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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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.

Dave Grohl & Foo Fighters Respond to “We Are the 1,000” Documentary with Concert in Cesena, Italy

The heartwarming story of a small Italian town (Cesena, Italy) and its wacky crusade to convince Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters to come give a concert in that town is the central drama of “We Are the Thousand,” a film written and directed by Anita Rivaroli.

Even more inspiring in this story about Fabio Zaffagnini’s creative approach to the problem of getting one of the most popular bands on the planet to visit a town of roughly 100,000 residents is the joy that the participants created in organizing and launching their hare-brained project and, in the process, creating an enduring musical monster.

Make no mistake: this was a Herculean task that the team worked on for over a year.

“We Are the Thousand” (SXSW Photo).

The idea was to gather 1,000 musicians and have them all form one big band. The first (and only) song they were all going to try to learn to play together was Grohl’s “Learning to Fly.” The crew set to work crowdfunding and trying to raise the roughly 40,000 Euros that was the bare minimum needed for the project. Among the problems: not enough headsets for everyone and no money to buy them.

There also was the matter of the distance that sound travels and how the members of the group would manage to play in synch, when they were going to be filling the Parco Ippodrome, a large outdoor race track area near Cesena. That was when one of the organizers thought up the idea of a visual metronome, like a stoplight, which the drummers could see and, therefore, keep on the beat together.

Musicians from all over Italy and Europe, hearing about the project, sent in videos of themselves playing their instruments or singing. From those rough “auditions” the 1,000 were selected and—at their own expense—told to show up on July 26, 2015, to be part of the event.

The “Rockin’ 1000” were from all walks of life: truck drivers, doctors, perfume shop workers, you name it. One said, “We’re forced to live a normal life to support our dreams. So we keep our shitty jobs to keep our dreams alive.” Another shared, “It was about achieving something.” Termed “a sociological and musical experiment,” the band is shown taking a pledge not to showboat and/or show off during the practice sessions. Then they begin rehearsing.

The drummers, all drumming in unison, “felt like an earthquake” said one participant. Another said it was as though a shock wave had gone through the arena, as the musicians were “flooded by sound.” And the sound is pretty good!  As the organizers said, “An engine like this can take us a long way.” Another added, “It gave me goosebumps in every language in the world.”

With the guitars, singers and drummers playing their hearts out—(although cautioned, “Don’t hit the drums like a madman!”)— the one thousand became “the biggest rock band on Earth.” Said one, “What we did here is just a huge, huge miracle.”

After the video shoot of the gigantic rock band performing at Cesena’s racetrack, the plan was to post the video, asking Grohl and the Foo Fighters to come play a concert in the small Italian town. Once posted, on July 30th,—four days after the performance— the video began to climb in hits: 10 million hits—-15 million hits in 3 days—-26 million hits. It finally got Dave Grohl’s attention. He explains (in Italian), “Well, now we have to come. It’s f***ing amazing!”

“We Are the Thousand” (SXSW Photo).

There are then the scenes with the band members attending a Foo Fighters concert and, for some of them, playing alongside Dave Grohl. Fabio’s crowd-surfing to the stage was one of the highlights of the film. Actually getting to meet their idols is obviously life-changing for the band members. “It changed the spiritual current. It changed how people think,” said one.

Fabio from Fasignano does not disappoint, continuing his efforts to maintain “the biggest rock band on Earth” and entering the arena dressed in a robe that says, “The Italian Stallion” (a nod to the movie “Rocky”).

The extreme joy of producing music with others is not to be under-estimated. Renato—a participant from Perugio who had just received a bad health diagnosis—described the act of playing in the band as better than any therapy he might have asked for and, one year later, is still playing with “the Rockin’ 1000.”

Cinematographer Pasquale Remea has captured the elation of the crowd and the joy in human community that music can and does provide. It’s a feeling that those who have participated in a band or an orchestra or a chorus or a choir can relate to and even some of our most influential films have acknowledged that music is “the universal language,” as Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” testified.

This documentary (in Italian, with English subtitles) is a feel-good film for our time. It goes on well past the triumphant Dave Grohl scenes to show that the sheer joy of producing harmony is as euphoric, in its own way, as making a dream come true through hard work, creative thinking, dedication, and an influential video that achieved its goal.

 

Happy Birthday Night in Downtown Austin (March 20/21)

Birthday dinner in downtown Austin at Fogo de Chau.

