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!

Author: Connie Wilson (Page 1 of 91)

Cabo Return and “The Kominsky Method” on Netflix

With over 800 flights canceled out of O’Hare and Midway in Chicago, the trip back to the United States from Cabo San Lucas could have been a nightmare.

It wasn’t. Our plane was one of the few that “got out” of the airport and we arrived home slightly later than we anticipated, but not that late, really.

Since our return we’ve been watching Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin in “The Kominsky Method” on Netflix, which is clearly aimed at the “mature” generation. The themes include prostate problems, E.D., death of one’s spouse, children who are drug-addicted and require rehab, dating in one’s golden years, and failure to pay taxes.

Took this one while waiting for the tram to drive us back to 1711.

The durable Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin have some good lines in the series, with Nancy Travis as the love interest for Douglas. Episode 6 is the best of the series, but you have to learn the backstory of the characters to get there.

Cabo San Lucas at Thanksgiving, November 19-26, 2018

 

The view from our room at Sunset Beach in Cabo San Lucas.

In honor of our 50th wedding anniversary, I began planning a trip for the 7 of us to Cabo San Lucas about 3 or 4 years ago.

We first visited Cabo in 2014 in January and enjoyed Sunset Beach, with whale watching, dolphins frolicking around our boat, and a lovely place. That year, we were in the process of helping nurse my mother-in-law, Helen, through her final illness and both of our blood pressure(s) were off the charts. We left for one week to try to de-stress.

Took this one while waiting for the tram to drive us back to 1711.

We then saved our 27 points on our Mazatlan Emerald Bay time share for 4 years, to gather up enough for the trip back. Not only does it take 4x what we get for a junior suite yearly, but the Pueblo Bonito people, who own 4 properties here, do not allow you to come every year.

Since Scott & Jessica are celebrating

Scott & Jessica: 17 years married and celebrating our 50th with us in Cabo San Lucas on a cruise.

their 17th anniversary today, Thanksgiving was selected so that the girls would be off school (as would the working adults).

The Sky Bar at Cabo San Lucas.

We arrived on Monday, November 19th, and all went well—after I made a phone call to the desk to check on the reservation(s) on November 12th, which, of course, the desk did not have at all. This caused me to spend all of November 12th straightening out the issues (thank you, Carlos Garcia in Mazatlan’s RCI headquarters for Pueblo Bonito) that had caused me to make these reservations on July 30, 2017, but nobody put them in until one week out!

Whether it was because of that or because there are 7 of us, we had a lovely villa with 2 bedrooms and pull-out in the living room, a huge veranda just off the pool, and a wonderful spot on the deck the night of Thanksgiving, when we dined with everyone else in the main dining room. There was live music and the food was wonderful.

Cruising the coast of Cabo San Lucas.

We also took a cruise on the Oceania at night, complete with food. Scott and Jessica and the girls were able to join up with old friends from Austin for Wednesday night. Add in some game nights and it’s been a great trip.

Tonight’s bon mot from Ava, as her mother drew a multitude of cards, [having been down to one card at “Uno,”] “Well, I guess we don’t have to worry

Elise and Ava aboard the Oceania cruise ship on November 23, 2018.

about her any more.” Last night, her philosophy of the moment was: “It’s a sad life.”

Stacey takes a selfie.

Holocaust Survivor Steen Metz Speaks on November 13th in Moline, Illinois

Steen Metz, who is an 83-year-old survivor of the Holocaust from Denmark, spoke to an audience of roughly 200 interested audience members on Tuesday, November 13th, 2018 at the Moline Public Library.

Steen grew up in Odense, Denmark, a small town 100 miles west of Copenhagen, where only .2% of the population was Jewish. Neither Steen’s father, an attorney, nor his mother were practicing Jews, although Steen’s father was raised in a practicing Jewish family.

On October 2, 1943, when Steen was 8 years old, his family was herded into a cattle car and spent 3 days traveling to Terezin Concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. They had no food, no water, no bathroom facilities and the adults had to take turns standing or sitting during the 3-day journey. He recalled that one elderly adult in another car committed suicide on the journey.

The camp was called Theresienstadt in German; it was not an extermination camp with gas chambers.  150,000 people were held there and only 17, 247 survived. Steen and his mother somehow managed to be placed together in the barracks. His “job” as an 8-year-old was to be a messenger boy. When asked if he ever read any of the missives he explained that he did not speak or read German. He did, however, occasionally steal a potato when he had the chance, as he and his mother and all the prisoners were starving.

Hitler had invaded Denmark by land, sea and air on April 9, 1940. For three years Danes were allowed to go about their lives in roughly the same way they always had. His father continued to practice law. He continued to attend public school. Part of the reason for this was that, in a country of 4 and 1/2 million people, only 8,000 were Jewish, and most had already fled to Sweden, which was neutral and opened its borders. Another difference for Steen was that he was not tattooed, as we assume all Holocaust survivors were. Also, in the later stages of the incarceration, the inmates were allowed to receive packages, but sometimes the guards would open them, remove the goods or food, and replace the contents with rocks.

