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!

Observations on the January 7th Golden Globes from Zayin Allen

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Image result for google images of Oprah Winfrey at the Golden Globes, 2017
Oprah at the Sunday, January 7th, Golden Globe Awards
During the Golden Globes, the big moments are not about the ceremony and awards themselves,.
It’s more about what the nominees and winners have to say. especially with everything  happening leading into the new year with the “Me, Too!” movement..
Image result for google images of Natalie Portman at the Golden Globes, 2017

Natalie Portman was strong to subtly voice her opinion on the “All male nominees” for the best director category.

Image result for Google images of Guillermo del toro at the 2017 Golden Globes

Guillermo Del Toro took home the Best Director award for “Shape of Water.”  This act basically called out the elephant in the room with a loud speaker, especially since Barbra Streisand recalled being the last woman to win the award for Best Director and that was in 1984. Portman laid the ground work for the biggest moments of the night, but Oprah’s remarks (which she had been asked to shorten, but refused) were the cherry on top of the sundae..

Who else is there better to steal the show with grace and status than Oprah herself?
 After Oprah accepted the 2018 Cecil B. DeMille Award, Winfrey, the first African American woman to receive the award, went on to use the outlet and addressed the sexual misconduct scandal happening in Hollywood.  During her acceptance speech she stated that “speaking your truth is the most powerful tool you all have.”
Among all the speeches, none of them made the audience form eye puddles like Winfrey’s.  Going on to call out to the young girls at home, Oprah said, become the leaders“I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon!.. And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they  who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say, “Me too” again.” The hashtag #MeToo began to spread like wildfire all over the internet, basically questioning whether or not Oprah was locking in her run for President in 2020.
Yeah, it was that big.
That was not the only huge moment of the night.  Sterling K. Brown’s performance as Randall Pearson  in NBC’s drama “This is Us” was noteworthy. Brown won the Golden Globe award for best actor in a TV series, drama. While the show is heavy in certain moments enough to make a grown man cry.
With most of the talk of the night centering around gender, Brown went on to address something of a different caliber: being one the first African American actors to win the award for the best actor in a TV drama. In his brief acceptance speech he went on to thank the show’s creator, Dan Fogelman  “for a black man that can only be played by a black man…… I’m being seen for who I am and being appreciated for who I am, and it makes it that much more difficult to dismiss me or dismiss anybody who looks like me.”
fter Brown’s speech, the applause filled the room and the internet had a field day with the 75th Golden Globes.The night itself was a momentous occasion with many actors, directors, and films going on to claim awards and the female nominees wearing black in a show of solidarity.

And So the Adventure Begins: Welcome, Zayin Allen

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My name is Zayin Allen and I’m a senior at Delaware State University looking for writing opportunities relevant to my interests to boost my portfolio.  I have written for my school newspaper in the past, but, mostly current events articles. My interests lie with covering/reviewing movies and TV.  I am a self-motivated, outspoken, opinionated writer and person.  I am looking for opportunities to hone my craft and build a career as an entertainment writer.

Any time I see a film or a TV show, whether I love it or hate it, the first thing that I have to do is tell someone about it and discuss the hits and misses, the visuals, the dialogue, and every little detail.

I would love the opportunity to do that in an environment where I can better find my voice, hone my craft, and gain experience.  I understand that I have to start somewhere. I am willing to put in the work and, since I already read your site, for me there is no better place.  I am willing to do written pieces and video reaction/reviews for the site.

I can e-mail you some of the articles that I have written for my college paper, and I can send you some spec reviews that I wrote about “Punisher” and “The Runaways” to show you what I am capable of.  I am available to start writing for you immediately and am open to fill in gaps in TV and film reviews. I love comic book-related TV and films.  I also like horror and some action.  I really hope that I am able to join your staff or at least intern.

Thanks for your time,

Zayin Allen ”

(Who can resist? Zayin is going to put together some thoughts on various film and TV movies and shows from a slightly less “mature” POV, and we might have a little “Point/Counterpoint” going on, as I am more than happy to leave the World Of Marvel to Zayin’s observations. Right now, I’m waiting for a head shot of the budding journalist to accompany his bio, which I seem to have lost in my IPhone (Where does it go after you read it on your phone? Do elves eat it? What?) I’d put a graphic in here with the piece we both have written on the Golden Globes, but that piece, too, has gone up in smoke for the moment, as I am en route to various locations by car and my opportunities to write on a “good” computer have been severely impacted. Not only that, but I swear that AOL is now equivalent to the U.S. Post Office. It takes days for mail to appear, if it does appear.)

Bear with me, Zayin and Public, and we’ll get some interesting “new” impressions. And welcome. 

 

 

All Five Christmas Cats Children’s Books on Sale Through 2017

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I have a series called “The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats” (www.TheXmasCats.com), ;which I began writing for my granddaughters when they were three years old. The books are “throw-back” books to what I learned in elementary schools of the fifties when early readers featured Dick and Jane and the policeman on the beat was always your friend. The books resemble Dr. Seuss books in that they rhyme and the cats of the title are a troupe of hardy do-gooders who go about helping other animals in distress.

The first book ‘s illustrations were drawn by Andy Weinert of East Moline (IL), a friend of my daughter’s, when I had two cats that were constantly fighting. I learned that Andy’s mother was Rita Mankowski, one of the smartest 7th graders I ever had in nearly 20 years of teaching 7th and 8th grade Language Arts at Silvis Junior High, and that sealed the deal. Andy was then a high school student who showed much artistic promise. (He has gone on to earn a Master’s in graphic design). When I asked him to draw a series of cats wearing “silly hats” he did a wonderful Grandma Moses-style treatment and the rhyming text shows the cats learning to get along with others, rather than constantly fighting with them (Lesson #1). However, AuthorHouse lost one-half of Andy’s original drawings (a bad lesson learned about dealing with AuthorHouse) and, when it came time to try to make the book just from the scans in my computer, years had passed and I drafted the girls’ Venezuelan nanny, Emily Marquez Vlcek to help finish the message and do some additional drawings linking the story to the season.

