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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“For MadMen Only:” Crash Course in Comedy Legend Del Close

 

Patton Oswalt in “For Madmen Only”

The name Del Close is not one most of us associate with the pre-eminent comedians of the past twenty-five years, but we should.

In the documentary “For Madmen Only” from Heather Ross, narrated by Michaela Watkins we learn about this guru of comedy who helped discover and ultimately shape such talents as Bill Murray and Chris Farley.

The number of talking heads who pay homage to Del Close as their teacher is lengthy. Here is a quick look at who you will find in this documentary talking about Del Close: Robin Williams, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Patton Oswalt,  Mike Myers, Will Farrell, Chris Farley, Steven Colbert, Jon Favreau, George Wendt, director Adam McKay, Ike Barinholtz, John Belushi, Harold Ramis, Dave Thomas, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Catharine O’Hara, Jason Sudeikis, Rachel Dratch, Howard Hesseman, Tim Meadows, Mike Nichols, Elaine May and “Better Call Saul’s” Bob Odenkirk.

The early performances onstage by famous comics is legendary.

Who was Del Close? And what, exactly, did he do to help that impressive list of comics get their start?

Amy Pohler in “For Madmen Only.”

John Belushi in “For Madmen Only.”

In 1960 Close moved to Chicago, his home base for much of the rest of his life, to perform and direct at Second City, but was fired due to substance abuse. He spent the latter half of the 1960s in San Francisco where he was the house director of improv ensemble The Committee. He toured with the Merry Pranksters, and created light shows for Grateful Dead shows. In 1972 he returned to Chicago and to Second City. He also directed and performed for Second City’s troupe in Toronto, in 1977. Prior to those Chicago years with Second City, Close had, at age 23, become a member of the Compass Players in St. Louis.

When most of the cast—including Mike Nichols and Elaine May—moved to New York City, Close followed. He developed a stand-up comedy act, appeared in the Broadway musical revue The Nervous Set, and performed briefly with an improv company in Greenwich Village.

Del Close, subject of “For Madmen Only.”

Del Close was certifiable. He ran away from home at the age of 17 and joined the circus, working as a fire-eater and being shot from a cannon. He spent time in mental hospitals and was checked out to do his show in Chicago and then checked back in to the Cook County Hospital Psych Ward. He had had a complete breakdown while supervising the Great White North in Toronto in 1976, a Second City outpost.

From a troubled childhood that saw Del’s alcoholic neglectful father commit suicide came a highly intelligent and highly creative comic genius who was devoted to promoting improvisation as an entirely separate art form, which he called “Harold.” He also supervised a magazine for D.C. Comics called “The Wasteland,” although he admits, “Most of our readership didn’t quite get it.”

This documentary written by Alan Samuel Golman and Heather Ross describes Close as “a living legend in comedy.” Bill Murray organized a deathbed party for the inveterate smoker, who refused to quit even when emphysema was killing him.

Jason Sudeikis of “Ted Lasso” on “For Madmen Only.”

The Del stories involving pot, alcohol and psychedelics never quit, starting with groups like the Merry Pranksters and continuing on until his death. Close died on March 4, 1999, at the Illinois Masonic Hospital (now the Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center) in Chicago, five days before his 65th birthday. An early birthday party was held for him by Bill Murray, who summoned many of Del’s former students to his bedside, a party which is on film in the documentary.

Close bequeathed his skull to Chicago’s Goodman Theatre to be used in its productions of Hamlet, and specified that he be duly credited in the program as portraying Yorick. Charna Halpern, Close’s long-time professional partner and the executor of his will, donated a skull—purportedly Close’s—to the Goodman in a high-profile televised ceremony on July 1, 1999.

A front-page article in the Chicago Tribune in July 2006 questioned the authenticity of the skull, citing the presence of teeth (Close had no teeth at the time of his death) and autopsy marks (Close was not autopsied), among other problems.

Halpern stood by her story at the time, but admitted in a The New Yorker interview three months later that she had purchased the skull from a local medical supply company. Halpern is shown onscreen bemoaning the fact that the public learned that this was not, in truth, Del Close’s real skull.

This film is a tribute to the creative comic who lived and taught this credo:  “You have a light within you. Burn it out.”

“For Madmen Only” premiered on July 27th and is available on Apple TV and Altovid

M. Night Shymalan’s “Old” Leads the Box Office on July 23rd, 2021 Weekend

Night Shymalan has always investigated original concepts, ideas that are out-of-the-box, even in his iconic 1999 film “The Sixth Sense.” He has had his share of hits or misses, scoring with “Split” in 2016 and less so with “Glass,” television’s “Wayward Pines,” “Signs,” “The Village,” and “Lady in the Water.”

We’ve gotten spoiled by some of Shymalan’s “twist” endings. It’s unfair to hold the writer/director to “Sixth Sense” exacting standards every time out. Shymalan largely funds his own films himself; it looks like a lot of Bollywood talent was employed on “Old,” which was shot in the Dominican Republic.