The Danish people were very supportive of the Jewish citizens and hid many of them, at great personal risk. The normal life Steen had experienced came to a screeching halt in the fall of 1943. [He projected a picture of the people of his small town being assembled in a school yard to be transported to the concentration camp.]

Steen’s father was made to dig ditches and ultimately died of pneumonia. His mother survived and remarried in 1951. She lived to be 91.

The camp where Steen and his mother were held was made to appear to be a “model” camp and filmed for use in propaganda films. A gazebo was constructed, the facades of shops were freshly painted (there was no running water anywhere) and healthy French children were brought in to play in the streets. On June 23, 1944, a group from “outside” came to Terezin to tour, proving to the rest of the world that the camps were not systematically starving people, as they were. There were 470 Danes in Terrazen, of whom 420 were liberated. 50 died of starvation. 4 babies were born there and 2 of them survived. All but 4 of Steen’s family survived and, when he and his mother returned to their small village, his father’s firm had put their belongings in storage and most belongings were returned to the pair.

Steen joined a Danish food company after he grew to adulthood and was sent to Canada. He met his wife there (a British citizen) and they came to the United States in 1962. He retired in 1999. He estimates he has spoken to 65,000 people about the Holocaust and each of us was to tell 4 other people that the Holocaust was real. He warned about the current climate of hate and  anti-Semitism abroad both here and in Europe, pointing to the Pittsburgh of 11 Jewish worshipper at a synagogue there.

When asked if his experiences had made him  a more intense follower of the Jewish faith, he answered, “No” and explained that he had not been brought up in a religious home and that claiming that distinction in post-war Europe was not really that good an idea.

Thoughts on Films & Politics on November 5th, 2018

Some thoughts of the day, on Monday, the day before the election.

I am asked if I think there will be a Blue Wave.

I respond that my biggest fear is that the Kavanaugh hearings will function like the Comey memo about Hillary’s e-mails. If the Kavanaugh hearings energize Trump’s base…..(finish that thought).

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Joe’ Seafood, Prime Steaks and Crab House, Chicago.

On another topic, I saw “Bohemian Rhapsody” AND “First Man” and I can highly recommend both.

Years ago, at the Chicago Film Festival, I saw a bio-pic on Freddie Mercury of clips of all his public appearances put together by the man responsible for curating same. It was terrific! One thing that was not covered as well as it could have been was Freddy’s collaboration with an opera singer of the day.

Damien Chazelle, Writer/Director of “La La Land” and “Whiplash.”

First Man” was also wonderful and a tribute to Damien Chazelle’s directing as much as Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of Neil Armstrong.

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Visited the Field Museum today and saw 2 films, one on ancient Egypt and one on Antarctica. Both were informative and educational.

The rest of the past few days were spent participating in a SLAM (Culture Club)

The Field Museum.

on Friday night and dining at Joe’s on Saturday night. I learned, the hard way, that I should always ask for the “market value” on crab values. (A: $70!) But it is a lovely place and the food was good.

 

“The Green Book” Film Gives Hope for Racial Harmony

Genre: Drama

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini, Sebastian Maniscalco, Dimiter D. Marinov, P.J. Byrne.

Director: Peter Farrelly

Writers: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly.

Length: 130 minutes

“The Green Book” was a book that actually existed in the sixties South, one which would tell black citizens where they could (and could not) stay while traveling.  Its correct title was “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” written by Victor Hugo Green and published annually from 1936 to 1966 as a guide outlining where black travelers in the South could stay, eat, and receive services during the days of Jim Crow. Set in 1962, the racism that “The Green Book” explores was real. The characters who traveled the South together for two months on a concert tour were also real.

Viggo Mortensen, who stars opposite Mahershala Ali as Ali’s chauffeur on his piano tour of the South, pointed out on September 11th in Toronto that the message of tolerance and learning to exist side-by-side with those who may be different from us is still very relevant today. While the green book of the title may be gone, the racism in this country is not.

Real-life pianist Don Shirley, Jamaican-born, is applauded and congratulated for his virtuoso performances before all-white audiences, but the impeccably attired and well- mannered Shirley is forced to stay in forlorn motels and flophouses when offstage. His two sidemen, Russians who drive separately in their own car, inform Tony that Shirley could have remained in Manhattan and played any number of more enlightened venues, but he purposely chose to travel the South, serving as a sort of one-man sign of hope for the downtrodden African American residents of the South. Nowhere is that made more clear than in the scene when the two stop by a field where laborers gaze at this successful man as though he is from another planet. The fact that he is being driven by a white driver who opens his door for him and dances attendance on him is certainly something that they have not seen before.

The Green Book with Viggo Mortensen and Mahershali Ali at the Chicago Film Festival.

