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!

Looking For Christmas Gifts? Give These Books A Try

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The Christmas Cats In Silly Hats Cover

The illustrated cat book “The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats.”

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 Christmas Cats Chase Christmas Rats

Click the cover to buy from Amazon.

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 Christmas Cats Encounter Bats

Click the cover to buy from Amazon.

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!

The Christmas Cats Fear For The Deer

Click the cover to buy from Amazon.

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.

The Christmas Cats Care For The Bear

Click to buy on Amazon.

The fifth book in the series 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 is in the $12.95 range, from Amazon, while, paperbacks and e-books are also available.

"The Christmas Cats Flee the Bee," sixth book in the Christmas Cats series (www.TheXmasCats.com).

Click to buy from Amazon

I always said I would write the books until the girls turned 10 which has passed so the sixth and FINAL book is “The Christmas Cats Flee from the Bee.” Gary McCluskey was still available to lend his fantastic illustrations to another story with a message. This story is 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 ALL of the existing books, which will be going on various discounts throughout the months of November and December. If you want to know WHEN those FREEBIES and DISCOUNT days are, then you should subscribe to my newsletter or you may miss out! HAPPY HOLIDAYS!


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Katie Couric’s “Going There” Autobiography Entertains


Katie Couric autobiography.

I just finished reading Katie Couric’s autobiography, “Going There.”

I had read that she “burned a lot of bridges” but now, at 64, maybe that doesn’t matter to her.

The NBC “Today” show years with co-anchor Matt Lauer come off as her “best” times, and the move to CBS to become the first solo female anchor of an evening newscast seems to have been a mistake. She was not welcomed with open arms and the deal for her to do pieces on “Sixty Minutes” was especially problematic.  Oprah Winfrey came and went in a nano-second on “Sixty Minutes.” You can sort of figure out why when you hear about the lack of a warm, collegial feeling amongst the staff. A direct quote from Lesley Stahl to  the Hollywood Reporter is, “I just wanted to be a survivor.”

Couric’s stint as the global news anchor of Yahoo News sounds the least productive, among those jobs where she was employed by a large organization. When Yahoo hired Katie for a pretty penny, they fired the staff of veteran journalists around the country, of which I was one. We didn’t make a lot of money reporting on the news in our local areas, but many of the journalists nationwide, like me, were as well-qualified as Ms. Couric to report on our particular neck of the woods. Our money went to Katie, so we were all summarily fired, without even enough time to get our stories down from the Associated Content website. I must admit that this impacted my opinion of Katie Couric, at the time.

I’ve mellowed some since that abrupt uprooting, and it did lead to two books on the 2008 Obama campaign (“Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House”), which, otherwise, would have remained blog ramblings from the field that took place over 24 months of time. After I learned, unexpectedly and with no warning, that none of our writing would be preserved, I hired two teachers who were off for the summer and we split up the areas by topic.

Katie Couric’s current “job,” supported/organized by her second husband John Molner, is something known as Katie Couric Media. She admits, in the book’s closing chapter that, “It’s an adjustment when the white-hot spotlight moves on.” That seems to be true. She founded KCM in 2017, after a short-lived stint with Yahoo, usurping local reporters.

She also wrote this autobiography. Katie’s second husband, John Molner, told her, “If you’re not going to be honest, don’t write a book.”

That certainly seems like sound advice. Katie seems to have been honest even past the point of no return. She shares that she had breast reduction surgery, and she endured a colonoscopy on live TV, following the death of her husband Jay Monahan from colon cancer at the age of 43. She was certainly giving viewers an in-depth look into Katie Couric.

Katie is also very up front about her dating life before and after Jay. We learn how Larry King hit on her when she was an unknown. (He accepted her rejection of him in a gentlemanly fashion.) She talks about her cougar romance with a young swain, Brooks Perlin. One admirer who got away (and broke up with her) was Tom Werner, one-half of the powerhouse producing team Carsey-Werner, responsible for such hits as “The Cosby Show” and “Roseanne.” Werner comes off as a moneyed narcissist with all the sensitivity of Donald Trump.

