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!
“Lucky Hank” is Bob Odenkirk, in his first television outing since leaving “Better Call Saul.” The premiere episode of the AMC+ series premiered at SXSW on March 12th (Oscar day), showing once and once only at the Stateside Theater in Austin.
Bob Odenkirk and cast members of “Lucky Hank”, streaming on AMC+ on March 19th.
The series owes much to the Pulitzer Prize-winning book on which it is based, “Straight Man,” by Richard Russo.
The synopsis for the series reads: “An English department chairman at an underfunded college, Professor Hank Devereaux toes the line between midlife crisis and full-blown meltdown, navigating the offbeat chaos in his personal and professional life.” As IMDB further says, William Henry Devereaux, Jr., spiritually suited to playing left field but forced by a bad hamstring to try first base, is the unlikely chairman of the English department at Railton East University. Over the course of a single convoluted week, he threatens to execute a duck, has his nose slashed by a feminist poet, discovers that his secretary writes better fiction than he does, suspects his wife of having an affair with his dean, and finally confronts his philandering elderly father, the one-time king of American Literary Theory, at an abandoned amusement park”
If this all sounds like a great vehicle for Bob Odenkirk, you’re right. The humor and sarcasm are on full display in this clip.
The cast, headed by Odenkirk, is stellar. Mirielle Enos (“World War Z,” “The Killing”) plays Hanks’ wife, Lily, and she is a revelation. In the Q&A following the screening, she admitted that she “wanted to play a less closeted woman.” Her serious role in “The Killing” made her a natural choice for screenwriters Paul Lieberstein and Aaron Zelman, who had worked with her on “The Killing.” Those representing the premiere in Austin referred to the cast as “spectacular.”
The writers are similarly spectacular. Although credit must also be given to the source material, as the writers admit that they constantly “went back to the book” while also adding depth to Hank’s character.
Bob Odnkirk and Mirielle Enos onstage at the Stateside Theater in Austin, Texas, at SXSW, on March 11, 2023.
Bob Odenkirk, onstage after the screening, talked about how he ended up working this hard so soon after “Better Call Saul” ended. “I had said yes to the show. I really thought it would take forever. It didn’t.” Factor in a heart attack that Odenkirk described as, “what happens when you don’t take your heart medication” and here he is in an 8-episode series that he praised as “A place for everyone to do their best” and “A lot of variety on a journey that goes somewhere.” Odenkirk added that it was “Great use of modern TV. We had 4 different directors and travel alterations. The stories and characters progress and it is more like an 8-episode movie.”
He also praised the dream cast and said, of his character, “He’s so different from Saul, who was a loner. There are people in the right relationships. You love your wife and then, if you’re married long enough, you hate them.” (This brought laughter and an admonition from the writers, “Bob! Your wife is in the audience.”) Odenkirk continued, “If it’s a great relationship, you find your way back and you don’t even know how.” He felt that Saul and Kim in “Better Call Saul” were loners, but “I liked the way this guy relates to other people.” Pointing out the fundamental differences between his Saul character and Hank he said, “It’s fun to do wildly different things. It’s one of the reasons I went into this business.”
For me, the bad is that I currently don’t have AMC+. In order to watch this wildly entertaining series, I am going to have to subscribe, which means that my spouse (of 55 years) is going to be gifted with a subscription to the series (which premieres on March 19th). Since his birthday is March 21st, thank you, Hank, for figuring out what to give the man who has everything. This looks like a totally enjoyable, witty, well-written and well-acted 8-episode series that will entertain mightily.
The first film of the trilogy, The Evil Dead, as well as its 2013 remake, were so horrifically gory that they were actually banned in various countries including Finland, Ukraine, and Singapore. That should have been my first clue that I would hate this movie.
Eight months, one Covid lockdown, and 6,500 litres of fake blood went into making the latest in the Sam Raimi “Evil Dead” series, this one entitled “Evil Dead Rise” and shot in New Zealand. Its Irish director, Lee Cronin, earned a Saturn award nomination for Breakthrough Director at Sundance. I had high hopes upon entry to the World Premiere on Wednesday, March 15th, at SXSW’s Paramount Theater.
I was game to sit through “Evil Dead Rise.” As a former active voting member of HWA (Horror Writers’ Association) and the author of three novels some might call “horror,” this would be right up my alley for “The Color of Evil” trilogy author.
