and directed “Wind River” would come up with a screenplay that would translate into something more substantial than this bit of fluff.

Liz Cheney’s Last Stand: Another One Bites the Dust

Liz Cheney within the Capitol (Photo courtesy of the Denver Post).

The following represents Liz Cheney’s statement, in its entirety, as she took a stand against Donald J. Trump. It took 15 minutes to throw Cheney out. Now, over 100+ Republicans have announced that they may form a break-away party. Talking heads predict that this is an inflection point and the party may be beyond repair.

From this point forward, Teresa Hanafin of The Boston Globe fills you in, with Liz Cheney’s own statement as she was drummed from her position as #3 Republican leader in a 15-minute meeting in Washington, D.C. today, which saw her booed and which was poorly attended by the Republicans, themselves:

****************

Liz Cheney and backlash over her anti-Trump stance.

“This morning, US House Republicans sacrificed Liz Cheney on the altar of Trump, purging her from the ranks of leadership because of her refusal to lie about the 2020 presidential election.

Her belief in democracy and the rule of law is just too inconvenient for Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his ilk, her insistence that the party grow up and stop groveling before the Mar-a-Lago narcissist too embarrassing.

They’re angry that she’s pointing out their moral bankruptcy as they support Trump’s continued assault on democracy. They’re upset that she’s highlighting their willingness to set aside principle in order to grab power.

So she had to go.

Even as Cheney’s principled stance has been universally praised by those not in thrall to Trump, some on the left aren’t willing to give her a pass, given her hard-right positions on just about everything.

She supported her father, former VP Dick Cheney, when he told another Big Lie about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. She favors waterboarding, insisting it isn’t torture. She said Hillary Clinton’s handling of her e-mails was worse than Trump’s disgusting comments about sexually assaulting women. She accused then-president Barack Obama of deliberately wanting to shrink the economy and weaken the US abroad.

“Liberals responded to Trump’s derangements by bathing the Bush-Cheney crowd in a flattering nostalgic light,” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote. In Salon, writer Chauncey DeVega called Cheney “a friendly fascist” who supported virtually all of Trump’s policies.

She’s no centrist.

But as Jonathan Chait of New York magazine points out, these complaints from some liberals ignores just how profoundly significant her stance really is.

To place her policy positions on the same level as her fight for democracy, Chait argues, is to say that the rule of law is just another issue. He writes:

“Cheney’s decision to challenge the party on democracy is remarkable for several reasons.

“First, she is putting the issue squarely. Rather than softening her line or couching her stance in the logic of messaging (i.e., Trump’s rhetoric will hurt Republicans with swing voters), she is straightforwardly instructing her fellow Republicans that their current path is a menace to the Constitution and the rule of law.

“Second, she has absolutely nothing to gain and a great deal to lose.

“And third, the fact she is such a dogmatic right-winger on economic, social, and foreign policy gives her support for democracy more, not less, weight. The very point of her dissent is that support for democracy ought to be separated from policy outcomes.

“Republicans should not succumb to the temptation of siding with a would-be authoritarian merely because he promises to advance their policy goals. ‘He’ll undermine the Constitution, but give us low capital gains taxes and friendly judges’ is not a morally defensible trade-off.

“Democracy is the one question not subject to horse-trading.”

(You can read Chait’s entire essay here.)

Cheney addressed her GOP colleagues before the quick voice vote that removed her.

“If you want leaders who will enable and spread [Trump’s] destructive lies, I’m not your person. You have plenty of others to choose from,” she said. “That will be their legacy.”

“But I promise you this: After today, I will be leading the fight to restore our party and our nation to conservative principles, to defeating socialism, to defending our republic, to making the GOP worthy again of being the party of Lincoln.”

When Cheney emerged from the meeting, she told reporters that she would continue her fight to protect democracy, and that she would do everything she could to make sure that Trump “never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office.”

Last week, I pointed you to Cheney’s essay in The Washington Post in which she made the point that Trump’s insistence that the election was stolen from him led to the murderous assault on the Capitol, and could provoke violence again.

Last night, she spoke to a mostly empty House chamber — the Republicans who had been giving speeches about “cancel culture” didn’t have the guts to stick around to listen to her — and talked about freedom, the Constitution, and duty.

LIZ CHENEY’S SPEECH IN ITS ENTIRETY:

Trump/Cheney/McCarthy: Three on a Match

Mister Speaker, tonight I rise to discuss freedom and our constitutional duty to protect it.

I have been privileged to see firsthand how powerful and how fragile freedom is. Twenty-eight years ago, I stood outside a polling place, a schoolhouse in western Kenya. Soldiers had chased away people who were lined up to vote. A few hours later, they came streaming back in, risking further attack, undaunted in their determination to exercise their right to vote.

In 1992, I sat across a table from a young mayor in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, and I listened to him talk of his dream of liberating his nation from communism. Years later, for his dedication to the cause of freedom, Boris Nemtsov was assassinated by Vladimir Putin’s thugs.

In Warsaw, in 1990, I listened to a young Polish woman tell me that her greatest fear was that people would forget, they would forget what it was like to live under Soviet domination, that they would forget the price of freedom.