THE PLOT:

A family is embarking on what may be their last trip as a unit. Parents Guy (Gail Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) have taken their 6-year-old son Trent and their 11-year-old daughter Maddox on vacation.

Mom and Dad are having some difficulties in their personal relationship. Each has a health issue (Gail Garcia Bernal’s health issue is a blood-clotting problem. His wife, Prisca’s, ailment is a tumor.) As the plot progresses we will learn that most of the tourists at the resort have a health issue of one sort or another.

Prisca thinks she wants out of the marriage and has been unfaithful, but she wants to protect their 6 year-old son Trent and their 11-year-old daughter Maddox  from this unhappy personal news and give them one last happy family outing.We get to see three different sets of actors portray the children, gradually aging them as the beach does its thing. It is unclear why Mom and Dad barely age and one of the film’s flaws.

When the family reaches the resort, they are met by Madrid, carrying a tray of drinks. The actress is Francesca Eastwood, the 28-year-old daughter of Clint Eastwood and actress Frances Fisher, offering them a drink based on their preferences. Later. the managing director of the resort suggests that the family can be transported to a hidden secret beach. They board a van (driven by none other than Director Shymalan, who usually appears briefly in his films, a la Hitchcock) and are dropped off at the remote beach with the understanding that they will be picked back up at 5 p.m.

That last bit of housekeeping turns out to be bogus. If they try to leave the beach they pass out from mysterious and painful headaches and wind up unconscious on the beach. One tourist, who attempts to swim out, doesn’t make it. (Famous last words: “Don’t worry. I was on the swim team.”) One who tries to climb the forbidding-looking cliffs that surround the beach falls to her death.

Getting off the beach is a bitch, but if they stay, they are going to die there as they quickly age 2 years an hour. If you’re there 24 hours, you’ll age 48 years. That will quickly kill off the elderly woman (Agnes) with the dog, Dr. Charles’ mother. It also takes its toll on any health concerns, like Prisca’s slow-going tumor that is suddenly catapulted into hyper-drive. Having time telescope so rapidly brings the parents back to their senses and makes them realize what they have in their marriage, but it’s too little, too late.

The premise of a mysterious beach that can cause the body to age 2 years in one hour is intriguing. Especially in the wake of this pandemic year, an event that has not happened for one hundred years and one which has touched so many of us on a deeply personal level, this is something we can relate to.  As we have watched an insidious killer take our friends and loved ones, the theme of mortality and time changing all things dramatically has become poignantly relevant to one in three Americans who have lost close friends or loved ones. The idea of time flying by and robbing us of our looks, our health, and, ultimately, our very lives, is something that any human being can relate to even in normal times—but even more so in a plague year.

THE GOOD

The premise is interesting and worthwhile. It has been adapted from the graphic novel “Sandcastle” by Pierre Oscar-Levy/Frederick Peeters. The dialogue in the adaptation for the screen by Shymalan does not really flow well. There is a lot of information introduced by having the young son of parents Prisca (Vicky Krieps of “The Phantom Thread”) and Guy (Gabriel Barcia Bernal of “Mozart in the Jungle”)  ask everyone who they are and what they do. This technique does not yield the smoothest flow of information or dialogue. It’s even klutzier than a voice-over would have been.

SPOILERS

One of the problems with the film is the pace of the plot. It moves too quickly over momentous events with no time to build up any interest in whatever character has just bitten the dust.  There are dead bodies turning up floating in the water, attacks by a paranoid schizophrenic tourist on the beach, and the group doesn’t wait around to act. Example: letting the doctor on the beach operate with a pocket knife roughly five minutes after a tumor’s acceleration in size causes Prisca to pass out. That  seemed a tad speedy. There was talk of whether the group had any alcohol to use as an antiseptic. If the answer was yes, we never saw the antiseptic materialize before Dr. Charles (Rufus Sewell, who played the Fuhrer John Smith in “The Man in Castle the High Castle”) was plunging what looked like an old pocketknife into Prisca’s mid-section.

Another ridiculous plot point has one family’s young daughter mature from six to adolescence, become pregnant by Guy’s son (who has also accelerated from the age of six) without even a compulsory sex scene, and—voila!—she delivers a baby on the beach, all in record time.

I turned to my husband and said, “You wouldn’t want to doze off on this beach with this group around. They’d be throwing dirt in your face in your grave before you nodded off.”

THE BAD:

The inclusion of an instantaneous pregnancy and childbirth and the impromptu operation-on-the-tumor did not enhance the film or buttress its believability. Far from it. Both could well have been omitted, as could some of the many tourists.

For instance, the big Black character, a rapper known as Mid-sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre), never really was necessary, other than to be the object of a random attack by Rufus Sewell playing Charles, the dotty doctor.

I just watched Rufus Sewell portray Nazi Fuhrer John Smith in the final season of “The Man in the High Castle.” Watching him randomly puncture people with sharp objects was quite the change of pace. (We later learn in the film that, while he is a cardiac thoracic surgeon, he is suffering from mental health issues).Charles has a much-younger hot wife (Abbey Lee of “Mad Max Fury Road” and “Lovecraft Country”) and Chrystal displays her toned bikini body alongside Charles’ elderly mother, Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant), before Agnes shuffles off this mortal coil.  Chrystal’s demise in a cave was like something out of a third-rate horror movie. Chrystal didn’t really offer much to the film other than her beach body.