In one short scene at a YMCA, Tony bribes two cops to let Shirley go after what looks to have been a gay hook-up. This theme is never fully explored. Earlier in the film, Shirley has mentioned a marriage that did not work out when combined with his career commitments. There is also an angst-ridden scene between Ali and Mortensen where the pianist asks, “If I’m not black enough, and I’m not white enough, tell me, Tony, what am I?” You sense that there is much about his privileged life that is not satisfactory nor ever likely to be in the United States of America. You wonder if the final heart-warming scene really played out quite the way it is presented, just as you wonder about whether Ali is really playing the piano.

The ironies and injustices mount with depressing regularity the longer the tour continues in the South. In one encounter with racist police in Mississippi, Shirley saves himself and Tony from a racist jail cell only by a phone appeal to none other than then-Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. There’s also a letting-off-steam interlude when the pair goes to a black honky-tonk and Shirley gets down musically for the first time. The piano interludes that appear to show Ali in action are extremely impressive, whether he is playing polite jazz at a Southern country club (that subsequently refuses to let him eat in the dining room) or surrounded by African American bar patrons in a smoky hole-in-the-wall.

In addition to the injustices and the flat-out harassment, we see scenes where Tony introduces Shirley to Kentucky Fried Chicken for the first time (in Kentucky, no less) and others where he makes the classically trained pianist aware of the great popular musicians of the day being played on the radio, like Aretha Franklin and Chubby Checker. Tony and Shirley are both stand-up guys, and that helps them to become true friends, once they get to know each other. The scenes where Ali helps Tony write romantic love letters home to his loving wife (well played by Linda Cardellini) and his two sons are both sweet and funny at the same time.

The dynamic of these objectively mismatched men is almost like that of The Odd Couple. The formal, uptight Don Shirley is gradually loosened up by the more uncouth, working-class stiff, Italian-American Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) once they grow to know one another and understand each other. It gives the audience hope that, without the constant stirring of the pot by those who get off on divisiveness and discord, we all may come to live in harmony by opening our minds and hearts and freeing ourselves of rank prejudice.

The human interchange, enlivened as it is by two fine actors in top form, makes “The Green Book” go down easily. It was the audience favorite at the Toronto Film Festival and it was one of my two favorite amusing, uplifting films of the CIFF,( the other being Melissa McCarthy’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) You can watch just so many films about drug-addicted teen-agers before you need to recharge your batteries. In these troubled times, this is the kind of film that will leave you feeling that there is hope for mankind, whether the future proves that hope true or not.

 

 

 

 

“Wildlife:” Actor/Writer/Director Paul Dano’s First Directorial Effort

Genre: Drama

Director: Paul Dano

Writers: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, based on Richard Ford’s book

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould, Bill Camp

Length: 144 minutes

British actress Carey Mulligan (“An Education,” “Never Let Me Go,” “The Great Gatsby”) stars in Paul Dano’s directorial debut, “Wildlife,” opposite Jake Gyllenhaal. The “Hollywood Reporter” recently named her one of the 8 “Best Actresses Working Today” and she is very good in this film.

Gyllenhaal, too, is always a dependable leading man, to the point that audiences take him for granted. He was one of just 8 actors to win a Golden Globe, a SAG award, the BAFTA and a Critics’ Choice award and then not be nominated for an Academy Award for the part (“Nightcrawler” in 2014). Other notable Jake Gyllenhaal films: “Donnie Darko,” “Brokeback Mountain,” and “Southpaw.”

Carey Mulligan does a fantastic job of portraying a 1960 housewife and mother (son Joe in the film is 14), who is forced to figure out how to keep herself and her son afloat when the somewhat irresponsible father figure (Jake Gyllenhaal) suddenly decides to go off to fight fires   40 miles away from their home in Great Falls, Montana. The pay? $1 an hour. He had been working as a golf pro, but got fired for betting with the golfers. He is called and offered his job back, but doesn’t take it. The other opportunities in town are few and far-between.

THE GOOD:

ACTING

 The acting in this one is top-notch. It is shown through the eyes of the son (Joe, played by Ed Oxenbould of Australia) and he does a credible job of a son watching his parents marriage collapse (although he looks nothing like either parent). Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) is always good, and he’s good here, within the constraints of the script. Some critics feel it is Carey Mulligan’s best performance to date (although I’d vote forNever Let Me Go”). Bill Camp who plays Warren Miller, a wealthy car dealership owner (who comes on to Mulligan when Jerry leaves), is also good in his part.

ART DIRECTION & SET DIRECTION

Miles Michael and Melisa Jusufi did a great job of recreating 1960-era Great Falls, Montana. Kudos to them.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Diego Garcia gets to photograph Montana, which director Dano described as “a divine, beautiful place.” He does a fine job.

THE BAD:

The film started at 6 p.m. At 7 p.m.. I wrote in my notes, “This is really boring so far.” It is true that there was a small amount of time at the outset of the film given over to presenting Carey Mulligan with a Career Achievement award, but, still, only 44 minutes remained for something interesting to happen.