Three men — an immigrant who escaped Castro’s totalitarian regime, a young man who grew up behind the Iron Curtain and became his country’s minister of defense, and a dissident who spent years in the Soviet gulag — have all told me it was the miracle of America captured in the words of President Ronald Reagan that inspired them.

And I have seen the power of faith and freedom. I listened to Pope John Paul II speak to thousands in Nairobi in 1985, and 19 years later, I watched that same pope take my father’s hands, look in his eyes, and say, “God Bless America.”

God has blessed America, but our freedom only survives if we protect it, if we honor our oath, taken before God in this chamber, to support and defend the Constitution, if we recognize threats to freedom when they arise.

Today we face a threat America has never seen before. A former president, who provoked a violent attack on this Capitol in an effort to steal the election, has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him. He risks inciting further violence.

Millions of Americans have been misled by the former president. They have heard only his words, but not the truth, as he continues to undermine our democratic process, sowing seeds of doubt about whether democracy really works at all.

I am a conservative Republican, and the most conservative of conservative principles is reverence for the rule of law. The Electoral College has voted. More than 60 state and federal courts, including multiple judges the former president appointed, have rejected his claims. The Trump Department of Justice investigated the former president’s claims of widespread fraud and found no evidence to support them.

The election is over. That is the rule of law. That is our constitutional process.

Those who refuse to accept the rulings of our courts are at war with the Constitution.

Our duty is clear. Every one of us who has sworn the oath must act to prevent the unraveling of our democracy. This is not about policy. This is not about partisanship. This is about our duty as Americans. Remaining silent, and ignoring the lie, emboldens the liar.

I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.

As the party of Reagan, Republicans have championed democracy, won the Cold War, and defeated the Soviet communists. Today, America is on the cusp of another Cold War – this time with communist China. Attacks against our democratic process and the rule of law empower our adversaries and feed communist propaganda that American democracy is a failure.

We must speak the truth. Our election was not stolen, and America has not failed.

I received a message last week from a Gold Star father who said, “Standing up for the truth honors all who gave all.” We must all strive to be worthy of the sacrifice of those who have died for our freedom. They are the patriots Katherine Lee Bates described in the words of “America the Beautiful” when she wrote,

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!

Ultimately, this is at the heart of what our oath requires – that we love our country more. That we love her so much that we will stand above politics to defend her. That we will do everything in our power to protect our constitution and our freedom – that has been paid for by the blood of so many. We must love America so much that we will never yield in her defense.

That is our duty.

 

Biden and the Border

The article below is a cobbled-together article from a variety of respected sources, all of them fiarly recent and all of them addressing the border, the border crisis, and the history of the border issues. In light of the constant litany of charges that “the border crisis” was all the Biden Administration’s fault, with little recognition of how long this problem has existed and no discussion of what all of the issues behind it might be, I decided to “copy and paste” some of the more enlightening articles out there…especially if they were current.

Apparently there are those who think that a problem this complex can be solved by simply throwing up a barrier, and that it should happen literally overnight, in the case of the Biden Administration in office only 100 days as of April 29th.

So, what, exactly, is the deal with the border wall, then and now? The following words from others are selections of articles, only, and this is far from the definitive word on the border and what has gone on there historically and is going on there now, but I thought you might enjoy reading some of the information for yourselves all in one place.

***********************

US-Mexico border violence deepens immigration divide | World| Breaking news  and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 27.11.2018

“Some 172,000 migrants were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in March, the most in two decades. The problem is both push and pull: residents are driven out by hurricanes, crop failure, crime and corruption; they are drawn to the U.S. by family ties, work and stability in an economy expected to explode with post-pandemic opportunities, and an administration promising more humane treatment after the harsher Donald Trump years.

On Monday, VP Kamala Harris (delegated by President Biden to handle the crisis) meets by video with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei in advance of a visit there and to Mexico in June. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Harris would discuss sending immediate aid to Guatemala and “deepening cooperation on migration.”

Harris plans to hold a call with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador next week after a virtual meeting with Guatemalan community groups on Tuesday.

Officials and advisers say Harris will have to figure out a mix of short- and long-term steps, find non-governmental organizations to partner with and use carrots and sticks to fight corruption.”

HONDURAS

“U.S. prosecutors allege Honduran President Hernandez participated in a violent cocaine trafficking conspiracy. His brother was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to smuggle almost 200,000 kg of cocaine into the the U.S. The effort was part of a state-backed trafficking operation that netted the president’s brother nearly $140 million, according to prosecutors.

President Hernandez was also cited in a separate case in the U.S. last month for allegedly participating in cocaine trafficking. He has dismissed the accusations as lies told by convicted criminals seeking to reduce their sentences and said he remains committed to fighting the drug trade.

Hernandez narrowly won a second term in a 2017 election that Organization of American States observers called “low quality” and whose result they refused to confirm. The country will hold a presidential election in November, and Hernandez is not running. That could allow the Biden administration to hold out hope for better leadership, but there’s little optimism that corruption there is a problem with an easy solution.