The second book, “The Christmas Cats Chase Christmas Rats”, featured the intrepid cats checking in on lab rats at Green Laboratories, to make sure they were being treated well. The message was “Do not judge others without knowing, or prejudice you will be showing” So, DON’T BE PREJUDICED. A good lesson for all time, but especially for these times.

Book #3, “The Christmas Cats Encounter Bats” featured bats wreaking havoc at South Park Mall (there is one in Moline, IL, as well as in the Dallas/Fort Worth area) and the cats teach the lesson that all life has value and every creature has a place in the Universe. Hallmark artist Gary McCluskey can also take credit for creating the first upside-down Christmas tree, far ahead of this year’s fad. (Bats hang their Christmas trees upside-down, you know.) Austin people, you’ll love this one!

Book #4, “The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer“, featured beautifully drawn deer in Scott County Park (Davenport, IA), who, although well within the city limits, were in danger from hunters allowed to “thin the herd.” The Cats came to the rescue, spiriting them from the park by means of the CatCopter and ferrying them to the North Pole, where they were fitted with prosthetic antlers and fly with Santa. This book exists in hard cover format as well (although only available by contacting me, only in limited quantities, and costing $25 plus $3 postage). The color copies were run by ColorWise Press of Indiana and are gorgeous. The back of the book contains interactive activities for children, including puzzles and coloring book pages and we encouraged children to send them to the series dedicated website, www.TheXmasCats.com. Because only limited copies were run, the books were among the most beautiful in terms of color and quality, but paying $19 a book (the publisher’s price) means that one of these books in hard cover, plus postage, is going to set readers back $28, so it remains something that is only able to be purchased by contacting me via ConnieCWilson.com or WeeklyWilson.com or on LinkedIn. It is available through Amazon in paperback and e-book, however, and the e-book copies are only $1.99 for five days.

The final book in the series (so far) is “The Christmas Cats Care for the Bear” and it has an anti-bullying message, as the cats spring into action to help a little bear who is being bullied by others because he is pudgy and has funny hair. It is a book made for today’s youth and the interactive pages at the back of the book were increased, while the cost of running the book dropped dramatically as we transferred the book’s publication to Ingram Spark. The hard cover book of the most recent title is in the $12.95 range, from Amazon, while, paperbacks and e-books are also available.

[Book Number One has been permanently priced at $ .99 since it was drawn by a student, and finished by my granddaughters’ Venezuelan nanny, who took over duties from Andy when he was involved in completing his Master’s degree in graphic design at Northern Illinois University.]

I always said I would write the books until the girls turned 10, which is fast approaching. I did not have a book this year because we were too involved in building a house near the son, daughter-in-law and granddaughters in Austin, Texas, but “The Christmas Cats Flee from the Bee” may be coming for next Christmas, if Gary McCluskey is still available to lend his fantastic illustrations to another story with a message. That story will be about a golden-haired bee that hates the Queen Bee and does everything he can to destroy her, but soon faces his own come-uppance when the rest of the hive unites to drive him from their colony.

I hope you enjoy the e-book versions of ALL of the existing books, on sale for 5 days at $1.99 or, in the case of the very first book, 99 cents, from today (December 27) through the end of 2017. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

(Constance Corcoran Wilson, M.S.; www.ConnieCWilson.com)

 

“Porto” Film Is One of Actor Anton Yelchin’s Final Performances

Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

I recently attended the Oakton Community College Pop-Up Film Festival, organized by Film Instructor and Director Michael G. Smith in Des Plaines, Illinois.

One of the films viewed by the crowd was “Porto,” a film directed by Gabe Klinger, who flew in from New York to answer questions from the crowd, which contains one of Anton Yelchin’s very last performances. Having just seen Yelchin in the very enjoyable “Thoroughbreds” (in a small part as a drug dealer), here was a chance to see Yelchin take center stage as the male lead in this story of romance remembered.

I was warned, going in, that it would be “intense.”

Normally, I would simply describe the plot and give the “bad” and “good” of it but after reading the harsh and somewhat inaccurate review in the November 27th “New Yorker” magazine, I’ll be doing a bit of quoting and rebuttal.

ANTON YELCHIN’S FINAL ROLES

Line two of the “New Yorker” review: “Yelchin’s character, Jake Kleeman, is an American scholar in Portugal who begins a relationshp with Mati Vargnier (Lucie Lucas), a French archaeologist who followed her professor (Paulo Calatre) there from Paris.” The character Yelchin plays is not accurately described as “an American scholar.” Jake explains that he and his sister were dragged around the globe by their American soldier father and, after enjoying their time in Portugal more than most of their father’s previous nomadic military postings, they decided to “leave the tour” at that point and quit relocating to a variety of cities. Actually, he says his sister made the decision to stay in Portugal, which they both liked, and he stayed in support of Sis’ decision. Jake is long past the “student” stage when the film opens, looking as if he is at least thirty, and, in fact, admits that he will take any job to keep body-and-soul together. We see him with a wheelbarrow, hauling rocks and stones in a quarry. We see him helping the gorgeous Matie (Lucie Lucas) haul boxes to her new apartment. He appears to be pretty down-and-out. You soon get the impression that Jake is closer to bum status than to “scholar,” although he does mention having once been a “scholar.”

Either I watched a different film, or whoever wrote that description for the New Yorker was paying more attention to the character’s talking about his early days when he was able to attend colleges overseas.