THE SCRIPT

Paul Dano—who earned praise for his work in “Let There Be Blood” and “Little Miss Sunshine”—wrote the adaptation with his partner, Zoe Kravitz (they recently had a daughter). The couple met while working on “Ruby Sparks.” The script is based on a book written by Richard Ford that Dano read in 2011. It is Dano’s first foray into directing.

The script just did not make a lot of sense at pivotal points. I have to wonder if the book would have explained things in a more comprehensible, realistic, true-to-life way. As Johnny Oleksinski of the “New York Post” put it, “Too much of the screenplay doesn’t ring true.”

In another review, Brian Tallerico said, “He keeps the audience engaged purely through the believability of their characters.” That, for me, was the problem. The things that occur seem random and unlikely and are not believable IRL. Perhaps it’s the book, or perhaps it’s the screenwriters adaptation of the book, but none of the characters’ actions really came off as “believable.” This is not the fault of the acting leads, but of the script.

Starting out as a happy sixties family, the father figure (Jake Gyllenhaal) behaves in truly incomprehensible ways when he loses his job at the local golf course. Mostly, he sits in his car and sulks. I expected him to drink heavily (and he does a bit of that later), but, at first, he is sulking by himself and then—Eureka!—the golf club calls and offers him his old job back. So, naturally, in this small rural town with barely any jobs available at all for anyone, he turns the offer down, saying he “won’t work with people like that.” (WHA-A-A-T?)

It is shortly afterwards that, without any prior discussion with his wife or young son, he announces he is leaving for the fire front and will fight fires for a pittance ($1 an hour). This causes a scene, of course, (which Mulligan and Gyllenhaal do a great job playing), but it seems utterly unlikely to occur in real life. It also takes the very competent Gyllenhaal out of the film for a large portion in the middle of this movie about a disintegrating 60s family, and that is unfortunate.

Before he leaves, Gyllenhaal makes a comment about how the snow will put out the fires, eventually, and that turns out to be a big plot moment (i.e., the snow beginning to fall.). The depiction of the forest fire at the front is also very well done, but, overall, the actions of the father are so different from what a “real life” person would do that it is difficult to relate.

As Oleksinski said “(New York Post): “Dano’s movie is, in many ways, solid and admirable, but awash in ‘duh.’ Too much of the screenplay doesn’t ring true.” The ham-handed line, “It’s a wild life, isn’t it, Son?” was also not a favorite. One I did like was this one, spoken by Mulligan to her husband as he announces he is going to be gone for months fighting fires for $1 an hour: “I’m a grown woman, Jerry. Why don’t you act like a grown man?”

Why, indeed? Maybe because the book gave us more insight into Jerry’s motivations which leave his wife and son without income for an indefinite period of time. (We see Mulligan inquiring about a job as a teacher early on, and learn that there is nothing available in this remote town.)

While Gyllenhaal is away at the fire front, even more incomprehensible actions on Mom’s part occur, with son Joe along as a spectator. From upright young matron she is dining at the home of local businessman Warren Miller (Bill Camp) and flirting with the older man, her son along as an appalled witness.

When Dad comes home, HIS actions also enter the realm of the unbelievable. (*No spoiler here).

“Wildlife” was a good effort and Dano, himself, said, in an interview, that doing “a period piece” on a limited budget was quite the challenge. There is much to admire in his directorial effort, (if not in the screenplay itself.) He referenced asking Owen Moverman (“The Messenger“) for tips as he set out to direct for the first time. Maybe ask someone else to write a more coherent script next time? Because the shots of Montana are truly beautiful and the actors certainly do everything they can with such unrealistic story arcs.

“The Front Runner”

“The Front Runner,” starring Hugh Jackman and directed by Jason Reitner, was the favorite film I saw this past 54th Chicago International Film Festival. It reminded me of “The Candidate” directed by Michael Ritchie and starring Robert Redford, which I reviewed 46 years ago (1972). In fact, I still have a button that says, “All the Way with Bill McKay” from the Showcase Cinemas in Milan, a gimmick given out to those who attended the film. Reitman acknowledged, in the Q&A following the film, that “’The Candidate’ was our North Star” during shooting of this film about the 1988 presidential race of Colorado candidate Gary Hart. “The Front Runner”  also reminds of Beau Williman’s “Ides of March” with Ryan Gosling.

Hugh Jackman plays Gary Hart, the candidate, and the film follows the rise and fall of Senator Hart, who was considered the overwhelming front runner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination until the story of an extramarital relationship aboard a yacht called “Monkey Business” doomed his campaign, causing him to drop out. I was immediately reminded of how dangerous “front runner” status can be. I thought back to the Howard Dean campaign and the “sleepless summer” of 2004, which I covered for www.blogforiowa.com. [Each candidate, Hart and Dean, shot himself in his own foot, so to speak, although Dean’s “scream heard ‘round the world” was augmented by the Kerry forces, who arranged for it to be replayed constantly in a never-ending loop, discrediting that former “front runner.”]