“The perception of impunity or the perception that people in positions of power can commit acts of corruption without consequence discourages the population and contributes to the sense that there is no future in their countries,” Zuniga told reporters after visiting.

FLEEING THE VIOLENCE

migrant caravan

Central American migrants en route to the US starting their day departing Ciudad, Hidalgo, Mexico. (Photo AP/Moises Castillo)

“Migrants, including a growing number of women and children, are fleeing the troubled region in record numbers. On average, about 265,000 people have left annually in recent years, and this number is on track to more than double [PDF] in 2019. (And has, during DJT’s final years and now.]

Some migrants seek asylum in other parts of Latin America or in Europe. However, most endure a treacherous journey north through Mexico to the United States. Unlike past waves of migrants, in which most attempted to cross illegally without detection, migrants from the Northern Triangle often surrender to U.S. border patrol agents to claim asylum. In 2018, the United States granted asylum to roughly 13 percent [PDF] of Northern Triangle applicants, almost twice the 2015 acceptance rate [PDF]. Guatemalans currently account for the largest share of the migrant flow, followed by Hondurans and Salvadorans.

Agricultural setbacks, including unpredictable weather and a destructive coffee rust, have fueled food insecurity and become a leading driver of migration. Many households depend on money sent home by relatives living and working abroad. Remittances equal a comparatively large portion—almost 18 percent [PDF]—of the three countries’ economic output. Meanwhile, corruption and meager tax revenues, particularly in Guatemala, have crippled governments’ ability to provide social services.

Decades of civil war and political instability [PDF] planted the seeds for the complex criminal ecosystem that plagues the region today, which includes transnational gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Eighteenth Street Gang (M-18). Critics say that U.S. interventions during the Cold War—including support for a coup in Guatemala, brutal government forces in El Salvador, and right-wing rebels based in Honduras known as the Contras—helped destabilize the region. Though they have declined somewhat in recent years, homicide rates in the Northern Triangle have been among the world’s highest for decades.

ECONOMIC INSTABILITY

Economic instability. The region’s most significant coordinated effort to address economic instability is the so-called Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity (A4P), which made commitments to increase production, strengthen institutions, expand opportunities, and improve public safety. Announced after a flood of Northern Triangle migrants arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014, the $22 billion plan is 80 percent funded by El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Corruption. The region has made significant progress in its battle against corruption, a longtime drag on economies. In perhaps the most prominent example, Guatemala appealed to the United Nations for assistance in establishing an independent body to investigate and prosecute criminal groups suspected of infiltrating the government. Widely trusted by Guatemalans, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) helped convict more than three hundred officials and significantly reduce Guatemala’s homicide rate.

Meanwhile, El Salvador has charged three former presidents with money laundering or embezzlement, and recently announced plans for its own international anticorruption panel. With the support of the Organization of American States, a regional bloc, Honduras also established a corruption-fighting committee and went so far as to fire 40 percent of its police during sweeping reforms in 2016, though citizen confidence in the force remains low [PDF].

What’s been the U.S. approach to the Northern Triangle?

Over the past twenty years, the United States has taken significant steps to try to help Northern Triangle countries manage irregular migration flows by fighting economic insecurity and violence. However, critics say U.S. policies have been largely reactive, prompted by upturns in migration to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Critics say U.S. policies have been largely reactive, prompted by upturns in migration to the U.S.-Mexico border.

George W. Bush administration. President Bush put trade at the top of his administration’s Central America agenda, negotiating the seven-country Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), which includes El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Under his administration, the United States also awarded Northern Triangle governments more than $650 million in development grants through the Millennium Challenge Corporation. During its second term, the administration grappled more with security challenges, including rising crime and drug trafficking in the region, and it responded with an aid package for Central America and Mexico known as the Merida Initiative.

Barack Obama administration. President Obama separated Mexico from the Merida grouping and rebranded it the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) [PDF]. Over the years, Congress has appropriated more than $2 billion in aid through CARSI to help the region’s law enforcement, counternarcotics agencies, and justice systems. Midway through his second term, Obama recast U.S. strategy [PDF] for Central America, forging what was intended to be a more holistic interagency approach to complement the region’s A4P plan.

After an upswing in migration from the region in 2014, the administration partnered with Northern Triangle governments on anti-smuggling operations and information campaigns intended to deter would-be migrants. It also cracked down on undocumented immigrants inside the United States. Court-mandated removals during his administration outpaced those under Bush, totaling about three million. After Mexico, the Northern Triangle countries accounted for the largest shares of Obama-era removals.

Donald J. Trump administration. The Trump administration has kept Obama’s framework for the region, but has prioritized stemming the flow of Central American migrants to the United States and ramping up border security.

Many of Trump’s actions have stoked controversy and sparked legal challenges. In the spring of 2018, the administration implemented a zero-tolerance policy [PDF] that sought to criminally prosecute all adults entering the United States illegally, including asylum seekers and those with children. As a result, several thousand children were separated from their parents and detained in makeshift facilities, many of which were criticized for being in poor condition. Trump officially rescinded the policy following a public backlash, though separations have continued.