CITYSCAPES: LISBON, PORTUGAL

The next New Yorker observation is this: “The director, Gabe Klinger, plants Mati and Jake in lavishly photographed cityscapes but burdens them with a drama that plays like a lonely man’s wet dream.”

     REBUTTAL: I would agree that the cityscapes are lavishly photographed. I would not agree that the leads are “burdened” with the remembered romantic tryst that plays out more than once.

THE SCRIPT:

The New Yorker: “The script (which Klinger co-wrote with Larry Gross) is a hollow batch of cliches, starting with Mati’s hot come-on in a recurring cafe sequence in which Jake glowers and leers carnivorously at her before they grunt and heave gamely in a long bedroom sequence (an icky fantasy of phallic expertise.)”

REBUTTAL: Where to start with this one? What I saw was a Mona Lisa-like gorgeous creature (Lucie Lucas) who would rival Sophia Loren or Ava Gardner in their primes, sitting in a picturesque cafe where Jake (Anton Yelchin) is mesmerized by her beauty. Yes, he stares at the beautiful brunette with the Mona Lisa smile, as any red-blooded heterosexual man would. Ultimately, Jake works up the courage to approach Mati and ask if he may join her at her table. He does and they remain there briefly before Mati asks Jake to assist her in moving many boxes from her car to her apartment.

He agrees and we see him hauling box after box from her car to Mati’s new place, followed by her unrolling the primitive “bed” on the floor, which the couple soon puts to good use. Mati tells Jake that she is involved with her Professor right from the start, but that does not stop the smitten lad. The graphic sex scene (replayed from memory more than once) displays all of Luci Lucas’ charms in full frontal shots that prove that she is truly gorgeous. Unfortunately, we see only Yelchin’s back and his receding David Letterman-like hairline, neither one of which is particularly attractive.

POST ROMANTIC TRYST:

In the morning, Jake (Yelchin) awakens alone in the bed on the floor. He begins assembling one of Mati’s bookcases and arranging some of her belongings on it, when Mati and her amorous mature Professor lover return to the scene of the romantic crime. It is obvious that the older man very quickly sizes up the situation, but he does not seem particularly angry or aggressive. (He goes to the refrigerator, in fact, and changes the subject). He’s French, after all.

Later, we see this romantic scene played out more than once. The bad thing about the repetition of the scene is not the nudity or the sex, but the fact that the scene is badly out of focus in the replay. It really bothered me to see the fuzzy, blurry images.

Director/Writer Gabe Klinger (R), of “Porto,” during the Q&A at the Oakton Community College Pop-Up Film Festival in Des Plaines, Illinois with a college film instructor.

It was only after the film was over, during the Q&A with director Gabe Klinger, that the audience is clued in that the fuzziness and out-of-focus images were intentional, meant to show that memories, too, can shift in and out of focus with the passage of time. Unless this is run as a disclaimer at the start of the film if I were cinematographer Wyatt Garfield, I would have advised against this ploy to show that memories can (also) be fuzzy. It’s just incredibly amateurish-looking, as though my dad shot this film—-the guy who always cut the heads off all of his subjects.

TIME SHIFTS

The New Yorker:   “What’s more, Klinger plays coyly with the time scheme, as if to mask the lack of substance with tricks of form.” 

REBUTTAL: I’m not sure that the playing around with time and shifting of time was “coy,” but it did have the effect of being slightly confusing. However, when we see Lucie with a small child and her obviously-now-ex older husband enters to leave his daughter a gift, it is pretty obvious that Mati followed through with her intention to marry the better choice between the two. Time has passed—and a lot of it. Mati has married, given birth, and become estranged from the Professor. As for Jake, he was always just a one night stand, although he had a much more romantic view of their encounter and seems incapable of moving on.

PHYSICAL ABUSE:

The New Yorker:   “A gratuitously ugly scene of Jake’s physical abuse of Matti is a casually checked-off plot point.”

REBUTTAL: The only “physical abuse” I observed took place in the street in public when the frustrated Jake tries to physically restrain the gorgeous Mati by grabbing her arm. She rebuffs him and runs away. It was more of a glancing blow to her arm in his attempt to keep the beautiful creature from leaving him. But, quite frankly, he has no job and no prospects of a job and she was quite honest during their one-night stand about her intentions, so the fact that she doesn’t plan to continue screwing the unemployed (and not that attractive) admirer doesn’t seem to be much of a shock to anyone but Jake.

 THE BEST SCENE?

The New Yorker:   “With Francoise Lebrun, in the movie’s one well-imagined scene , as Mati’s mother.”

In the scene the New Yorker apparently liked, Mati asks her now old and weathered mother if she still desires men in her life. Mom answers that she does, in a rather world-weary manner, and even offers up her last sexual encounter with a stranger for her daughter’s consideration. So, you’re never too old might be the right way to sum that bit of wisdom up, which is comforting.

 I enjoyed the movie and the Q&A and one of his final films is dedicated onscreen to Anton Yelchin.

 

 

 

 

 

Go Vote for THE COLOR OF EVIL on Inkitt.Com

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THE COLOR OF EVIL Series on Tour Through November

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Card Company Announces on AOL That They Are Going to Save America with $15 Stunt

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The dirty and sometimes downright offensive game Cards Against Humanity is back with another stunt, and this time they’re taking aim at one of President Donald Trump’s campaign promises.The company announced its holiday promotion on Tuesday, called Cards Against Humanity Saves America. Essentially, the company purchased a plot of vacant land on the border of the United States and Mexico, making it extremely difficult for Trump to build his expensive border wall which the U.S. taxpayers will inevitably pay for.

