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!
“The Christmas Cats Flee the Bee,” sixth book in the Christmas Cats series (www.TheXmasCats.com).
My podcast, entitled Weekly Wilson (like this blog) launches at 7 p.m. on Thursday, February 27th on Channel 100 of Bold Brave Media Global Network.
As the maiden voyage of the Hindenburg floats out over the airwaves of Bold Brave Media Global Network, you can call in at 866-451-1451. I’ve already lined up eleven-year-old twins who will lend their youthful voices to the air waves and solve the world’s problems. (!) Well, maybe not that, but they ARE my collaborators on one of my (many) series I will start out discussing. (Check ConnieCWilson.com for the others).
Since no one will know who I am, it is customary for the hostess to tell them, which I will do during the first segment (2 after the hour of 7 p.m. CDT to 10 after the hour). Then, a commercial break will occur.
There will be 5 distinct segments thereafter (followed by commercials). For your scheduling pleasure, since I know you won’t want to miss a single word, they are currently scheduled to be:
THE COLOR OF EVIL – from 7:12 to 7:20 p.m.
Hellfire & Damnation series – from 7:22 to 7:30 p.m.
Ghostly Tales of Route 66 – from 7:32 to 7:40 p.m.
Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House, Vols. I & II – from 7:42 to 7:50
The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats series, with co-authors Ava & Elise Wilson – from 7:52 to 7:56 and 1/2.
Following these cursory descriptions of the 40 to 50 books I’ve published since 1989 (most since 2003), other weeks may see me going into great depth about a series, but I’m planning on having as many guests as I can round up. So far, here’s how that looks:
1) Author Michael Serrapica, of “Conned Conservatives and Led-On Liberals” (politics, anyone?) on Show #2. Michael has graciously consented to come back and talk politics as the presidential race heats up. He has a background in radio and is a proud former union member and representative, so we’ll be talking politics.
2) Several representatives from SXSW of various sorts during that run (March 13-23) and before and after (working, right now, on a Val Kilmer thing at the local Alamo Drafthouse on Sunday for an article for the blog).
3) An expert on the corona virus from the University of Texas in Austin (Bill Kohl).
4) Author (Charlotte Canion of “You Have to Laugh to Keep from Crying” who will discuss caring for your elderly parents while also coping with your own health issues.
I am sure there will be technical issues aplenty, knowing my usual luck, but feel free to find Weekly Wilson on Channel 100 on Bold Brave Media Global Network and call in (it’s live) at 866-451-1451.
Hoping to hear from you with your questions or comments about any of the various topics this program will feature. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that it tends to be movies, politics, books, some travel, but the corona virus falls into none of those categories. Think of it a bit like any of the late night talk shows with hosts (Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, etc.). I’ll be interested in what you’re interested in, hopefully.
I’ve been offering some titles for sale (on Kindle) for $1.99 this month, and it seems like a good time to mention which ones are (still) going to be reduced in price for the rest of January and February.
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).
January 26, “Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House,” Vol. 2, will be on sale for $1.99.
February 1, (Sat.), the second volume of “Obama’s Odyssey” will remain on sale for this one day only for $1.99.
February 8 (Sat), 2020: “The Color of Evil,” Book #1 of the 3-book series. This book is currently priced at something like $7.95 in e-book and will be $1.99 for one day.
February 15 (Sat.), 2020: “Red Is for Rage,” Second book in THE COLOR OF EVIL series.
February 22 (Sat), 2020: “Khaki = Killer”, Third book in THE COLOR OF EVIL series.
I’ll be starting a radio show entitled WEEKLY WILSON on Bold Brave Media, discussing movies, politics, books and whatever else interests me. Expect me to start off with politics; my newest book is BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE. Call in format at 866-451-1451.
Now seems like a good time to mention the film “Parasite.” It’s being hailed as one of the best films of the year and is playing at the local Davenport theater(s), even though it is sub-titled because the South Korean leads speak only that country’s language. It is a new offering from fifty-year-old director Joon-ho Bong as Bong Joon-ho. (The rest of the names don’t get any easier, so bear with me). Since the film obviously managed to get widespread distribution, why not dub it for English-speaking audiences? (No idea what the answer to that may be.)
As we left the theater, one of the theater employees tasked with cleaning up, asked, “Is it any good?”
With only a second or two to respond, I said, “Yes, it’s worth seeing, as long as you don’t mind sub-titles. It’s original.” Indeed, it has been described with many other superlatives, including “brilliant,” “hysterical,” “astonishing,” “amazing,” “inventive” and whatever other positive terms you care to select. It did well at Cannes and has had 23 wins and 26 nominations in various competitions. I was told by a friend whose opinion I respect that it was her “favorite film at TIFF.” (Toronto International Film Festival)
So, having warned my companion that we were in for a foreign language film, but one with a director responsible for “Snowpiercer” (2013), “Okja” (2017) and now this, we were not unhappy viewing the original tale of a South Korean family and how they schemed together to fleece their rich employers. Line from script: “If you have a plan, nothing works out at all.”
If you watch the trailer, you will see that the family was not living on easy street. In fact, they weren’t living ON a street at all, but in a sub-terranean sub-basement of sorts that looked awful (especially after a heavy rainfall that floods it). The mother and father and their nearly adult son and daughter are out-of-work. They are shown folding pizza boxes to make money early on in the film.
One thing you can learn from this film is what the job market is like in South Korea. The answer is that, for every chauffeur job that opens up, there are roughly 500 college graduates waiting to fill it. Getting an education is stressed as very important and the idea of hiring tutors, which is essentially Asian, aided me immensely in my nearly 20 years as the owner of a Sylvan Learning Center.