CINEMATOGRAPHY:

While there were some crafty shots that concealed the reaction of the parents to their children’s sudden aging until the final moment, there were so many blurry unframed shots from Cinematographer Michael Gioulakis that I thought the cliffs were making me dizzy, too. One critic praised the blurry focus. I was not a fan. The cinematography and music were unremarkable, but the beach—which gave the director fits—was spectacular.

MUSIC:

There is a song called “Remain,”  composed by Saleka Night Shymalan, that was tuneless and forgettable.

VERDICT:

Overall, I was not impressed with the film as a whole, but I always find M. Night Shymalan’s hits or misses interesting and original.

“Good Girls” Leaves the Air After 4 Years: What Happened to the Promised Season #5 ?

Christia Fredericks, Mae Whitman and Retta (l to r), (NBC Photo)

Weeks before the official cancellation of “Good Girls,” TV Line reported that “Good Girls” was being renewed for a season #5 that would wrap up the plot of the three female friends who had become suburban criminals.

The show involved, principally, Christina Hendricks, (who was also Executive Producer) as Beth Boland and her two female partners in crime. Hendricks, last of “Mad Men” as the buxom secretary Joan Holloway, played Beth Boland in all 50 episodes, ably supported by Retta as her Black best friend Ruby Hill and Mae Whitman as her divorced younger sister Annie Marks.

Annie is the mother of a young son, Ben (who started the series as a young girl named Sadie, just as the actor Isaiah Stannard began on the show as Sadie, but morphed into Ben).

I remember being confused on the show in its first season (2018). I asked my husband whether the character was male or female. I had heard the character being addressed as “Sadie,” so I was initially convinced of the truth of that name, but, as the series progressed, Sadie morphed into Ben. a budding lacrosse player with a ding-bat Mom who doesn’t know how to cook and acts impulsively.

Reno Wilson, who was Mike’s best friend and partner on “Mike & Molly,” plays Retta’s husband and they are coping with a daughter who has undergone a kidney transplant. Matthew Lillard played Dean Boland, Beth (Christina Hendrick’s) husband and depicts him as a bit of a lightweight. Dean doesn’t seem too bright, and he definitely is not very successful in his career as a salesman.

Beth and Rio on “Good Girls” (NBC Photo).

Annie is divorced, but strikes up a romance with a homeless man, Kevin, in the final episodes, while helping her sister, Beth, and Ruby (Retta) rob a grocery store. The three do this because each has a pressing need for money and it seemed like a good idea at the time. Over the course of the four seasons, this led to the trio printing counterfeit money for a sinister criminal overlord, Rio, portrayed by Manny Montana.

Experience Counts

Old-timers like Jessica Walters (2 episodes), who died on March 24, 2021, at age 80; Ione Skye (Donovan’s daughter, who starred in “Say Anything”); Andrew McCarthy (who, in addition to being part of the Brat Pack, directed several episodes); June Squibb, who was Oscar-nominated for her role opposite Bruce Dern in “Nebraska” and is 91; and Jonathan Silverman (“Weekend at Bernie’s) made appearances throughout the run of the show. McCarthy played a hitman who couldn’t deliver (in addition to his directorial duties).

What Made the Show “Work”?

Manny Montana as Rio in “Good Girls.” (NBC Photo)

But the real interest in the show came about because of the heat generated between Christina Hendricks’ character and Manny Montana’s character of Rio, the tattooed crime boss—this despite rumors that the two did not get along in real life. The scenes with these two were hot and rife with tension, but we wanted the story arc to take Beth through the paces and decide if she was going to stay with her boring doofus of a husband, Dean (Matthew Lillard) or potentially dump Dean for either Rio (Manny Montana) or his cousin Nick, portrayed by Ignacio Serraccio.

Supposedly, this was to have been settled in a final Season #5. Even though the female leads offered to take pay cuts to allow the story to wind down, it is said that Manny Montana did not follow suit. I would add, as others have, that his character could easily have been written out of the show, since his life of crime was bound to catch up with him sooner or later, and the writers would have had another season to finish the show properly. The ending tonight was disappointing. We did get to see Rio’s tattoo (no, it’s not real and only takes about 5 minutes to apply) one more time and there were questions aplenty about who went where and why.