This will be a stream-of-consciousness retelling of last weekend’s Birthday Weekend in downtown Austin.

It was my husband’s birthday AND we had secured appointments for our second Pfizer Covid-19 shots at the HEB store on 7th Street. That is truly something to celebrate, since we are supposed to fly to Mexico in early April and who wants to fly to a foreign country if unvaccinated?

We started our weekend adventure about 11:15 a.m. (for a noon appointment) and went to HEB first (did you know that the last name of the owner of HEB is Butts? Just wondering…). There was really no line, so we were done there in record time and picked up all kinds of stuff for our room: pop, beer, fruit plate, doughnuts (for the morrow), vegetable plate and dip, chips, etc.

We then drove to the hotel on Rainey Street and checked in early. We found out upon checking in that it was going to cost an additional $50 to park the car overnight. Later, we would find out that it would cost an additional $20 to watch a movie in the room. So, the tab was now soaring to over $550.

Our first shot weekend, the entire bill was $150, at the Stephen K Austin Sonesta Hotel downtown on Congress Avenue,  and it was quite quiet there.

Jessica and I celebrate at the Hotel VanZandt in downtown Austin.

The “live” band across the street played until midnight and then some idiot outside kept revving a motorcycle until 2 a.m. I had forgotten my omnipresent wind machine. Also, there had been no mention of their much-vaunted pool deck being under construction. (The one I show in my photo is an apartment building across the street). Nor did they mention “work on the outside of the building,” which meant that we were to keep our blinds closed unless we wanted to flash someone. I will attach a photo of the bathroom, which had a large tub overlooking the city—or, in this case, the workers outside.

There are robes in the room, but mine did not fit. There were no coffee pots. We asked that one be brought up when we checked in. It took 7 hours to get it. It made one cup of coffee and then would not work.

So, we hunkered down with the son, daughter-in-law and granddaughters to enjoy our goodies and watch Iowa in their first round of play. That went well, although Iowa would subsequently lose to Oregon, so there goes the season.

We also took advantage of the wine happy hour (5 to 6 p.m.) and, after that, went to Fogo de Chau, which I have probably misspelled, and ate.

Rainey Street on March 20-21st, Austin, TX.

This is directly across the street from the Convention Center downtown and was fairly busy. It is a chain (Brazilian Steakhouse). I think the price was $54.95 per person, but this was the son’s treat for his father’s birthday, and it was delicious. Waiters circle throughout the room constantly with roasted meats (sirloin, prime rib, chicken, pork, lamb) and they bring a very small dish of mashed potatoes to the table. Then there is a salad bar. Weirdly enough, they issue you a plastic baggie thing to use on your hand, like this is (somehow) going to protect you from spreading germs, were you to be infected with a disease of any kind. I don’t generally do much salad bar stuff, but I did take some potato salad (very bland) and two olives and some bread with butter packets. It was good that I took the bread, because the girls mainly wanted to eat bread and, at one point, they ran out of bread, which is odd. (Later, they brought some additional bread to our table, by request).

The dinner was delicious and very much appreciated. We then went back to the hotel, where we rented “Let Him Go” (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) and Craig—who had his shot first on Saturday—experienced some after-effects—(fever, chills) that put him out early. I stayed up until 2 a.m. and was very sorry that I had not brought my wind machine. I was finally forced to press my phone into service, as it has a not-that-satisfactory version of my wind machine on it.

Hotel Van Zandt, Austin, Tx.

Hotel VanZandt. Corner room. Austin, TX.

When we awakened the next morning, my phone was nearly dead and we had to check out immediately to make it to my 12:30 appointment back at HEB. We were supposed to check out at 11 a.m.. but had asked for a slightly later check-out, so we left at 11:30 a.m. As a result, we got there around noon and—fortunately—there was no one there but me, at first. They were looking for someone named “Emily.” Another Hispanic gentleman signed in with his paperwork right after me. He was first; I was second, and then the MIA Emily showed and was given her shot, following mine. It is now Monday and I have not had any fever or chills or unusual fatigue or headaches, all good things.

So, we are both vaccinated for Mexico and the birthday—which included shirts, an Amazon gift card, a Home Depot gift card, and the room, itself, (with a complimentary lime pie dessert at the restaurant) feted Craig’s 76th year on the planet.

Demi Lovato: “Dancing with the Devil” Premieres at SXSW Film Festival 2021

“Demi Lovato: Dance with the Devil” (Credit: OBB Media @ the SXSW Online Film Festival 2021.)