Speaking of which DJT does make an appearance in the book, in ways both positive and negative. She is able to secure permission for filming in Central Park from Trump, but they have a falling out and he bad-mouths her to the press as a “third-rate journalist.” Even though she had attended the Donald’s marriage to Melania, when their paths cross in a restaurant, he pointedly ignores her.

She mentions an attempt to fix her up with Michael Jackson, an ill-fated attempt that goes nowhere. Her 50th birthday bash is described in some detail, as is the going away party when Katie leaves NBC. We should all be so lucky as to have Tony Bennett serenading us on our birthday(s).

The plot of Jennifer Anniston’s “The Morning Show” is pretty much limned in Katie’s many remarks about her on-air partnership with Matt Lauer. You definitely get the feeling that she liked the Matt she knew and—-just like Jennifer Anniston’s character on the television show—-she says she never saw the seamy side of Matt Lauer. After his fall from grace, sadly, they basically never speak again in any meaningful fashion.

The name-dropping of journalistic names is non-stop—Charlie Rose, Sarah Palin, Tom Brokaw, Bob Schieffer, Scott Pelley— but the down-to-earth tributes to her mom and dad and two sisters are just as omnipresent. We learn of her brave struggle alongside husband Jay Monahan, who died at only 43, leaving Couric as the single mother of two little girls. Later, as she explores her husband’s Southern roots and his love of Civil War re-enactments, Couric gets in a plug for racial equality as revealed by her now-grown daughters’ insights. (They are horrified by what their father’s obsession with the Old South represented.)

It’s a snapshot of the historic times that Couric covered as a reporter and, while her profile as a broadcaster doesn’t seem to be extending as far into the senior years with as much pizzazz as Barbara Walters’ career did, she still has had one hell of a ride.

“Being the Ricardos” on Amazon Explores Lucille Ball’s Storied Career

“Being the Ricardos” was scripted and directed by wunderkind Aaron Sorkin. It won screenplay awards and acting kudos from SAG for its leads: Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz. Beyond those top-notch talents, you have J.K. Simmons as William Frawley, Tony Hale as Jess Oppenheimer, and Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance. The Screen Actor Guild awards are considered a good indicator of Oscar nominations and have achieved even more prominence since the demise of the Golden Globes.

Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., are listed as Executive Producers and Lucie Arnaz’s reaction to the film was as follows:

Lucie Arnaz released a video on her YouTube Channel on 17 October 2021, in which she called the movie “freaking amazing.” She complimented Aaron Sorkin for making a great movie that really captured the time period and had wonderful casting. She also said that Nicole Kidman “became my mother’s soul.” Little Lucie said that Javier Bardem didn’t look like her dad but, “he has everything that dad had. He has Dad’s wit, his charm, his dimples, his musicality.”

Besides A Few Good Men (1992), Sorkin wrote The American President (1995) and Malice (1993), as well as cooperating on Enemy of the State (1998), The Rock (1996) and Excess Baggage (1997). He was invited by Steven Spielberg to “polish” the script of Schindler’s List (1993). Sorkin’s TV credits include the Golden Globe-nominated The West Wing (1999) and Sports Night (1998).As of 2021, has written three films that were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar: A Few Good Men (1992), The Social Network (2010), Moneyball (2011), and The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020). His screenplays are often noted for the long speeches the actors must master, and he has done uncredited rewrites on some other major Hollywood pictures.

Despite his list of acclaimed scripts, Sorkin has only directed three films: 2017’s “Molly’s Game;” 2020’s “The Trial of the Chicago Seven;” and 2021’s “Being the Ricardos.” It looks like he is finally coming into his own with this behind-the-scenes look at the tumultuous marriage/love story/career of Lucille Ball. I had read much of the source material, which explored her desire for a home and family, which was in conflict with the womanizing reputation of Desi Arnaz, whom she met when he was only 22. A Cuban singer and bandleader, the chemistry between them was undeniable but Desi’s free-spirited high-rolling life proved to be too much for the woman who was the first actress to portray a pregnant woman on television, as she gave birth to Desi while also filming the popular television series “I Love Lucy,” watched by as many as 60 million viewers weekly.