Questions I have (SPOILER ALERT):

  • Beth gets shot while pulling a job in Arizona or wherever they all have relocated. Are we to assume she dies? She was also shot in her old home and then was just fine again, although the gun that was left with her prints on it supposedly had been used to “off” the young print-maker who helped them in earlier episodes. If she IS alive, why isn’t SHE heading to jail, as her sister seems to be by episode’s end?
  • Why did the young female print-maker have to be killed? Yes, it shows us that Rio means business, but couldn’t he have shot someone we hadn’t gotten to know? Maybe he could have shot Nick while tussling playfully in that “mano-a-mano” way they seemed born to.
  • Why are 2 men supposedly panting after Christina Hendricks’ character (Beth) when she has shown no indication that she intends to ever leave her husband Dean? Rio and Nick are both vying for her hand, it seems, when her hand seems pretty firmly tied up with her family and her suburban life.
  • Did the scene with Dean in their bedroom, with Beth packing his clothes, simply mean that he was reporting to prison for the crimes he has already been found guilty of (ankle monitor, etc.) or does that mean that Dean and Beth are through?
  • What is going to happen to Nick now that dirt on his illegal activities in his Grandmother’s name have surfaced?
  • Does Rio really “want” Beth, or does he simply want a little strange on the side?
  • Were Annie and Kevin a “thing” now? Are they really living in a mobile home somewhere in the Southwest for good? What happens to Ben if Annie’s in jail and if Christina is—?
  • What’s up with Ruby and her husband and her daughter? Is their marriage still intact? Is their daughter okay?
  • Did this Finale seem as though the writers were told to do the best they could in the time they had, so that’s why it didn’t “gel?” Because that is my current opinion. I’m still trying to figure out whether Ruby’s daughter is okay and what relevance the mean cosmetics maestro and his bitchy wife and child had to do with anything. I would have liked to have seen an entire season built around Rio and Beth and Nick and Dean and the final decision about Beth’s “life after Dean goes to prison.” (for the crimes she committed) and after she has had a taste of being the Boss Lady, which she obviously craved and misses.
  • Did Manny Montana get fired, and that’s why the series ended abruptly? (Because that is one rumor that is circulating.) I’m hoping he is cast in something gritty where he can play the hell out of it in this strong/silent man fashio. [But I’ve seen pictures of Manny with log hair and someone should tell him to forgetaboutit on the long locks.]

Beth and Rio in the finale on July 22nd.

Whether Manny Montana’s departure from the series caused its demise is true or not, this has to be considered a break-through role for him, much like the much-discussed character in “Bridgerton” (Simon Basset) who has set female hearts aflutter.

We can all use some Eastwood-like Strong and Silent in a male lead, since Clint just turned 90, so bring it on!

Experience Counts

Old-timers like Jessica Walters (2 episodes), who died on March 24, 2021, at age 80; Ione Skye (Donovan’s daughter, who starred in “Say Anything”); Andrew McCarthy (who, in addition to being part of the Brat Pack, directed several episodes); June Squibb, who was Oscar-nominated for her role opposite Bruce Dern in “Nebraska” and is 91; and Jonathan Silverman (“Weekend at Bernie’s) made appearances throughout the run of the show. McCarthy played a hitman who couldn’t deliver (in addition to his directorial duties).

What Made the Show “Work”?

But the real interest in the show came about because of the heat generated between Christina Hendricks’ character and Manny Montana’s character of Rio, the tattooed crime boss—this despite rumors that the two did not get along in real life. The scenes with these two were hot and rife with tension, but we wanted the story arc to take Beth through the paces and decide if she was going to stay with her boring doofus of a husband, Dean (Matthew Lillard) or potentially dump Dean for either Rio (Manny Montana) or his cousin Nick, portrayed by Ignacio Serraccio.

Supposedly, this was to have been settled in a final Season #5. Even though the female leads offered to take pay cuts to allow the story to wind down, it is said that Manny Montana did not follow suit. I would add, as others have, that his character could easily have been written out of the show, since his life of crime was bound to catch up with him sooner or later, and the writers would have had another season to finish the show properly. The ending tonight was disappointing. We did get to see Rio’s tattoo (no, it’s not real and only takes about 5

Whether Manny Montana’s departure from the series caused its demise is true or not, this has to be considered a break-through role for him, much like the much-discussed character in “Bridgerton” (Simon Basset) who has set female hearts aflutter.

We can all use some Eastwood-like Strong and Silent in a male lead, since Clint just turned 90, so bring it on!

William F. Nolan: A Living Legend in Dark Fantasy Leaves Us

William F. Nolan & Connie Wilson.

Incredibly sad to learn of the death of William F. Nolan, co-writer of “Logan’s Run” and so much more.

I first met Bill when interviewing him some twenty years ago or so. He became a mentor and wrote many blurbs for my books, telling me I had real talent. In his later years, Bill would hold forth online and friend and fellow writer Jason V Brock and wife Sunni looked out for Bill in his old age in Vancouver, Washington.

This picture was taken in Austin, Texas, at a long-ago Horror Writers’ Conference and Bill was in fine form and on panels. His short stories were the best and his optimistic attitude towards a writer just attempting to write “long” (after years of writing “short”) was much appreciated.

Here’s what Bill wrote for the back of my second book, “Red Is for Rage:” “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!”

How could you not love a blurb like that from the author of “Logan’s Run,” “Logan’s World,” “Nightworlds” and a living legend in dark fantasy? Bill had literally hundreds of works, including “Twilight Zone” episodes and worked with the author’s group that included Ray Bradbury among their numbers and arose in southern California in the fifties. He was residing in Vancouver, Washington, at the end of his life and died from the complications of an infection. He was 93.