CardsAgainstHumanity 

✔@CAH

The government is being run by a toilet. We have no choice… we are going to save America and attempt to keep our brand relevant in 2017

Join in and for $15 we’ll send you six America-saving surprises this December: http://CardsAgainstHumanitySavesAmerica.com 

Cards Against Humanity Saves America

It’s 2017, and the government is being run by a toilet. We have no choice: Cards Against Humanity is going to save America.

cardsagainsthumanitysavesamerica.com

 

“Donald Trump is a preposterous golem who is afraid of Mexicans. He is so afraid that he wants to build a $20 billion wall that everyone knows will accomplish nothing,” the website reads. “So we’ve purchased a plot of vacant land on the border and retained a law firm specializing in eminent domain to make it as time-consuming and as expensive as possible for the wall to be built.”

Fork over $15 of your hard-earned cash to Cards, and they’ll send you “six surprises” in the month of December, including an illustrated map of the land, a certificate of promise to fight the wall, and some new cards.

Given the nature of the game, the company has no problem being a bit brash, and because they are self-owned, and don’t rely on big box stores to push their product, the company can get away with a bit more.

On it’s FAQ page for the new expansion, one question asks: I don’t like that you’re getting political. Why don’t you just stick to card games?

Their answer? Why don’t you stick to seeing how many Hot Wheels cars you can fit up your ass?

The card game is well known for its stunts, like digging a giant hole, destroying valuable pieces of art, and offering nothing, yes, nothing, for $5.

 

New Amazon Review of THE COLOR OF EVIL Series (Boxed Set)

Reading Time: 2 minutes
on November 15, 2017
Do I like scary clowns? No! Did the cover of the new box set “The Color of Evil,” by Connie Corcoran Wilson, scare me? Yes! Did I want to read this book anyway? Of course I did! And boy am I glad I did. From the fantastically creepy cover, on the box set as well as each individual book contained within, this is one shivery read. At first, I felt that the action was a bit slow to get started; however, I’m glad I stuck with it, because for a book that is supposed to be geared towards a younger audience, this definitely had some scary and troubling moments.

There are three books in this set and each one delivers the same amount of thrills and chills, however, each are also distinctly different in various ways, even though a common theme and storyline run throughout. The main idea, that Tad McGreevy can see colors around people, auras if you will, that allow him to determine what type of person they are, I found to be very unique. I was almost just as horrified as he was each time he saw someone with the dreaded gray-green color surrounding them.

Yes, there are unexpected twists and turns you won’t see coming. And yes, I definitely recommend this set to anyone who enjoys good, old-fashioned horror. And by that I mean, back in the golden age of horror, when Dean Koontz was writing as Leigh Nichols, and Stephen King was just getting started, along with the likes of Ramsey Campbell, Doug Clegg and Clive Barker. If you are nostalgic for some no-holds-barred, white-knuckle ride, keep-the-lights-on horror novels, then rejoice with this set, because you have three that you’ll want to read one right after the other. And keep an eye on this author, because I can tell she’ll have many more thrills to bring us in the future.

Dan Rather Appears at Texas Book Festival in Support of “What Unites Us:” Says “Civil Dissent Is As American As Apple Pie.”

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Veteran CBS newsman Dan Rather, a Houston native, came to the First Baptist Church in Austin at noon on Saturday (November 4, 2017) to talk about his new book “What Unites Us.”  His appearance was part of the Texas Book Festival, which is one of the largest and one of the most prestigious literary festivals in the country, featuring 250+ nationally and critically recognized adult and children’s authors, 20+ venues (including the State Capital), 80+ exhibitors and live music.

Later in the day (4:00 p.m.), Rather’s spot would be taken by Tom Hanks, talking about his new book of short stories, a compilation united by his love for collecting old typewriters.

But at noon on Saturday, November 4th, Rather sat down with an interviewer and answered questions:

The First Baptist Church in Austin hosted Dan Rather. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Q:  When did nationalism become essentially white nationalism?

A:  I think the sixties spawned this. It was a very difficult period.  I do think that, coming out of the sixties, as an “experienced skeptic,” the tragedy of President Nixon and his appealing to Southern state white racists was not a good thing. Remember: Nixon was successful. He was re-elected two times with overwhelming majorities.  He proved that you can win if you appeal to white supremacists.  We’re now paying the price of what started in the sixties.

We need to pause and take a deep breath.  Our national motto is “E Pluribus Unum”:  “Out of many, one.” We can make it work.

Q:  The slogan “make America great again.” It seems to be asking us to go back to the fifties. Is that true?

A:  There’s no going back to the 1950s and, by the way, the 1950s were not that great (laughter from crowd).  We can’t do it.  Those who try will not succeed.

Texas Book Festival.

Moderator:  “You’re literally whistling Dixie, Dan.” (laughter from audience).  There’s a perception that all this started on January 20th with President Trump’s Inauguration. Is that right?

A:  It started at least as far back as the 1970s or 1980s.  We’re realists. We recognize when we’re wrong. After 9/11 we pulled ourselves together.  Now we are at a decision point:  re-dedicate ourselves to belief in the institutions, values, drive and forward movement of the American Dream.

Q:  You have written your book in terms of 6 essays on such things as Freedom, Character, Responsibility, Science, Empathy and Exploration.  I’d like to ask you about science, in particular.

A:  We can’t move the country forward with post-truth.  There are no “alternative facts.”  I don’t care if you have a degree from Harvard or Stanford, it is ridiculous:  2 + 2 = 4. We know the difference between bullshit and brass tacks.  Water does not run uphill:  Gravity is a fact.

Q:  What makes this unique? All Presidents have sometimes dissembled?

A:  What makes this unique and not moral is these daily statements are not true. No President has ever told so many lies so brazenly and so perpetually. Also, his constant attacks on the free press are unprecedented.  It’s a post-truth where facts don’t matter, and it’s dangerous.

Moderator:  “In your empathy essay you say that we seem to have lost the power to be empathetic.