Because the job market is so tight, and because North Korea is so close to its neighbor, this film might not be as easy to move from its South Korean setting to a setting in the United States. Why not?
Ninety per cent of the plot hinges on the house where the rich family lives—a family which ends up hiring all of the poor family’s members, without even knowing that they are related. Only the small boy in the well-to-do family figures out that they all smell alike, and he isn’t really given that much credit for having figured out the poor family’s secret connection. The son is a spoiled brat of a rich kid, yes, who paints primitive paintings that his doting family hangs on the walls and who insists on camping out in the back yard inside his American Indian teepee, but the small child’s perceptive realizations (“And a little child shall lead them”) are largely ignored by his family until disaster strikes.
The out-of-work have-nots get a foothold in the rich family’s good graces through their son, who goes to work as a tutor for the rich family’s daughter. After that, the now-trusted tutor brings in his sister (who is told to say her name is Jessica and that she attended art school at Illinois State) as an art therapist for the seemingly disturbed little brother in the home. One humorous scene involves the boy’s framed art work, which the young tutor assumes is of a monkey, only to be told that it is the young child’s “self portrait.” (“The schizophrenia zone is the lower right corner.”) Eventually, the tutor’s father becomes chauffeur to the household and the tutor’s mother replaces the old housekeeper.
Getting Mom into the house as the new housekeeper means getting rid of the old housekeeper. The old housekeeper’s allergy to peaches is used as a method to discredit her in the eyes of the master of the house, with the suggestion that she has contagious tuberculosis. She doesn’t, of course, but she does have a husband hiding in the basement of the home, a key point in the second and third act development of the plot.
We wondered if the owners of the house were fully aware of this subterranean underground home that rests beneath the main house, or if its existence was not admitted to them by the famous architect who designed the home with this “fail safe” bunker, in case North Korea were to launch rockets aimed at South Korea.
It is this plot detail regarding the hostile North Korean neighbors to the north that makes me wonder if this film’s plot could easily be lifted and moved to America, as was done with “In the Order of Disappearance” when it became “Cold Pursuit” with Liam Neeson. In that case, the Scandinavian setting was replaced with Denver and Las Vegas, which didn’t really work for me, but this film has to have a house with an underground tunnel-like bunker built beneath it. That underground house, as it turns out, has become home to the housekeeper’s unemployed spouse, who has lived there for three and one-half years!
The husband of the old housekeeper is “kewl” with living underground and rarely venturing forth because he is also unable to claim a government-funded pension when he grows old. The reasons have to do with the way the South Korean government operates. I don’t pretend to understand all of that. It reminded me of a report on “Sixty Minutes” about Chinese families who had more than one child and that “illegal” child becomes “stateless” because the government used to have an “official” policy of only one child per family. You might liken it in this country to being an illegal immigrant who has no documents of the sort that American workers are expected to have, such as social security or Medicare/Medicaid cards. Undocumented workers probably exist in every country to some extent (Arabs working in Israel, for example), but, in this case, it is his bleak future as an unemployed and unemployable worker that keeps the old housekeeper’s husband happily imprisoned in a downstairs series of rooms where much of the second-half of the film’s action takes place.
The film is obviously a commentary on the “haves” of South Korea versus the “have nots.” Bernie Sanders would fit right in decrying the status of the “have nots.” The down-and-out family that is taking advantage of their rich benefactors represent way too many people on the planet, and the wealthy 1% represent “the Korean dream.”
In that context, the oldest son does, in a sense, eventually achieve the Korean dream, but at what price glory? Script line: “If you make a plan, life never works out at all. With no plan, nothing can go wrong.” Or right.
If there’s one man who has single-handedly popularized casinos, it’s James Bond. First introduced in the novels by Ian Fleming, Bond has quite the penchant for high-stakes action. In the film franchise, we see 007 take on pretty much every casino game under the sun. Baccarat, Roulette, Poker, and even Sic Bo – he’s played them all. There’s even a Roulette strategy named after Bond, and actor Sean Connery had a real-life casino win of his own at the wheel. In homage to this, let’s take a look back at some of the greatest scenes in the film franchise.
Casino Royale (2006)
Casino featured in “Never Say Never Again.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).
What better place to start than with the winner of the Best Movie Poker Scene poll? Based on the first novel in the Ian Fleming series, from 1953, the film goes back to the beginning, with Bond embarking on his career as a secret agent and earning his license to kill. He’s put on an assignment to bankrupt terrorist financier Le Chiffre.
A large portion of the film takes place in the casino, as 007 enters a tense high-stakes game of Texas Hold’em. It isn’t smooth sailing for our hero, who loses his stake, but CIA agent Felix Leiter stakes him. Midway through, Bond is poisoned and leaves the table, but later returns. All’s well that ends well, and the final hand scene is iconic. The game is down to the last four players. With $120 million in the pot, Le Chiffre believes he’s the winner with a Full House. He is until the final player Bond reveals a Straight Flush to come up trumps.
2. Dr. No (1962)
From one of the most recent films to the first now – and an iconic scene. The game of choice for Bond, this time played by Sean Connery, is Baccarat. The film opens with 007 sitting in a casino, playing Chemin-de-Fer. While he’s at the table, he notices a woman observing his game. Bond gazes back at her, before introducing himself using the famous lines: “Bond… James Bond”. The focus may not have been solely on the casino, but the scene alone defined the character and made the role difficult for other actors to emulate.