I won’t be able to send him flowers (or a cookie bouquet) on his birthday this year, as I had in previous years. I am so sad to learn that he has shuffled off this mortal coil. He joins my boss at Performance Learning Systems, Inc. (Joe Hasenstab) and my first serious boyfriend (LaVerne Wilkinson) as important people in my life who have died in the very recent past.

As Wikipedia put it: Among his many accolades, Nolan was nominated once for the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America.[1] He was voted a Living Legend in Dark Fantasy by the International Horror Guild in 2002, and in 2006 was bestowed the honorary title of Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. In 2010, he received the Lifetime Achievement Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association (HWA). In 2013 he was a recipient, along with Brian W. Aldiss, of the World Fantasy Convention Award in Brighton, England by the World Fantasy Convention. In May 2014, Nolan was presented with another Bram Stoker Award, for Superior Achievement in Nonfiction; this was for his collection about his late friend Ray Bradbury, called Nolan on Bradbury: Sixty Years of Writing about the Master of Science Fiction.[5] In 2015, Nolan was named a World Horror Society Grand Master; the award was presented at the World Horror Convention in Atlanta, GA in May of that year.[

BornWilliam Francis Nolan
March 6, 1928
Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.
DiedJuly 15, 2021 (aged 93)
Vancouver, Washington, U.S.
OccupationWriter, Artist, Actor
GenreScience fiction, Magical Realism, Fantasy, Literary, Western, and Horror
Notable worksLogan’s RunTrilogy of TerrorBurnt Offerings (film)Helltracks
Notable awardsMWA Edgar Allan Poe Award Nominee (1x); IHG Living Legend in Dark Fantasy Winner, 2002; SFWA Author Emeritus, 2006; HWA Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, 2010; World Fantasy Convention Award, 2013; World Horror Society Grand Master, 2015
Years active1952–2021

“Shrill” Leaves Air After 3 Seasons

I just watched the final season of “Shrill” on Hulu.

It took me back to March of 2019 when the series was launching and Executive Producer Elizabeth Banks and star Aidy Bryant came to SXSW with a panel that included the woman, Lindy West, who wrote the book on which the series was based. I sat right behind Ms. Banks during the introduction and then she moved to the stage following the showing of one episode for the Q&A.

Aidy Bryant of “SNL” played the lead role of Annie Easton, a writer for the fictional “Thorn” newspaper where she interacted with Boss Gabe Parrish (John Cameron Mitchell), and Ian Owens as Amadi. The 22 episodes that I’ve watched followed the plight of an overweight single woman in today’s dating scene. We didn’t get to see as much of Aidy on “SNL” because of her involvement in this show, but that will, hopefully, end with the series finale.

Annie (Aidy) lives with her college friend Fran (Lolly Adefope), who is a Black Nigerian lesbian who grew up in London, and, for most of the series she dates Ryan (Luka Jones) who was replaced in the show’s final episodes by a new more promising boyfriend named Will (Cameron Britton).

Elizabeth Banks (l) and Lindy West (R) onstage at SXSW in 2019, lauching “Shrill.”

Ryan made it through 16 episodes as the sadly tone-deaf boyfriend, while the Will character only made it through 4 episodes before he became hopelessly pissed off that Annie went to the coffee shop where Will’s ex-wife worked, just to see what her new boyfriend’s ex looked like. After all, Will and his ex-wife met at age 15 and she was the only girl he had ever been with, whereas Annie is seen jumping in and out of bed with a variety of swains, including a really depressing deflowering experience at an “Oklahoma” cast after-party, where the prop manager of the play offered to “do” Annie, since she was the only one in their circle who was a virgin.

Most of the show wants to be striking a blow against fat-shaming. There’s the episode where Annie’s doctor mentions that she could opt for stomach stapling and Annie reacts with a great deal of profanity and unpleasantness. There’s the episode that is a pool party with a bevy of Big Beauties who are lesbian.  The show also wants to come down firmly on the side of lesbian love and there is definitely a strong message for mothers of girls with a weight problem that harping on the problem and putting their daughter on diet after diet isn’t the right approach to urging an overweight child (especially a girl) to lose weight.

As a woman who was of “normal” weight for most of my life, but gained weight after having my 2 kids, I could relate to the mother, played by pro Julia Sweeney, who spends most of her time harassing her daughter about her weight. This approach doesn’t work and the grown-up Annie proves it.

There is also a fun plot about striking back at Internet trolls, with Beck Bennet guest starring as the troll who goes online to attack fat people, especially girls, even if they are complete strangers.

There was a lot of talk about sex or having sex and there was a quirky work group that rivaled “The Office.”

I enjoyed the series while it was on the air, although I thought the attempt to strike a blow for overweight women was probably doomed to failure from the get go.

SPOILER ALERT

Aidy Bryant (second from left) and Elizabeth Banks (second from far right) with the interviewer and other executive producer appearing onstage for a Q&A following the 2019 screening of an episode of “Shrill,” as it launched.

