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 92

“The Favourite:” Not MY Favorite

 “The Favourite” is nominated for 5 awards at the Golden Globes. It has another 76 wins and 204 nominations for other cinematic awards.
The excellent acting in “The Favourite” is  from all three of the principals: Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz as Lady Sarah Marlborough and Emma Stone as Abigail (Lady Sarah’s cousin) are 3 of its Golden Globe nominations. Also excellent is Nicholas Hoult as Harley. There are numerous nominations from various other competitions for Best Screenplay, Best Costumes, Best Make-Up, Best Direction, Best Ensemble Cast, Best Comedy/Drama, etc.
First, let me say that I knew “The Favourite” would be “different” in a weird way, because it was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, who directed “The Lobster” with Colin Farrell (and Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman, again). That was one of the stranger films in recent memory, but it had some very funny moments.
I anticipated similar funny moments in “The Favourite” but this film is much less humorous. (I’ve appended some memorable lines from it.),
Second let me add that I have only now researched Anne, last of the Stuart rulers (1702-1714) to determine the film’s authenticity. Throughout the film I asked myself about the French/English  war in question. Only now, in looking up the history, did I find out that there was a difference of opinion about whether to fight the war on land (Rachel Weisz’s spouse, Lord Marlborough, was the head of land forces) or on sea. The movie also failed to mention a settlement in a war under Queen Anne that gave her something like 22% of a lucrative trade ferrying slaves. (Not P.C. enough?)
The information that Queen Anne gives in the script about having been pregnant 17 times: true. Only one child, a son, managed to live until 1700. Her failure to provide a male heir led to Queen Anne’s downfall as a monarch.
Third: The palace settings in “The Favourite” (Hatfield House in Hatfield, Hertfordshire) and costuming were phenomenally opulent. The costumes and make-up will be hard to beat at awards time. Add to that the sensitive acting by the three female leads and it is a film-lover’s film. Maybe not for the Marvel fans among us. Filmed on a $15 million dollar budget, it looks every penny of those millions.
STRANGE TOUCHES

“The Favourite” has used the credits in a weird way—presenting them like a cross-stitch at the end. It makes them hard to read. During the story various messages are displayed for the camera with odd statements like “This Mud Stinks,” “What An Outfit,” “A Minor Hitch,” “Stop Infection,” “Leave That I Like It,” “I Dreamt I Stabbed You in the Eye.” The plot does not unfurl as smoothly as that of some other films of this length (2 hours) and part of that is the presence of these weird markers. The title cards, displayed along the way are like the names of television episodes that we see on Netflix streaming services. Often, the phrase displayed will be a line of dialogue (“This mud stinks.”).
THE END
“The Favourite” really does not have a “concluded” feeling. It is a long movie (1 hr., 59 minutes) but it feels as though it (still) could go on for a while, to let us know exactly what the fate of Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and her soldier husband are. Instead, it just ends.
The musical background in “The Favourite” is monotonous and odd, with almost the sound of dripping water at times. It’s a bit like a beating heart. However, the musical selections are duly noted at film’s end. (Primarily classical).
One question that I still have: was the dance that Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) is shown doing in “The Favourite” with a  young man (which drives the Queen into a rage) a “real” dance of the time? It looked more like something from the Zoot Suit days than an early 18th century parlor dance. Likewise, the dance that Abigail and the Queen practice in her chamber.
NOTABLE QUOTES:
Here are some lines from the nominated screenplay for “The Favourite”scripted by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara:
“Love has its limits.”
“Sometimes a lady likes to have some fun.”
“I’ll make a killer of you yet.” (Lady Sarah, i.e., Rachel Weisz, to Abigail, i.e., Emma Stone)”
“I am a person of honor even if my station is not.” (Abigail)
“You are too sensitive.” (Lady Sarah to Queen Anne). “And you are too mean and uncaring.” (The Queen to Lady Sarah, her childhood friend become Lady of the Bedchamber and chief advisor.)
“There is no point winning a war abroad if losing one at home.”
“I’m on my side, always. Sometimes, it’s a happy coincidence for you.” (Abigail).

“Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House” ON SALE

I am writing to once again mention the ONE DAY sale (e-book) for $1.99 for “Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House,” Vol. I,  that is happening on January 5, Saturday, tomorrow.

I seldom use this space to advertise my own books (although it is said that I should), but I’m feeling distinctly nostalgic for “the good old days,” before Russian troll farms, when religion, politics and how much money one made (or didn’t make) was off the table for public discussion.

The e-book version of Volume I is (normally) priced at $4.99 and, if you would like it in paperback, the price was $14.95 on Amazon. There are numerous pictures that appear nowhere else (mine) and the blog entries from the run-up to the selection of the candidates to run in the 2008 election (i.e., Obama and McCain).

Volume II goes on to actually chronicle the presidential race, itself, which I covered, inside at the DNC, the RNC and elsewhere, for Yahoo. (Yahoo Content Producer of the Year for Politics that year).

There are A LOT of humorous entries and, if necessary, I’ll figure out a small segment from Book I to put up here tomorrow, along with a “buy” link.

Hope you all go take a look at the book, at least, on the peek inside feature.

“Obama’s Odyssey” (Vol. I) ON SALE for One Day (Jan. 5)

Barack Obama in Davenport, Iowa (River Center) during the 2008 caucus season.

I don’t know about you, my readers, but I’m missing B.O.  (Barack Obama).

And by B.O. I mean Barack Obama. And Michelle, of course. And the days when we had an intelligent, literate, kind, considerate, compassionate adult couple in the White House.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ArzB7P9CEy8It is January. It is cold outside. Children in elementary school are dying at the U.S. border while Emma Lazarus weeps. (“Give me your tired, your poor. Your wretched refuse yearning to breathe free. The huddled masses of your teeming shore. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”).

So, I decided to put my 2008 book “Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House” on sale for just $1.99 in e-book format, for ONE DAY ONLY because, well, because I’m missing Barack Hussein Obama and his wife and family and the decency and integrity that his 8 years in Washington, D.C., represented.

In the day(s) when indictments are flying faster than snowflakes and the days stretch ahead of us, gloomy and dark, and we are fast heading towards the cliff of a Constitutional crisis, we ALL need more pictures of the 2008 election. This book fits the bill. It is jam-packed with previously unseen pictures, taken by Yours Truly as she followed the campaign across Iowa and, eventually, across the nation—to Denver’s DNC  and St. Paul’s RNC  and the Belmont Town Hall Meeting and the Ron Paul Rally for the Republic and the goings-on in Grant Park and at Invesco Field.

It’s only going to be on sale on January 5th, so hurry up and take advantage of this offer. I could be persuaded to put Volume II on sale in the future if this goes well. So crank up your e-book readers and order yourselves a slice of history for under two bucks.

You won’t be sorry.

“Vice” Is Not An Adam McKay Fun-Fest: Be Warned

Adam McKay’s new film “Vice” focuses on the Vice Presidency of Dick Cheney under George W. Bush. The director of “The Big Short” previously helmed “Anchorman” (2004), “Talladega Nights” and “The Other Guy.” McKay wrote and directed this film and is nominated as both Best Director and for Best Screenplay among the 6 nods from the Golden Globe awards.

The true wheat amongst the chaff here is Christian Bale’s amazing transformation from, well, Christian Bale, into the heavyset, overweight, middle-aged, follically challenged Cheney. Hats off to the make-up crew!

Amy Adams also received a Golden Globe nod for Best Supporting Actress and Sam Rockwell for Best Supporting Actor for playing a somewhat clueless George W. Bush.