3. Diamonds are Forever (1971)
The seventh film of the franchise is the last time we see Connery play Bond. Throughout the film series, we see the secret agent dispatch of his nemeses in many ways. In the opening credits, 007 eliminates a villain by jamming his head against the Roulette wheel. Okay, so not the most glamorous portrayals of a casino, but a memorable title sequence. You can channel your inner-007 with the best Roulette games online, too. Bond goes on to play Craps at the Whyte House, the casino owned by Willard Whyte – and it’s the only film where he plays Craps. Jill St. John appeared in the film, but it’s here that he meets Bond girl, Plenty O’Toole (LanaWood, sister of Natalie), and of course, in true Bond style, he wins the jackpot.
Monte Carlo Casino used in “Never Say Never Again.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).
4. Skyfall (2012)
The Macau casino, which featured in one of the most recent films of the franchise isn’t actually in China – it was filmed at Pinewood Studios in London. The fictional casino was based on a real floating establishment, and is still impressive. The Floating Dragon casino features 300 floating lanterns, giant dragon motifs, and beautiful ornate décor. We don’t see much of Bond playing Sic Bo during the scene, as he soon retreats to the bar. But we’ve included it because the casino itself is pretty spectacular.
James Bond and casinos go hand-in-hand. While we’ve listed our four favorite scenes from the movies, there’s plenty more to watch and dissect. Leave a comment if we’ve missed your favorite.
The program notes for the Canadian film “The Song of Names,” directed by Francois Girard, read as follows: “Martin Simmonds (Tim Roth) has been haunted throughout his life by the mysterious ‘disappearance’ of his ‘brother’ and extraordinary best friend, a Polish Jewish virtuoso violinist, David Rapoport, who vanished shortly before the 1951 London debut concert that would have launched his brilliant career. Thirty-five years later, Martin (Tim Roth) discovers that David (Clive Owen) may still be alive and sets out on an obsessive intercontinental search to find him and learn why he left.”
Sounded promising. Tim Roth is good in everything he does, and I’m sure he would have been good in this had he been given more to do. I haven’t seen Roth with so little business to conduct in a starring role since he lay on the floor bleeding out in “Reservoir Dogs.”
Then there’s the matter of Clive Owen, a handsome fellow if there ever was one. Except when he is depicted wearing a beard that would make modern-day retired David Letterman proud. The explanation, in David Rapoport’s case, is his Jewish faith, which he rejects early in the film, saying, “Ethnicity is a skin you’re born in and will wear until the day you die. Religion is a coat that, if it gets too hot, you can take it off.”
And take it off he does, with a grand flourish and a mock ceremony witnessed by his good friend Martin. The story arc we are then asked to accept changes a great deal from this point, where a “teen-aged” David is anti-religion, to the later point in the story, when David has become a religious zealot. Unfortunately, David never becomes likable or admirable and his treatment of others continues to spiral downward.
David came to be Martin’s good friend when David’s Polish father took him to London as a boy genius violinist at the tender age of 13, and Martin’s generous musician promoter father offered to raise the boy alongside his own same-aged son Martin. This temporary guardianship included making sure that David would be brought up in his Jewish faith and receive additional training on the violin.
It is not initially a marriage made in heaven between Martin and David. That is partially because young David (and, truth be told, old David) is an intrinsically unlikable fellow. He is vain, pompous, full of himself, narcissistic, a bit of a thief and rogue, and constantly telling people he is a genius. Think Donald Trump turnedmusician. As (bad) luck would have it, the Germans sweep into Poland while David is living with Martin’s family and the entire Rapoport family—parents and 2 younger sisters—are killed at Treblinka—although David does not learn this for certain immediately.
David, therefore, lives with Martin and his family for 12 full years, but apparently his allegiance to these kind-hearted surrogate family members is not strong, since, by film’s end, he wants no further contact with Martin, telling him so in a note. (At that point, each boy has lost all original family members, so the note that David leaves, post-concert, is quite brutal, begging Martin not to try to find him again. Martin’s wife Helen sums it up this way: “It’s probably the only unselfish thing he ever did.”)
Throughout the film I looked forward to the arrival on the scene of Clive Owen as the much-sought-after David, because at least the slow-moving scenes of violin-playing might give way to some masculine eye candy. There was one interesting and entertaining violin-playing scene staged in a bunker during the blitzkrieg, where David and another promising virtuoso violinist play. Think “Dueling Banjos,” only with violins. Musically, an “A.” Visually, most of the time with the violins, not so much.
Imagine the disappointment when David is found after a 35-year search covering 3 continents and:
(1) his beard makes him appear to be a woodsman who has felled one too many trees
(2) he is an even bigger SOB than when he left Martin’s father in the lurch, which may (or may not) have led to Martin’s father’s death 2 months later from a stroke and financial losses incurred
(3) David does not even invite Martin into his home, after 35 years, and
(4) David takes Martin to a synagogue where we learn the true story of why David didn’t show up for the concert on that fateful 1951 evening. Later, after delivering on the 35-year-old debt of a subsequent concert (which we also watch onscreen), David disappears again, leaving behind his violin and a note asking that he never be contacted again.
So that’s the kind of treatment one hopes to receive from their last living relative on the planet. Right?
The true story of where Martin went instead of the concert hall explains the film’s title, “The Song of Names,” which has to do with a Jewish tradition where 5 rabbis memorized the names of all those who died at the German prison camps and, through oral tradition, pass them down first through singing the names and, later, by writing them down. The time required by 5 rabbis to read the many names of those killed in the concentration camps is 5 days, singing around the clock. There is also a bit of a twist in the story that David reveals to Martin, but it is revealed too late to save us from boredom consisting of watching people play the violin for 113 minutes.