It is while they are dating that Desi—whose father was once Mayor of Cuba’s second-largest city—tells her that she “has a way with kinetic comedy,” meaning that Lucy—like Chevy Chase later on “Saturday Night Live”—had a genius for pratfalls and physical comedy. The script explores Lucille Ball’s journey through the studio system, ultimately being cut  by studios even though she had just had a successful appearance opposite Henry Fonda in 1942’s “The Big Street.” Lucy’s path through radio (“My Favorite Husband” radio show in 1948), which was ultimately turned into the TV show “I Love Lucy” in 1953, showcases the redhead (who was not a redhead for her entire career) as a smart, savvy woman who understood physical comedy and went to the wall to insist that her on-air television husband would be played by her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz.

Desi, at the time, was leading a band that played at Ciro’s night club and singing such songs as “Babaloo” and  “Cuban Pete.” His free-wheeling lifestyle was out-of-synch with what Lucy wanted for her children. At the end of her life, Lucille Ball was married to Gary Morton. Her tumultuous marriage to Desi lasted for 20 years (with a nearly-filed divorce affidavit only 2 years in), while her marriage to Morton lasted for 28 years, until her death in 1989 at the age of 77 from a ruptured aneurysm.  On March 3, 1960, a day after Desi’s 43rd birthday (and one day after the filming the final episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour), Ball filed papers in Santa Monica Superior Court, claiming married life with Desi was “a nightmare” and nothing at all as it appeared on I Love Lucy. On May 4, 1960, the couple divorced; however, until his death in 1986, Arnaz and Ball remained friends and often spoke very fondly of each other.

Much of the drama of this version of Lucille Ball’s life hinges on how Arnaz skillfully defused accusations against Ball that she was a Communist. One interesting bit of trivia: Ball was being considered for the lead female role as the mother in “The Manchurian Candidate,” but director John Frankenheimer insisted on Angela Lansbury for the pivotal role of Laurence Harvey’s scheming power-mad mother.

The film treatment by Sorkin, with music by Daniel Pemberton and music supervisor Mary Ramos features Javier Bardem doing his own singing and conga drum playing as Arnaz. The film is playing on Amazon Prime.


“Take Shelter:” Jeff Nichols-written-and-directed 2011 Drama (Another Jessica Chastain Film)

Jessica Chastain, with co-star (“Nick) on latest film “355.”

Last night, browsing through late-night offerings on television, Michael Shannon’s performance as a mentally-ill husband in “Take Shelter” (2011) caught my eye. If you’re a Michael Shannon fan, as I am, you’ll want to see it.

We turned over to watch it, and I was reminded that Shannon’s co-star in this intense psychological study was (drum roll, please): Jessica Chastain. It seemed only fitting that I re-watch this film, which I thoroughly enjoyed when it was new eleven years ago (when Jessica was 33).

In fact, when I had the opportunity to speak with Michael Shannon in Chicago at the premiere of Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” I asked Michael Shannon what his favorite film role had been. Rather than dodging the question (a question which is a little like asking, “Which of your children is your favorite?”) he immediately said “Take Shelter.”

In the film, Shannon’s character had a mother who was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic at about the same age that he is, in the film. His character is obsessed with the thought that a tornado is going to devastate the town, his house, and his family, and he is taking steps to put in a below-ground storm shelter. There is a climactic scene at a school cafeteria when Shannon mesmerizes as he erupts with emotion, warning the townsfolk that they are totally unprepared for what he sees as a coming apocalypse.

Of course, by then, he has been fired from his job for having taken equipment from the construction sites he worked on to build his underground tornado shelter. His wife’s patience, what with coping with her husband’s obsession and with their young deaf daughter, seems  about to collapse.

The film has a somewhat ambiguous ending, but Shannon’s performance was dynamite, and it is safe to say that Jessica Chastain’s performance as his long-suffering but devoted wife helped. (I met Chastain at the premiere of Liv Ullman’s directorial debut of the film “Miss Julie.” Her co-star in that film was Colin Farrell.)