Given the fact that McKay wrote for “Saturday Night Live” in 1975 and has a partnership with comic talent Will Ferrell (“Funny or Die” is their channel), this is more in the spirit of “The Big Short” than of his previously silly films, but is not nearly as story focused

THE GOOD

Obviously, when this many nominations are given for acting, the acting is great. (Not to mention the make-up.)

As for the screenplay, it is crammed with so much  that you will drown in numbers, figures, and much, much more. It was not the movie I thought I was going to see, as I thought that Hollywood directors had  this “FOCUS! FOCUS!” part down, (whereas my screenplay efforts are always accused of containing too much and being all over the place, even when they win awards).

For the “good” list, let’s just mention some of the superlative performers (besides those already mentioned above) who put in an appearance:

Steve Carrell – his wife was an early improv partner of McKay’s. He plays Donald Rumsfeld.

Alison Pill – she had a fairly large role opposite Sarah Paulson on the clown episodes of “American Horror Story.” She plays Mary Cheney (the gay one).

Justin Kirk – You will recognize Justin Kirk, who plays Scooter Libby, from “Weeds.”

Jesse Plemons – Kurt – Jesse was in both “Fargo” and “Breaking Bad.” I did not like the way in which his character was integrated (or not integrated) into the plot, and I was always told that “voice over” was lazy writing. So much for that advice.

Tyler Perry – Yes, THE Tyler Perry, plays Colin Powell

So, the cast? Uniformly good. I watched a documentary (Errol Morris) on Donald Rumsfeld called “The Unknown Known” at the 2017 Chicago International Film Festival and Rummy comes off as just as big an SOB here as he did there.

THE BAD

The acting cannot overcome the incessant barrage of facts and data, some of which are incidental to the story. We all know that there is a drug epidemic going on, but why do we see close-ups of a victim being treated with NarCan, for example, or forest fires in California? For that matter, why did Gerry Fraser photograph it in such a herky-jerky fashion that it was like rewatching Costa Gravas’ “Z”, (which pioneered hand-held camera work) or “The Blair Witch Project.” The close-ups were not fun for the audience.

There’s just too broad a net thrown over this whale. It may be nominated for Best Picture, but it was a disappointment to me, as we drove around on Christmas Day for an hour and fifteen minutes trying to get in to a 3:10 or 3:55 showing, only to ultimately give up.

The political implications and message did not offend me, a journalist (Yahoo Content Producer of the Year 2008 for Politics) who did not much care for George W. Bush and thought him incompetent, but Republicans won’t like it. As for me, the film is too jam-packed with too much detail to carry the plot of how Cheney became our “acting President,” (whether he ever earned the honorary title or not).

The “Manchurian” Mess We Must Address

Inside the Democratic National Convention of 2008 (Pepsi Center) in Denver, Colorado.

I drew back, apprehensive.

Was this guy at the Trump rally at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, Iowa, really going to hit me? He looked seriously angry and would have fit Hillary Clinton’s description of a “deplorable.” I had done nothing to him other than attend the same rally, as a member of the press.

It was Saturday, December 5, 2015.

Yes, I was wearing a Press badge, but SERIOUSLY?

I’m a 73-year-old retired English teacher, five foot two, and unarmed—except with a pen and camera. I routinely covered presidential politics in Iowa and beyond. I also review film (www.TheMovieBlog.com) and write everything from short stories to novels to screenplays to children’s books. As a result of this journalistic encounter, I no longer cover presidential political primaries in Iowa. Maybe I’ll change my mind, but I’d like to remain physically unimpaired.

I’d like to be as courageous as Marie Colvin, but I wouldn’t like to be as dead as Marie Colvin. I also want to keep both of my eyes, as I paid a fair chunk of change for cataract surgery this past summer.

I went home and said to my husband of 51 years: “This isn’t fun any more. It’s becoming downright dangerous.”

FAMOUS JOURNALIST’S WORDS OF WISDOM

A Private War: Rosamund Pike and Jamie Dorman.

I did review the film “A Private War” (Chicago International Film Festival, October), which told of the life experiences of courageous U.K. journalist Marie Colvin (portrayed by Rosamund Pike).