From the First Baptist Church in downtown Austin, Texas. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

A:  I don’t necessarily feel that way.  We see empathy in the American people all the time:  People are civil, wanting to help.  These are very strong values that Americans prize, and we saw it following the recent natural catastrophes.

What is unworthy of us, as Americans, is a week-long debate about the President of the United States’ words to a grieving widow. Any decent person would have called her back or sent her a note of apology. That is the real spirit of the American heart.

Q:  Let me ask you about your “Dissent” essay.

A:  Yes. Dissent is being discouraged. Civil dissent in America is as American as apple pie.

Q:  What makes our situation right now so perilous, in your view?

A:  I want to be careful about drawing a line between Watergate and the place our country finds itself in now.  Watergate was bad, but it was internal. Now, we have a foreign power intervening and interfering in our democratic process. That is an enormous difference.  Also, the media landscape is different.  It used to be that newspapers were important.  Iphones and social media did not exist.

Q:  Do you think it was better then, or better now?

Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

A:  Overall, I think it is better now to have the Internet. The Internet, when used properly, is a tremendous resource.  Today, the greatest opportunity of the Internet is to educate, but a greater burden is placed on the user.

Rather ended his remarks to a standing ovation from a  crowd of roughly 700 people and left the Church so that Tom Hanks could take his place at 4:00 p.m.

Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” Closes Out the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival with a Tribute to Michael Shannon

Reading Time: 15 minutes

The closing film for the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival was Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” which seems destined for many Academy Award nominations this season. It also served as an opportunity to pay tribute to Michael Shannon, one of the actors in the film, who was present to accept the award and answer audience questions, along with co-star Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays a Russian scientist spy (Dr. Robert Hoffstetler, aka Dimitri) in the film.

The idea for the story of a romance between a creature like the Creature from the Black Lagoon film of 1954, [directed by Jack Arnold and starring Ben Chapman (on land) and Ricou Browning (underwater)] was part of the film’s appeal for del Toro, a well-known fan of horror movies, whose television series “The Strain” is now entering its fourth and final season. It was “Pan’s Labyrinth” in 2006 that vaulted the Mexican director to the ranks of top talents, however, as the film went on to be nominated as one of the Best Pictures of the Year and to win 3 Oscars for Cinematography, Art Direction and Make-Up. “The Shape of Water” has the potential to take home the golden trophy for all of those categories, plus snag acting nominations for cast members.

ACTING:

Sally Hawkins as mute cleaning woman Elisa Esposito in “The Shape of Water.”

It is difficult to select just one actor who would deserve an Oscar nomination, but it seems a foregone conclusion that the female lead, Sally Hawkins, will be up, as she has to play her entire role without words. (She is mute—but not deaf— in the film). Jane Wyman (first wife of Ronald Reagan) won the Oscar as Best Actress in 1948 for playing a deaf mute in “Johnny Belinda;”  Oscar loves lead characters with disabilities (think “My Left Foot” for a more recent example.)

Sally Hawkins was Oscar nominated for playing the ordinary sister of Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” and this part was written especially for her by Guillermo del Toro. It’s going to be hard to argue that she doesn’t deserve to win when she had to play the entire role without speaking.

Then there is the wonderful Richard Jenkins, so good in everything he appears in. He played Nathaniel, the dead patriarch, on “Six Feet Under” but has been working steadily since 1974 (80 films to the much younger Shannon’s 40) and is always believable and good. In this film he play Giles, a gay man who is ostracized in the Cold War era because of his sexual preferences and also because his craft of painting commercial panels is being supplanted by photography. (*Small sidelight: Jenkins is from DeKalb, Illinois and has been married to his wife since 1969).

All the characters are fighting “aloneness.” Giles (Richard Jenkins) is one of them.

I have always loved Richard Jenkins in Ben Stiller’s comedy, “Flirting with Disaster,” one of the best comedies ever made. But we can’t forget his work in the television series “Olive Kitteridge,” for which he won an Emmy as lead actor, nor his film roles in “Killing Them Softly,””Norman,” “Burn After Reading,”  “Fun with Dick & Jane,” “Me, Myself and Irene,” “Step Brothers” or “LBJ,” to name just a few.

Closing night Tribute to Michael Shannon, along with showing of Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water.” (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Michael Shannon, whom Warner Herzog has called “arguably the best actor of his generation” (Shannon has worked with Herzog three times) is terrific, as always, as Richard Strickland.  When Shannon is onscreen, he commands your attention and you can only really concentrate on him.

I had the opportunity to speak with Michael Shannon on the Red Carpet and asked him these 2 questions: Citing such films as “Revolutionary Road,” for which he was Oscar-nominated in 2008, as well as “Bug” in 2006, “Take Shelter” in 2011, “The Iceman” in 2012, and “Nocturnal Animals,” [for which he once again earned an Oscar nomination in 2016], how does he bring himself down to a more normal performance as an ordinary guy, as in the film “Mud”, which was also directed by Jeff Nichols, (with whom he has worked 5 times?)

Shannon’s answer was this: “It’s a job. I’m an actor.  I just show up and do it.” He would repeat that answer from the stage during the Q&A.

Tribute to Michael Shannon at the Chicago Film Festival. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

When asked what his favorite film was, he said “Take Shelter.” I was surprised to get an answer from him, as often that is a question that actors don’t like to tackle, considering it a bit like naming their favorite child. However, it was clear from his joking-around demeanor that Shannon doesn’t necessarily behave exactly like other actors on the Red Carpet or elsewhere. (He even said as much from the stage later, commenting, “I wasn’t a normal person before I got there, and I wasn’t after I arrived.”)  [The character actor who comes closest to Shannon in tone or style, for me, is probably Bruce Dern in his prime, in films like “Black Sunday” and “Coming Home.”]

