We watched the debate between Gavin Newsom, Governor of California, and Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, and, the entire time, what was going through my mind was, “Why?”
The debate was staged by Fox News and Sean Hannity was the moderator, but the obvious take-away, up front, is that this thing is not going to be “fair and equal” because it is being run (some would say “rigged”) by Fox News.
After the debate was over there were charges that DeSantis had been fed the questions ahead of time, that he was talking with his “team” during the debate (accusations made of both), that a screen was slanted towards DeSantis and not towards Newsom. After the debate had lurched to a close, the moderator said the mismatched duo were going to stay on and continue.
But that didn’t happen. There were reports that Newsom’s wife, Jennfer Seibel Newsom, marched onstage and barked “We’re done.” Some reports said that she was particularly ticked off that her father (Newsom’s father-in-law) was cited by DeSantis as having introduced himself to the Florida governor and endorsed Florida’s superiority to California as a state in which one wished to live, having just relocated from California to Florida himself.
I keep asking myself why Newsom would agree to participate in what was most certainly going to be a rigged presentation, with Fox News attempting to bolster DeSantis’ race for the White House and Newsom not even being a candidate this election cycle. Or is he?
DeSantis kept referencing Newsom’s “shadow campaign” for the White House, while each liberally insulted the other. Meanwhile Hannity threw up a variety of charts and graphs that favored Florida, as you just knew it would.
For this reason my spouse (who says he is Independent but is from good Republican stock) declared DeSantis to have been “the winner.” I felt that the statistics would favor Florida, everyone’s favorite retirement destination. However, I felt that the presentation and command of the stage and facts win went to Newsom.
I admit to being quite concerned about Newsom’s judgment when I think about the fact that he was once married to Kimberly Guilfoyle, now Donald Trump, Jr.’s main squeeze, but his new blonde wife looked like a massive step up. Wife #2 recognized that this debate would feel so good once it ended and helped facilitate that, which was probably smart.
One of the contentious things that came out of the debate was DeSantis holding up a picture of a graph he claimed represented the most heavily feced areas of San Francisco. Later, Newsom said this was a violation of the rules agreed upon beforehand. The placards and other such debate aids that Hannity put up onscreen were also being argued about, after the debate had concluded. Supposedly, they were not to be allowed, although Hannity disputed this contention. (Don’t they all?)
I just kept wondering, “What’s in this for Gavin Newsom? Who thought up this entire idea?”
One idea that did make sense was this one: If Biden were to pull out of the presidential race at the last minute for any reason, who would the Democrats belatedly run? Naturally, one thinks immediately of Vice President Kamala Harris, who is, if polls are right, is even less popular right now than Biden himself.
She is from California. So is Gavin Newsom. According to the 12th amendment to the Constitution, electors may not vote for presidential and vice-presidential candidates who both reside in the elector’s state—at least one of them must be an inhabitant of another state.
Is all of this part of some behind-the-scenes plan to hedge all bets and find a way to exclude the unpopular Harris? Who thought up the entire ordeal that Newsom just endured ?
We are a house divided and, while I agree that the placards carried the day for Florida over California, DeSantis’ sickly smile and poor debate skills couldn’t hold a candle to the much smoother Newsom. DeSantis kept trying to “diss” Newsom as “slick.” If you think back, that perjorative term was applied to Bill Clinton and, later, to Barack Obama. I’m perfectly fine with “slick” if it means competent, poised and articulate. The fact that Newsom is so poised is surprising considering his life-long history of dyslexia, which continues to the present.
Setting aside my reservations about Newsom’s poor judgment in selecting a Screaming Mimi as his first wife in 2001 and being married to her until 2005, there is also this. He had an ill-advised affair with Ruby Rippey-Tourk, the wife of his good friend and Chief of Staff, Alex Tourk, a woman who worked for him. Newsom met and married film-maker Jennifer Siebel in 2007 and the couple has four children.
The bench for successor to Biden is not currently very deep. The GOP party is a shadow of its former self and Nikki Haley is looking like a more viable candidate than DeSantis, while preliminary reports are that Chris Christie may not even make the ballot in one state. (Who knows if he’ll make another debate stage?)
Whatever Democratic strategist gave the go-ahead for Newsom to take a thrashing, factually, but prevail in the personality department should be brought forth to explain to the rest of us what is really going on here.
Ridley Scott’s 238 minute opus, “Napoleon,” is a crash course in French history. But how accurate is it?
I always appreciate directors who try to “get it right.” I kept wondering, throughout the lengthy film, whether this or that really happened. Let me be clear right now that I have investigated with the goal of finding out whether the film is substantially true or false. Read no further if you are saving the viewing of the film to learn the specifics of the plot.
The costumes are wonderful—even the tri-cornered hat that Napoleon wears. By the way, the actual height of Napoleon was five feet seven inches, which was not that short for the time.
The staging of the battles is amazing. There are many battles and they are all extremely well-done and riveting.
Most of the acting is fine, although the dialogue is often jejeune (to steal a French phrase, which seems appropriate).
The things I know to be false:
- Napoleon was not present in the crowd that witnessed the beheading of Marie Antoinette.
- Napoleon never met with the Duke of Wellington on a boat (the Bellerephon)
- The time-line for Napoleon’s marriage to Josephine is not exactly right
- Napoleon may well have been completely besotted with Josephine, but each of them had other affairs and Napoleon had several illegitimate children. Did newspaper headlines of the day say things like, “Napoleon’s Bony Old Bird Caught Out of the Nest Again”? Don’t know; can’t tell you.
- One child that the movie dwells on is the heir apparent that Napoleon divorces Josephine to have with his wife, Mary Louise, the Arch Duchess of Austria, and great-niece of Marie Antoinette. We never see the child after Napoleon shows the newborn to Josephine in one scene, but the answer to “Whatever happened to Napoleon’s son?” Wikipedia tells us this:
“Napoleon and Marie Louise remained married until his death, though she did not join him in exile on Elba and thereafter never saw her husband again. The couple had one child, Napoleon Francis Joseph Charles (1811–1832), known from birth as the King of Rome. He became Napoleon II in 1814 and reigned for only a fortnight. He was awarded the title the Duke of Reichstadt in 1818. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 21, with no heirs.”
You might wonder, as I did, whether the highly cinematic battle of Austerlitz (Aug. 2, 1805) involving cannons breaking the ice on which the advancing army is approaching, killing them in vivid visual style, really happened that way. The answer is yes, there was a battle where the approaching army approached on ice; however, the ice was evident to both sides. When an investigation of the body of water took place years later, there were only roughly 12 bodies buried beneath the surface.
Napoleon did not fire a cannon into a pyramid while in Egypt.
To me, the worst thing about the film was the script, written by David Scarpa. The laughter of the audience, hearing some of the pot-boiler lines in this film, may be intentional. I found it jarring in the context of this epic.
Here are a few of those lines:
Napoleon: (about the British, spoken very petulantly): “You think you’re so great because you have boats!”
This was shouted with a childish tone, indicating that Napoleon was very annoyed by the British Navy. It may not be totally fair to blame the screenwriter, as one of the reasons it came off as humorous was the manner in which it was delivered. For that matter, the scene where Napoleon is shown stomping his foot like a horse in anticipation of sex with Josephine (who is reluctant because she has just had her hair done). I’m being generous in calling it mediocre; it’s pretty bad.
Another such line, spoken by Rupert Everett as the Duke of Wellington, before he rides off to battle in the rain: “I never get wet if I can help it.” O……K…..