OCTOBER 1, 2019:

The U.S. Immigration Debate | Council on Foreign Relations
 Photo courtesy of the Council on Foreign Relations

Apprehensions of Northern Triangle citizens have more than doubled so far this year  (2019) compared with all of 2018.

Meanwhile, Trump has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in Northern Triangle aid, and is holding back future funding until the region “take[s] concrete actions” to address migration. The administration also tried revoking temporary protected status, a program that allows migrants from crisis-stricken countries to live and work in the United States for a period of time, for Hondurans and Salvadorans.

This seems to have made the situation at the border worse.

CHILDREN AT THE BORDER

A growing influx of migrants has led to a record number of children – 3,200 – being held in US immigration facilities as of 8 March. (*This has supposedly shrunk to 600 unescorted children being held, as of late April, 2021, with faster turn-around on processing and at least four families reunited after the Trump administration removed children from their parental escorts and lost track of many of them. Two shown being reunited recently had been separated from their parents since 2017 and 2018, respectively.)

US media reported that the figure had trebled in the past two weeks. It was also reported that half of the children are being held beyond the legal three-day limit, after which they must be transferred to the custody of health officials.

In January, the month that Mr Biden took office, 5,871 unaccompanied children crossed the border – up from 4,995 in December – according to data from US Customs and Border Protection (CPB).

Are unaccompanied children being held?

Yes.

While in office, Donald Trump faced outrage over the conditions inside border facilities holding minors. Images from inside the detention centres showed children overcrowded in metal cages, others sleeping under foil blankets.

Some of these Trump-era facilities – now renovated and upgraded – are being used again.

Mr Biden has so far left a Trump-era Covid-19 emergency policy in place, which allows US authorities to expel almost all undocumented migrants seeking entry – bypassing normal immigration laws and protections.

But unlike Mr Trump, Mr Biden has decided not to refuse entry to migrant children or teenagers.

CHANGES UNDER BIDEN

Biden immigration policy stirs confusion at Mexico border - Los Angeles  Times
Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

“Advocates say that with most children arriving with plans to reunite with sponsors – typically friends or family – they should be transferred immediately to their care.

And according to preliminary plans obtained by US media, such a system may already be in the works.

The Biden administration is reportedly rushing to convert its existing facilities into “reception centres”, meant to rapidly process migrant families with the goal of releasing them into the US within 72 hours of arrival.

The proposal would replace long-term detention with Ellis Island-style processing, allowing migrants to travel to US sponsors before completing asylum screenings. The reports, from the Washington Post and the San Antonio Express, suggest a major overhaul of the US immigration system. All those processed are tested for Covid-19 before being transferred.

What is happening with the Remain in Mexico policy?

On Mr Biden’s first day in office, DHS suspended a controversial Trump-era policy that forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their US immigration hearings.

About 70,000 migrants were enrolled in the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) – informally known as the Remain in Mexico program – since it was introduced in January 2019.

Last month, the Biden administration began to gradually process these tens of thousands of people waiting in Mexico, allowing them into the US while their cases are heard.

March 9, 2021

What’s happening to undocumented people already in the US?

Biden’s administration has taken several steps to reform the country’s legal immigration system.

He has proposed a major immigration bill that would offer an eight-year pathway to citizenship to the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the country.

The legislation would also provide permanent protection for young migrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program, known as Dreamers.

The aggressively pro-immigration policy – which would greatly increase both family-based and employment-based legal immigration – will face staunch opposition in Congress, among Republicans and some moderate Democrats.

DIFFERENCES: THEN AND NOW

The White House has also started to focus attention on addressing root causes of migration in Central America, with Vice President Kamala Harris charged to shepherd an administration-wide effort to address conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) sent a team to the region in April to scale up emergency humanitarian assistance in light of the pandemic, aftereffects of hurricanes that struck in late 2020, and other challenges. Thus far, work with these countries has focused on short-term measures to reduce the pace of migrants’ arrival at the U.S. border. But the administration has consistently noted that long-term efforts to address poor governance and create economic opportunities in Central America will be key to stem irregular migration.

 

 

 

The 2021 Academy Awards: Post Ceremony

Darrel Britt-Gibson, Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield appear in Judas and the Black Messiah by Shaka King, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Glen Wilson.

I’ve held off on commenting on the April 25th Oscars. I wanted to see what the reaction, nationwide and internationally, was to the Covid-era ceremony.

Every year, we try to celebrate with our good friends in Des Moines, Iowa. This year, that meant flying there, which was an adventure in and of itself. We had to fly from Austin to Dallas and then make it from the “A” concourse to the “E” concourse. Although we had 2 hours between flights, we almost missed the second one, and one of the reasons was that we had the Traveling Trophy (a small Oscar) in my husband’s carry-on. This showed up as a metal object on the screening at TSA and that was an interesting delay.

When we got to Austin we got onto the American flight and then sat on the runway for over an hour during a thunderstorm. But, finally, we made it to Des Moines and geared up for the Sunday night festivities.