Jessica Chastain is now 44 years old. She seems to be moving towards directing, as articles suggest that it was her idea to put together the concept for her latest film “355.” Unfortunately, the female buddy genre, which seemed fresh, creative and new when suggested in 2018, had been co-opted by 2022. “355” is currently playing theaters, only.


Jessica Chastain Having Banner Year in Two New Movies

We journeyed out to the theater to see Jessica Chastain’s newest movie, “355,”directed by Simon Kinberg.

The log-line says: “When a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands, a wild card CIA agent joins forces with three international agents on a lethal mission to retrieve it, while staying a step ahead of a mysterious woman who’s tracking their every move.”

The star power for the film, aside from Chastain who plays Mace, is provided by stars Penelope Cruz (Graciela Rivera), Diane Kruger (Marie Schmidt), Lupita N’yongo (Khadijah Adiyemi) and Chinese star Bingbing Fan (Lin Mi Cheng). The male lead of Nick Fowler is portrayed by Sebastian Stan and Edgar Ramirez has a small role as Luis Rojas.

The settings for the outing are glamorous. The film opens at a location described as 150 miles south of Bogota, Columbia. Before the tale about the totally untraceable master key cyber disrupter, which will allow the nation that possesses it to wreak havoc, winds down, we will have visited Berlin, Langley (Va) CIA headquarters, London, Marrakesh (Morocco), Shanghai, and many other exotic ports of call.

There is lots of fighting, with slight girls always besting the guys every time.  What is the significance of the title?

“So the woman I played in Zero Dark Thirty talked to me a lot about espionage and I think when I was preparing for that she started talking about 355 and I asked her what it meant. And 355 was the secret code name for the first female spy during the American Revolution. And her name still remains a mystery to this day,”Jessica said  at the virtual New York Comic-Con in 2020.

Lines like “When you live a life of lies, it’s hard to know what is true and what isn’t” made me think of Donald J. Trump, but it didn’t make me marvel at the screenplay, (courtesy of Theresa Rebeck).

I can’t recommend “355,” but “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” available on HBO Max, is pretty good.

Portraying Tammy Faye Bakker has garnered some talk of an Oscar nomination for Jessica, who plays airhead Tammy Fay Bakker, the partner of Jim Bakker in the PTL Club they founded in 1974. Tammy Faye is portrayed quite sympathetically in this film. The film is based on a documentary of the same name that was narrated by Ru Paul, a consequence of the gay community’s embrace of Tammy Faye, just as she had embraced the homosexual community during the AIDS crises of the 70s and 80s. Everything came crashing down in 1989.

In reading about the film, I learned that the scene involving Tammy Faye and a Nashville music producer, who was supposedly interested in her when she was 9 months pregnant, was not accurate. In fact, the producer in question was quite incensed at the suggestion. He did not give Tammy Faye a ride to the hospital to deliver baby number two, as the film depicts.

The way in which the couple met Jerry Falwell (portrayed by Vincent D’Onofrio) was also incorrect. It is portrayed as a chance meeting occurring when the couple’s car is stolen outside a motel, but the truth is that the couple had actually crashed their car and trailer earlier.

I looked up some information on Jim Bakker’s sins and misdeeds. He got 45 years, originally, but it was reduced to 8 on appeal and he even has been appearing on the television air waves again, hawking a silver substance that supposedly  “cures” many diseases and various Covid cures, until he was told to knock it off by the authorities, One of the things that Bakker and his second wife were also selling on TV recently was survivalist food that would save the day in the event of the end of the world. During his days with Tammy Faye Jim kept a second set of ‘fake” books and also used church funds to underwrite a face lift for himself. The pay-off to Jessica Hahn for sexual services rendered, which Roe Messner mis-represented as charges for the building of Heritage USA, an evangelical theme park.

Tammy Faye, after her divorce from Jim Bakker in 1992, married Roe Messner, the character shown in the film as the developer of Heritage USA. A theme park that Jim Bakker was proposing. Tammy Faye made several appearances on Larry King’s TV show during her 11-year battle with colon cancer, which ultimately took her life at the age of 65 on July 20, 2007.