By the last episode, Fran (Annie’s roommate) has managed to deep-six her lesbian relationship and Annie is on the outs with Will because of the ill-advised trip to the coffee shop where Will’s ex worked. I realize that the creative minds behind this venture (Lindy West and Alexandra Rushfield for all of the episodes, with Elizabeth Banks involved for 16 of them) had to end this somehow, but it was definitely not an inspiring finale. Fran and Annie are sitting on a park bench with a bottle of what looks like champagne that they had saved for the day they would stop being roommates and they both confess that they have managed to completely screw up their most recent love relationships and the final word on that is, “I’ll fix it.”

That was not the “happy ending” most of us had hoped for.

The best that can be said about “happy endings” here is that we learn that Gabe has bought “The Thorn” and Annie and Office Manager Amadi have been promoted, so take your happiness where you can find it.

“No Sudden Move” Has Star-Studded Cast (Now Streaming)

Steven Soderbergh (“Sex, Lies and Videotape,” “Michael Clayton”) has a new movie streaming on HBO Max with a killer cast. The leads are Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro. The rest of the cast includes David Harbour (“Revolutionary Road,” “Stranger Things”); Brendan Frasier (“The Mummy”); Ray Liotta (“Goodfellas”); Kieran Culkin (“Succession,” “Igby Goes Down”); Noah Jupe (“Ford versus Ferrari,” “A Quiet Place”); Bill Duke (“Predator,” “American Gigolo”); Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”); and Matt Damon (“Good Will Hunting,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley”).

The odd thing about this impressive list of actors is that Matt Damon doesn’t  appear on the credits at any point. He appears in a somewhat pivotal role, but is not listed on IMDB, in the credits at the end, or in the P.R. for the movie.

The beginning of the film is very impressive; it sucks us in immediately. Some bad guys are hired to retrieve something from a safe. Every time an amount is mentioned for the task to be performed it changes. The audience is not clear in the beginning what is being retrieved. What’s in the safe? Is it diamonds? Is it a little black book that lists Mafia members? Is it pictures meant to blackmail some important person? The log-line online says: “A group of criminals are brought together under mysterious circumstances and have to work together to uncover what’s really going on when their simple job goes completely sideways”

A family is taken hostage and the father (David Harbour) is instructed to get the contents of the envelope in the safe at his office and bring them back to his home. If he doesn’t, his wife and son and daughter are in peril, being held hostage by Don Cheadle and Kieran Culkin who are masked in the world’s worst identity-concealing masks and are holding the family at gunpoint.

The son, Matthew Wertz, Jr.—Noah Jupe of “Ford vs Ferrari” and “A Quiet Place”—is 16 now, and it shows. He is no longer the small boy of those previous films. While the actress playing Noah’s Mom (Amy Seinmetz) as Mary Wertz is good, Julia Fox, who plays Benicio del Toro’s love interest is not very good. She has very few career credits; they only go back to 2018. “Uncut Gems,” in which she played a character also named Julia, was about the most impressive and memorable of those listed. She even appeared in an interview talking about her relative lack of experience when measured against the majority of the cast members. This was not promising, and her fears about her performance as Vanessa were fulfilled.

I paid close attention and even while paying careful attention to the plot, it was tough sledding. The characters throw around names when we haven’t really figured out who these people are yet. It wasn’t until a conversation that Don Cheadle makes from a phone booth (the film is set in 1954 Detroit) that I even developed a coherent theory about what the plot involved. (Note: in the final frames of the film, Soderbergh will synopsize the entire plot in a few brief paragraphs, so don’t worry about leaving the movie without knowing what it was all about.)

The film looked terrific and it was very complicated and, for the most part, well-written and well-acted. Not a “10” on a 10-point scale, but better than most of the original films that are currently streaming.

“Symptoms of Withdrawal” by Christopher Kennedy Lawford Offers Insight

I just finished reading Christopher Kennedy Lawford’s memoir (2005) “Symptoms of Withdrawal.”

Yes, it was published in 2005, so I’m a bit behind on this one. Something reminded me of the Las Vegas trip when I won at roulette with one (1) bet on one number and went upstairs to watch young Lawford be interviewed about a book, which I think was this book. It was a long time ago and that would make it 16 years ago. I remember that the Japanese gamblers gathered around the roulette wheel when I placed exactly one $50 bet on one color and number clapped when I took the money and ran. I had had a spirited discussion with my spouse about the wisdom of betting on roulette at all, but I had just won $50 at the poker bar, so I figured I was playing with the house’s money. I wanted to make it upstairs to hear this interview.

The interview was worth it. The adult son of actor Peter Lawford and one of the fabled Kennedy clan (JFK’s sister Patricia is his mother) would have been 50 years old when this book was published in 2005. He shared that his father was the last person to talk to Marilyn Monroe on the phone the night she died, when Marilyn called him. He talked about his much-discussed 17-year addiction to drugs of all kinds, which ultimately led him to quit all of them and become a speaker and writer on the topic.