Jason Reitman in Chicago with “The Front Runner,” closing film of the 54th Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

The movie, which runs 113 minute and opens wide November 21st, considers many aspects of the disclosure of Hart’s dalliance with a beautiful blonde (Donna Rice). Although the event happened 30 years ago, it is timely today. As Chicago International Film Festival Artistic Director Mimi Plauche said, onstage, “This is about 4 ‘P’s’: Power, Politics, Privacy and the Presidency.” She asked Director Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”) how he managed to focus the film, since it contained many topics?

His answer was, “The way in became an ensemble.  Everyone had a different point of view. A.J., the reporter for ‘The Washington Post’ (who Reitman conceded was a composite of at least two different reporters) had a certain point of view. Irene Kelly, played by Molly Ephriam, had a certain point of view. I go into every film with questions.  I came to the movie with questions. It’s kind of fun to have differing points of view.”

Asked how he came to make this film, since he was only 10 years old the year that Hart ran for President (1988), Reitman said he had heard about the race on a podcast and became fascinated with it. Plus, he said, he always looks for an ending, and this story had one.

Reitman also said, “I’ve always wanted to work with Hugh Jackman.  Ever since I saw him in “Logan,” for which I think he should have been Oscar-nominated, I’ve wanted to work with him.  Jackman is the most decent human being I’ve ever worked with on a set.  Every day, so that he could get to meet more of the cast and crew, he’d bring scratcher tickets and personally hand them to everybody.  He had a huge spiral notebook of research on Hart.”

Jason Reitman, director of “The Front Runner.”

Talking about film, in general, Reitman said, “If the theory of film Is that it is purposely messy, what is relevant?  What is important?  We were going to throw a lot at you in this film. It was not improvisation. It was controlled madness.”

Of the opening scene, [which sees Hart conceding to Walter Mondale at the 1984 convention], Reitman said, “That was a two and one-half minute shot with a lot happening. Your ears tell you where to look. Steve Morrow wired everybody, so you had lots of people talking.  Sometimes, we’d hand someone a magazine from that year and say, ‘Read this to your seat mate and explain it to him.’ That’s your dialogue.”

PHOTO BOARDING

Acknowledging the contributions of his Director of Photography, Eric Steelberg, Reitman said, “I’ve worked with Eric since we were 15. We do photo-boarding. We take stand-ins and go through every shot and frame on the actual location and shoot pictures. It’s like storyboarding, only with real people and lens directions. When we’re done, you can flip through the book of pictures and see the movie-to-be.”

To what extent were people instructed on how to behave?

“Our North Star throughout was Michael Ritchie’s ‘The Candidate’ (Robert Redford, 1972). We established real rooms where people were doing their jobs.  All the extras were assigned in advance. We gave them photos of reporters on a bus in the eighties to show them how it really was. We used real film from campaigns. We wanted it to feel as live and messy as possible. When we saw film of James Carville eating popcorn out of a coffee filter because they’d run out of paper plates, we said, ‘We’re using that.’ From a technical point of view, this is the most obsessive movie I’ve ever made.’”

WOMEN’S ISSUES

“My producing partner since ‘Up in the Air’ has been Helen Esterbrook.  We both  voice our respective points-of-view.  It was odd that people alive then didn’t remember Donna Rice at all and talked about her as though she were an object.  Even in the last few years, there’s been a shift in how we view Monica Lewinsky and that situation.  We made an early decision on how to portray Donna (Rice). Halfway through the movie you meet Donna (Sara Paxton) and she’s alone.  Sara kind of just took the weight of the whole movie on her shoulders in her scene and did it with great poise.” Reitman said that, in meeting all the real participants, he “felt oddly more responsible to Andrea Hart,” the college-aged daughter, but also remarked “I felt a responsibility to be decent to all the characters.”

It may be this decency on Reitman’s part that leaves the audience with a few alternative versions of Hart’s story involving Donna Rice. In one, Ms. Rice flew up to spend the weekend with Hart in his Washington, D.C., town house. In the other, Ms. Rice and another couple they had been out with for the evening entered his town house but departed via a back exit after about an hour. A major plot point on Hart’s part is that the reporters staking out his town house didn’t cover the back door.  The seasoned campaign manager Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons, Oscar winner for “Whiplash”) says, “It’s not ’72. It’s not even ’82,” noting how public perceptions had changed. That remark is certainly timely today.

Jason Reitman onstage during the Q&A in Chicago for “The Front Runner.”

Reitman then told a true story he had heard from Joe Trippi, the legendary campaign manager who took Howard Dean to front-runner status early in the presidential race of 2004 and who recently master-minded the Alabama campaign of Democratic Senator Doug Jones. [Jones became the first Democrat to be elected to the Senate from Alabama since 1997.] Trippi confirmed that Andrea Hart, Gary’s daughter, had to be sneaked out of their Colorado house while lying flat on the back seat of a car with a blanket concealing her presence there. To make it even more convincing, someone sat on her legs and waved at the throng of reporters.