Onstage at the AMC Theater in Chicago accepting his Tribute award and thanking benefactors on closing night of the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival on Thursday October 26, 2017. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Shannon was very humble in thanking both his agent, who had flown in from Los Angeles, and his best friend from the age of 14 on, as well as his stepmother and shared how proud his father would have been (Dad taught at DePaul in Chicago, and although Shannon got his start here, he now lives in New York City).

Cast member Octavia Spencer, an Oscar winner for “The Help,” is also an actress who is always good, just as she was in “Hidden Figures” and “Small Town Crimes” recently. She said, in Toronto, that when she heard that Guillermo del Toro had written a role just for her in this film, she said, “Oh, Lord! I’ll play anything he wants. I’ll be a tree if he wants me to be!”

There are no bad performances in this film, so take your pick of who you think will wind up with Oscar nods. Certainly Sally Hawkins and possibly both Shannon and co-star Michael Stuhlbarg, the most decent man in the film, (even if he is a Russian spy.)

The script, written by del Toro with the assistance of Vanessa Taylor (who has worked on “Game of Thrones” and also scripted the “Allegiant” installment of “The Divergent” series) was written with each specific actor in mind all of whom joined the cast. Shannon joked, from the stage, that it was “A little like being indoctrinated into a cult” and said that the experience was “epic and overwhelming and very moving at times.” He added, “Guillermo has such a big heart and it was never more on view than in this film.”

Said del Toro of the project, “I wanted to create a beautiful, elegant story about hope and redemption as an antidote to the cynicism of our times.  I wanted this story to take the form of a fairy tale in that you have a humble human being who stumbles into something grander and more transcendental than anything else in her life.  And then I thought it would be a great idea to juxtapose that love against something as banal and evil as the hatred between nations, which is the Cold War, and the hatred between people due to race, color, ability and gender.” He added, “I like to make movies that are liberating, that say it’s okay to be whoever you are, and it seems that at this time, this is very pertinent.”

Kraus, a Chicago native who collaborated with del Toro on his children’s series “Trollhunters”, suggested the idea that forms the basis of the story to Guillermo over breakfast. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

The basic story was suggested to del Toro over breakfast in 2011 by another of his collaborators, Chicago native and author Daniel Kraus, who has collaborated with del Toro on the children’s series “Trollhunters.” It was a concept that Kraus had been mulling for some time. When he shared his story with del Toro, the director decided that would be his next film. The script was then crafted with certain actors in mind.

Sally Hawkins plays a mute cleaning woman (along with best friend on the cleaning staff Octavia Spencer) in a government lab who falls in love with a sea creature that has been captured somewhere in South America and brought to the lab for study. When it appears that the evil government scientists are going to kill the creature, cleaning woman Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), aided by her good friend Giles (Richard Jenkins), cleaning woman Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer) and Michael Stuhlbarg’s scientist conceive a plan to smuggle the creature from the laboratory and, eventually, release him back into the ocean. The fact that an inter-species love affair begins to emerge between Elisa and the creature is an original idea that I’ve not seen portrayed  before. (The only previous similar story I’d ever seen involved the real-life prosecution of a human male who kept sneaking into the dolphins’ pool to have sex with the female dolphins—not quite the same vibe as depicted here.) Del Toro had said he wanted the monster to “get the girl” this time, after seeing so many films (“King Kong,” “Frankenstein”, etc.) where that doesn’t ever happen.

The Sea Creature becomes a huge part of the plot, of course, and it was important to del Toro that a real actor play the creature in the suit. Doug Jones, who has worked with del Toro for 20 years (and played a key role of The Ancient from 2014-2016 on television’s “The Strain”) was tapped to wear the suit—which meant that he faced grueling hours in the make-up chair each morning and each night. Even getting the suit on was quite the chore. Jones was the first on set in the morning and the last to leave at night, with at least 4 hours of make-up each day. Del Toro said of Jones:  “We’ve been working together for 20 years and he’s done some of the most crucial roles in my movies.  He is one of the few guys who does creatures who is also a full-fledged dramatic actor.  Often those are two separate gifts, but Doug has them both.  He’s a fantastic actor, with or without makeup.”

THE CREATURE

The theme of being alone comes in with the creature, because he is the last of his species. “He’s also never been outside his river, so he doesn’t understand where he is or why. He’s being tested and biopsied all because the government thinks, ‘We’re going to use this thing to our advantage, somehow.’”  And the Russians want him, too, if only so that their arch-enemies (the U.S.) don’t have him. The Creature was revered as a god in his original homeland and has some superhuman qualities, such as the power to reflect people’s desires back at them and the power to heal wounds more quickly.  “He comes into people’s lives and he seems to expose and amplify whatever is going on inside a human being,” said Jones. Physically, del Toro told Jones that the creature should have the bearing of a sexy, dangerous toreador, but with the fluidity of the Silver Surfer. To make sure he was attractive enough for a human female to fall in love with him, del Toro said, “Every night, I took it to my home and got the female vote: enough ass or not enough ass? Enough abs or more abs? Shoulders bigger or slimmer? It just had to be a creature you could fall in love with.”

Guillermo had encountered Mike Hill at a horror film convention and del Toro set him on a mission (at his own expense ahead of filming) to create a model of the sea creature this way: “He said he wanted me to give the creature a soul.  He wanted it to be something a woman could fall head over heels for in every way.  So I started sketching a handsome looking version of a fish man, giving him kissable lips, a square jaw and doe eyes and I went from there.”  Real-life fish like the tropical lionfish were used as a model for how the creature might eat and for its translucent bioluminescence.  Work began on the creature’s facial elements, especially its eyes.  “One of the early conversations with Guillermo was that he wanted the eyes to be changeable on set in order to change the mood or look of the creature. Since you can’t take Doug’s makeup off to change them, we ended up coming up with a magnetic system to interlock the eyes.  It was the only solution.  Once we were shooting, we would change the eyes 4 or 5 times a night.” A working set of gills was especially challenging because “we were dealing with a lot of water in some scenes. The gills give the creature an additional way of reacting without words, and we could use Doug’s breathing to enhance emotions like excitement, anger or affection.”