The solo virtuoso violin playing for real, done by Ray Chen, is excellent. The Budapest Symphony sounds wonderful. You can hear Eddie Izzard for a nano-second, pretending to be a BBC broadcaster covering the night of the first concert. The film is based on the acclaimed novel by Norman Lebrecht.
“The Christmas Cats Flee the Bee,” 6th book in the Christmas Cats series (www.TheXmasCats.com).
Bee Gone: A Political Parable is up on Amazon Kindle (Kindle only, at this point) in a pre-sale due to go “live” on July 31st for $2.99. If you order early from the link at the bottom of this article, it will automatically be delivered to your Kindle that day. If you DO order this amusing book, please leave a review on Amazon. (Thank you!)
July 31st was selected because Connie will be interviewed “live” for 30 minutes that day by New York radio station CUTV’s Jim Masters. Connie is the author representative for their current female empowerment series of programs.
Anyone wanting to ask a question on July 31st (Wednesday) can phone in at 347-996-3389 at 1 p.m. CDT (2 p.m. EDT)
“The Christmas Cats Flee the Bee,” sixth book in the Christmas Cats series (www.TheXmasCats.com).
Connie will be talking about her new illustrated rhyming book “Bee Gone: A Political Parable” and the sixth book in her Christmas Cats series, entitled “The Christmas Cats Flee the Bee,” scheduled for release closer to Christmas. “Bee Gone: A Political Parable” is available in e-book only, but the Christmas Cats book will be available in paperback, hard cover and e-book. (www.TheXmasCats.com).
Bee Gone: A Political Parable is a rhyming, illustrated short e-book that examines the thought (articulated by Barack Obama), “Elections have consequences.” Given its timing, perhaps it will encourage those who did not vote in 2016 to go to the polls and vote in 2020.
In a very short story about a disgruntled drone in a bee hive who wants to take over the hive from the queen bee, the key take-away can be described (in the words of the book) this way: “So, the hive lost its honey, its Queen, and its money. It was really a mess, and that isn’t funny.”
The outstanding illustrations by illustrator Gary McCluskey are spot-on. They are both amusing and illustrative of today’s political situation. (Gary says, “It’s the most fun I ever had at work.”)
No matter what your political affiliation, no matter how divided in our individual beliefs, we all agree that citizens in a democracy must exercise their right to vote in order to insure that our democracy continues to function properly. Elections must be fair. Citizens must participate. Elections must be supervised to assure that they are not influenced illegally by outside forces.
If you’re a Democratic or Independent voter, you will probably chuckle all the way through this book.
If you’re a die-hard Trump supporter, maybe not so much.
Whatever your political leanings, enjoy the excellent illustrations and let’s try to remember that, so far, in this country, we all are allowed to express our opinion(s) under the First Amendment to the Constitution. Let’s hope we never lose that.
Lighten up and enjoy Bee Gone: A Political Parable!Order your copy today.
Bill Duke: My 40 Year Career On Screen and Behind the Camera
Bill Duke: My 40-year Career On Screen and Behind the Camera
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, 193 pages, plus index and photographs (15 pages)
Amazon: Print – $16.47. E-book: $13.99.
Bill Duke, with his 62 directorial credits, 17 as a producer, and 4 as a writer, is a face on the screen that movie-goers have recognized since the seventies. It was 1976, in fact, when his breakthrough role as Duane/Abdullah in “Car Wash,” paired with such luminaries as Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Otis Day, Antonio Fargas and the Pointer Sisters gave him his first big break in the 40-year career he writes about in “Bill Duke: My 40-year Career Onscreen and Behind the Camera.”
For me, one of his most memorable roles was as Leon, the gay pimp in “American Gigolo.” His movements were sinuous and catlike; he was an unforgettable character in this story of lust and greed, which focused on Gere and his romance of Lauren Hutton as a neglected politician’s wife and a murder suspect. Paul Schrader (Oscar-nominated this past year for his script for “First Reformed,” which Schraderdirected) was the director. The music by Giorgio Moroder imprints the film on my mind.
Duke admits, “I found it to be one of the high points of my acting career with one of the leading roles of the film. It was outside of my comfort zone, but it was a growing experience. I loved the character I played, and I loved working with Richard Gere.”
Duke goes on to say that “Richard Gere was meticulous with every movement of his character, like the movement of his eyes, the face, the lips, the hands, and the legs.” I would add that this attention to detail and movement goes double for Bill Duke in his roles. Leon was, indeed, a high point of Bill Duke’s acting career, and one I remember well.
I would also say that Duke’s praise of his fellow actors and directors and co-stars is universal throughout the book. “Never is heard a discouraging word.” If you are looking for a “tell-all” book from a Hollywood insider that will open the floodgates on unsavory doings, this isn’t it. Bill does allude to a low period in his own life when he gave in to the temptation of drugs, but the story of the seamier side of life in Hollywood is not this book’s mission.
When I was teaching junior high school students in a small town in Illinois, I was happy to find that the local library had a series of 16 millimeter After School Specials. I could rent these and show them to my students. I selected those where Bill Duke and Kevin Hooks were involved because they would be quality productions with good messages and the length was perfect to show to a class on a Friday afternoon late in the year. I was then (and am now) a film critic. I pay attention to who is in a film, and also to who is directing, writing and producing a film.
Duke has appeared in too many television series to list them all, including stints on those After School Specials as well as on “Cold Case” (2008), “Lost” (2006), “Battlestar Galactica” (2006), “Starsky & Hutch” (1978), “Kojack” (1976), “Falcon Crest, “Fame,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Knott’s Landing,” “Dallas,” and “New York Undercover.” He is still active on “Black Lightning.”