Just prior to uttering that line, we see Napoleon getting ready to lead his troops into battle. When he is asked, “What shall I tell the men? He responds, “Tell them to make the rain stop.”
During one state dinner, Napoleon shouts, “Destiny has brought me this lambchop.”
Again, the delivery of these bon mots is also part of the problem. While there were some lines that sounded as though they might have been spoken by Napoleon or taken from his letters and writing), there were way too many that were laughably bad.
The acting by Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby was adequate, but they were given lines like the above examples. I don’t see any acting nominations coming out of this one, but she (Vanessa Kirby) was better than he was.
The music also good at times and mediocre at times. When Napoleon mounts up and rides forth as the Prussians have arrived, the music was weird. It was inconsistent throughout, just as Joaquin’s acting is only as good as the lines he is given to say.
Here’s a line that does try to give us insight into the character of the one-time Emperor of France: ”The most difficult thing in life is accepting the failures of others.”
I enjoyed the film from 85-year-old Ridley Scott and was amazed at his staging of the battles. What an accomplishment! May he stage many more!
[I also noticed that the Stunt Department Coordinator was Natalie Wood. No. Not THAT Natalie Wood, but if only she were still alive and still with us.]
Thanksgiving, 2023, is officially in the books.
We spent it at the movies (“Napoleon”) but before I write that review for the film that opened wide on November 22nd, a little levity looking forward to the most commercial holiday of the season might be appropriate. And these dogs might be your choice for a forever friend. (Or not).
In scanning the November 21st issue of the “Austin American Statesman” for potential topics, I was first attracted to this headline: “Husband Asks Spouse to Annoy His Parents to Motivate Them to Leave.”
That sounded promising, but, in my usual manner, I continued scanning the various articles and read this one, which had a much-less-amusing title: “Shelter Places Dogs Cut From TSA Training.”
It sounded like an informative straight-ahead news story, and I like dogs as well as the next man—err, woman—so I read on.
Apparently, there is a special animal shelter at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland that is used to house dogs rejected for government service, like the canines used to sniff out drugs by the TSA.
The purpose of the article seemed to be to find “forever homes” for these furry rejects for government service. The article even contained an e-mail address that applicants could use: [email protected]. The article went on to say that multiple visits to San Antonio might be required to meet the animal and make sure the prospective new owners would be a good fit for the animal(s). It was further advised that the prospective owners should arrive at the training center on adoption day with a leash, a collar, and appropriately-sized shipping crate. (Nothing like being prepared and explicit, I always say.)
So, what sorts of animals might we be competing to own?
Let’s just run through a few of the rejected animals awaiting our applications in San Antonio.
First, there is Toby. Toby is a 10-year-old Labrador Retriever (the very dog I owned as a child). Toby was rejected for service because of situational anxiety causing him to suck in more air than necessary which made him become bloated. Like all the other animals on the list, Toby was described as highly active, untrained, and not housebroken, but, (said the article) “with proper training and care they can be a great addition to families.”
Second on the list was Lydka, a 3-year-old German Shepherd who actually made it into service as a bomb-sniffing dog. Unfortunately, Lydka was easily distracted by noise and people and didn’t do well under pressure. She was fired for her performance on the job and requires a more stress-free environment.
Third on the list was Tommy, a 3-year-old English Springer Spaniel, who was dismissed because he developed an upper airway obstruction.
Jack, a 2-year-old German Shepherd, never even made it into training because of suspected kidney disease.
Most of the dogs have not been exposed to any animals other than other dogs and are not comfortable around small children. To be considered for selection as the adoptive owner, the prospective owner must have a fenced-in yard and no plans to move within 6 months of the adoption. Any other pets already in the home must be up to date on vaccination and preventative care. Of course, the prospective owner must also promise to provide appropriate medical care, exercise, training and companionship.
So, if you are available to adopt a non-housebroken, highly active, possibly sick canine that flunked out of TSA (or other) school, feel free to contact the San Antonio-Lackland Joint Base. Sounds like the perfect Christmas pet, doesn’t it?
Nikki Haley was incensed by Vivek Ramaswamy for mentioning that Haley’s daughter is on Tik Tok. The remark summoned echoes of “Keep my wife’s name out of your mouth” spoken by Will Smith at the Oscars (followed by a physical slap). There is no love lost between Haley and Ramaswamy.
Ramaswamy also attacked the moderators, which was uncalled-for. It was especially lame when the moderators were Lester Holt, Kristin Welker of “Meet the Press,” and Hugh Hewitt. Viviswamy suggested that Tucker Carlson would have been better, which is ludicrous.
To me, the candidate who seemed spectacularly weak in his responses was Tim Scott. He seems to have forgotten that this country was founded on the principle of separation of church and state. He constantly promoted the anti-abortion movement, made questionable remarks about the Social Security age to retire, and basically kept talking about faith and a return to faith as the panacea for all things he disliked in the United States.
Chris Christie is usually one of the two best debaters on the stage (Haley being the other). My husband and I felt we could live with a President Christie. That is a very unlikely possibility, since Christie’s attacks on DJT have made him anathema to the GOP base, which seems increasingly unhinged these days.
Hogan Gidley, former deputy press secretary to Trump, made the valid point, post debate, that DJT needed to be here to debate, since he is the front-runner.
Ron DeSantis comes across as someone who doesn’t like to smile much and is smug as hell. He was better after the debate was over, when he seemed less like such a dim bulb and answered questions posed by the talking heads of NBC. His many dictator-style actions in Florida make him one of those politicians that you just know you are going to have to suffer through whatever he is saying when he is onstage. Remember when he chided teen-agers wearing masks during the pandemic? (Explains why Florida had one of the worst Covid death rates in the nation and was losing 240 people a day.) DeSantis has all the earmarks of a tin-pot dictator, and one gets the feeling that he is going to get worse before he gets better.
The moderators tonight did a better job than in the previous GOP debate. DeSantis did better than he has done in the past and Nikki Haley continued to do well, but she is female. It is difficult to imagine the GOP of today putting a woman at the top of the ticket. (The Democrats tried, and look how well that turned out.)
Mary Katharine Ham, a conservative columnist interviewed in the Spin Room, said that Nikki Haley’s 25-year-old daughter was grown and her parents were no longer in charge of her social media presence, so her Tik Tok usage should not have been mentioned by Vivek Ramaswamy. Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley seem to not like each other AT ALL. DeSantis and Haley are “separating themselves” from the rest of the pack, according to the spin room experts.
There is now a shot on my television screen of DeSantis trying to smile. He really does not look comfortable smiling. Ever.
Carlos Curbelo, a Republican former Florida Congressman, pretty much discounted Christie and Scott as potential nominees. He acknowledged that tonight’s debate was much more substantive. Curbelo and another spin-meister had no real answer for “Why did Viviswamy feel it was a good election technique to attack the moderators?” To me, Viviswamy, like DJT, just likes to stir things up. Chaos is their brand.
Ryan Noble in New Hampshire watched the debate with the first-in-the-nation voters and reported back to us on who had won, based on their reactions.
For me, Haley was the most appealing and got some truly good retorts (I liked her comment about her 5-inch heels), but Christie, to me, seems as though he has the necessary experience to do the job. While Haley might also be up to the challenge, I can’t imagine the GOP putting a woman at the top of their ticket. It was a daring enough move when the Democrats selected Hillary Clinton in 2016 and look how well that turned out.