Colvin, despite losing one eye in Sri Lanka, continued to report on wars in far-flung places, saying: “I feel we’ve failed if we don’t tell what was done. There are people dying here, and nobody knows it’s happening… When you’re covering a war, you have to go places where you could be killed…You have to make that suffering part of the record…This is the rough draft of history.  You have to find it.  If you lose that, you’re not helping anybody. You’re just making yourself feel better.”

She was killed in Syria on February 22, 2012.

BACKGROUND

I started out covering presidential politics in 2004, traveling across the I-74 bridge from Illinois into Iowa and writing for the Howard Dean blog, www.blogforiowa.com. A Journalism major on a Ferner-Hearst Scholarship when at the University of Iowa, I felt this was something I could do for the cause of taking our country back (Howard’s slogan).

Taken during a McCain rally at the Cedar Rapids Municipal Airport during the 2008 presidential campaign. Cover of Volume II of “Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House.” (Available on Amazon in paperback and e-book).

I tried to give people on the blogs I wrote for who were not able to be there a firsthand view of the process of selecting presidential candidates. Volume I of my 2 books was about the run-up to  of the candidates. Volume two was about the campaign that followed. The books are filled with photographs of all the candidates, pictures that I took during this wonderful experience.

 

Starting in 2004, I continued to write for a variety of blogs until, in 2008, I was sent to the DNC and the RNC (and elsewhere) by Yahoo and named their Content Contributor of the Year 2008 for Politics. My pieces (over 1,000) were “hit” 3 million times. I’ve written two books entitled “Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House,” Vols. 1 & 2. (Available on Amazon in paperback and e-book).

But here I was facing a possible assault because I was Press.

TAKE-AWAYS

This is a watershed year for journalists and journalism. The number of journalists has dropped from 114,000 to 88,000 between 2009 and 2017, according to the December 31, 2018 “Time” magazine. That same issue reports that in 1983 there were 50 corporations controlling what most Americans see or hear, but now it is down to five.

A record number of journalists (262) were imprisoned in 2017 (*Committee to Protect Journalists). Fifty-two journalists around the globe were killed. Five of the Capital Gazette (Annapolis, MD) journalists were slain in their office on December 9th. White House reporter Jim Acosta was stripped of his credentials by a peeved Donald J. Trump on November 7, 2018 and a doctored tape from “Infowars” was used to justify this unprecedented action. Jamal Khashoggi, a member of the Washington Post press corps, was cold-bloodedly killed and dismembered by Saudi Arabian goons inside the Istanbul consulate at the direction of Prince Mohammed bin Salman on October 2, 2018.

Around the world: Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam: jailed for more than 100 days after criticizing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Sudan: freelance journalist Amal Habani arrested, beaten with electrical cords, and detained for 34 days. Brazil: Reporter Patricia Campos Mello- targeted with threats. Hong Kong: Asian news editor for the Financial Times forced out of Hong Kong because he invited an activist to speak at a press club event against the wishes of the Chinese government. The Philippines: Maria Ressa of the “Rappler” news site and her reporters were banned from presidential events and charged with tax fraud as a crackdown on “Rappler.” [That charge could send Ressa to prison for 10 years.]

Maria Ressa’s remark is worth repeating: “I think the biggest problem we face right now is that the beacon of democracy, the one that stood up for both human rights and press freedom—the United States—now is very confused. What are the values of the United States?”

Russian operatives in troll farms seeded Facebook (126 million reached on Facebook, alone, according to CNN on December 17th) with posts intended to help the Trump campaign. One USSR technique was to create a group called The Army of God, which enlisted those suffering from sex addiction(s). It is thought that the USSR hoped to blackmail some of these U.S. citizens into becoming Russian assets. The Facebook and Twitter and Instagram posts sought to sow unrest and dissension amongst the populace.

It worked.