Bill Duke’s feature credits include the two films mentioned (“Car Wash,” “American Gigolo”), which really launched him, as well as “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit,” “Get Rich or Die Trying,” “Deep Cover,” “Hoodlum,” “Predator,” “Menace II Society” and “Not Easily Broken,” to name just a few. He has won NAACP Image Awards and been a nominee for a 1991 Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or with “A Rage in Harlem.” Sundance Film Festival awarded “The Killing Floor” (1984) a Special Jury Prize and a Grand Jury Prize. More recently, the Northeast Film Festival recognized “American Satan” with a Best Ensemble Prize and, in 2018-2019, Bill Duke can be seen as Agent Percy Odell in the television series “Black Lightning.”
Reading about how this 77-year-old African American actor/director/producer/writer rose from humble origins in Poughkeepsie, New York and how he continues to open the door for so many other talented black entertainers was interesting, educational and amusing. He seems to write from the heart with sincerity, although there are a few areas that he treats “once over lightly,” including his own bouts with drug addiction and his personal life.
When Duke talks about Leon, his desire to excel shines through. “Playing that role gave me an opportunity to show other sides of my acting ability. I was seen by many casting directors as the big, tall, angry black man. I wanted to show that I could be more than that. The character of Leon was a soft-spoken brilliant sociopathic businessman, and I wanted the opportunity to let casting directors know that I had more range.”
Duke shares the trials and tribulations of being a television series regular. (“A television series is thehardest work for an actor on the face of this Earth.”) He thanks all those who have helped him along the way and does not speak ill of anyone, but does tell readers that, after appearing on a television series called “Palmerstown,” he could not find work as an actor for 2 years.
He explains, “In those days, they had something called a TV Q score, which was a way to measure how familiar audiences were with an actor, TV show, and so forth. If you were on a television show that garnered a lot of publicity, you could be considered ‘overexposed,’ which could make it difficult to get hired for another television show or feature because your Q score went down.” He adds that the experience made him depressed and angry and convinced him that he had “better learn how to do more than just act.”
Thus began a career move towards producing, writing and directing and this quote: “Once I figured Hollywood might typecast me as the police officer, I turned to directing. That way, I could wait until an interesting project came along.” Duke has also moved into the job of Chairperson of the Department of Radio, Television and Film at Howard University, as of 2000.
[*As an aside, I once interviewed the man responsible for the Q Score system. He had headquarters at that time in Marion, Iowa. At that point in time, he was tasked with making a television star spokesperson out of top model Cheryl Tiegs, something that never really worked. The man had worked for Gallup and took his knowledge of polling into the world of television and movies with the much-vaunted “Q Score” that Bill Duke mentions as having given him two years of idleness, sadness and depression. The Q Score Big Boss didn’t like what I had to say about the Q Score, so the article never ran. I was paid a “kill fee” after I interviewed him in his Marion, Iowa, offices.]
Duke scored a collaborative job with Joel Silver on “Commando,” which introduced him to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mark Lester (the director) and led, later, to his role as Mac in 1987’s “Predator.”’
One of the best stories in the book involves “Predator” and the unknown and inexperienced stuntman/actor hired to play the title creature. The actor was dressed in heavy black felt for the filming in the jungles near Puerto Vallarta. The heat and humidity were intolerable, causing the stuntman to pass out at least two times early on.
The director strode over and said, “If you pass out again, I’m going to have to fire you.” The original Predator creature (which did not appear in the film), was a smaller, more nimble creature that flew through jungle trees with speed and flexibility and fully packed laser guns. That Predator was also invisible and could strike his prey at any time. The bodysuit, including placement over the head and face, was originally used to insert computer-generated special effects over the actor’s body in post production. Unfortunately for the actor within the suit, he did pass out again.
At that moment, Joel Silver marched over to him and, as the actor awoke, suffering from exhaustion and dehydration, Silver said, “You’re fired.” The acrobatic, multitalented martial artist flying through the trees in a felt suit in one of his first jobs in America was Jean-Claude Van Damme.
One of the best things about the book is its “never say die” encouragement of young actors, in general, and African American actors in particular. While giving props to all of the heavyweights who have gone before (Sidney Poitier, Spike Lee, etc.), Bill Duke, himself, has proven to be a shining example of an actor who has paved the way for others. His work in Hollywood earned him an appointment to the Board of the California State Film Commission, as well as an appointment to the National Endowment of Humanities under President Bill Clinton. The Directors’ Guild of America honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Tribute. The reader may get the feeling that the author sometimes feels he has not received his fair share of recognition, and his Bill Duke Media corporation may be an attempt to rectify that by producing a great deal more quality film output.
As an unconventional actor—-not known for good looks, but renowned for good performances—Duke has had a career that has had many highs and lows. He shares that, “It’s all about relationships in the industry.” That remark could probably be expanded to any line of work. It may be intensified in Hollywood, but it seems true of many corporations, businesses and industries.