Ron DeSantis has shown himself to be a stubborn Know-It-All that even former Congressional colleagues did not like, when they served alongside him. He continues the tilt towards authoritarian leaders that Trump brought to its peak. He likes the idea of book banning, attacks on LGBQT, and restricting women’s reproductive rights. The man seems like he would not work and play well with others. (So much for working across the aisle). Maybe we should chip in and send him a shirt that says, “Does not work or play well with others. Runs with scissors. Hates Disney.” Still, I can definitely see the GOP voters I know switching from the complete sleaze that DJT is to DeSantis, especially when he says bold things about “shooting illegal immigrants stone cold dead” or some such blustery retort.
This country needs a leader who understands the meaning of the word diplomacy and is likeable. Which of the two GOP front-runners do you think best exemplifies that, DeSantis or Haley? We know, for sure, that Trump is a bully and will spend the rest of his life playing the victim and trying to get revenge for his real or imagined slights. If the Iowa and New Hampshire voters are as informed and aware as they are often said to be, they surely can’t miss the very real fact that Trump is going to be tied up in court for a very long time. That, alone, if not the 14th amendment drafted after the Civil War that prevents anyone who took part in an insurrection from running for office, should keep DJT off the ballot. Who wants to hear him whine about how mean the courts have been to him for the next four years? (Not I, said the Little Red Hen.)
DeSantis is now being interviewed in the spin room: “I think NBC did a good job. The questions were substantive and there wasn’t a lot of screaming.” He is now saying that DJT is being kept off the stage by his handlers as a tactical political move. He remarked that DJT is a very different candidate than he was in 2020. “Voters are now going to pay attention. It is going to hurt him that he is not on that stage.”
The interviewer asks about DJT’s lead, up by 27 points to 42 points, which DeSantis says is because he is the most famous politician in the world. “We’re in this situation now with the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire that the vast numbers of voters in those states do not want to nominate Donald Trump.” (I hope he is right.)
Gee. GOP voters don’t want to nominate a guy who has been indicted 91 times and basically convicted of rape in a civil case? They don’t want to nominate a guy appearing in court every day where his fraud as a businessman has been established and the only question is how big a penalty he will pay for lying “bigly” on financial documents? Gee. I wonder why not? Or, more to the point, I wonder, “Who ARE these GOP voters who DO want to nominate a sleaze like Trump?” Have you ever seen them interviewed at their gatherings? It’s frightening. The fact that the man is still the front-runner says a lot about the power of television, but it says something else about the failure to educate potential voters, either in school or through reliable reporting elsewhere. (Fox News strikes again.)
Does DeSantis need to be tougher on DJT ?
“I think I’m the only guy who can really play in that space of replacing DJT.” He mentions Mexico paying for the border wall. DeSantis is talking about taxing the remittances of moneys sent back to Mexico to raise the money for a wall. (One of the Sunday morning talk shows had a good conversation where those talking agreed that the wall that needs to be built is between Central America and Mexico.)
As GOP voters began to know more about DeSantis, he dropped 14 points. “What changed was the Alvin Bragg indictment.”DeSantis says DJT gets more media attention, but, in Iowa, he feels he can even the media difference out personally by personal campaigning in the state. “I think that Kim Reynolds endorsing me is a big moment for me.” (*As a side note, Kim Reynolds, in a recent poll, was said to be one of the least popular governors in the U.S. So much for how great Iowa thinks she is.)
Policy question to DeSantis: Abortion access powering Dems to victories? Does he believe in a national ban? “If you look at the practical reality of a divided country, pro lifers in particular have a big problem on this referendum. I think the Pro life movement has got to focus on these referendums and be more strategic. They have been getting their clock cleaned on the referendums. Good Republican candidates did well in the aftermath of Dobbs, but the Trump factor is voters who don’t like DJT breaking for the Democrats. When push comes to shove, we (GOP) should be cleaning house.”
Keane, NH: Reaction to the abortion issue from an elderly woman: “I am disappointed that so many women in this country vote with their emotions… I can’t believe so many women vote on the issue of abortion.” This struck me as a very uninformed remark. Women certainly have a right to be “emotional” on the subject of whether or not they will be forced to bear a child (and care for it for the rest of their lives) based on laws passed by old white men who are evangelical Christians (or worse).
Second voter, male: “The most well-managed debate. Riveting. I nearly fell asleep in the first debate.”
Third voter, female: Most important issue? “I thought the idea that the world is on fire was pretty important and the question of whether we help these countries or not. I think that Nikki did a good job on the abortion policy. I would like to see abortion be a private issue for the women in the country and not be such a public issue.” This from a mature New Hampshire female voter who seemed head-and-shoulders above the first female commenter, mentioned above.
NIKKI HALEY IN THE SPIN ROOM
Tom Yamos and Holly Jackson: (Nikki Haley) Tik Tok remark during the debate: “I’m a Mom. The minute you say something about my 25-year-old daughter you get my back up.” She added, “I think Ramaswamy has a dangerous foreign policy that would make America less safe. I don’t even give him the time of day. He has just proven that he has no business being President of the United States.”
On Abortion access: “I look at it from the perspective that this is personal for every man and every woman in America.” “If you’re gonna’ talk about a federal bill, at least be honest with them. You’ve got Republicans trying to push something that isn’t realistic.”
Israel and Hammas: Can you destroy Hammas without destroying Gaza? “We’ve always focused on civilians first. But the reality is that if 1400 Americans had been brutally murdered that way, would Americans be okay with that? We had 33 Americans who were murdered. This is not just personal for Israel, it is personal for the United States. Hammas uses women and children as human shields. If you do a pause, people die, because we’ve done this before. They refuel so they can attack again. They need to let loose of every civilian hostage they have before we negotiate.”
Kyle, a young male voter in Altoona, says he is going to caucus for either DeSantis or Nikki Haley.
Checklist from Altoona male voter: “Vivek doesn’t pay enough attention to the world order. I feel that we need really competent world leadership.”
Female in bar in Altoona who entered as a MAGA supporter: “I’m probably still leaning towards DJT. There’s a lot that still could happen, My allegiance is still with DJT, but I really liked the way DeSantis came out in this debate. I still swing back to DJT who kept peace for 4 years, but I think that Ron DeSantis could do the same thing for us if he were elected.” (My heart hurts for someone who knows so little about what DJT did for four years and has done for over 7 decades and does not seem to know enough about the actions of DeSantis in Florida, either.)
All voters in Altoona raised their hands, saying that they felt Trump should have been onstage for the debate.
Talking about raising the retirement age: “Raising the retirement age for a blue collar worker by a year or two is devastating.” (?) All of our spending is bad, he says, despite many worthwhile improvements that the Biden administration has devoted funds towards, and he talks about going back to pre-Covid levels of spending. “We have to increase the economic activity in the private sector.” Scott spoke of a balanced budget amendment. Lots of talking about faith. It appears that his wife is an attractive white blonde woman, based on the family members seen flocking to see their favorite candidate after the debate ended.
On Iran: Further escalation? “What we’ve seen is 40 attacks on military personnel since October 7th. We need to cut off the head of the snake (in Iran). Hammas gets 90% of its funds from Iran. What we need to do is not just to strike warehouses in Syria but to strike the funders of terrorism in the region.” 1600 or 1700 Israelis were lost and 35 American lives. “You cannot negotiate with evil, you have to destroy it.” (Seems like quite a war monger; wonder if he got behind DJT’s idea to bomb drug dealers within Mexico?)
Asked about whether he will make it onto the next debate stage: ‘I’m 100 % certain that 100 days from now in Alabama I’ll be on the debate stage.” (Really? Maybe ask them to donate to the deficit, instead? Seems like pouring money down a rat hole.) “Voters are just turning their attention to this election. I’m very optimistic about this election.” (Well, that makes one person, but he’s not an Iowa voter.)