If 80% of a film’s success is casting, this one started out wobbly with a freakishly tall and extensively tattooed leading lady, Alyssa Sutherland. The tattoos may not have been real and the Australian actress/model’s height is listed as five feet eleven inches, so take those comments with a grain of salt. I didn’t buy any of the actors’ performances.
The synopsis read: “A twisted tale of two estranged sisters whose reunion is cut short by the rise of flesh-possessing demons, thrusting them int a primal battle for survival as they face the most nightmarish version of family imaginable.”
I reviewed film through the eighties, when slasher films were all the rage. After about twenty in a row, I swore off the entire series of films that attempt to entertain you by thrusting a knife into someone’s throat (Kevin Bacon in one memorable eighties cabin scene) or gross you out by having excessive projectile vomiting.
This film has taken the worst of those gross-out concepts and amplified them. If that’s your thing, as it seemed to be for the man next to me who was laughing hilariously and thoroughly enjoying this movie, then go for it. If this audience member hadn’t been very large (and blocking the aisle to exit) I might have left before the end, but, thanks to Mr. Laugh-A-Lot, I couldn’t escape. I saw the entire film (as did the heckler.)
Watching an eyeball fly across the room from a severed head and someone else inadvertently swallow it: gross. Buckets of blood in an elevator that bursts forth? Derivative of “The Shining” but with much less plot justification.
During the Q&A for the film, Bruce Campbell was brought onstage, the original Ash of the first 4 films, who raised the $350,000 for the very first film that Stephen King championed and ended up playing a lead in subsequent films (but not this one.) This new version moved from the woods to the city
As Campbell (“Ash”) was speaking, an apparently inebriated male theater-goer in the audience shouted out, loudly, “This movie effing sucks” (profanity euphemism substituted). Campbell demanded that the man—already on his way out— be removed from the Paramount Theater. (It made all the papers.)
Talk to Me Danny and Michael Philippou (“Rocka Rocka”) worked on 2014’s great Australian horror film “The Babadook.”
But this year they are directing a horror film, starring Sophie Wilde and Miranda Otto. It premiered at SXSW and is being distributed by A24, beginning July 28th.
The film opens with pounding intense music at a party. A young man wades through the crowd to a room in the back and pounds on the door, insisting that his brother open the door. When the brother does not open the door, he breaks it down. Mayhem involving a large butcher knife ensues. The Philippou brothers have our attention.
The plot involves a hand that supposedly belonged to a psychic who communicated with the dead. Teenagers come into possession of it, and all hell breaks loose.
You must grasp the hand (supposedly the mummified remains of the psychic who owned and used it previously. You must light a candle and snuff it out when done. You must say “Talk to me,” followed by “I let you in” and that’s when the fun and games begin. Did I mention that you, as the subject doing this for “fun” at a party are tied to the chair and that only 90 seconds must elapse before the candle is blown out, or else the spirit that inhabits you might not leave your body? If you go longer than 90 seconds and happen to die during the time the spirits from limbo are inhabiting your body, they will take your corporeal self over and you are theirs, apparently forever with a very long-term habit of terrorizing and torturing other normal idiots who take up the hand and use it as a party trick.
The Philippou brothers at a Buzz showing of “Talk To Me” at SXSW 2023.
If you’ve followed this, so far, be aware that some studios gave the directors notes on their script that said they must get the history of the hand and explore that more fully. One of the two directors, appearing after the screening, said, “When I read that, I said, WTF is this? I don’t want to do that. We’d get notes like ‘You’re fired if you can’t get these in,’ so we went the indie route.”The moderator noted, with only thinly veiled sarcasm, that U.S. studios have entire offices of people who give filmmakers horrible notes, which the successful directors learn to ignore.
The filmmakers, instead, chose to gather friends and people’s whose opinions on the horror genre they trust(ed); they used their feedback, instead. Asked if they would refuse to use any horror technique seen elsewhere, the answer was, “I found it fun to do a spin on certain tropes. We wanted to have the film be both horror and drama. Life isn’t all one emotion.” The director mentioned films he admires: the Russian film “The Return” or “Memories of Murder.”
The Philippous finally went indie because they had heard and read a lot about studios requiring directors to do things a certain way and the director not having final cut. As one said, “We wanted to make a horror story, not become one.”