Films of 2021


I’m still “on the trail” of the Best Movies of 2021, trying to catch up on any I might have missed at a variety of film festivals.

So far, my favorite films of the year that have Oscar potential include some that have done well at the box office (“No Time to Die”) and some that haven’t, so far. (“West Side Story” reboot).

I really liked “Nightmare Alley,” but audiences are not responding with ticket sales. I thought it was a beautifully done, interesting film, but could have been half an hour shorter—which has been my reaction to nearly every good film this year. See “Power of the Dog” with Benedict Cumberbatch, if you haven’t.

I enjoyed “Licorice Pizza” primarily for the introduction to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s young son, Cooper Hoffman, who portrayed the lead. I also laughed uproariously at Bradley Cooper’s turn portraying Jon Peters, the hairdresser who became a film producer as a result of his romance with Barbra Streisand. (And was the model for Warren Beatty’s character in “Shampoo”).

We watched “The Lost Daughter” (trailer, above) and, as usual, Olivia Colman turned in a fine tour de force performance. It was a film aimed more at mothers than fathers, exploring the remorse a career-driven mother experiences late in life, as she is thrust into a multi-generational group of vacationers in Greece? Italy? [I actually read that the lovely vacation spot was both Greece and Italy in a variety of reviews, but that is far from the most important thing about this film.] It is a character study that really addresses the way mothers who are torn between their love of their children and their desire to succeed professionally are, indeed, torn. It was actress Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut. Critics have been raving about her debut as a director. For me, I can’t remember a film that dove into the reality of mothering and treated it so realistically since Charlize Theron took a crack at it in “Tully,” (scripted by Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate Diablo Cody of “Juno” fame).

I’m eagerly awaiting “The Tender Bar,” which begins streaming on January 7th (Ben Affleck, George Clooney), and “Coda” is another I will be seeking in the days before Oscar nominations come out.

Meanwhile, I would recommend “Nightmare Alley,” “No Time to Die,” “West Side Story,” and “Last Night in Soho.” I also enjoyed “Cruella,” primarily for the costuming.

I did not like “The French Dispatch,” but I understand that the set pieces are Oscar-worthy in their intricate detail. For me, it was a total waste of time. I’m not a big Wes Anderson fan. I liked “Rushmore” and thought “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was mildly entertaining, but this one jumped the shark, for me.

I thought that “King Richard” was well-acted. However, I enjoyed the documentary about Arthur Ashe more than that tennis movie. Likewise, I appreciated the acting in “The Lost Daughter,” but Olivia Colman could read the phone book and make it compelling; here she got to really dig into the psyche of conflicted American working women who are torn between motherhood and career.

While I liked “Licorice Pizza,” I can understand those who felt it lacked much of a cohesive story, but the Bradley Cooper cameo was so hilarious that the people seated next to me got a bigger kick out of me laughing at it than they did from the actual film, itself.

More updates on this year’s best offerings as I “catch up”

“C’mon! C’mon!” from Mike Mills Provides Much Food for Thought

I recently rented “C’mon! C’mon!” and streamed it at home. I missed it at the Chicago International Film Festival.

The film, which stars Joaquin Phoenix as the uncle of a 9-year-old boy named Jesse, was written and directed by Mike Mills, whose 2016 film “Twentieth Century Women” I admired greatly. That film, starred Annette Bening and was about the director’s relationship with his mother in Berkeley; this one is about his relationship with his  7-year-old son.

The lead role of Jesse, the young boy, is played by Woody Norman, who is one of several child actors who are doing really excellent onscreen work this year. Another was the young lead actor of “Belfast,” Jude Hill, who portrayed Henry Branagh as a child.

Gaby Hoffman plays Viv, Johnny’s (Joaquin Phoenix) sister, who is married to Paul (Scott McNairy). Paul is bi-polar and having another of his breakdowns, which means that Viv is hard-pressed to take care of the young boy and Johnny begins taking Jesse on a trip cross-country that includes a variety of cities, including Detroit, New York City,  and New Orleans. The film is shot in black-and-white. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan has won accolades for his gritty portrait of those various distinctive cities. Ryan was Oscar-nominated for his work on “The Favourite” in 2019.