RAMASWAMY’S ATTACK ON THE RNC
“Kind of weird” says the GOP former deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley about Ramaswamy’s attack on Rona McDaniel. He says that there is criticism amongst other GOP voters of the RNC. They don’t feel that the RNC is doing enough at the local level.
CHANGE FROM DEBATE ?
“In this moment, no, no change.” Christie, for one, the GOP moderator found to be lackluster. “You’re here to throw bombs. Why aren’t you throwing them?”
“Donald Trump has the luxury of not coming because he is so high in the polls, but as the field shrinks, there may be an opportunity for him to come in and shake things up. (From Hogan Gidley).
WHO DO REPUBLICANS WANT TO SEE RUN ?
Jen Psaki said that the voters were not really planning for any of these candidates. “I think that what they are focused on is the general election.” She highlighted abortion and the Republican party being the party of extremism as things the Democrats will emphasize during the 2024 election. (Good things to emphasize, since they are true.)
Any chance of Biden pulling out as a candidate?
Jen Psaki says no. “I was part of Obama’s team when people were saying, ‘There’s no way this guy can win.’ And then he won.”
I second that last bit of wisdom, from Jen Psaki, former Press Secretary for President Biden. I was named the Yahoo Content Producer of the Year for Politics in 2008 and vilified for reporting that Obama was winning in Iowa. That article on Associated Content was hit 3 million times. As a result, I was invited to come to Denver and cover the 2008 DNC and the 2008 RNC in St. Paul, from which came two books, “Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House,” Vols, I & II. Check them out.
Martin Scorsese is the winner of multiple awards over the course of his prolific career. With nine nominations for the Academy Award for Best Director, he is tied with Steven Spielberg as the most-nominated living director of all time, second only to William Wyler‘s 12 nominations overall.
Scorsese has won only once, in 2007, for “The Departed.” Spielberg, by contrast, won for “Schindler’s List” (1993) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998).
Scorsese won the Best Directing Oscar award for his film The Departed in 2007. That doesn’t seem like enough, when you consider that Scorsese directed nine films that went on to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture: Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), Goodfellas (1990), Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006), Hugo (2011), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), and The Irishman (2019). Of the directors still working, even Spielberg tips his hat to Scorsese. (Scorsese actually taught directors Spike Lee and Oliver Stone in film school in New York City.)
Given the fact that, despite 9 nominations, Martin Scorsese has only won once, we can assume that “Killers of the Flower Moon” will be Scorsese’s tenth nomination. Given his prominence and how often he has been an “also ran” in the Best Director category, this could well be Lucky Number Ten for Best Director.
The many times that Scorsese was nominated but did not win should weigh heavily when the Academy gets ready to vote this year. Scorsese, born in 1942, is now 81 years old . He is acknowledged as one of the seminal figures in American cinema. Some (most notably the “Wall Street Journal,” which savaged “Killers of the Flower Moon”) may not be as inclined to give the man his due, but I think the picture has a good shot at Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Costuming, Music and possibly Best Supporting Actor. If it snags all of those (and it could lose some acting awards to other contenders like “Oppenheimer”), can Best Picture be far behind ?
Will the Academy reward the legendary Scorsese for his directing of the sprawling tale “Killers of the Flower Moon?” I suspect they will, although there are nay-sayers who have dissed the Master and suggested he is out of touch. (This doesn’t surprise me, given what happened to me this year, my 20th year reviewing at CIFF, but that’s a story for another day.)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” is a $200,000,000 undertaking that showcases Robert DeNiro, Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone. There are many other notable cast members, including John Lithgow, Brendan Fraser and Jesse Plemmons, plus quite a few names in music, who have small roles. Fraser does a not-that-great job, shouting his dialogue unnecessarily, and Lithgow’s part is very small, but the contributions of the actresses who portray Mollie’s sisters and mother more than make up for the underwhelming nature of the Fraser/Lithgow turns. Cara Jade Myers, who plays Mollie’s wild sister Anna Kyle Brown is particularly good (Best Supporting Actress?) and the actress playing Mollie’s mother Lizzie Q (Tantoo Cardinal) and JaNae Collins, who played Rita, are uniformly excellent.
Among the musicians in the film were Pete Yorn, who plays Acie Kirby, the munitions expert. Yorn wrote the score for the 2000 film “Me, Myself & Irene” but had never acted previously. Country singer Sturgill Simpson makes an appearance as Henry Grammer. Jason Isbell, four-time Grammy award winner and former member of the Drive-by Truckers and the 400 Unit plays Bill Smith, the snake-like husband of two of the murdered Osage women. Jack White, winner of 12 Grammies, has appeared in several other films. Charlie Musselwhite portrays Alvin Reynolds, one of the key informants who spills the beans on the conspiracy that DeNiro’s character William King Hale has set in motion.
Critics have lauded Lily Gladstone, but Robert DeNiro is great as the uber-snake William King Hale. I admired DeNiro’s performance more than that of DiCaprio, but it was great fun seeing these two onscreen in a father/son fashion, which hadn’t occurred since 1993’s “This Boy’s Life,” when DiCaprio was only 18 years old. (Released when DiCaprio was 19.)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” is based on the book of the same name by David Grann. An impressive amount of research has gone into this labor of love. You can’t help but feel that, like Marlon Brando before him, this is Scorsese’s personal protest against the historic mistreatment of Native Americans. One character with a substantial speaking part, Paul Red Eagle, is played by the current Osage National Minerals Council Chairman, Everett Waller.
Set in 1920s Oklahoma, “Killers of the Flower Moon” focuses on a series of murders of Osage members and relations in the Osage Nation after oil was found on tribal land. Tribal members had retained mineral rights on their reservation. Whites sought to steal the Osage wealth by systematically murdering them.
In “Killers of the Flower Moon,” writer and journalist David Grann offered an intimately detailed account of a little-known but devastating chapter in American history: the Osage Reign of Terror. This period lasted five years from 1921 to 1926 during which upwards of twenty Osage Indians were murdered in cold blood for access to their valuable shares of oil money. There are also references to the Tulsa, Oklahoma murders on Black Wall Street (Juneteenth) and the KKK is depicted onscreen in fleeting parade scenes. Principal photography took place in Osage and Washington counties, Oklahoma, between April and October 2021. Pawhuska, Oklahoma, stood in for Fairfax in the film.
The scope of “Killers of the Flower Moon” is epic. It covers a lot of history and does so with admirable pacing despite the film’s length. Although it is 206 minutes long, eclipsing even “Oppenheimer,” it did not drag (which “Oppenheimer” sometimes did). The entire project began in 2016, so it was 7 years in the making.
The acting by the three leads (DeNiro, DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone) is outstanding, although there were times when looking at the expression that DiCaprio sports throughout the film reminds the onlooker of looking at a pug bulldog. It’s not a good look. It is meant to show Ernest Burkhart’s venality, weakness and stupidity. Mission accomplished, but leading man reputation as good-looking for Leonardo destroyed. One wonders why Mollie would find him attractive.
It is casting against type for Leonardo DiCaprio, who has usually been quick-witted and attractive in his leading man roles. In this one he is spineless, thick, obsessed with gaining wealth without hard work, and conflicted by his genuine affection for his Osage bride. His wife-to-be refers to him as a coyote. But the very real fact that—doing his evil Uncle’s bidding—he is going to be responsible for the of murder most of Mollie’s family members and even bring Lily, herself, to the brink of death is certainly a good reason to be conflicted. There is ample evidence that Ernest will go whatever way the power wants, including his on-again/off-again decision about whether or not to testify against his powerful uncle.