 

THE PRESS

Noting that the primary/caucus system was established in the mid-seventies, to take the selection of a presidential candidate out of the hands of power brokers in smokey back rooms, it then became the press’ duty to report on the candidates. Reitman said, “The responsibility fell on the shoulders of journalists after the backroom broker system died.”

Asked “Has American gotten the leader it deserves?”, Reitman admitted that he’s not a fan of the current occupant of the Oval Office, saying, “It just kills me every day, but I’m a Canadian. I have an escape plan!” (Laughter).

The comment is made in the film, “Someone will dredge up something you said 15 years ago and pretend it encapsulates your entire life.” In light of the recent Kavanaugh hearings, this rang very true. We also learn that 64% of the public polled felt the stalking of Hart by the Miami Herald was irrelevant and unseemly.

Hart felt, “I care about the sanctity of the process, whether you do or do not!” He did not feel that the press had the right to report on his private life (“Should I sacrifice my privacy?”) Hart also said, “Judgment, like character, needs to be measured in the full context of a career.” And, later, “Politics is on the verge of becoming another form of sport. I’m an idealist and I want to serve my country.” One could point to JFK, Jr.’s ill-fated magazine “George,” which was published from 1995 to 2001 as embodying this idea that politicians were, in essence, becoming celebrities even all those years ago.

A different point-of-view is articulated by campaign worker Ann Devroy (Ari Graynor of “I’m Dying Up Here” on Showtime). Speaking to a female journalist, she says, “He (Hart) is a man with power and opportunity.  As our potential next president and as a journalist, you ought to care.”

THE AXE-THROWING SCENE

Asked about one particular campaign scene, where Candidate Hart ends up at a logging site and must throw an axe at a bull’s eye, Reitman said that the cast and crew had a pool on how many takes it would require for Jackman to hit the bull’s eye. The faux candidate stepped up and hit a bull’s eye with his first throw of the axe. “Then he did the wolverine pose,” said the director, adding, “It took about 8 more takes because the rest of the cast didn’t get it down.”  In the film, a spectator says, “This is a first.  He might just actually throw away his campaign.”  

Reitman acknowledged that, “You look for stories that can be a prism: public life versus private life” and this is definitely a relevant and interesting one from 30 years ago.  The real Gary Hart is now 81 and has been married to his wife, Lee (portrayed by Vera Farmiga) since 1958.

Steve Bannon is Profiled in “American Dharma” by Errol Morris

Errol Morris, one of the world’s foremost documentary filmmakers (“The Fog of War,” “The Unknown Known”), presents us with his latest film, “American Dharma,” a sobering peek into the mind of the man “Time” magazine dubbed the Master Manipulator, Steve Bannon.

Dharma means “duty, fate and destiny,” according to this past and present Trump advisor.  Before the film screened, the Chicago Cinema documentary chief (Anthony Kaufman) read a brief note from the filmmaker which said, “Who would have thought that Henry King, David Lean, John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, Michael Ritchie and Orson Welles would offer such fertile ground for Fascism.  This is my most despairing and horrifying movie.” Morris was referencing Bannon’s frequent allusions to films he has seen which have spoken to him, none mentioned more frequently than “12 O’Clock High” starring Gregory Peck, (directed by Henry King).

There is little doubt that Bannon (assisted by Reince Priebus and Kellyanne Conway), entering the Trump campaign at the eleventh hour with the financial backing of Rebekkah Mercer and family, saved Trump’s campaign. Bannon brought with him a game plan and what he refers to in the film as the Honey Badger spirit of never giving up. Bannon brought a first-rate mind and education (Harvard Business School, among others) to the battle, albeit a reputation for being “a stone-cold racist” and someone who is “doubling down on fear.” As Bannon says onscreen, “You need to be a blunt force instrument.”   He adds, “We just did it and now we’re gonna’ march on the Capitol.  We’re gonna’ drop the hammer.”

Bannon, who was Executive Chairman of Breitbart News under Andrew Breitbart said, “The medium is the message and he (Trump) understood that.”  Bannon described 15 to 18% of the voting public as people who didn’t like either candidate offered them in the presidential race, and notes that two-thirds of those people opted to vote for Trump over Hillary Clinton.

Bannon—who has been taking his show on the road covering the European circuit since his dismissal by Trump after Charlottesville— reminds the interviewer that “We had Brexit as the canary in the mineshaft.” Says Bannon, as campaign guru he felt the Trump campaign needed to convince the American voting public of 3 things:

  • That Trump would stop immigration.
  • That Trump would bring jobs back to the United States from overseas.
  • That Trump would get us out of foreign wars, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Referencing a cautionary speech by Hillary Clinton in her campaign, known as the “alt right” speech, in which Hillary warned of the dangers inherent in a Trump presidency, Bannon crows, “That’s when I knew we had her. They’d walked right into the trap. If they (the voters) see you as the instrument to get their country and their jobs back, they’ll vote for you.” His point: Hillary did not represent the change that the states of West Virginia and most of the Midwest wanted to see.