Christopher Kennedy Lawford was a handsome guy. He looked like a real charmer, and I’m sure he was. By the time he died of a heart attack (brought on, some say, by a hot yoga class) in 2018 at the age of 63 he had gone through 3 wives and was with a new girlfriend in Canada.

I found his book very interesting and I was a sympathetic reader up until Chapter 39. What happened in Chapter 39, you may ask?

The younger Lawford writes, “I left my marriage in sobriety because I was being dishonest and after seventeen years wasn’t sure I wanted to be married anymore.” Young Christopher went on to say, “To tell lies to others is foolish; to tell lies to yourself is a disaster.” He added, “I have always had a certain ambivalence about marriage…Something about that life didn’t feel right to me. It wasn’t Jeannie (his wife) or my kids. It was me.” Interestingly enough, Wife #2 (Lana) uses the quote about telling lies to yourself in her IMDB biography.

In the next paragraph Christopher adds, “Many of the people in my life, including my kids, thought I was crazy to break up my marriage and got very angry with me. At the time, it was something I felt like I had to do. I could not lie anymore to others or myself. I thought we would all acclimate to the change and go on in the new circumstances. I seriously underestimated the pain my leaving caused and how difficult it would be for Jeannie and my kids to adjust.”

He adds, “I had made quite a show of trying to destroy myself, and now, after years of reconstruction, I was left with the knowledge that if you took away my sobriety, the only thing that I knew how to do was take advantage of the circumstances I was born into. I believed I needed to leave home to find out who I was.”

Christopher Kennedy Lawford’s therapist at the time said to him, “What about your children?”

By this point, he had three—2 sons (David and Matthew) and a daughter (Savannah Rose).

The therapist correctly added, “It is vital that you do not recreate unconsciously  what was done to you by your father.” If you had read the book, you’d know that the divorce of Pat Kennedy Lawford and Peter Lawford meant that young Christopher—their only son—-really had no father and depended a great deal on the “fathering” of relatives like Robert Kennedy, until RFK’s assassination, and, after that, on Teddy Kennedy.

The therapist then added something that sounds like malpractice, really: “You can recreate it consciously.  You can choose to turn away from your family, or not. It’s your life, but you must make a conscious choice.”

Christopher Kennedy Lawford then writes, “I think it was at that moment that I understood how to take responsibility for my own life.”

Wellllll.

By this point in time we have learned that the good-looking quasi-Kennedy had always been a big hit with the ladies and was a real “pleaser.” However, all that pleasing did not extend to following the rules when it came to illegal substances and he paints a pretty vivid picture of someone who hit rock bottom more than once before getting sober. He had dabbled in the worlds of both of his parents, taking acting roles on both television and in the movies, and he had wangled some time as a driver to his Uncle Teddy, among other youthful forays into politics.

What it appears happened here is that the always-reluctant-to-grow-up Christopher—having fathered 3 children and spent 17 years as an addict—finally kicked his bad habits and then decided that he could substitute his appeal to the ladies for some of his other weaknesses. In rather short order, he threw over a close-to-20 year marriage and took up with a beautiful young Russian actress named Lana Antonova. [There went the marriage to Jeannie Olsson, which lasted from 1984 until 2000.]

Lana and Chris were married for 4 years and divorced in 2009. She is a Russian-born actress and, since she was born in 1979, she was 24 years younger than her husband.

Enter Mercedes Miller in 2014. That marriage would only last 2 years before the couple divorced in 2016. His last wife, Mercedes was a yoga instructor and Kennedy, who was worth $50 million when he died, was in Vancouver, Canada when his heart gave out. He already had a new girlfriend and was working to establish an addiction treatment center when he died at age 63, just 2 years later than his actor father, Peter.

Christopher Kennedy Lawford lost his Uncle Jack when he was 8. (He turned down an invitation to fly to JFK’s funeral to stay home and host a sleep-over with a friend.) Uncle Bobby was shot and killed when Chris was 13 and he lost his best friend David Kennedy (after whom his own son is named) at the tender age of 28.

He earned a law degree from Boston College Law School, but really didn’t care for the law and never passed the bar. He studied counseling at Harvard University and lectured on addiction at Harvard, Columbia University and other college campuses. He spoke out on recovery issues for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Barack Obama and for the Caron Foundation, a nationwide drug and alcohol rehabilitation network.

This book by Christopher Kennedy Lawford, “Symptoms of Withdrawal,” is the only one of his many books I’ve read. It contained many family photos of the young Lawford with his Kennedy relatives.

I was sympathetic to his tales of how much he missed his father, growing up, and how that turned him to drugs and alcohol, until he turned around and did, to his own kids, exactly what his own father had done to him, breaking up the home he had shared with their mother for nearly 20 years.

It also appears that the young Lawford then snagged himself a “trophy wife” and, later, a third younger woman, whom he also dumped in 2016 (he died in 2018). He speaks at length of how he hopes to be a good father (unlike his own dad) to his three kids, and I hope he achieved that, at least, because he does not seem to have mastered the “good husband” part.