In addition to the scenes of tribal rituals, whether weddings or pow wows, I was struck by Rodrigo Prieto’s visual imagery in depicting the figures burning down a neighboring farm as almost Dante-esque. They are shown in the distance, fanning the flames of the farm that Bill Hill had engineered a $30,000 fire insurance policy on just a month prior. The shot looks like figures dancing in Hell. Since Mollie (Lily Gladstone) is confined to her bed by that point in the film, seriously ill from her husband’s poisoning her insulin shots, we see the pulled window shades glowing red inside from the fire outside. There are many such impressive visual images. The Osage braves frolicking in the crude oil gushing forth, geyser-like, from the earth. The field of flowers. An explosion is also impressively rendered.
The costuming is also noteworthy and authentic.
Robbie Robertson did eleven films with Scorsese. He was also a close personal friend of the director. Robertson died of prostate cancer at age 80 on August 9, 2023. He married his second wife, Top Chef Canada judge Janet Zuccarini five months before his death. Robertson’s scores for Scorsese films include “Raging Bull” (1980), “The King of Comedy” (1982), “The Color of Money” (1986), “Casino” (1985), “Gangs of New York” (2002), “Shutter Island” (2010), “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013), “Silence” (2016), “The Irishman” (2019) and “Killers of the Flower Moon” (2023), as well as being a performer and producer on 1978’s “Last Waltz,” the documentary about The Band.
The movie is dedicated to Robertson, who died just months before its release.
INTERESTING INFORMATION (SPOILER ALERT)
In researching the genesis of the movie, I found it interesting that, originally, Leonardo DiCaprio was supposed to play the role of FBI agent Tom White that Jesse Plemmons portrayed. Scorsese and co-writer Eric Roth reworked the story because of the interesting conflict that emerged when Leonardo’s character, who loves his wife, is still complicit in murdering almost all of her family and nearly killing her, something she didn’t truly accept until the scene near the end, when she directly asks him what he put in her insulin and he does not answer truthfully (despite just having said that he has confessed all and that it has been a weight off his shoulders). Lily goes forward, then, and, in fact, marries another, dying at age 50, but she is done with Ernest, who is pardoned late in life. Ernest and Byron (his brother, who was complicit in the murder of his wife, Mollie’s sister Anna) lived together in a trailer park at the ends of their lives. Byron was never convicted of anything, which seems unlikely and unfair.
Mollie divorced Ernest after she realized (or finally accepted) the depth of his betrayals. She did not seem to have done so early in his trial, but in the climactic scene between Ernest and Mollie, we see that she is now ready to accept the horrible truth.
At the unusual creative end, when Scorsese uses the old-style radio show based on the FBI to give us the information on what has happened to the principal characters, Scorsese himself reads us Mollie’s obituary, which another writer described as having really impacted Scorsese in a major way. He couldn’t believe that, after everything Mollie had suffered, her obituary from June 16, 1937, at the age of 50, mentioned nothing of these tumultuous life events.
Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)
Rated R for violence, some grisly images, and language.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Ernest Burkhart
Robert De Niro as William King Hale
Lily Gladstone as Mollie Burkhart
Jesse Plemons as Tom White
Tantoo Cardinal as Lizzie Q
Cara Jade Myers as Anna Kyle Brown
JaNae Collins as Rita
Jillian Dion as Minnie
William Belleau as Henry Roan
Louis Cancelmi as Kelsie Morrison
Tatanka Means as John Wren
Michael Abbott Jr. as Agent Frank Smith
Pat Healy as Agent John Burger
Scott Shepherd as Bryan Burkhart
Jason Isbell as Bill Smith
Sturgill Simpson as Henry Grammer
John Lithgow as Prosecutor Peter Leaward
Brendan Fraser as W.S. Hamilton
David Oyelowo is best-known for his role as Dr. Martin Luther King in the 2014 film “Selma.” A multiple Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Emmy-nominated actor and producer, Oyelowo has also directed his own film (“The Water Man”). He stars in the 18-minute short “The After,” directed by photographer, social activist and cultural commentator Misan Harriman. It is Harriman’s short film directorial debut and premiered globally October 25, 2023, on Netflix after first showing at the Holly Shorts Film Festival, where it won Best Live Action Short.
The snynopsis for the film says a grieving rideshare driver picks up a passenger who helps him confront the past.” It is intentionally enigmatic. If you’re interested in seeing a world class actor make a short film “work, “devote 18 minutes to this one.
Oyelowo carries the 18-minute short film with impressive elan, especially the latter part of the short, scenes empathizing with a child who is a passenger in his cab. When Oyelowo is overcome with grief and writhing on a sidewalk in emotional pain, anyone with feelings will be able to relate. It is a top-notch performance.
The few co-stars in the short piece also fulfill their roles well, but their roles are extremely short. In the case of the character Amanda (Jessica Plummer), viewers may find themselves questioning her response to a violent encounter early on. This encounter is the cornerstone of the film and the impetus for everything that comes after.
“The After” is based on a story by Harriman, with a screenplay by new writer John Julius Schwabach. The cinematography is by Si Bell BSC (“A Very British Scandal,” “Peaky Blinders”).
I’ve been a fan of shorts ever since seeing Clare Cooney’s “The Runner’ in 2018 at the Windy City Film Festival. A short is a wonderful opportunity for aspiring filmmakers to learn the directing ropes. The expense is much less and a short is a great way to move into lengthier films as a director.
Indeed. Writer/Director Cooney, (who recently released her own first full-length film “Departing Seniors” at CIFF), described moving up to directing a full length feature film as being “like shooting 5 shorts back-to-back.”
So, the problem with a short is that—yes, it’s short. A good one leaves you wanting more, and this is a good one.The strength of a short is that it is a condensed and intense mini-film. If it is written, photographed and acted well, as this one is, it can be very powerful. “The After” is worth the 18-minute commitment. It examines grief , potential suicide, and the after-effects of violence.
According to the October 27th issue of “This Week” magazine:
“A giant albino rat and a foot-long otter triggered panic on a flight from Bangkok to Taipei when they escaped from a passenger’s carry-on bag and roamed the cabin. The rat bit one of the flight attendants on the VietJet flight as they tried to catch the animals. A search of the plane uncovered a box holding 28 live turtles, a snake, a marmot, two otters, and two other unidentified rodents.”
And a partridge in a pear tree?
“The Bikeriders” screened as the closing film of the 59th Chicago International Film Festival on October 22 at the Music Box Theater with a presentation of the Artistic Career Achievement Award to Writer/Director Jeff Nichols. The film was inspired by the 1967 iconic photographs and tape recordings of photographer Danny Lyon. Writer/Director Nichols gave great praise and credit to Lyon, saying, “He really was supportive, but without being prescriptive.”
“The Bikeriders” recounts the evolution of a Midwestern motorcycle club, called the Vandals in the film. (The Outlaws, originally). The photos drove the film. The interior of one bar was actually reconstructed from Danny Lyon’s photo.
The cast is top-notch, featuring Austin Butler, Oscar-nominated for “Elvis” as Benny and Jodie Comer (“Killing Eve,” “The Last Duel”) as Kathy. Tom Hardy (“Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Revenant”) is Johnny, the leader of the motorcycle club, which originally existed for the members to race their choppers.