Quote: “Nobody else in this world is like you. There may be similarities, but nobody is just like you. You have value, and if nobody has validated that for you, it is time for you to validate yourself. Let your soul and your spirit out in your writing. Tell the truth of your experience in life through your writing. Writing forces you to love yourself and let out your truth. It takes courage, but the payoff is something that you cannot spend.” (p. 190)
“I wish I could say that writing this book was inspired by me and my courage, but the truth is that it was not. For many years, people told me that I should tell my story because of all that I had gone through in Hollywood, but I never believed that I had anything important to say. I thought a lot of people had gone through what I had gone through. I didn’t think there was anything special about bill Duke in Hollywood. However, when I reached my seventies, I wanted to leave something for those who come after me to benefit from.” (p. 190)
Duke shares his poetry with us throughout the book. After reading of his humble origins in Poughkeepsie, New York, and the events that shaped him over the years, including a history of family violence, his poetry reveals a deep, sensitive soul, who arranges the poems on the page in vertical fashion. Lines like: “Nobody really cares. Nobody seems to really care about the other’s pain. For we must laugh and dance and sing and not remind us of anything that resembles fears that we’ve secretly tried to cover by pretending to be devoted lovers of everything except ourselves. “
What came through, for me, was that Bill Duke, at least early on, suffered from self-loathing. Was it his appearance? Was it because of remarks made to him when he was young? Was it because of his father and mother’s sometimes violent marriage? The source is difficult to pin down, as it often is in life.
Bill Duke during 1987’s “Predator” filming
It sounds as though Bill Duke doesn’t trust women. The reason for this is hinted at: a girl he had a crush on in college led him to believe that she’d spend time with him if he traveled to her school. He did (travel to her school). She didn’t (spend time with him). That seems to be one of the reasons why he stopped trusting ALL women. He had some sexual mistreatment by an early babysitter that also may have affected his views.
He frankly admits (p. 27): “I thought of sex as a game of pleasure from that day on, and maybe the reason I’ve hurt so many women in my life was because I always focused on the act, not the person. I liked having sex with different women, but I never went beyond that and made emotional connections. I simply enjoyed the physical act. Maybe it’s because of the way I learned about sex; I’m not sure.”
On page 171, Duke adds, “One of the many reasons I never got married was that I always thought I was ugly, and I didn’t want to have children that looked like me.” He goes on to say, “After my first love betrayed me, I used that as an excuse to become a scoundrel when it came to women.”
At least this sensitive, introspective man realizes it is an excuse and admits he has, at times, been a “scoundrel” when it comes to women.
While Bill Duke trusts himself (“Trusting what is inside you is key”, p. 189) he doesn’t seem to trust many other people. He talks of loneliness this way (p. 178): “You have a couple of friends who are with you throughout your life. Some stay and some go, but when you’re not successful, not making money, and your career is not going well in our industry, there aren’t many people who flock to you. That shouldn’t be a shock, because they are hustling and trying to do what they have to do. If you can’t do anything for them, you are of no use to them.”
The book is good. The stories and experiences are fascinating and interesting. I always liked any film Bill Duke was associated with and that has proven to be prescient. If you’re interested in the film industry in any capacity as a career, this is a good read.
Jordan Peele’s film “Us,” his follow-up to the popular “Get Out,” which premiered at SXSW on March 8th, has opened well above forecasts, raking in a 94% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes and marking it as the largest debut for an original horror movie and one of the highest openings for a live-action original film since “Avatar 10 years ago.
The only original horror films that challenged the debut were the “It” remake and last year’s “Halloween.” “A Quiet Place” did unexpectedly well, but didn’t have the “name” recognition that Director Jordan Peele is now commanding to boost its opening.
The distribution chief for Universal Pictures put out this statement: “Peele has really crafted an extraordinary story that I think once again is going to capture the cultural zeitgeist. He is recognized as just an amazing talent. He crafts films that make you think, that are extraordinarily well-acted, well-written and are amazingly entertaining.”
More good news: “Us” took over the top spot at the box office from “Captain Marvel.” In today’s franchise-driven spandex movie world, it is encouraging to realize that a thoughtful, original movie can still compete and dethrone those from the comic books wearing the costumes.
Following the top two films were “Wonder Park” and “Five Feet Apart,” which each made about $9 million in their second week of release. “Us,” by ontrast, doubled (and then some) the 2017 Oscar-winning “Get Out” debut, which grossed $235.4 million on a budget of $4.5 million. Since “Us” cost only $20 million to make, it’s already a huge hit for Universal Pictures.
Audiences other than the Rotten Tomatoes raters have given it a relatively low “B” CinemaScore. There are various explanations for this. One is that, as Paul Dergarabedian said, film goers are shell-shocked when they emerge from the film. Others would say that the improbable plot explanations have both confused and dampened the enthusiasm of some movie-goers. Those that enjoy thinking and talking about the meaning of a film will enjoy it; those that want it spelled out for them will not.
One thing that will emerge from this in all probability is that the 40-year-old director has now vaulted himself to the ranks of such filmmakers as Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Brian DePalma, M. Night Shymalan, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, making his name as the director as important as who is appearing in the film.
I saw “Us” here in Austin, where it premiered on March 8th. Don’t read any further if you don’t want to have plot details ruined (spoiler alert).
I’m still letting my thoughts on “Us” and its meaning percolate. Here are 10 possible explanations for plot points in “Us.”
It has been pointed out by someone other than me that “Us” is, basically, “U.S.”, i.e. United States.