Johnny is a radio journalist and is journeying cross-country interviewing the youth of America. He is asking young people about what sort of future they see for themselves and for the world, in general. One young interview subject says, “For me, personally, I think things are going to get better because I have a lot of opportunities. For the overall world, I hope it gets better, but I fear it might not.”

Mills, along the way, cites an essay on why women are always expected to make everything all right, even in difficult times. He quotes from stories like “The Bipolar Bear Family” by Amanda Holloway. It’s a random assortment of observations, tied together by the road trip and the blossoming relationship between Joaquin Phoenix and his precocious nephew. It’s refreshing to have a movie that isn’t about Super-heroes rescuing the world with things blowing up in CGI.

Gaby Hoffman, now almost 40, began acting at the age of 4 to help her family pay the bills. She appeared in “Uncle Buck” when she was 7 years old and portrayed the young daughter of Kevin Costner in 1989’s  “Field of Dreams.” Until the age of eleven, she and her family lived in the Chelsea Hotel in New York City, a hotel famous for housing some of the biggest literary luminaries in the world, such as Arthur C. Clarke.  (Arthur C. Clarke, the author of more than 100 books of science fiction and essays,  said he and the director Stanley Kubrick wrote the screenplay for the film “2001: A Space Odyssey” during a stay at the hotel in the 1960s. The hotel is also said to be the inspiration for Chelsea Clinton’s first name.

There are many relatable moments in the film, especially those in the real world when Jesse gives his uncle the slip and frightens both of them.  Young Jesse also reveals that his mother had an abortion in her wild youth, which surprises her brother, who had not known that fact.

The appearance of Joaquin Phoenix post-the-“Joker” as a much chubbier version of himself is, in and of itself, a shock. His character in this piece is so far removed from his last outing as to make him unrecognizable.

The film is dedicated to a 9-year-old boy interviewed on the cross-country recording tour who was accidentally shot and killed after the film wrapped.

Another nice tid-bit that we learn is that when writer Mike Mills was somewhat at sea over the script. his 7-year-old son gave him the advice, “Well, be funny, comma, when you can, period.” The line is in the film and portends a bright future for the son of Mike Mills, who. at a very young age, already knows enough about English grammar to properly punctuate that sentence.











































Four New Films: “Licorice Pizza,” “West Side Story,” “Nightmare Alley,” “Spencer”

Last movie I saw was “Licorice Pizza.” I enjoyed it immensely, primarily for the portrayal of Jon Peters by Bradley Cooper, who is having a banner year in starring roles, most notably as the lead as well in “Nightmare Alley,” which is also playing at theaters.

I was also there when the remake of “West Side Story” hit screens—four of us, making 8 in the theater, total. I thoroughly enjoyed WSS. Ansel Elgort can really sing! He was far better than the original lead, who was from Avoca, Iowa, and even said himself that he didn’t know enough about New York City to be an effective lead. The lead actress, who followed Natalie Wood’s dubbed version, was outstanding and should be nominated for Best Actress.

As for the leader of the Jets, I preferred George Chakiris in the 1961 version, but the dancing and the singing in the new film is superior and the two leads were great. We came home and watched the original, just to remind ourselves how it differed.

Primarily, Tony was not so blatantly described as an ex-convict in the original film, Rita Moreno has a new role as the widow of the candy store owner; the new Anita was far thicker through the waist than the young Rita Moreno, but she could really dance.

Still, the film was great, especially on the IMAX screen.

We enjoyed “Nightmare Alley,” Guillermo del Toro’s new offering, and Bradley Cooper should be nominated for Best Actor. The cast is outstanding: Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara, Clifton Collins, Jr., Tim Blake Nelson, Richard Jenkins, David Straithairn, Mary Steenburgen, Ron Perlman and others. This film is not as impressive as “The Shape of Water” but it definitely is one of the best films of the year.