As Nichols (“Take Shelter,” 2011; “Mud,” 2012; “Loving,” 2016) told Jack Giroux 5 years ago, “And what I’m talking about making a movie about is its transition from this golden age of where it was less criminal and it was more just a place for outsiders to gather, but then how that kind of morphed and turned into somewhat more of a criminal organization.” He described the film as “A complete portrait of a subculture; maybe none of these guys needed to feel like outsiders, but they did.”
The cast is stellar, also featuring Michael Shannon—a close friend of Director Nichols who has made five films with him—as Zipco. The breakout star of the “West Side Story” remake Mike Faist appeared as the photographer Danny Lyon. Of Faist, Nichols said, “We were lucky to have him. I think he’s gonna’ have a great career.” Norman Reedus, from “The Walking Dead,” portrays Funny Sonny, and Boyd Holbrook (“Logan”) is Cal.
Nichols shared that the projectionist at the Music Box Theater in Chicago where the film screened was Danny Lyon’s daughter Rebecca. He also told the audience that he had only learned last week that the characters Benny and Kathy, in real life, had a son who was present for this screening.
Jodie Comer’s character of Kathy is the central character telling the story of the rise and fall of the motorcycle group from 1965 to 1973. Saying “I used to be respectable” she details how the club went from a place where motorcycle enthusiasts could get together and talk about their choppers to something more sinister.
Comer has been mentioned for a potential Oscar nod; the struggle between Kathy and Johnny for Benny’s allegiance is a central conflict in the film. Describing some of the crazy things that Austin Butler’s character of Benny does, she says, “It can’t be love. It must just be stupidity.” Describing her time riding with Benny, she says of the Vandals, “The whole point of these guys is they can’t follow the rules, but as soon as they formed, they started making up rules.”
Jeff Nichols has a way of exploring the inner rage of a character, as with Michael Shannon’s star turn in “Take Shelter.” (Shannon told me in 2017, when I asked him on the Red Carpet for “The Shape of Water,” that “Take Shelter” was his favorite role.) In the case of Austin Butler’s character, Benny, we are told “That kid’s f**ing crazy.”
He is also extremely handsome (Nichols says even more so, in person) and comes across as iconic in the book. Nichols said, “I didn’t know Austin Butler even existed when I wrote this. ‘Elvis’ hadn’t come out yet. There is calculus beyond me just thinking he’s pretty.” (laughter from the crowd). Nichols secured Norman Reedus (“The Walking Dead”) after meeting him while serving on a jury at Cannes and is friends with Tom Hardy’s manager, Jack Whigham, who is the younger brother of actor Shea Whigham (“Take Shelter,” “Waco,” “Boardwalk Empire”).
At the beginning of the evening, commenting on his nervousness, he remarked, “I know this is Mike’s town,” referencing his close friendship with Chicago native Michael Shannon (to audience approval.)
Shannon, who heard Nichols talk about making a movie from “The Bikeriders” for years, once said, “You’ve been talking about that damn idea for so long. You’re never gonna make that s***.”
Nichols acknowledged that he had, indeed, been trying to make this film for a long time and described it as his “most ambitious” project. Five years ago he told interviewer Jack Giroux (Oct. 19, 2018), “There are just a lot of things that intimidate me about it, but I truly hope one day I’ll get my s*** together and do it.”
Well, he has, and “The Bikeriders” is very good. References to 1953’s Marlon Brando picture “The Wild One” to 1969’s “Easy Rider” to television’s “Sons of Anarchy” aside, this is an-depth look at the characters in a Midwestern motorcycle club. It is a 116-minute study of the outsiders who started the club.
Although Chicago is prominently featured, the actual shoot took place in Cincinnati, Ohio, in October of 2022, completing filming in December of 2022. It premiered at the 50th Telluride Film Festival on August 23rd.
It’s a totally compelling character study from Jeff Nichols, who has given us such great films as “Take Shelter,” “Mud,” “Loving,” and “Midnight Special.” A great addition to the motorcycle films that have gone before, fictionalized somewhat, but founded on real-life research, which makes it even more relevant and enjoyable.
“Saltburn” is Emerald Fennell’s follow-up to 2020’s “Promising Young Woman,” a film that garnered five Oscar nominations and won her the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 2021. The movie is most like 1999’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” It is a baroque, dark, stylish sexy R-rated Gothic study which Fennell, present in person to receive the Visionary Award at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival on October 19, 2023, said was best summed up tonally by the word “vampire.” Writer/Director Fennell recommended that the film’s heartthrob Felix (Jacob Elordi) read “Brideshead Revisited” before filming began on July 16, 2022 to get an idea of the film’s tone, although “Saltburn” is set in 2006. Filming ended on September 16, 2022.
“Saltburn” is the family estate of Sir James Catton (Richard E. Grant, “Gosford Park”). The palatial estate was represented by Drayton House, Northamptonshire, which had never been used as a film site previously. (It may never be used again, because part of the contract with the filmmakers was that the exact location and real owners were not to be revealed.) The estate, itself, is central to the film’s success, outshining television’s Downton Abbey sets.
The 127 minute film premiered at Telluride on August 23 and opened the 67th London Film Festival on October 4th. Its positive critical reception caused the release date to be moved up in the United States to November 17th. The somewhat cryptic synopsis for the film says: “A student at Oxford University finds himself drawn into the world of a charming and aristocratic classmate, who invites him to his eccentric family’s sprawling estate for a summer never to be forgotten.”
The plot takes us inside the world of wealth and privilege that Felix and his cousin, Farleigh Start (Archie Madekwa, “Midsommar”) occupy. Oliver can only marvel at the luxury of Saltburn, as he meets Felix’s mother Elspeth (Rosalind Pike, “Gone Girl”), Felix’s father (Richard E. Grant, “Gosford Park”) and Felix’s sister Venetia (Alison Oliver, “Conversations with Friends”).
Fennell said, “I want to talk about our relationships to the things we want, and what we’ll do to get them.” She pointed out that Oliver wants to be exceptional and is particularly good at figuring out what others want and helping provide it.
This is also, prominently, the story of the haves and the have-nots. In “Promising Young Woman” Carrie Mulligan took on the good old boys’ network and the patriarchy that caused her best friend’s suicide; Carrie’s character in that film sought revenge. Here, the target is the British aristocracy and the class system in the U.K.
Oliver Quick is a loner, but he instantly keys in on the Golden Boy of Oxford, Felix Catton , a child of wealth and privilege. Not only is Felix a Catton, the wealthy family that owns Saltburn, he is 6’ 5” and gorgeous. Both girls and boys lust after Felix (Jacob Elordi, “Euphoria”). Director Fennell explained, “This film is all about detail. There are intimate close-ups. I wanted to be able to see stubble, rash, all of it.” Oliver tells us immediately that he was not in love with Felix, although he does seem obsessed with him; Oliver will do anything to become Felix’s friend.
Is Oliver’s obsession with Felix rooted in emotion or something else?
Four of the cast members have been Oscar-nominated (Grant, Keoghan, Mulligan, and Pike)
Barry Keoghan, who had his breakthrough role as Dominic Kearney in “The Banshees of Inisherin,” plays Oliver Quick, one of the have-nots. Oliver is first seen as a scholarship student at Oxford who is being befriended by the class weirdo, Michael Gavey (Ewan Mitchell, “High Life.”)
All of the cast are excellent, including Alison Oliver in her film debut as Felix’s beautiful but disturbed sister Venetia. Rosamind Pike, Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Richard E. Grant, Archie Malekwe, Paul Rhys (as Duncan, the butler)—everyone is spot on. One part, however, seemed to have been crafted primarily as a favor to a friend. Carrie Mulligan’s role as Poor Dear Pamela, wearing a red wig and heavy make-up, renders her almost unrecognizable. Her character could easily have been omitted.