There seems to be a rather large not-very-veiled message about racism in America. This isn’t surprising, since the main cast is African American. I’ve read that Jordan Peele admires Spike Lee, who is outspoken in his films and in his life, and speaks and writes bluntly about the black experience in America. It’s clear that Spike feels that the black race has been put down and short-changed; I’m not arguing with him. (I actually heard him speak “live” once at Augustana College and just a quick look at his films will support me here. Personal observation: I think it’s one of the reasons Spike Lee didn’t even get an Oscar nomination until this year and didn’t win for Best Picture (although the script did snag an Oscar). Spike’s been making movies—-some of them terrific—-for 30 years or so, but has never been recognized until this year, and he is a somewhat prickly character known for a few famous feuds. He was even prickly during his speaking engagement and “does not suffer fools gladly.” In fact, I remember reading that Spike Lee got the assignment to do “BlackKKlansman” because it was first offered to Jordan Peele, hot off of “Get Out,” who suggested it would make a great Spike Lee joint film. A line from late in the film (when what passes for an “explanation” of the doppelgangers is being given): “Your people took it for granted. We’re human, too, you know.” Given the United States’ history with slavery, the concept of a “race” of people relegated to living in subterranean squalor while those above ground live the good life seems to fit, historically. Here’s a line that Lupita Nyongo’s character speaks: “The tethered saw that I would deliver them from their misery.” And the Lupita Nyong’o double says, to the girl who encountered her in the fun house all those years ago: “You could have taken me with you.” Here’s another line regarding the red-robed figures who seem to have risen up in some sort of terrorist overthrow of the city of Santa Cruz (and beyond, judging from the uninterrupted line of them, holding hands, that we see stretching into the distance of the mountains with helicopters hovering overhead): “I didn’t need to just tell you but to make a statement that the world would see. It’s our time up there.”
There is much made of a Bible verse in the film: Jeremiah 11:11 (KingJames Version)“Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.”Not only is the verse held up by a random man on a placard at the beginning AND the end of the film, at one point Lupita’s son points to the clock in his room, which is on 11:11 at that time. Fits in with Point #2, as to how African Americans, who were brought over on slave ships and forced to work in the cotton fields of the South and treated inhumanely, feel it is “their” time. It also has a nice duality.
What about the rabbits?[We have to assume that they aren’t just left-overprops from “The Favorite.”] They’re white. One of the doppelgangers cuts the head off a small white rabbit doll. Draw your own conclusions. Here in Austin, on the Red Carpet, Jordan Peele claimed that he finds rabbits very creepy, with eyes like a psychopath.
As has been said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
What about the “hands across America” 6.5 million strong of May 25,1986? It was largely a symbolic gesture, since it raised $84 million, but, after expenses, only $15 million was actually donated. In this way, it falls in line with a lot of other “symbolic” but largely ineffectual gestures that we, as Americans, participate in, like the record “We Are the World.” (Remember, at one point, Lupita’s red-robed character says, “We are Americans.”)
There is also the matter of the house of mirrors changing, by film’s end, from having an American Indian atop it with the words “Shaman’s Vision Quest: Find Yourself” to a Wizard figure with a different name. Treatment of American Indians goes into the “shameful” category, along with slavery and Japanese interment in WWII. In this way, the use of the Indian imagery but the change later seems to “gloss over” America’s crimes of conscience in the same way that hyped “feel good” events like “We Are the World” or “Hands Across America” were ineffectual gestures that did little to solve real problems or stop real abuses, but were offered up by the PTB (usually, white men) as stop-gap feel-good largely symbolic and self-congratulatory gestures.
The red-robed killers remind of nothing so much as “The Handmaid’s Tale” on Hulu, outfits which signal repression and injustice; both sexes wear these red outfits. Supposedly, like the pods in “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” movies, there is one red-robed thing for every inhabitant of the U.S. [This seems extreme and unlikely. What does a doppelganger do all day underground? How does a doppelganger secure sustenance beyond raw rabbit meat? Unlikely that this movement of this magnitude could be kept secret and one of the weaker plot points,—-if that is, in fact, a plot point.] The speculation centers on the U.S. government having had some sort of “pilot” experimental program to duplicate every citizen, which was scrapped when it was discovered that the person’s “soul” could not be cloned.
The doppelgangers who have been “kept down” have lost their voices entirely or are barely able to speak in a whisper. They aren’t heard. They aren’t listened to; they are essentially inarticulate. There is speculation that the reason Lupita’s character does all the for the group of four in a hoarse croak is that she “remembers” how to speak from before. (If you don’t know what I mean about “from before” think of the twist ending of the film.)
Now, how does the “surprise” ending of the film fit with Point #2, above? As I was walking to my car, a young man was talking and said, “How does all of this fit, now that we know that the bad one is the good one and vice versa?” How, indeed. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you about “spoilers.”)
It has also been pointed out that the main message of the film doesn’t have to be racial, but can also be simply “haves” vs. “have nots.” Very true.
So, see it and figure out what YOU think it all means and let me know.
Jason Clarke and Jete Laurence, who plays his daughter Ellie Creed in “Pet Sematary” are interviewed on the Red Carpet for “Pet Sematary” at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).
In the 1989 original film“Pet Sematary” pets buried in a spooky backwoods cemetery come back to life. When a tragedy befalls a child of Louis and Rachel Creed (Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz), the lure of having their dead child returned to them by reburying the body in the Pet Sematary is too great to resist. [*Don’t watch the trailer if you don’t want to know one of the movie’s major plot twists in advance; it’s a “spoiler” moment].
As the plot for the Stephen King 1983 novel and the original film, (released almost exactly 30 years earlier to the day) put it: “With dreams of a better life, a young doctor, Louis Creed, and his family—wife Rachel, their 9-year-old daughter Ellie, and their 3-year-old toddler, Gage—move to their new home in the small rural town of Ludlow, Maine, alarmingly close to a busy highway. However, when Rachel’s cherished tomcat, Church, is inadvertently killed in an awful accident, a desperate Louis will reluctantly take his friendly neighbor’s advice to bury it in an ancient Micmac graveyard—a mystical burial ground imbued with re-animating powers. Despite the terrible results and insistent warnings, a tragedy-stricken Louis in the wake of the death of his child, goes back to the Indian cemetery, hoping that, this time, things will be different. But can the dead return from the grave?”