Finally, four spectacularly intricate suits, each capable of becoming waterlogged, were made for the production by the team at Legacy in Canada. Said Jones, “The suit is super tight and inside it there are actual corsets to make it even tighter.  But we segmented the abdominal plates so that they do give and move a little bit. It’s not solid, so it can create the graceful motions the story demands of Doug.”

It took 4 people to hoist Jones into the suit and in some scenes Jones was entirely blinded by his prosthetic eyes. The film’s visual effects supervisor, regular del Toro collaborator Dennis Berardi, began by creating an exacting digital double of Doug Jones in the prosthetic suit.  “We got to the point where we could do a digital version of the creature that could match up with Doug’s beautiful performance,” he says, adding, “Our hope is that the audience can’t distinguish at all between the digital version of the creature or the Doug Jones version.” (I’d say they completely succeeded.)

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (aka, Dmitri) in “The Shape of Water,” as played by Michael Stuhlbarg (Photo by Connie Wilson).

“The Shape of Water’s” shadowy atmosphere drops the audience into the depths of the story and Dan Laustsen’s creative cinematography was essential to achieving del Toro’s vision. During the Q&A following the film, Michael Shannon commented that, “The cinematography is off the charts.” He said that, in his 40 films, he had previously been a Deakins fan, but that the work of Laustsen, a product of Denmark, was essential to the film’s look.  Working with monochromatic tones of color, they meticulously shifted light and texture to craft a more modern, yet desaturated look, full of deep-sea tones.  Del Toro explained, “I knew I wanted the film to be monochromatic, so most of the palette is blues and greens with amber as a counter-balance.  Red only comes in as the color of blood and love.”

Del Toro said, “Dan is a genius with light.  He was able to light the film as if it was 1950’s black and white, even though we used color.  The light is very expressionistic and full of shadows and I think feels very classic.  For some of the underwater sequences, Laustsen harked back to the technique of shooting “dry for wet”, creating the illusion of water.  This involved using heavy smoke, wind machines and projection to create a dripping, pulsating atmosphere akin to water, while allowing the actors to work with their eyes open, vital to their expressions.” Said del Toro, “We did a lot of research on how to do dry for wet well, from how many frames per second to use to how you can create floating particles.  We knew the key was to create a video projection of caustic light on the characters that is very operatic.” Laustsen put the much-loved Arri Alexa digital camera to work and used Arri/Zeiss Master Prime lenses, which allowed for maximum precision. “Guillermo wanted lots of camera movement, and he likes very precise movement, so we worked with all kinds of cranes, dollies and Steadicams. It was very exciting.”

Dan Laustsen has shot more than 40 feature films, television movies and documentaries, both in his native Denmark and internationally. He has won (the Robert Award (Denmark’s version of the Academy Awards) for Best Cinematography 3 times and was nominated for the Swedish Academy Award (Guldbagge) for Best Cinematography. He shot “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “John Wick: Chapter 2.” This was Luastsen’s third collaboration with del Toro, following “Mimic” and “Crimson Peak.” It seems inevitable that this film will and should be nominated in the Cinematography category at Oscar-time.

(*Note: The scene I snapped above with “the 3 Michaels” onstage together came about when Michael Kutza (far right), Cinema Chicago founder asked about each star’s next project and learned that Michael Stuhlbarg is going to play opposite Kevin Spacey in a bio-pic about Gore Vidal. Stuhlbarg said he would be playing Vidal’s gay lover of 52 year.  Kutza remarked, “Why doesn’t Spacey just come out and admit that he’s gay?” The 2 actors cracked up. A few days later, amidst some rather unsettling sexual harassment charges from years ago involving a 14-year-old male co-star of Kevin Spacey’s, he did, indeed, admit that he is currently living as a gay man, but said he  has, at times, been bi-sexual.)

EDITING:

Sidney Wolinsky, ACE (Film Editor), a graduate of Brandeis University and San Francisco State University, has been an editor on “The Sopranos,” “Rome,” “Ray Donovan,” “House of Cards,”  and David Chase’s film “Not Fade Away.” He also edited the pilot episodes for “Sons of Anarchy,” “Blue Bloods,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Ray Donovan,” “The Strain” and “Extant.” He received 2 Eddies for his work on “The Sopranos” and an Emmy for the “Boardwalk Empire” pilot.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

Paul Denham Austerberry, with credits on such films as “The Three Musketeers” and “Amelia”, as well as “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” was brought in to design the sets, including the period apartments of characters Giles (Robert Jenkins) and  Elisa (Sally Hawkins). Del Toro said, “I fell in love with the fact that Paul has a very strong opinion of design, meaning he could counter anything I talked about with new ideas.  But even though Paul has great ideas, he’s also very practical, and that was important because this film had such a big scope, with complex sets and underwater shooting. He had to be able to orchestrate and manage all that.”  Sally Hawkins said, “The sets were like stepping into a painting. That’s what it felt like, to me.” In both cinematography and sets, I was reminded of Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo.”

Another important area for production design was the laboratory where the creature is housed.  “We didn’t want a lab that would come off as too sterile and bright. We want you to feel lots of unsettling things have gone on in there and it has some dark history.” The creature’s room is a maze of pipework, ducting and cylindrical chambers. “For the creature’s compound,” said del Toro, “I wanted it to feel almost more medieval than modern, to add to the fairy tale feeling.”