“Saltburn” is a story about deception and self-deception. It has a slow reveal that picks up speed during and after the road trip that Felix plans as a surprise for Oliver’s birthday. This is the true turning point of the plot. Fennell noted that it spoke to “how willing we are to be deceived.”
This salacious, darkly witty follow-up to “Promising Young Woman” demonstrates that Emerald Fennell is a talent with more than one tale to tell. Her second film is provocative and sure to set off discussions. Some might protest the uber- R-rated nature of a few controversial scenes. There is a fair amount of nudity, which Director Fennell told the Q&A audience was “about grief.” She also shared that she and Barry were completely in agreement on decisions in some of the more controversial scenes, saying, “He and I are completely together. If it feels right and true, Barry is in.”
There was a reference to Heathcliff’s grief at Cathy’s death in “Wuthering Heights” to offer a defense of one scene. Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” also contained an overall tone of darkness, foreboding and fatalism. It highlighted the intense emotions and passions that drive the characters in the story and was considered controversial when published in 1847. “Wuthering Heights” challenged Victorian morality of the day and the class system. It suggested that everyone has a bad side. Both Emerald Fennell and Rosamund Pike majored in English Literature at Oxford.
SET DESIGN & COSTUMING
The castle sets are magnificent. The party that the Cattons throw for Oliver’s birthday makes the similar celebration in 2013’s “The Great Gatsby” look like a backyard barbecue. Not only are the grounds of the castle gorgeous, all of the attendees are in costume. The costume designer was Sophie Canale (“Kingsman, Secret Service”). This aspect of the film was outstanding, as was the cinematography by Linus Sandgren (“La La Land,” “American Hustle,” “Joy”) and the choice of music (Anthony Willis). Sandgren worked on “Babylon” (another great party scene film) and Margot Robbie’s production company LuckyChap, which also promoted “Promising Young Woman,” backed this movie.
After the film’s screening at the Music Box Theater in Chicago, Emerald Fenner shared some insights into the making of “Saltburn,” including this: “If you’re making something so exotic, it is really about detail. It’s a billion-dollar house, but inside they’re watching ‘Superbad.’ Felix has the tattoo Carpe Diem. The room is lit by a karaoke machine.” When characters are shown reading a book, the book is “Harry Potter.” The references to Richard III, Henry VII and Henry VIII, as well as Oliver’s correction of the accurate author of a quotation, late in the movie, are far from incidental. The choice of the name Saltburn, itself, for the estate, can provoke more debate. It’s that kind of layered script with scrupulous attention to detail. Hence Ms. Fennell’s winning the Visionary Award from Chicago and also recently being named Filmmaker of the Year at the Mill Valley Film Festival.
When asked about three shocking scenes in the film (which may offend some) the writer/director said, “It was suggested that I cut away, but I wouldn’t and I won’t. It’s a funny, terrible scene. I won’t pull away.” While making this defiant statement, Fennell wore a red-and-white tee shirt from Giordino’s pizza, which proclaimed “I Got Stuffed in Chicago.” (Perfect!)
Look for this one to rack up nominations come Oscar season and to provoke discussions among movie audiences. For me, it was a terrific follow-up to “Promising Young Woman.”
May/December is a riff on the infamous Mary Kay Letourneau scandal of 1997, but that is where the similarities end. None of the information contained within this film can be taken as “true” in regards to the real couple who inspired the film. Todd Haynes directed and Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore star.
“May December” is a weird film. The tone is serio-comic, with vacillation between the two. “I’m Not There”—Haynes’ 2007 film with different actors playing Bob Dylan—was also weird. Last year, he made “The Velvet Underground,” a good straight-forward documentary. May/December is not a straight-forward anything and most definitely not a documentary.
One of the producers on this film was Will Ferrell. What does that tell you? The tone at times reminded me of Ferrell’s ice-skating movie “Blades of Glory,” except that “Blades of Glory” was actually amusing. This one, for me, was just campy, schmaltzy, and cringe-worthy.
The opening barbecue scene, where Gracie remarks “we’re going to need more hot dogs” comes off as funny only in a semi-sick way. The accompanying melodramatic music was part of the ill-advised plan to play half of this movie for laughs and half of it as serious. I hoped the film might provide insights into why something like this true life 1997 Mary Kay Letourneau incident might have occurred. The “framing device” for the film is that Natalie Portman as the character Elizabeth Berry has agreed to play Gracie (Julianne Moore) in a bio-pic; she is trying to “get inside” Gracie’s head and figure out what makes her tick.
NOT A DOCUMENTARY
The film is not a straightforward recitation (even with names changed to protect the guilty) of the infamous Mary Kay Letourneau case, involving a 34-year-old teacher who began a sexual affair with her middle school student. In real life, Mary Kay’s sixth grade student was just shy of thirteen when the two began having sex.
The story collaborators apparently thought this real-life soap opera drama would be “funny.” It didn’t seem “funny” at the time to the public. It certainly didn’t seem humorous to the families affected by that May/December coupling. It doesn’t seem funny when Gracie was Joe’s teacher. We exist in a time that has seen an increase in child pedophilia. Maybe it’s the fact that I come from a long line of teachers, but I did not find the underlying premise of the movie to be a fountain of comic moments.
Of course, the real-life couple staunchly maintained that they were merely star-crossed lovers for 20 years. It is only late in the plot that Joe begins to articulate some doubts about whether the couple love each other as much as they have claimed through those years. In one scene, Joe (Charles Melton) actually says, “I didn’t know what a big deal it was—having kids.” A strange statement from a young man whom Julianne Moore’s Gracie describes as having been “an old soul” long before she decided to hire him as her assistant at a pet shop and have her way with him in the storage room. (Not, by the way, based on the Letourneau reality.)
For those who don’t remember the Mary Kay Letourneau case, Mary Kay spent 1998 to 2004 in prison as a result of being convicted of felony second degree rape of a child. She was forever listed as a sex offender. The pair did not obey the judge’s order to have no further contact, conceived two children, and married in 2005, soon after Mary Kay was released from prison. (In real life, Mary Kay Letourneau had six children, four from her first marriage to Steve Letourneau and two with Vili Fualaau.) She and Vili remained married for 14 years, separating just one year before Mary Kay’s death at age 58 of stage four colon cancer on July 6, 2020.
Not surprisingly, Steve Letourneau, her first husband, moved to Alaska, remarried (and had more children) and refuses to even comment on Mary Kay. In this film, Steve Letourneau/Tom Atherton is well played by D.W. Moffett. The depiction of him is not favorable.
The letter that is read in the film by Natalie Portman (from Gracie to Joe) indicates that Gracie’s sex life in marriage number one left a lot to be desired. Once she tasted the forbidden fruit that Joe represented, she was loathe to go back to reality—or so the letter, read onscreen by Portman in a scene that made me cringe for her—seems to say.
The fact that the principals in this Romeo and Juliet doomed lovers set-up had a 22-year gap in age is not the reason for censure. There are marriages that feature couples with a large difference in age. Two very senior citizens on the Hollywood scene, major movie stars, have very recently had offspring with their much-younger paramours. Twenty-two years difference in age doesn’t even seem that large when measured against such realities.
So, the difference in age isn’t the issue. The issue is whether a minor (12 or 13) is really capable of making an informed decision when an authority figure in his or her life is suggesting a sexual relationship. Gracie/Mary Kay was put in a position of authority with her young charge and crossed the line, sexually.