“We can re-create the days when Frank, Dean, Sammy and my dad were together,” Christopher told the Boston Globe in 2005. “But they all ended up dysfunctional, messed-up guys. And they once had everything. Money. Good looks. Success. Yet at the end, they were miserable, miserable men alone, angry, drinking. So what’s that all about?”

What’s that all about, indeed.

 

“Queen of Basketball” Is Outstanding Short Documentary from Director Ben Proudfoot

Ben Proudfoot (October 29, 1990) is a Canadian filmmaker from HalifaxNova Scotia. He is most noted as codirector with Kris Bowers of the short documentary film A Concerto Is a Conversation, which was an Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary (Short Subject) at the 93rd Academy Awards in 2021. Proudfoot was named one of Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30” honorees. In addition to being a world-class magician, he founded Breakwater films in 2012, primarily dedicated to the short documentary form.

Proudfoot attended film school at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts and, in partnership with the New York Times, Breakwater Films has helmed “The Queen of Basketball,” the story of Lusia “Lucy” Harris Stewart. Skillfully interweaving film footage with Lucy’s own observations and with charming background music, this is a very well-done and insightful short documentary.

As Proudfoot says of his documentary, “The visual legacy of Lusia “Lucy” Harris, as told from memory in her own voice, painted a portrait of one of the most important American athletes of the 20th century.”

Ben and his team digitized nearly 10,000 film negatives and 16,000 feet of film that had lain in the college vaults for 50 years to produce this 22 and ½ minute documentary. The film had its World Premiere at 2021’s New York  Tribeca Film Festival. It won Best Documentary Short at the 2021 Palm Springs Film Festival, which is an Oscar-qualifying film festival.

Told in her own words, Lusia “Lucy” Harris, #45, from Cleveland, Mississippi, is living testimony to the inequities in women’s versus men’s sports that Title IX started to address in 1972. Lucy, at 6’ 3”, was a gifted athlete who led Delta State and Memphis State to three consecutive national titles with the AIAW (Association for Inter-collegiate Athletics for Women). Lucy was also on the women’s U.S. Olympic team the very first year that women’s basketball was admitted to the Olympics, snagging the silver medal and scoring the first-ever basket for women at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Lucy, the 1976 Amateur Athlete of the Year, was the first woman inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Coached by Margaret Wade of Mississippi’s Delta State, the Lady Statesmen played to a packed 4,500-seat fieldhouse for the women’s basketball games, double the men’s following. They also flew to their games, while the men took the bus. The biggest rivalry, documented in Proudfoot’s film, was Immaculata College, which had been the two-time national champion before Delta State beat them 90 to 81.

And yet nobody today knows Lucy’s name.

As Lucy muses in the documentary, “If I’d been a man, there would have been options for me to go further” (after graduating from college). There were none. Instead, Lucy married her high school boyfriend, George, and turned down a try-out offer from the NBA’s Utah Jazz.

Instead, Lucy had five children, endured mental problems (including a nervous breakdown) after her playing days were over, and worked at her old high school (Amanda Elzy Panthers) as head coach.

This short documentary comes at the perfect time in history, when women are demanding equity in pay and opportunity. In much of the world, that seems to be happening, but in a world with Honor Killings and young girls like Malala mortally wounded merely for wanting to acquire a good education, a film like this is more than timely. It is necessary.

 

 

“Happy-Go-Lucky” Is Worth A Look

My apologies to all who thought—as I did—that Weekly in the title Weekly Wilson meant that I would not go more than a week without posting.

I have excuses.

Mostly, the excuses involve my always-rocky relationship with computers.

The hinge on my laptop somehow came undone. So, no laptop to write my post on and most of the graphics I’d need are within said laptop. Computer Revolutions scavenged a new top from an old computer and ordered and installed a new hinge. They did this between Friday and Tuesday, but I still was without a computer recently.

In the meantime, I tried to go downstairs and use my desk top.

Can’t make it type even a letter to the sister for her birthday. Not sure why. Could be “updates.” Could be that I owe money for something that I don’t know about. After all, we were gone from November through May, so various “updates” had to be installed.

Now that I’m (more-or-less) back, I’d like to recommend some viewing, including “Start Up,” which features Martin Freeman and Ron Perlman in a tale from Miami about the Internet, which also features Academy-Award winning actress Mira Sorvino, whom you seldom see onscreen. (Her career a Harvey Weinstein casualty, I believe).

We started watching “The Ice Road” last night, the #1 rental on Netflix with Liam Neeson. When we got to the point where both trucks were on their sides, I asked how they were going to get them both upright again. Still don’t know, as the film quit loading/running.

Last, but not least, Sally Hawkins (the deaf mute girl in “The Shape of Water”) and “Terry” (from “Ray Donovan,” as portrayed by Eddie Marsan) appeared on my late-night television viewing in “Happy-Go-Lucky” and I heartily recommend this film if you are in the market for an upbeat film (from 2008) that has a lot to say about optimism in the face of life’s normal setbacks. (Preview above).

“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.

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