I met Guillermo (del Toro), with Ron Perlman in tow, in Chicago the year of “The Shape of Water” and, somehow, ended up at an after-party with the two of them. On the Red Carpet I had gifted Guillermo with a copy of my book “It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now.” He immediately stopped and began reading it. Handlers had to come and convince him to move down the row of interviewers. Just as the handler moved in on Guillermo, he happened to glance down at his feet and said, “Oh, no. Fat man with shoe untied. This is very bad.”

I was surprised to see Sally Hawkins, the star of “The Shape of Water,” portraying Kristin Stewart’s handmaid in “Spencer.” The only film I’ve mentioned (above) that I did not enjoy of the four new ones mentioned was “Spencer.” While Kristin looked good in the many outfits, nothing really happens in the film and I found it incredibly boring.

All the others were very enjoyable, although some of you won’t like “Licorice Pizza.” Watch it if for no other reason than to see Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son, Cooper, portray the male lead. And, of course, the craziness of Jon Peters, which you can read about for yourself. (And, yes, Jon Peters is still alive!)


“Merry Christmas! You Have Cancer!”

Craig, Stacey, Connie,
Wrigley the dog, Elise and Ava

My apologies to those of you who have checked my blog routinely and have found nothing new.

I learned I have cancer (via biopsy) on December 10th. Quite frankly, it has thrown me for a loop. I was advised to cancel my hostessing of close to 20 people at my house, but I went ahead, anyway, and surgery is imminent.

My sister-in-law thanked my husband for his efforts in hosting the Dec. 24th and Dec. 25th event, which went on until 3 a.m. one night and 2 a.m. the other.

News flash: I did all the planning, purchasing, and cooking. The health risks, for me, were considerable because of Covid. My surgeon suggested that I not do it. [Next time, maybe mention me, as well?]

I have seen quite a few of the movies out now and will return tomorrow with comments about: “West Side Story;” “Licorice Pizza;” “C’mon, C’mon;” and others.

Again, my apologies to faithful readers. Oh! And good wishes in the health category are always appreciated. Those were also in short supply.

Four Short Films for the Holidays from Argo

Argo is a global curator of films under 40 minutes and a social streaming platform. Argo’s mission is to support upcoming filmmakers everywhere and connect the world through incredible stories. Every week you can find new playlists curated by the top film festivals and filmmakers.

Here are the four I viewed, with a brief description, listed in the order of my enjoyment of them:

Jackie Weaver in “Florence Has Left the Building”

#1)  “Florence Has Left the Building,” written and directed by Mirrah Foulkes with cinematography by Jeremy Rouse. Florence is a resident of the Marigold House Assisted Living Facility and she’s not a bit happy about it. In her mind, she is still a sweet young thing and she wants out.

In this 13 minute and 37 second film, two dueling Elvises come to her nursing home Eden to entertain the residents. There is gold Elvis (Eden Falk), red Elvis (Justin Rosniak) and the star of the piece, Florence, portrayed by the great Jacki Weaver, who has been twice Oscar-nominated, once for 2011’s “Animal Kingdom” and once for playing Robert DeNiro’s wife Dolores in “Silver Linings Playbook.” (Best Supporting Actor) Florence plots to make her escape with Red Elvis.

The film is totally relatable and enjoyable. I will be showing it to my college roommate when she hits my house this coming weekend. This one gets an “A.”

“Santa Is A Psychedelic Mushroom”

#2)  “Santa Is A Psychedelic Mushroom” – This film is all about magic mushrooms, or the Amanita Muscaria. It makes a connection between a shaman from Lapland and the Santa story, with flying reindeer, a fat little man in a red suit who comes down the chimney, etc.

Great story.

Wonderful animation.

Good advice about thinking more about the spiritual side of our lives.

Terrible music.

Maybe Santa this year is giving us the gift of reflection?

Grade of “B+”

Marius in “The Christmas Gift”

#3)  “The Christmas Gift” -This little gem (23 minutes long) from Amanda Muscaria features a young boy, Marius, who writes a letter to Santa in which he asks for gifts for himself (a locomotive) and for his Mom (a purse) and for his Dad (that the then-dictator Nicolae Ceausescu would die.)