Despite the lure of having a loved one come back from the dead, the tag line for this movie is, “Sometimes, dead is better.”
Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer with John Lithgow, shooting “Pet Sematary.” (SXSW Photo).
There are changes in Matt Greenberg’s treatment of Stephen King’s original concept. As the directors told the audience, onstage, following the World Premiere as the closing film of SXSW, “I was a big fan of the original. You know it exists. It was an influence on us. There were homages, but there comes a time when you have to start making your own film out of it.”
Jason Clarke had not seen the finished product until this night. He described himself as “very proud and very freaked out” and said, “I enjoyed the experience” commenting on the thrill of seeing a film at the theater in a large group. When Jete Laurence, who plays Ellie in the film, was asked if she found playing her part frightening, she answered, “It was really cool. I wasn’t that scared because I was one of the scary ones.”
One audience questioner wanted to know why there wasn’t more gore shown in the child’s death scene. Answered the directors: “You gotta’ be really specific about how you show blood. With the child’s death, the horror is reflected in the looks on Jason’s and Amy’s faces.”
(L to R) Hugo and Lucas LaVoie, who play Gage Creed in “Pet Sematary.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).
Q: How did the 3-year-old twins who played Gage (Hugo and Lucas Levoie) deal with the scary stuff?
A: With them, it was all just playing—like it’s a game. They thought it was a game and had a great time.
Amy Seimetz remarked, “I think what’s interesting about this is that it’s a meditation on the source material. We’re all gonna’ die, so we can all meditate on that.” She added, “Having been in a lot of genre films, it is everything I want in a genre film.”
The film respects the essence of the 1983 novel, but refreshes it for a new generation. As one of the directors said, “Let’s get under the skin of what’shappening with death.” The directors said they have heard that Stephen King appreciates it when other artists bring their own artistic visions into play and added, “It was validating to hear that he was a fan of the film.”
Jete Laurence (Ellie Creed), “Pet Sematary”, on Red Carpet in Austin. (Photo by Connie Wilson).
Jete when asked if she had seen the original 1989 film version of “Pet Sematary,” said, “I think if I saw the original, I might not have as many creative ideas.”
The mood of the piece is appropriately creepy. Music by Christopher Young is relied on heavily and it delivers.Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer seemed to know what they wanted to achieve; their previous film “Starry Eyes” (2014) was a bit of a Faustian rip-off, so refashioning an older tale is not new to them.
With actors as good as John Lithgow and Jason Clarke, you know that they will do a good job. The children are also up to the task.
One producer was asked about his fears when doing the remake, “Well, you know what they say about filming with children and animals. (laughter) Also, dogs train well. Cats—not so much. But we had such great child actors.”
That last statement was definitely true. Young Jete and the twins who played Gage did a great job, alongside three seasoned veterans (Clarke, Lithgow and Seinmetz). The cat from hell was appropriately diabolical, as well.
Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).
The set that represented the pet cemetery was well done, although you really had to wonder how the actors could climb the wall of sticks and brambles that were supposed to keep the bad vibes in or out without injury.
The end of the piece will leave you pondering.There are film endings thatprovoke thought; this is one of them. What will become of this family? What will Louis Creed’s co-workers reaction be when he shows up for work at the clinic ? Or Ellie Creed’s fellow students at her elementary school? (Another film, perhaps? Maybe even a dark comedy?)
Amy Seimetz (Rachel Creed) and Jason Clarke (Louis Creed) at SXSW for “Pet Sematary.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).
While the music was good, it might have been relied on too heavily at times, to produce “jump” scares. You know the kind: the teenager is going to the basement or the attic. The adult is approaching a large wardrobe or closet or door and we are all waiting to find out what is behind the door.
The heavy fog was so thick that it made me think of the 1971 Academy Awards when the theme from “Shaft” was played onstage as a nominated song and the performer singing it (Isaac Hayes) completely disappeared. There’s fog in low swampy places and then there’s Major League Fog, all the time, everywhere, as in this Pet Sematary. (*Odd thing I noticed in the film: when Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) types in Pet Cemetery to his computer, he misspells it–again— as Pet Cemetary. It’s all e’s all the time.)
Jason Clarke (Photo by Connie Wilson).
There was a lot of graphic violence during the last one-half hour, as opposed to a relatively bloodless first two-thirds of the film. Audiences today may demand such graphic gore; I always admired the Hitchcock touch. Hitchcock gave the impression of a knife being used to dispatch Janet Leigh in “Psycho’s ” shower scene but, through clever cutting of the film, the knife never is really shown being plunged into the victim. A little less plunging and twisting is fine by me.
I didn’t feel that there was anything excitingly original or new being shown us in this film, but the end result was a perfectly acceptable genre film, buoyed by the good performances of the cast. Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, from the stage, sarcastically called the movie, “The feel good movie of 2019.”
If this film were a baseball game, nobody would be saying it was “a home run.” But the movie was a good solid hit—at least a double—maybe even atriple. For me, the all-around superlative performances of every actor involved– child or adult—carried the film through familiar territory that we all have covered before, since the original film thirty years ago and the novel 36
Jason Clarke (Louis Creed), on the Red Carpet for “Pet Sematary” at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).
years ago. The attempt(s) to secure a new “twist” or ending were successful, (although I kept wondering what Dr. Creed reporting for work the next day at the clinic would be like. Or Ellie Creed’s return to school. Maybe another movie?)
As genre horror movies go, this one is superior to most. It’s no “A Quiet Place,” but it’s good. It opens wide on April 5th.