The opening night film for this year’s SXSW Online Film Festival was the documentary “Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil.” It premiered on Tuesday night, March 16th and was directed by Michael D. Ratner.

Last year, on March 6th, SXSW in person was canceled. In 2019 the festival’s financial benefits to Austin were estimated to be $356 million, up 1.5% from 2018’s $351 million. A loss of that magnitude has been catastrophic for Austin’s live music venues, its hotels, and its restaurants. Some festival-goers are angry that they are being offered future admissions to the festival, rather than their cash back. Tickets for the online festival went for $1,600 the last year it was held in person (2019); a ticket this year for the all-online festival goes for $325.

The films this year are primarily documentaries, and “Demi Lovato: Dance with the Devil” is the opener, featuring an attitude of complete disclosure from Lovato and her staff.  One staffer on the hot seat says, “I can’t believe you all are doing this.  This is just lit, but okay.” She and the others—including fey best friend Matthew Scott Montgomery—proceed to describe the near-fatal overdose. There is also film from a 2018 documentary that was shot while Demi was on her “Tell Me That You Love Me” World Tour, but never released. There is footage of D.J. Khalid praising Demi’s 6 years of sobriety as she sits at the piano. Super-imposed is the information that one month later, she relapsed. Three months later she was fighting for her life in a hospital intensive care unit.

Demi’s overdose involved smoking heroin laced with fentanyl. She suffered a heart attack, three strokes, brain damage that has left her visually impaired, pneumonia and multiple organ failure. If her former assistant Jordan Jackson had not entered her bedroom when she did, Lovato would have died within five to ten minutes. The world quickly learned that Demi Lovato had overdosed, but most did not realize how serious her overdose was. As her assistant related, she looked completely blue when found and the doctors had to re-circulate her blood through a large machine in the intensive care unit to purify it before returning it to her body.

As the documentary continues and we learn of Demi’s heritage from her father, I feared for her continued health. Indeed, near the end of the piece, she claims that she is going to try the “moderation” route and former addict Elton John testifies that this approach just does not work.

Demi’s own father—who suffered from both bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia—was an alcoholic, a drug addict, and physically abused Demi’s mother, Dianna DeLaGarge (who was a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader). Demi shares that he died alone of a drug overdose and his body was not found for days, if not weeks.

Demi says, “You really figure out who is there for you when your whole world falls away under your feet.” It appears that there are many faithful friends in Demi Lovato’s life. She was also fortunate to be able to afford expert help at the Cirque Lodge Rehabilitation facility.  Demi also shared information of two previous rapes, one by the very drug dealer who brought her the near-fatal overdose that night.

I fear for Demi Lovato’s continued good health and wish her and everyone else suffering from  addiction issues the very best. The incidence of fentanyl abuse has increased 540% over the past three years.

Justine Bateman Directs “Violet” at SXSW 2021 Online Film Festival

“Violet”, Olivia Munn in the SXSW Online Film Festival entry.

Justine Bateman—sister of Jason Bateman—who once played Mallory Keaton during a 7-year stint on “Family Ties,” ending in 1989— directed her first feature film at SXSW entitled “Violet.” It was supposed to premiere here in 2020, but we all know what happened there.

The film seems roughly biographical, with a voice constantly telling the lead character, Violet Calder, that she is inadequate. The “inner voice” voicing all of Violet’s insecurities is portrayed by Justin Theroux. Other veteran actors like Bonnie Bedelia (“Heart Like A Wheel,” “Die Hard”), Laura SanGiacomo (“Sex, Lies and Videotape”), and Jim O’Heir (Jerry Gergich on “Parks & Recreation”) are tapped for small parts in the film, but Olivia Munn (“Newsroom”) and Australian actor Luke Brace (“Little Fires Everywhere”) are the leads.

Justine Bateman wrote a book entitled “Fame: The Hijacking of Reality,” released in 2018. In it, she talked about how fame after playing Mallory Keaton on “Family Ties” led to post-fame -problems.  One revealing statement, both from the book and from an interview with “Vanity Fair” when it was released, said, “I think you have to have a really good sense of yourself to be able to talk about life post-fame.” She describes “the leper effect” of not being as famous as you once were and how debilitating fame can be. “Most of the time, you’re so overwhelmed with the fame that it’s hard to have your wits about you as it’s happening. And then it’s over quickly.”