This one required some reading up on the Romanian Revolution of 1989, for me. Here’s the Wikipedia short story:

“The revelation that Ceaușescu was responsible (for the deaths of citizens in the streets of Timisoara, Romania) resulted in a massive spread of rioting and civil unrest across the country. The demonstrations, which reached Bucharest, became known as the Romanian Revolution—the only violent overthrow of a communist government in the course of the Revolutions of 1989. Ceaușescu and his wife Elena fled the capital in a helicopter, but they were captured by the military after the armed forces defected. After being tried and convicted of economic sabotage and genocide, both were sentenced to death, and they were immediately executed by firing squad on 25 December, 1989.”

This small historical snippet helps explain how the mere mentioning of how the populace wanted the repressive dictator overthrown could cause one to end up dead. Ceausescu had unleashed the military upon the populace in Timisoara on December 17, 1989, and many were killed.

Imagine how upset the father is to learn that his son has exposed him to potential arrest and imprisonment.

Most of the rest of the short film involves Dad threatening Marius with physical violence, which did not appeal to me. Marius seems like a really good kid, and he didn’t deserve the screaming fit. I even wondered whether this was really his biological son, as Dad seemed like as big a tyrant as Ceausescu.

Ceausescu seems to have pretty much ruined Romania during his years in power (1955 to 1989) and the economy suffered mightily.

Most of the rest of the film hinges on how Dad might get the letter out of the post box Marius has placed it in, or how he might damage the mail within the post office box so that he doesn’t get arrested.

The very end of the film has actual newsreel footage of the Romanian Revolution, which, to be honest, I barely remember, although the name of this infamous dictator I did remember.

The acting was good and I could relate to this faux pas on the small boy’s part. I wrote a Letter to the Editor once that similarly parroted my own teacher mother’s feelings about non-certified teachers being allowed to teach in Amish schools in Iowa (she was opposed) and I got the same reaction from my parents (although my high school’s principal called me in to congratulate me on having my letter selected by the Des Moines Register for publication.) I was 16 at the time. My father—the town banker—had a lot of Amish customers and he wasn’t thrilled that I had let his wife’s views on this touchy subject of teachers with no more than an 8th grade education being allowed to teach in Amish one-room schoolhouses.

Grade of B.

#4 –“December in Toronto” – This is a trip to Toronto over 6 days. It seemed like a home movie that some friends had put together. It only runs 6 minutes and 11 seconds.

Not my cup of tea, but I love Toronto at any time of year. It always reminds me of a mini-Chicago, just as Lisbon (Portugal) reminds me of a mini-Paris.

Grade of “D.”

Reminder: Today is December 2nd and the XmasCats Deer Book is ON SALE!!!

The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer

This is a reminder that the 99 cent price for “The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer” is on TODAY, and it will be on for 3 days. This is a good one, and you may want to pick it up in paperback for a Christmas gift, because there are puzzles and coloring book pages in the back.

This is the first of the XmasCats.com books that had a hard cover book, but I did not go through Ingram Spark and that, my friends, has led to it being a “limited edition.” The small Indiana company that did the hard cover did a phenomenal job. The colors in the deer illustrations are gorgeous! I love the drawings that Gary did for this one, and I love the story, which we “story-boarded” at the Bettendorf Public Library, when people who had come to hear about the first 3 books in the series suggested plot twists (the “Cat Copter,” for one).

Unfortunately, having the small Indiana publisher do the book made it costly. It is $25, from me, if you want a hard cover version, and you will have to contact me here to get one. They are definitely a “limited edition.”

After this book comes “The Christmas Cats Care for the Bear,” an anti-bullying book that has one of the most germane and relevant messages for today’s youth.

And—last but not least—the Donald-Trump-look-alike bee of “The Christmas Cats Flee the Bee.”

Look for specials on the remaining books in the series in the remaining weeks before Christmas, but “get them while they’re on sale and hot.”

Merry Christmas!

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