I am always skittish about those who wish to record something important and watch it later on tape, rather than watching it “live.” I voiced those objections to our hostess, but my remarks fell on deaf ears.

Thus it was that, after watching all the way to the “And the winner for Best Picture is _______” the screen went black. That meant that we missed the 3 biggest awards: Best Picture, which was announced before Best Actor or Best Actress, so it was a clean sweep and I missed all three of the most important awards “live” for the first time since 1955. (Sigh)

We ended up having to watch the presentation of the three most important awards on YouTube.

There have been any who have decried the choice of Union Station for the presentation, but I thought it looked rather cool. Similarly, by virtue of great effort, participants were not all wearing masks and it was a step up from the Emmy-awards show where everything had to be done by zoom.

On the negative side, because of Covid-19, there was no opening monologue, no host, no orchestra, and therefore, no big production numbers, although the nominated songs were all presented by individuals. Did the women dress up? Yes, they did. Was it the traditional Red Carpet that we have seen in previous years? No, it was not.

Now as to the films this year and who won, let’s pull up the list of nominees, with an “X” after the winners:

Best Picture

The Father
Judas and the Black Messiah
Mank
Minari
Nomadland X
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

The winner, of course, was “Nomadland.” This did not come as a surprise since it had won all of the preliminary awards. I found “Nomadland” to be bleak, and would have preferred to see “Judas & the Black Messiah,” “Promising Young Woman” or “Minari” take home the trophy, but it is what it is.

Actor in a Leading Role

Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Anthony Hopkins, The Father X
Gary Oldman, Mank
Steven Yeun, Minari

Everyone thought that Chadwick Boseman would win, and that, I am told, is why they re-arranged the order of announcing the Best Picture. The thought was that Chadwick’s win would end the evening and they probably had prepared some film tribute. Instead, 83-year-old Anthony Hopkins won and wasn’t even there. He was home in bed. So much for that plan.

 

Actress in a Leading Role

Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand, Nomadland X
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

Frances McDormand won, as it was predicted that she would. This makes 4 Oscars for Frances, although only 3 of them were for Best Actress. She won the 4th one as one of the producers of “Nomadland.” She has won Best Actress Oscars for “Fargo,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and “Nomadland.” She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress back in 1988 for “Mississippi Burning,” but lost to Geena Davis in “The Accidental Tourist.”

Actor in a Supporting Role

Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7
Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah X
Leslie Odom, Jr., One Night in Miami
Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
Lakeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah

This category pitted 2 actors from “Judas and the Black Messiah” against one another in the supporting category, which was odd, but came about because of Oscar rules. I thought Lakeith Stanfield’s portrayal was the central part, but the voters disagreed and Daniel Kaluuya won.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy
Olivia Colman, The Father
Amanda Seyfried, Mank
Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari X

 

We watched “Minari” in the afternoon on Saturday, and all of us liked this sweet story of Koreans relocating to Arkansas. The win of Yuh-Jung Youn was well-deserved and her acceptance speech was charming. She was as excited about meeting Brad Pitt as I would have been. I must admit that I had assumed that, after 8 nominations, the Academy would finally give Glenn Close the Oscar she deserves for her unattractive role as Granny in “Hillbilly Elegy.” Later, she was involved in a scripted bit of entertainment involving Oscar-nominated songs and actually got up and performed something called “Da Butt.” As another said, “That was the most embarrassing thing since she appeared in ‘Hillbilly Elegy.’”

Directing

Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round
David Fincher, Mank
Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
Chloé Zhao, Nomadland Chloe Zhao’sX
Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman

This one was announced quite early in the evening and Chloe Zhao’s win was not unexpected. It was only the second win for a woman and the first for an Asian.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman & Lee Kern
The Father, Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller X
Nomadland, Chloé Zhao
One Night in Miami, Kemp Powers
The White Tiger, Ramin Bahrani

“The Father” won. Again, unexpected to a point, but the film did take home the Best Actor award for Hopkins.

Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya appear in Judas and the Black Messiah by Shaka King, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Glen Wilson.l

Best Original Screenplay

Judas and the Black Messiah, Will Berson & Shaka King

Minari, Lee Isaac Chung
Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell X

Sound of Metal, Darius Marder & Abraham Marder
The Trial of the Chicago 7, Aaron Sorkin

Emerald Fennell  won for scripting the Carey Mulligan vehicle “Promising Young Woman,” one of the more entertaining films of this year’s nominees. I had hopes that Aaron Sorkin might take home a trophy, as he is undoubtedly one of the best wordsmiths in Hollywood but it was not to be.

Animated Feature Film

Onward
Over the Moon
A Shawn the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

 Soul X
Wolfwalkers

“Soul” won for music and as best animated feature film. I am anxious to see it, but have not (yet) had the opportunity, although I did see all the main nominated films.

Documentary (Feature)

Collective
Crip Camp
The Mole Agent
My Octopus Teacher X
Time

In this category, “Time” was considered a big favorite. “Collective” also had been written up positively, but I wanted us all to see “My Octopus Teacher” before the ceremony. Last year, we watched “Factory” the day before the ceremony, one of Barack Obama’s first projects after his presidency. We watched that one and it won that night (in 2019). This time, we watched “My Octopus Teacher” and, once again, it won. It’s a beautifully filmed tale of a man befriending an octopus in the underwater kelp forest off the coast of South Africa.