Bateman related how, after fame seemed to have passed her by, she googled herself and found fans online saying she “looked old.” (She was only in her forties at the time, but is now 55). Her reaction? “I was just kicking myself to the curb and deciding they were right and I was wrong.  I then absorbed their view of me for a while, and it f***ed me right up. Took a while to get rid of that.”

This film seems to confirm that, despite a great number of accomplishments (she graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a B.S. degree in computer science and digital media management and holds a pilot’s license) there may be a lot of Bateman’s own insecurities in this story about 31-year-old studio executive Violet who is trying to shepherd a pet film project through the studio despite a Neandrethal boss (Tom Gaines, as portrayed by Dennis Boutsikaras). Violet is quite insecure, but her story arc is going to have her overcome her crippling fear of doing things “wrong.”

The film has a jarring opening credit sequence, which I did not enjoy.  The use of Justin Theroux’s voice-over—the voice in her head—at all times and the cursive scrawl onscreen were experimental touches that worked, for me.  But this was about the third film in the SXSW day that revealed deep-seated issues with mother/daughter relationships or the expectations placed upon the lead characters by others.

In one memorable sequence, Violet is called and told that her mother has died unexpectedly of a heart attack. The writing onscreen (Violet’s interior dialogue) says, “I tried to make her love me. I tried so hard. So many times.” Violet makes a decision not to attend her mother’s funeral, but to stay and attend her boyfriend Red’s party, instead. While it may be okay to learn to say no, attending the funeral of a parent is probably not the place to start. There is an awkward conversation with Violet’s older brother after he protests about her no-showing, which ends with her saying “Never call me again.”

In a “Vanity Fair” interview, Justine Bateman shared this thought: “I think, generally, nowadays, people seek out fame and respect it, because they’re assuming a sort of state of being that will solve a lot of the things that they dislike in their lives.” I had just watched a horrifying documentary about women who left their countries to join ISIS and are now stuck in refugee camps in northern Syria. They were being used as human shields by ISIS, starving, living without water or enough food, and completely miserable.  Somehow the “inner voice” telling a privileged studio executive that she isn’t good enough doesn’t seem like such a Big Problem after that. I was reminded of Oprah’s advice to write messages of daily gratitude. Maybe a good place to start?

Olivia Munn (“The Newsroom,” “X-Men Apocalypse”) plays the lead role in “Violet.” She does a great job. It is easy to see her as a surrogate for Justine Bateman, post “Family Ties.” The male lead, Red, is played by Australian actor Luke Bracey (“Little Fires Everywhere”). Interesting to note that Bracey (born in 1989) is 9 years younger than Olivia Munn (1980). That was a pleasant reversal of the norm of male leads playing opposite much younger women.

Jerry O’Heir (Lenny in “Middle Man” and Jerry Gergich on “Parks & Recreation”) at the Chicago Film Festival.

I liked the film, but found the “woe-is-me” POV difficult to sympathize with when Violet is so much better off than 98% of the rest of the world. Perhaps it was slogging through the grueling story of women held captive in northeast Syria or the incredibly difficult health crises portrayed in another SXSW film that affected me in this way.  I was happy when Violet—after a sexist confrontation with her douchebag of a boss—tells him off and recognizes her own worth and immediately goes over to the much better job offered her by the head honcho at Phoenix Films (played by Chicago’s very own Jim O’Heir, who was Jerry on “Parks and Recreation” for many years).

So, in no particular order, I could relate to the theme of insecurity that we all sometimes fight within our heads. I enjoyed the performances and think that Justine Bateman showed a better “feeling” for what makes an interesting film than her counterpart Robin Wright (formerly Robin Wright Penn).

I thought the opening credit sequence was jarring,— and not in a good way.

I liked the music used (Vum). The cinematography by Mark Williams (“Lost in Translation,” “Any Given Sunday”) was good. Likewise, the editing by Jay Friedkin (“Ordinary People,” “Babe”) was fine, as was the acting by one and all.

This directorial debut by a female star was much more expert and enjoyable than Robin Wright’s “Land” earlier this festival season, which was a real snooze-fest.

In researching remarks by Justine Bateman from her book or a “Vanity Fair” interview, I found this one particularly timely:  “It isn’t enough to just work hard and be a good person or anything like that.  The American dream shifted over the years.  It’s now either to win the lottery, be famous, or make as much money as possible—and make sure everybody notices

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