Democratic National Convention, 2008, Denver.

A good friend of my son’s—his former neighbor in Texas—engaged me on my thread on “Facebook” and immediately took to name-calling. I was a “libtard.” He and his family would move to Cabo San Lucas if Hillary Clinton were elected. I had been in this young man’s house. I had been at numerous gatherings where he prepared brisket. His son played with my 9-year-old twin granddaughters. Now I was “the enemy” because I might have a different political opinion than his. I was to be called names and generally put down.

Did I respond in kind? No, I did not.

“Jimmy,” I said, “We are never going to agree on politics, so let’s not discuss it.”

Despite my polite request that we NOT talk politics (since we would never agree), he persisted, telling me he would say “whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, wherever he wanted.”

My response was to first beg my son to come throw cold water (figuratively speaking) on his fanatical friend, before the trip I had planned to Cabo San Lucas over Thanksgiving to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary at Sunset Beach (where Jimmy’s family would be vacationing at the same time as us in their time share), went down the tubes. My son did not see my e-mail(s).

A day passed.

Jimmy persisted, returning to my Facebook thread, growing increasingly more unpleasant and adamant, telling me how he was going to say “whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, wherever he wanted.” I finally said, “I don’t think that’s the way it works on Facebook, Jimmy,” and blocked him.

I allow anyone to speak their mind on either side of an issue on my Facebook thread, but there is to be no name-calling. Name calling is not allowed from either side of the aisle. That is MY “control.” Later, this good friend of my son’s texted my son to apologize to HIM. [Last time I checked, it was not my son who was called names].

I have not received an apology from Jimmy and the trip to Cabo rather pointedly left my husband and me out of the reunion with his family. They had moved to North Carolina before all this occurred—(a state I am sure is more in tune with Jimmy’s politics than Austin (Texas) was).

I like Jimmy and his wife and sons, and I regret that he could not treat a woman at least twenty-five years his senior, the mother of his close friend, with more respect. I regret even more that Jimmy is representative of the divide in this country that has been fostered by our president and social media.

This is what has overtaken our country in the wake of the election of 2016. I don’t think this country will ever be quite the same, unless certain controls that existed in the past are re-instituted or new ones are imposed.

CONTROLS

What do I mean by “controls”?

For one thing, money, politics and religion were always considered to be “off limits” as conversational topics in polite society in my day. We no longer have a polite society, largely due to the lack of decorum at the top. It is creeping into our schools and seeping into our culture. I even wrote a six-book series of Christmas books for children aged 3 to 10 to try to keep these virtues and values alive, “The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats.” The cats go about doing good deeds and helping other animals in distress. From ages 3 to 6 the granddaughters (twins, now aged 9) helped select the animals. We quickly moved through cats, rats and bats and, as their interest in the project waned in favor of their IPads and Minecraft, I selected deer and bear for the last two books. Next year’s book, “The Christmas Cats Flee the Bee” will have Donnie Drone scheming to take over the hive. Draw your own conclusions. The illustrations by Hallmark artist Gary McCluskey are wonderful. He says it is the most fun he has had at work.

Belmont Town Hall meeting on campus in Nashville, Tennessee, 2008.

This year, “The Christmas Cats Care for the Bear” has a promotion on e-book that enters the purchaser into an Amazon $500 give-away as they read this anti-bullying tract to their 3 to 10 year old charges. I said I’d do these books as Christmas presents for my granddaughters until they no longer believe(d) in Santa Claus. They turn 10 on January 11, 2019. Six books will remain to convey to them what I have tried to pass on about behaving the way I was taught to behave towards others. [Obviously, I was not very convincing in my conversation(s) with Jimmy on Facebook, but I do still have both eyes (in good working condition) and for that I am grateful.]