Documentary (Short Subject)

Colette X
A Concerto Is a Conversation
Do Not Split
Hunger Ward
A Love Song for Latasha

“Colette” won for Best Documentary Short Subject.

International Feature Film

Another Round (Denmark) X
Better Days (Hong Kong)
Collective (Romania)
The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia)
Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

I had heard that either “Collective” or “Quo Vadis, Aida?” was going to win. I have seen none of these films. I thought the Danish gentleman who accepted the award was quite articulate.

Film Editing

The Father
Nomadland
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal X
The Trial of the Chicago 7

This was an upset category. “Sound of Metal” was a great film—until the end. Riz Ahmed was great and I anticipated that it would win for sound, but not for film editing.

Cinematography

Judas and the Black Messiah X
Mank
News of the World
Nomadland
The Trial of the Chicago 7

“Mank” won for cinematography. I had anticipated yet another “Nomadland” win here.

Sound

Greyhound
Mank
News of the World
Soul
Sound of Metal X

In telling the story of a rock drummer who loses his hearing, many interesting and innovative things were done with sound. This one I expected.

Music (Original Score)

Da 5 Bloods
Mank
Minari
News of the World
Soul X

“Soul” won for Best Original Score. Stephen Colbert’s musical director, Jon Baptiste, and Trent Reznor, of the “Nine Inch Nails” had a hand in this win.

Music (Original Song)

“Fight For You” from Judas and the Black Messiah X
“Hear My Voice” from The Trial of the Chicago 7
“Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
“lo Sì (Seen)” from The Life Ahead
“Speak Now” from One Night in Miami

This one was a bit of an upset, I think. “Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah” took the award, when “Speak Now” from “One Night in Miami” seemed to be the front-runner.

Costume Design

Emma
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom X
Mank
Mulan
Pinocchio

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” won, a victory for Viola Davis’ fat suit.

Makeup and Hairstyling

Emma
Hillbilly Elegy
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom X
Mank
Pinocchio

Once again, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” triumphed.

Production Design

The Father
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Mank X
News of the World
Tenet

“Mank” won.

Visual Effects

Love and Monsters
The Midnight Sky
Mulan
The One and Only Ivan
Tenet X

This most-expensive project of Christopher Nolan’s took home the visual effects Oscar.

Short Film (Animated)

Burrow
Genius Loci
If Anything Happens I Love You X
Opera
Yes-People

Short Film (Live Action)

Feeling Through
The Letter Room
The Present
Two Distant Strangers X
White Eye

Of the non-major awards (i.e., aside from Best Picture, Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor or Actress, and Director) I scored 11 of 16 right. Considering the fact that I’d seen precious few of them, scoring close to 70% there was my big brag of the evening.

 

“Beatles,” Live: And You Are There (And I Was)

The Royal Sands, April 3-10, 2021

Daughter Stacey and granddaughters Elise (l) and Ava (r).

Week One in Cancun is in the history books.

We visited several extremely fancy (and equally pricey) restaurants, including “Harry’s,” “Tabu,” “Rosa Negra” (the Black Rose), Captain’s Cove and the Veranda at the Royal Sands.

The daughter and the grandchildren encountered a pig on the beach, being walked by its owner. Naturally, photo opportunities arose.

Our room (C5108) became party central for games and we played euchre, poker, Balderdash, Code Words, and other games.

Uncle Mark (Wilson) arrived from St. Louis a few days in and left a few days early. All of the Covid-19 tests required came back negative and, of our party of 12, only Jessica, Chris Poffenbarger and the granddaughters had not received at least one shot. Masks are required at the facility, but not around the pool. The crowds appear to be about half what they normally would be, but the restaurants mentioned above are teeming with patrons, who are being bombarded by high decibel noise.

The son and daughter-in-law and granddaughters and daughter left today (for Austin and Nashville,

Stacey holds Moira, the pig.

respectively). The Poffenbargers left for St. Louis and Macomb, Illinois.

The weather was sunny every day, but especially windy and, for the first 5 days, I did not get in the pool (nor, in some cases, remove my cover-up) because it was not that hot. On one day (Tuesday) the women visited the spa. I had an aromatherapy massage and, for the first time, I was not pummeled into a week of pain. The daughter has shared that the foot reflexology massage was her favorite.

On Wednesday Scott rented a boat that carried ten of the group out to go snorkeling.

I’m not a big fan of snorkeling. I did not ever get it quite “right” when we visited Hawaii, and I haven’t gotten it right since. Getting in and out of the boat has always been a challenge and I really don’t like fish rubbing against my body, which actually happened in Hawaii when we took a bag of frozen peas and lured fish toward us at Hanama Bay. It’s not a good memory.

For those reasons and others, I did not accompany the group that went out on the boat (which, also, cost $180 an hour). Craig hit his head hard on something on the boat and has a big scab on the top of his head now. He and Mark also commented on the strong current in the ocean, where the snorkeling led them.