Citing quotes like “When the legend becomes more powerful than the truth, print the legend,” and “Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid,” Bannon pulls from Errol Morris an admission that Morris voter for Clinton “because I was afraid of you guys.  I still am.  I did it out of fear.”

Another favorite Bannon quote from Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is, “I’d rather reign in Hell than serve in heaven.”

Morris asks Bannon if he’s all abut destroying everything and Bannon basically acknowledged that he is, saying, “We have to clean out some of the underbrush” and “A complete rejection of the system is due,” which he predicts will come after another financial crisis and will be “like a scythe through grass. It is coming.”

THE GOOD

In addition to warning us all exactly how this administration thinks, the solemn, depressing, insistent music, courtesy of Paul Leonard-Morgan, adds immensely to the tone and impact of the film. The cinematography by Igor Martinovic, who frequently poses Bannon in profile against the horizon, is good. Setting fire to the hangar (Quonset hut?) where the interview takes place is both a great metaphor for Steve Bannon’s philosophy of “the Fourth Turning” and makes for great visual imagery.

THE BAD

Is there anything more depressing than listening to someone this close to power telilng us, “Revolution is coming. It will come, as night follows day?” Aside from the Steve Miller-crafted “American Carnage” speech, [which George W. Bush on Inauguration Day declared was “Some weird shit”], how uplifting is it to hear Steve Bannon tell say, “I’m saying if we don’t make changes we’re going to have an Apocalypse.” (Bannon also claimed that Trump wrote the speech himself and denied that Trump ever lies.)
Recommended, but have something uplifting awaiting you when you finish up watching this important 95 minute documentary from the master.

 

 

“Boy Erased:” Joel Edgerton’s Writing/Directing/Acting Oscar-worthy Tour de Force

“Boy Erased” (Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Lucas Hedges).

Lucas Hedges is having a banner year, with starring roles in two much-talked about films, “Ben Is Back” and “Boy Erased.” “Boy Erased” is the story of the son of a Baptist minister in Arkansas who is outed to his parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe) at age 19. As the voice-over tells us at the film’s outset: “I wish none of this had ever happened, but sometimes I thank God that it did.”

The film, written by Actor/Director Joel Edgerton (“Red Sparrow,” “Loving”) from a memoir of the same name written by Garrard Conley, deals with Jarred Eamons’ real-life experiences when he is forced to attend a gay conversion therapy program.  There are 36 states where such gay conversion centers are legal and over 700,000 “patients” have been treated in them.

I was immediately reminded of Michelle Bachmann’s husband Marcus in Minnesota, who, although not a licensed therapist with the state of Minnesota, ran such a Christian conversion camp. Bachmann, who ran for President (briefly) in 2012 (she dropped out of the race in January of 2012 after placing 6th in the Iowa caucuses) once proposed an amendment to the Minneapolis Constitution that would ban gay marriage, was anti-abortion and declared global warming “all voodoo, nonsense, hoakum, a hoax.” Bachmann also helped found the House Tea Party movement while serving from Minnesota, whose actions and mind-set we see in evidence on the national scene every day.

The American Psychiatric Association has repudiated such “Christian counseling centers” and, just like Marcus Bachmann, the leader of the gay conversion center that Jared is forced to attend is not a licensed therapist. (In fact, we learn at film’s end that he is now married to a man and living elsewhere.)

Garrard Conley (author of the memoir “Boy Erased”) in Chicago. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

This is an important step up for Lucas Hedges, although he has already appeared in several Oscar-nominated films —“Ladybird,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and he was Oscar-nominated for his role in “Manchester by the Sea.” It is a foregone conclusion that this role, or his role as Ben in “Ben Is Back,” will garner him another nomination for Best Actor. The scene in his dormitory room where Jared is essentially the victim of rape is extremely good, but he is good in all of his scenes in both films. I’d pick this role, because the film, as a whole, hung together slightly better than “Ben Is Back” and, quite frankly, 3 drug addict movies in, the gay conversion theme was a change of pace. (Not to mention that Timothee Chalamet is out there this year in “Beautiful Boy,” nailing the drug addict portrayal  nomination.)

(L to R) Joel Edgerton, Troye Sivan(Gary), and Garrard Conley onstage during the Q&A in Chicago following “Boy Erased.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Let’s not forget that 2 Oscar winners are portraying Jared’s parents. Nicole Kidman is wonderful as the courageous mother fighting for the son she loves and Russell Crowe is equally good in his scenes as the less accepting minister parent. Let’s also give a shout-out to Flea (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers), aka Michael Peter Balzary, a native of Melbourne, Australia, who does a good job playing creepy conversion camp character Brandon. In fact, with the exception of Lucas Hedges, Mr. and Mrs. Eamon, conversion therapist Victor Sykes  (played by Joel Edgerton) and Flea’s character of Brandon are all Australian.