These are “throwback” books that try to teach young people to be helpful, to be polite, to respect all human life, not to be prejudiced, not to bully and to try to get along with others in rhyming Seussical quatrains, with interactive activities at the back for the little ones. (www.TheXmasCats.com). In other words, the books reaffirm all the pillars of society and values that, along with what I will mention next, will hopefully return, once we select a different leader.

The Federal Communications Commission enforced the Fairness Doctrine until 1987. It required stations to cover public controversies and present both sides of the controversy. That FCC doctrine was repealed in 1987. Fox News was founded in 1996; MSNBC four months prior. The years of polite decorum in debate would soon be under attack and possibly become a thing of the past in an Internet world. We, as a society, are under constant attack from all sides. It is not hard to conceive of a Putin or a Xi chuckling at how we are being destroyed from the inside out.

 I used to say that the 1962 movie “The Manchurian Candidate” was my favorite movie. Those of you who remember it will also remember that it disappeared for a very long time. That was because of the assassination of JFK. That was a “control” move, to keep anybody from thinking that a political assassination was a “good” thing.

We need to take similar action to rid ourselves or control all of the disruptive elements that are tearing us apart, and you can put the very reasonable concept of gun control in that category. I admired “The Manchurian Candidate” until fiction became fact.

I see children being torn from their parents at the border of this great land. These poor folks have dared greatly to reach a country that, previously, said, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door.” (Emma Lazarus on the base of the Statue of Liberty).

What does our country say to immigrants—to the world—to you— now?

“Give me your white only immigrants from countries like Norway? Don’t dare to hope that we’ll welcome you graciously, because now we are solely a Me First nation? Go back to your s******* country and leave us alone?”

Is that the new United States of America message to the world at large?

As I grieve the death of all the initiatives that our last president championed (Obamacare, solar power, LGBQT rights, good relations with our allies), I urge everyone in the field of journalism or right-thinking to stand up to  obvious falsehoods and untruths and misdeeds, seemingly committed to benefit those in power. Unprecedented abuses of our First Amendment freedoms occur and are occurring each day. Let’s restore this great country and save the entire planet from global warming before it’s too late. (A film at the Field Museum, “Antarctica on the Edge” says 2020 is the deadline; the film was made in 2014).

This assault on the freedom of the press may presage democracy’s last stand. Will you take an active part in helping maintain the United States as one of only 13% of the world’s countries that enjoy complete freedom of the press? Or will you side with someone who wants the satirical TV show “Saturday Night Live” prosecuted for making fun of presidents, (as the show  has done for decades?)

To me, it’s not a difficult choice.  I grew up in a very Republican state (Iowa) with a Democratic office-holder (my father, John Corcoran, Jr.) who only got the job as Buchanan County Treasurer after his Republican opponent died before being sworn in.  (“John—your opponent died. Do you want the job?”) I was tacking up political posters on telephone poles at the age of 5 and listening to my father say, “Don’t go into politics, Con. It’s a dirty business!” Nevertheless, he served four terms as County Treasurer of Buchanan County, Iowa before starting a bank in 1941, the Security State Bank of Independence, Iowa, which just celebrated its 75th anniversary.

I’m used to being considered out-of-step with those around me, politically, but I always extend respect and courtesy to those who differ from me in their beliefs. My godmother (Arlene Raymond) was a Republican lobbyist for chiropractors in the state of Iowa for years.

What I won’t do is swallow, wholesale, lies and untruths. You have to really stay on top of things in this day and age, reading BOTH sides of the aisle, especially since the advent of news organizations that are geared at presenting only one side of any argument. [Fortunately, my vision is 20/20, thanks to the miraculous surgery of Eye Surgeon Associates on July 27 through September 11th].

With candidate John Edwards at the Putnam Museum in Davenport, Iowa, during the 2008 caucus run (wearing an Obama sticker in the photo).