Beach at the Royal Sands.

The boat captain also noticed their distress in a strong ocean current). Stacey cut her foot on the sharp coral while swimming back to potentially render aid. The hole in the bottom of her foot concerned me for the rest of her time with us, as I got cellulitis through a sore foot a few years ago, and it was not a laughing matter.

But all have returned home to the U.S. safely, save us. One more week in Paradise.

Cancun, Mexico.

Cancun, April 3-10, 2021.

Elise holds Moira.

“Roe v. Wade”— Film That Premiered at CPAC— Is Boring Biased Hit Job

“Roe v. Wade” follows Dr Bernard Nathanson (Nick Loeb), the narrator of the 1984 anti-abortion film The Silent Scream, from his first interaction with abortion in 1949 – when his girlfriend at the time terminated her pregnancy – to his change to a virulent anti-abortion stance in 1985.”By film’s end, Nathanson changes sides as dramatically as the real Jane Doe (Norma McCorvey) did. While on the subject, try to find the 2020 documentary “AKA Jane Doe,” helmed by Nick Sweeney, because it is one thousand times better than this release. That film involves a death-bed interview with the real woman at the center of “Roe v. Wade,” Norma McCorvey.“AKA Jane Doe,” the 2020 documentary, is more authentic and much more entertaining.

It’s hard to know where to start in critiquing this slow-moving, poorly paced polemic.

The 2020 “Roe v. Wade” is co-directed by Nick Loeb and Cathy Allyn and the writing credits go to those two and Ken Kushner. There are other films with an ultra-conservative point-of-view, like this one, that smeared Obama and slandered Hillary, written and directed by Dinesh D’Souza. Those films were equally biased, but at least they were well done.  Here, viewers are subjected to 112 minutes of poorly staged treacly, unconvincing monologues, delivered by a motley crew of actors.

Among the veteran actors who signed on for the paycheck are Robert Davi (“Die Hard”) as Justice Brennan, Jamie Kennedy (“Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell”) as Larry Lader, Joey Lawrence (“Blossom”) as Robert Byrn, Corbin Bernsen (“L.A. Law”) as Justice Blackmun, Steve Guttenberg (“Three Men and a Baby”) as Justice Powell, William Forsythe (“Cold Pursuit”) as Justice Stewart and Jon Voight (“Midnight Cowboy”) as Justice Warren Burger.  Former Fox news personality Stacey Dash (“Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens”) appears as Dr. Mildred Jefferson.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the lead, is portrayed by Nick Loeb (Loeb is also the writer/director and producer). It seems to be Loeb’s vanity project for reasons both personal and philosophical. The press kit insists that this version of events is accurate because facts and figures were made up by Roe v. Wade supporters. (Of course, we are to accept that every point-of-view presented here is Gospel, including the general rock-throwing at Planned Parenthood.)

When the wives and daughters of various Supreme Court Justices weigh in at their family dinner tables onscreen as being in favor of abortion rights for women, the inference is that these women are to blame for the court’s ultimate decision. Actually, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll, 77% of Americans favor retaining Roe v. Wade as the law of the land, but most citizens want restrictions (most of which already exist).

Only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortions.  Planned Parenthood provides American women pap smears, pregnancy testing and services, diabetes screening, breast cancer screening, STD testing/treatment and prevention, male infertility screening/treatment and menopause treatment. But never mind those worthwhile services comprising 97% of what Planned Parenthood does for the community. Let’s paint 100% of their services as bad and move on.

The character of Larry Lader (Jamie Kennedy) is  interested in making money from the abortion trade. Lader convinces Dr. Nathanson, who is, at first, very enthusiastic about earning blood money by providing abortions on demand. To show this, the script unwisely has Nathanson (Loeb) and the others in the room sing a song about abortion as follows: “There’s a fortune/In abortion/You never bother/The real father.” Later, when he recants, Loeb has a scene that is far beyond his acting range, which we can call the Norma McCorvey Reversal scene.None of the people in the scene can sing. Not a lick. The scene is excruciatingly bad, but it’s not the worst in the film. There are plenty more to come. Buckle up.

Writer/Director/Producer/Lead Nick Loeb, of “Roe v. Wade.” (Courtesy of “Roe v. Wade”).

Playing the lead in this film would be a stretch in the hands of a good actor, since abortion is a sensitive, controversial, complex topic that deserves a sensitive, competent actor as the lead. Here, Loeb is out of his depth as a thespian. Loeb has said, in  interviews, that he decided to play the part because two of his former girlfriends had undergone the procedure and he now regrets their actions. (He has since become the father of a daughter).

The film does have seasoned, competent professionals who attempt to carry off this anti-abortion hit job, but the writer/director/producer and actor are all Loeb, along with fellow writers Cathy Allyn and Ken Kushner. Loeb’s tuneless off-key serenade was just a small taste of the bumpy road ahead.