Joe is constantly depicted as trying to please, placate, or serve Gracie. She is still in control. One line about Gracie, from a neighbor, is, “She always knows what she wants.” Gracie, as portrayed by Julianne Moore, has logical explanations for actions with her children, but those actions often seem very passive/aggressive. She seems very controlled and in command in the dinner parties and interactions depicted. But let some neighbors cancel their bakery order and Gracie descends into near-breakdown hysteria.
The real Mary Kay Letourneau was diagnosed with bipolar disease. She was told to take her medication and not see her young lover again. She obeyed neither of those orders from a judge, which is why she spent so long in prison. (She was sent back for disobeying the judge’s orders. Donald Trump: take note.”)
In this fictionalized case, the student is in 7th grade (not 6th) and is Korean, not Hawaiian. The pair does have children, who are about to graduate and go off to college. In real life, Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau were married for 14 years, until they separated in 2019. They had only two children. In this film there are twins, a girl away at college, Mary at home, and what seems to be a large number of children, when her former offspring are factored in.
This film stars Julianne Moore, who won an Oscar in 2014 for playing a woman afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, “Still Alice..” She has appeared in 107 films. She has made many, many wonderful films; the subject matter of many is often racy (“Boogie Nights” comes to mind.) I felt sorry that she had to appear in this one, which, for me, fell flat.
Similarly, Oscar-winner (“The Black Swan”) Natalie Portman appears as an actress named Elizabeth Berry, a celebrity with a TV show about animals called “Nora’s Ark”, who has been hired to portray Julianne’s character of Gracie in the upcoming bio-pic. She wants to get close to the real Gracie. Gracie and Joe allow her to come to their home. (And what a home it is, for a couple with a wife who only bakes for others and a husband who appears to perhaps be an X-ray technician. How do they afford this elegant home in Savannah, Georgia? How are they going to pay for at least four kids in college simultaneously?)
The young man who portrays Julianne’s young husband (22 years younger in the real Letourneau case) is Charles Melton as Joe Yoo. He does what he can with this part, as do the two experienced actresses. Charles Melton is one of the few bright spots in the film, but he still provokes gales of laughter because the scripted things he is given to say are that bad.
From the moment we see a butterfly chrysalis onscreen (Joe is interested in helping re-populate the Monarch population) and the ponderous, schmaltzy music begins playing, you think, “What the f___?” Marcelo Zarvos wrote original music and adapted Michel LeGrand’s melodies from “The Go-Between.” The music is heavy-handed and melodramatic.
Later, in a café scene, we see one of Gracie’s children from her first marriage, Georgie (memorably played by Cory Michael Smith), singing. The lyrics “Oh, Baby, I love your ways” float over to us, before Georgie delivers the cringe-worthy line, “I’m a Phoenix rising from the ashes.” (Yikes! Who talks like that in real life?)
There are so many awkward, uncomfortable scenes that I hate to single out the back room of a pet shop, where the duo was supposedly caught in flagrante delecto, or the other questionable scenes, meant to be comic. Natalie Portman seemed to get more of the truly execrable scenes than Julianne, including one where she relives the storage room romance of the pet shop all by herself, writhing and moaning with wild bird noises in the background. And there’s the one where she faces the camera and has to deliver a bad monologue that was a letter Gracie wrote to Joe. There is also her inappropriate description of playing sex scenes, delivered to a high school class where Mary Atherton, Gracie’s daughter, is in the audience.
Nothing about the situation seemed “funny,” to me, especially since so many lives, including those of six children, were negatively impacted. There are actually two bad pet shop scenes, one involving a snake. Which is worse? You decide if you watch this on Netflix when it begins streaming on December 1st, or in a theater beginning November 17th.
One shot showed Joe looking through a wire fence at his graduating children. That one, with its symbolism, was interesting. But on the very day her children are graduating, we see Julianne Moore as Gracie, accompanied by two Russian wolfhounds, stalking the land while holding a rifle. (A WTF moment.) A fox is on one side of the field. Julianne and the fox exchange glances. Oh. My. God. (Just shoot me now, Julianne).
When Charles Melton asks his oldest son, Charlie Atherton-Yoo (Gabriel Chung), if he is sad that Charlie is soon going to be leaving for college, the young man says he is very happy to be leaving. [Can’t blame him there.]
The cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt (“Emma,” “Zodiac”) was good and the Savannah, Georgia area photographs beautifully. It is shot on 16-millimeter film. Haynes’ usual cinematographer is Ed Lachmann (“Far From Heaven,” 2002; “Carol,” 2015).
The opening scenes of the film seem to promote a picture of Gracie as loving and committed to her marriage to the much younger Joe. However, her abandoned son, Georgie (from her first marriage) tells Natalie Portman, “Lady, she’s messed up in the head.” He relates tales of early incest abuse by his mother’s older brothers, but we never know whether that is true or false.
Indeed, there is evidence that supports Gracie and Joe as loving parents, but the real Mary Kay Letourneau was diagnosed as bi-polar and essentially abandoned her husband four kids for a twelve-year-old. Not exactly comic fodder; who thought this would make for a good movie that is half comic and half serious?
GRACIE’S LESS MATERNAL MOMENTS
Mary Kay gifts her daughter who is going off to college with a scale. She implies to a younger sister Mary (Elizabeth Yu) that her arms are fat, as the daughter tries on dresses for graduation. Gracie also loses it over a canceled baking goods order. It seems that baking is what Gracie does well; Friends in the area order things from her out of good will. The comic/not that funny line is, “How many pineapple upside-down cakes can a family eat?”
It also brings up the valid question, “So, is the community generally supportive of Joe and Gracie, as with the ordering of baked goods, or does she receive more packages of canine feces than orders for baked goods?” It’s also valid to ask, “How do they afford this big house with the small pool and the ocean view and also sending multiple children off to college at the same time? Where is the money coming from?”
Early on, a neighbor tells Natalie Portman as Elizabeth to “be kind” in her portrayal of Gracie. The film doesn’t seem to have made up its mind about whether or not the mis-matched couple has really been accepted, since Elizabeth, upon arrival, brings a package she found outside the house containing dog feces, only to learn that it is a routine occurrence for such packages to be left there.
This didn’t seem all that humorous, or all that accepting or forgiving on the part of the community.
I felt embarrassed for two such fine actresses to be appearing in this movie. It has nothing to do with disapproval of the theme. One of Julianne Moore’s All Time Best roles was in “Boogie Nights,” a classic about the pornographic film industry.This film is not a classic and whoever had the idea to make it half-funny/half-serious should rethink that decision. The tone is all over the place. The only people who seemed to be enjoying it were mocking the many cringe-worthy scenes or statements.
The only way to think you haven’t wasted your time sitting through this is if you mock it. I didn’t want to mock it. I respect the actresses in the lead roles too much. I just wish they had had a better script or at least one that picked a consistent tone that came through clearly. Samy Burch and Alex Mechanik wrote the story and Samy Burch scripted. Shame on them
I was very disappointed by this movie. However, this line from the film applies, “Keep your expectations low and you’ll never be disappointed.”
Unfortunately for me, I had higher expectations for something that might give us a bit of an idea what the real life of Mary Kay Letourneau might have been like after crossing society’s boundaries in 1997. I just felt sorry that these two talented performers somehow ended up in this, after all their good work throughout the years. The film screened at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival on October 18, 2023.
The “best” part of the movie is the trailer. After that, it’s either laugh or cry.