At one point in time during the 2008 presidential primaries, I was a John Edwards supporter. When the facts showed that he was lying to all of us and was not as represented, naturally I was crestfallen, but I did not continue to insist that it was the nasty news media that had made him into a philandering husband who fathered a child with a girlfriend while his wife was dying of cancer. It was a bitter pill for many of us to recognize that John Edwards truly had feet of clay, but we ate crow and admitted the facts. Rudy Giuiliani now says “Facts aren’t facts.” Au contraire, Rudy. Facts are what will set us free.

This will run before Christmas and I would like to end by saying, “Peace on Earth, good will towards men.” Help save our country by opening your mind(s) to all possibilities. No one is above the law and this great country needs to remain the beacon of hope it has always been for the entire world.

PG-13 | | DramaThriller | 24 October 1962 (USA)
The Manchurian Candidate Poster
A former prisoner of war is brainwashed as an unwitting assassin for an international Communist conspiracy. A Russian “asset” is intended to be placed in the White House by the manipulation of Angela Lansbury at a political convention.

Writers:

Richard Condon (based upon a novel by), George Axelrod (screenplay)

“Bloodshot & Bruised: Crime Stories from the South & West” by Travis Richardson Entertains                      

 (* A 180 page collection of short stories, many of them award-winning)

      Travis Richardson grew up in Oklahoma, but currently lives in Los Angeles—which, (judging from some of the lines in his short stories within this slim (180 pp.) volume),he doesn’t really like all that much. But it’s where the action is, in writing and in film. 

     Travis  has directed a handful of short films and written many award-winning short stories, such as “Incident on the 405,” which was a nominee for both the Anthony and Macavity Awards for Best Short Story, or”Quack & Dwight,” which was a Finalist in the ScreenCraft Short Story Contest, as well as a Finalist for the Derringer Award and a nominee for the Macavity and the Anthony Awards for Best Short Story.

      This  collection of crime stories consists of 16 short stories and some (“The Day We Shot Jesus on Main Street,” or “Real-Time Retribution”) are REALLY short.

     As a fellow short story writer, I can empathize with the need for some sort of organizational principle.

What should it be?

In my own case(“Hellfire & Damnation,” Vols. 1, 2 and 3) it ended up being the crimes or sins punished at each of the 9 Circles of Hell in Dante’s”Inferno.” In Travis’ case, it ended up being the geographical area of the country where the stories are set.

      It’s tough to come up with a logical organizing principle for a series of short stories,especially if, as in Richardson’s case, you are dealing with Oklahoma and L.A.

  In my own case, I had to be inspired to write stories that dealt with limbo,lust, gluttony, avarice & prodigality, wrath & sullenness, heresy, the violent, the fraudulent and treachery. But Travis had to come at it from a different angle. I think it works here, and I salute him for his efforts. (Mine pre-date the many works by the likes of Dan Brown that focus on Dante’s “Inferno” but nevermind about that...)

    What were the”best” stories in this collection?

     While all are enjoyable, it is tough to call a story of only 101 words a complete “short story.” Flash fiction, yes. A short story only if in that category. That super short one is the final story in the book, and it is not my favorite.

     So, what IS my favorite?

     Within”Bloodshot: Tales from the South,” I liked these in no particular order: “The Proxy,” “Cop in a Well,” “A Bro Code Violation,” and “Maybelle’s Last Stand.”

    Within”Bruised: Stories from the West” I liked “Incident on the405” and “Not Sure Which Way I’m Headin’.”

      The entire collection goes down easily and well; I finished it one 4-hour sitting. I enjoyed the plots that were the most fully developed, which is probably why I’m aiming my praise at those longer stories.

     One thing I’ve noticed as  a short story writer of about nine volumes is that the “surprise” or satisfactorily “concluded” ending is hard to pull off—[and gets harder with every story written.] There are only so many ways to”surprise” a seasoned reader, and don’t we writers know it!

      In this volume we have these stories: “The Day We Shot Jesus on Main Street” -“An inspired train of thought about how mega-churches are the opposite of Jesus’ examples and how nothing, not even a blasphemous stunt, would get members to see this.” (Synopses from the author).