There are several long, boring monologues that come off as preachy and embarrassingly bad. [It was really a chore to get through the scene with the actor reading as though he were an unborn fetus.] Robert Daniels (“The Guardian”) called these speeches “mawkish grandiose speeches that ring hollow.” Daniels was being kind. Daniels dubbed the film “An Anti-Abortion Film of Staggering Ineptitude.” He went on to single out Loeb as the worst of the cast, while calling the acting of the others “tacky.”“The Daily Beast” revealed that Loeb and Allyn were initially supposed to be simply producers of the film. They had to assume directing duties when the film’s director and first assistant director bailed.

There were more problems, as Daniels shared  (3/25/2021 review):  “In a 2018 Hollywood Reporter piece, Loeb explained that the crew’s electrician told him “F***  you,” threw her headset on the ground and quit the project. The costumer left, too.” Regarding filming at Louisiana State, “We were told we were rejected due to our content, even though it will be a PG-rated film.” From The Hollywood Reporter: “They refused to put it in writing, but they told us on the phone it was due to content.” Tulane—Loeb’s alma mater— refused to accommodate the crew, as did a New Orleans synagogue.

The script calls feminism “destructive” and invokes Mother Teresa and Susan B. Anthony as pro-life while tearing down Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood. Sanger drew a sharp distinction between birth control and abortion and was opposed to abortion throughout the bulk of her professional career, declining to participate in them as a nurse. Sanger, however, felt that in order for women to have a more equal footing in society they needed to be able to determine when to bear children.

Speaking of “determining when to bear children” and having a pro-choice right to determine what happens with your own body, if female, there has been speculation that Nick Loeb’s desire to make this film stemmed from his failed 4-year relationship with Sophia Vergara (“Modern Family”), which ended in 2014. (A year later, she would marry Joe Manganiello).

Vergara and Loeb, when a couple, froze her fertilized eggs, undergoing IVF together in 2013. In 2017 Vergara filed legal documents to block Loeb from being able to use the embryos without her written consent. Loeb fought for the right to bring the embryos to term via a surrogate. Recently, a California judge has permanently blocked Loeb from using the embryos without Vergara’s  permission. [ The entire dispute embodies, in a microcosm,  the film’s main theory about who should have total reproductive control.]

I lost a friend to a self-induced abortion gone wrong in 1963.  Despite my Catholic upbringing, I think women deserve a choice in what happens to their bodies (and their eggs). The ultimate decision should be between the woman and her physician, with strict guidelines (as has always been the case), not a decision by a group of old white men like those portrayed in this film, or by just one party in an IVF scenario. I wouldn’t be thrilled if my former fiancée decided to take my eggs and bring them into the world without my consent.

Millions have been spent on the “Roe v. Wade” film project (figures ranged from $6.5 to $8 million). The film seems to be a single-minded attempt to convince the world of the “rightness” of the POV of its writer/producer/director and star and the conservative community. If you have enough money and know how to manipulate the levers of power and use propaganda, you can weaponize that propaganda to seize and hold power. [We’ve seen that lesson as recently as January 6th.]

This is not a good screenplay. Many of the weak performances simply add insult to that injury. “Roe v. Wade” also offers inarticulate editing, patriotic tableaux, repetitive flat compositions (often involving static Supreme Court goings-on), ineffectual camera zooms, insufferably grandiose speeches, tuneless singing and a cast that reminded of “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.” In this case, the “shooting” is disseminating pro-life propaganda for a paycheck.

No doubt some of the principals are deeply committed to the premise that abortion is a scourge; nevertheless, the more well-known the actor, the more detrimental to his or her body of work this film will be. It’s really difficult to believe that “Roe v. Wade” won any awards, although Jon Voight is a well-known Oscar-winning actor (“Coming Home,” 1978). At almost eighty, Voight is playing Warren Burger, who was then 66.

It is surprising to me that any reputable actor or technician wanted to be involved, unless they were in Pro-Life Crusader mode. (As reported elsewhere, the gig was not universally embraced by cast or crew.) In a March 3rd article in The Hollywood Reporter (“Nick Loeb’s ‘Roe v Wade’ Actors Cry Foul Over No-Show Paychecks),  New Orleans SAG-AFTRA actress Susan LaBrecque complained that, after 2 years, she and as many as nine other actors have yet to be paid for the New Orleans shoot in 2018, despite the film’s premiere at CPAC last month. They’ve now gone to SAG-AFTRA for resolution. [Co-director Cathy Allyn responded to The Hollywood Reporter that the funds had been released to SAG as of Feb. 10. “They have the money and it’s up to SAG to release it.”]

Loeb hosted the world premiere of his film, Roe v. Wade, on Friday, February 26th at the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) host hotel, the Hyatt Regency Orlando. The Conservative gathering featured Donald J. Trump as its keynote, Trump’s first post-presidential appearance.  Loeb arranged for the movie to premiere in order to sell tickets to funnel into marketing costs ahead of an April 2nd release on Amazon Prime, iTunes and PVOD.

In a “Hollywood Reporter” interview, Loeb said, “But it’s not a preachy, pro-life, religious movie.”

Yes, Nick, it is. And, unfortunately, not a very well-done one.

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