Interestingly, the pipes that you see that look like heavy cast iron pipes are really all done out of Styrofoam.  Said Austerberry, “That set was such a complicated jigsaw puzzle.  We were working on it right down to the wire.  On top of everything else, we had to design everything to endure lots of water and steam and for a huge lighting job as well.” He had in mind Brutalist architecture, the concrete-heavy, function-based style that flourished from the fifties to the seventies.

Then there was the capsule, which was described as an iron lung in the script. “I pulled lots of historical references to iron lungs. There was one in particular that Guillermo loved.  He loved the color, the shape and the language of the materials.  It was one of the first things we designed actually, because it took over 8 weeks to make.  The idea is that the chamber is on wheels so it can then be attached to the larger pressurized cylinder in the laboratory to transfer the creature.”

The ”command center” where Michael Shannon’s evil boss Strickland looks down from above was researched from fifties wall murals.  His office floats above the command center, overlooking the minions who work for him through the glass via an early closed-circuit camera system that was based on 1960’s TV studio set-ups.  “When you see Strickland behind this wall of images, it really speaks to how he sees himself as above everyone and privy to all information he can take,” Austerberry reflects.

Several scenes take place in the laboratory’s bathroom and locker room. These were shot in Toronto’s massive Hearn Generating Station, an old power station that has become an icon of a bygone industrial age.  “We looked at Hearn because it has tiled rooms. Unfortunately, the tiles in Hearn are cream and Guillermo was like, ‘We can’t have that color in this movie,’ so we ended up still using the location but hand-painting every tile to be in our color palette,” Austerberry relates.

The apartments that Austerberry designed for Elisa and Giles sit atop a classic bijou-style movie theatre.  To forge the exterior, he used Toronto’s Massey Hall, a designated National Historic Site of Canada, which was designed in neoclassical tradition by architect Sidney Badgley in 1894.

Austerberry said, of the apartments of Giles and Elise: “Their apartments are like two hemispheres of the same globe, but we lit each half differently.  With Giles, even if the scene was at night, we lit it like sunset in very warm tones.  The color coding of Elisa’s apartment is aquatic, with cool lighting and lots of cyan.  Hers is corroded by water, while his is not corroded at all. His is full of wood and golden  light, very grounded colors because he is the grounding for Elisa, whereas Elisa’s apartment has the magical light of the cinema below it.”

Austerberry shares:  “Guillermo brought us an image he had from a photograph competition in India with an old lady in a darkened room with a really aged textured and a cyan blue wall in the background and that became a big inspiration. We talked a lot about the idea that once this was a grand room but, at some point there was a fire and it never got repaired, so it looks very aged with that patina that Guillermo loves.”

The walls were a major focus, and an exhaustive quest led Austerberry to a vintage Anglo-Japanese wallpaper pattern featuring little curves that subtly resemble fish scales, similar to an ancient Japanese engraving.  He then merged that pattern over a faded cresting wave reminiscent of 19th Century Japanese artist Hokusai’s iconic woodblock print, ‘the Great Wave off Kanagawa.’

“We had a scenic artist paint a beautiful version of the Great Wave in textured plaster and then we just layered and layered and layered over it until it’s basically gone, but you still sense there’s this shape of water on this wall. Guillermo wanted the wall to be stark and subtle, but to tell a little story, if you knew what you were looking for.  So, that’s how it became so finely detailed.” All of the walls in the apartment were created as “wild walls,” meaning that they were all on quick releases so that they could be moved at a moment’s notice to accommodate a roving camera.  In addition, the windows each had to be plumbed for the deluge of rain that leads up to the film’s climactic moments.

The most challenging set of all was the modest retro bathroom, which is Elisa’s oasis from the world and becomes the creature’s refuge and the site of their deepening romance. “Our sets are generally made out of wood, Styrofoam and plaster.  But for this one we had to make everything out of aluminum and Bondo, instead of plaster, because it all would ultimately be submerged in a tank.  At one point we actually lowered the sets slowly into the tank so that you can see the water rise.  It was all very, very tricky to pull off, Austerberry describes.

With this kind of attention to detail, does anyone doubt that an Oscar nomination will follow?

THE MUSIC

Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat is noted for his collaborations with some of the world’s best filmmakers, including Wes Anderson, George Clooney (currently on display with his score for “Suburbican”), Stephen Daldry, David Fincher, Stephen Frears, Tom Hooper, Ang Lee, Terrence Malick, Roman Polanski, and Angelina Jolie. He has garnered 8 Academy Award nominations.

Among his film scores are “The Girl with the Pearl Earrings,” “The Queen,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The King’s Speech,” “Argo,” “Philomena,” “The Imitation Game”  and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” which won the 2015 Oscar for Best Score.

His more recent work includes Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken” and “Florence Foster Jenkins”, as well as “The Light Between Oceans and “Suburbican,” out now.

COSTUME DESIGN

Luis Sequiera has worked with Guillermo on 3 successful seasons of “The Strain” on television. His feature film work includes “Charlie Bartlett” starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Hope Davis, “Mama,” produced by Guillermo del Toro with Jessica Chastain, “The Thing,” “Breach” with Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe, “Carrie” with Julianne Moore and Chloe Grace Moretz and “Thomas & the Magic Railroad.”

With this amount of background on the technical difficulties the cast and crew faced in making “The Shape of Water,” I’ll formulate something resembling more of a review next, but it should be clear that it’s going to be a very positive one for this film that easily could win it all in March.

Closing night of the Chicago Film Festival…26 days of non-stop movie watching, viewing over 40 films and still behind on the reviewing, so stop by as I keep on keeping on. And don’t forget that THE COLOR OF EVIL boxed set series is currently (through November) on sale for half-price as part of the boxed set virtual tour in E-book! Thanks for stopping by; please leave a message about anything you’ve read.

 

 

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