Joel Edgerton and Troye Sivan (Gary) from “Boy Erased” onstage in Chicago. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

There were many “first time” directors appearing with their films in Chicago, but this outing by Edgerton, who both adapted the memoir for the screen, acted in the film, and directed the film, was far, far better than fellow actor Paul Dano’s maiden voyage in “Wildlife,” a very disappointing film. See it if you want to have seen at least one of the nominees for Best Actor on February 24th.

 

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” at the Chicago International Film Festival

“Can You Ever Forgive Me” is a nice change of pace for Melissa McCarthy, who reins it in nicely as Lee Israel, an author who was arrested for forging signatures of other more famous authors and selling them as authentic. Virtually a two-person ensemble, nice support is provided by Richard E. Grant as Jack Hock.

Aside from the two leads, who actually do the selling to unsuspecting buyers via bookstores in New York City that specialize in such matters, Dolly Wells plays one such bookstore owner (Anna), Jane Curtin (“Saturday Night Live”) plays Marjorie, Lee’s crusty agent, and Anna Deavere Smith (Gloria on television’s “Nurse Jackie”) portrays Elaine, Lee’s old friend and roommate, who has left her saying, “It’s not my job any more to talk you off the ledge. It’s exhausting.”

Lee is portrayed as a failed writer who specialized in biographies (“Estee Lauder: Beyond the Magic,” “Miss Tallulah Bankhead,” “Kilgallen”). She repeats several times that she is working on a biography of Fanny Bryce, a subject that her agent finds less than appealing.

Because Lee is not doing well in the business of writing biographies of other more famous writers, she and her only friend and companion, her cat Jersey (Towne the Cat) fall upon hard times and people say things to her like, “You’re a clever woman. Figure it out” or “You go out there and find another way to make a living.” And so she does, but she runs afoul of the law and ultimately is sentenced to 5 years probation and 6 months of house arrest. [Plus, Nora Ephron sends her a cease and desist letter telling her to stop impersonating her on the phone.]

THE GOOD

Melissa McCarthy really inhabits the sad life of this 51-year-old writer-turned-forger. Lenore Carole Israel (known as “Lee”) died on December 24, 2014 at the age of 75, leaving no mourners, no family and, in addition to magazine work which largely sustained her through the seventies, three books of unauthorized biographies of women whose fame had largely passed with the passage of time. After her apprehension for the over 400 literary forgeries, Lee wrote a best-seller, “Can You Ever Forgive Me: Memoirs of a Literary Forger,” which did well, and the film version, directed by Marille Heller (written by Nicole Holofcemer and  Jeff Whitty) was cast, originally, with Julianne Moore. Although Julianne Moore is an accomplished actress, the part seems more suited to Melissa McCarthy and she does a great job with it.

THE MUSIC

Those responsible for such great song selections include the overall Music Supervisor (Jack Paar), who selected songs like “I’ll Be Seeing You” and Paul Simon’s “I can’t run, but I can walk much faster” to give us the appropriate mood.  Six others assisted (Adam Bennati, Ted Caplan, John M. Davis, Brad Haehnel, Nicholas Neidhart and Areli Qurarte).

THE SCRIPT

Writers Nicole Holofcemer and Jeff Whitty have given us a very witty script, which is augmented by the funny letters that Lee created. When Lee meets an old acquaintance, Jack Houk (Richard E. Grant) in a bar and they begin sharing stories of their downward trajectory in the literary world, Jack says his agent, Julia Steinberg, died. Then, he adds, “Maybe she didn’t die.  Maybe she moved back to the suburbs.” One of Lee’s fabricated autographs, ostensibly from Fanny Bryce, says, “I have a new grandkid and he got my old nose.  Do I have to leave him a little something extra for repairs?” Lee and Jack continue meeting in bars throughout the film and, at one point, Lee shared that this is a celebratory drinking session, not a whining one. Jack responds, “It’s hard to tell the difference with you.” As she is about to reveal her new line of work forging famous people’s signatures, Lee asks Jack, “Can you keep a secret?” to which he responds, “I’ve no one to tell. Everyone I know is dead.”

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Brandon Trost was the cinematographer. He does a great job  depicting a hopeless, lonely, drab apartment and the dive-y bars that its occupant inhabits. He also did some interesting things with his camera, as in one blurry-into-focus shot in a bar. The moody sets, dimly lit, and the nice choice of music all play into giving the film a thoroughly authentic feeling of alcohol-fueled desperation.

THE BAD

I had overdosed on films about addicted teenagers, so this film was like a breath of fresh air. I will admit that I (also) took in “Flammable Children,” an Australian comedy featuring Guy Pearce and Julian McMahon to try to lighten the mood, but, after 3 drug addiction movies in a row, that mood was pretty low.

THE VERDICT

If you enjoy witty badinage and a well-written, well-photographed, script with great acting, this could be your guilty pleasure. It was mine, in Chicago on October 14th. You’ll enjoy seeing funny woman Melissa McCarthy in a brand new light. She is one of the four highest-paid actresses in Hollywood and is a native of Plainfield, Illinois.

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