     “The Proxy:”  “Thinking about the country’s drug epidemic, the moral issues involved, and how much somebody would sacrifice for a family member.” I could see this as a film with Clint Eastwood as”the proxy” and Clint’s new movie (“The Mule”) sums up how I would expect  him to appear as the lead.

      “Cop in a Well” – “Written with the idea of having a character escape an impossible situation.” One of the first and one of the best.

     “A Bro Code Violation” – “I hunted deer a few times in Oklahoma.  What I remember most is standing still and freezing.” Also good and lengthy.

      “Here’s to Bad Decisions:  Red’s Longneck Hooch” – “I could hear an announcer dictating the downfall of a character while selling his product.  I had to write it.”

      “Getting the Yes” – “Written not long after I was engaged, it has nothing to do with my wife and more about anxiety of the ring being good enough.”

      “Damn Good Dad” – “A sad take on meth addiction and skewed priorities.  I had heard stories about families suffering burns while trying to provide extra income.”

      “Tim’s Mother Lied” – “I sent the story to Shotgun Honey as a noir children’s sale.  They sent notes that it didn’t work, so I rewrote the story straight from the child’s point of view.  It turned out better.”

     “Maybelle’s Last Stand” – “Not sure of the origin, but I remember a vision of a blurry, menacing man sauntering up to a porch, not unlike Once Upon a Time in the West.

    “Because” – “The working title was ‘The Boy Who Didn’t Read.’ I saw the story from the middle first with the robbery and then broke down the reasons why it happened.”

      “Incident on the 405:”  “I pictured two women from two different worlds colliding on Los Angeles’ biggest parking lot.”

      “Quack & Dwight:”  “I worked on multiple drafts to get this story right and enlisted the aid of an L.A. County Prosecutor and an expert in child services. Also, the editor, Kenneth Wishnia, called me out on putting too much starch in the Jewish meal.”

      “Final Testimony:”  “Started out as a longer piece that got compressed into this story.  I saw a desperate cop who sacrificed everything for a case, and it could be for nothing.”

      “Not Sure Which Way I’m Headin'”:  “I’d wanted to write about the 1992 Los Angeles riots for quite a while.  When I moved to L.A. in the late ’90s, people talked about O.J. and the riots all the time.”

      “The Movement:”  “I wanted to set the story with the Bohemian Club, but research proved to be difficult since it is a secretive society.  So I opted for the nearby Russian River in an area where I used to work.”

      “Real-Time Retribution” :  “I thought of a man in an impossible situation and how he might get out of it with some pride.  A fun exercise in compression.”

     The very first story (and nearly all in the first half of the book) uses a lot of slang and idioms. Example:  “This is a right-to-carry state, and if you don’t carry—-well, that says a lot about your character.” There was also an expression that football coach Hayden Fry of the University of Iowa, a transplant from Texas, used to use: “That bird won’t fly.” (Only, in Hayden’s case, it was “That dog won’t hunt.”) I still remember how Fry’s references to a “high-porch picnic” was incomprehensible to Iowans, but natural to a native Texan—or Oklahoma— native.

     When I was writing “Hellfire & Damnation,” Vol.I, I wrote a story entitled “Amazing Andy, the Wonder Chicken.” I showed it to David Morrell, who quickly took the wind out of my proud sails by saying that he “didn’t like the use of idioms” or some such.

Nevermind: I liked it then, and I like it now, in Richardson’s stories. (There’s quite a bit of it in the first 10 stories, so my advice would be: “Don’t show these stories to David Morrell!”) It just goes to show how different writers have different standards and there is no ONE “right” way to write.

     Richardson’s work is heavy on action and right on the money for description: not too much (hundreds of words describing a bicycle leaning against an ivied wall in one Joyce Carol Oates short story!) and not too little. His stories and characters are interesting and plots are his forte.

All-in-all, a very nice collection of short stories. Try them. You’ll like them!

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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