Newcomer Sophie Wilde carries most of the movie on her slender shoulders, and she does a great job. The
Sophie Wilde, star of “Talk To Me.”
consensus was that we were in the presence of a movie star. When asked how she got into the frame of mind to do the most grueling scenes, she referenced music and said, “I’m a firm believer in music to get into that mood: techno and ambient to get to a dark place.”
This film is quite the dark place. The make-up people did not get the nod they deserve, as the apparitions that haunt those who use “the hand” were horrifyingly grotesque. Sophie, herself, noted that some of the scenes were shot in an extremely hot, small room and, “I thought I was possessed. I was so hot. I felt like I wasn’t a real human being.”
This is an auspicious beginning with A24 for the Philippous. It was much more creative than the bigger budget “Evil Dead Rise.”
Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou
Stephen Kelliher, Sophie Green, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross, Daniel Negret, Noah Dummett, John Dummett, Jeff Harrison, Ari Harrison, Miranda Otto, Dale Roberts, Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou
Samantha Jennings, Kristina Ceyton
Danny Philippou, Bill Hinzman
Aaron McLisky ACS
Sophie Wilde, Miranda Otto, Alexandra Jensen, Joe Bird, Otis Dhanji, Zoe Terakes, Chris Alosio
I’m watching the Channel 5 news from Chicago here in Austin and beginning a week of supervision of our twin granddaughters. (age 13). We won’t starve, but I am definitely going to have to learn how to turn the thermostat up from 70. [I can take 70 if I’m in bed sleeping, but I’m going to have to have it warmer when I’m just sitting around, and I have on 3 layers of clothing right now!]
There is talk of watching a movie tonight, although the Crawdads movie is in competition with the “Everything Everywhere” film. We watched two movies last night that were among the weirdest I’ve seen in a long time.
One was called “The Wave” and starred Justin Long. Very weird.
The other one was even weirder, “Vivarium.” Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots are a couple seeking a new house. They tour a new development with a realtor. All the houses are green and identical. The only problem is that they are not able to leave. They also are saddled with an annoying automoton/robot child that grows throughout the time they are imprisoned in this not-that-ideal community.
The film was directed (and co-written) by Lorcan Finnegan, and it is easy to infer that the “trapped-in-daily-life” vibe from Vivarium is meant to emulate the dull, boring and hum-drum lives that most of us live. Nevertheless, point taken, it was a strange and weird movie. I could relate to the housing development’s completely uniform appearance and the ways in which the couple try to escape are interesting, but the character portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg begins digging in the front yard for reasons that are not very clear. It reminded me of the old saw about how you might dig your way through the Earth and wind up in China if you dug deep enough, and it certainly might have occurred to Eisenberg’s character, since he and Imogen had tried about everything else including climbing up on the roof and writing “Fuk You” in large letters in attempts to escape. A very weird commentary on how life just tends to go on in a routine that you can’t escape, no matter how hard you true.
On other news fronts, I am learning to play Mah Jong (m joined Newcomers Club and this is how desperate I a to try to make friends in a community when we (a) don’t have jobs (b) don’t have kids in school and (c) aren’t particularly “church-y.” I resumed my playing of “Hand-and-foot-canasta” that I learned pre-pandemic. I like the latter, but the vote is out on the former.
In watching the evening news from Chicago we are seeing projected temperatures of 11 degrees It was 84 here 2 days ago, although it has dropped off into the fifties since that record-setting day.
The two films I mention (above) are both Amazon films and free, so that earns them a Gold Star, but be prepared for a couple of weird sci-fi flicks if you try out either of them.
“Red River Road,” for the Schuyler family, is the answer to the question, “What did you do during the pandemic?”
The talented Schuyler family can honestly say, “We made a movie.” Considering the challenges of being both the stars of the film and the entire crew, it’s quite an impressive movie, at that. Paul wrote, directed, was the cameraman, and helped score (along with Cindy O’Connor) the music for the film.
The plot: “A family of four isolating against a pandemic virus that spreads through the Internet and robs you of your ability to perceive reality—often violently—begins to unravel when they suspect one or all of them might be infected.” One screenplay line: “That’s how it gets in here. It steals reality right out from under you.” Personally, as the parent of teenagers who were very creative at securing their phones after hours, I could relate to the two boys managing to get their phones back and access the Internet (when they were not supposed to do.)
Paul Schuyler (“Wasted,” 1996; “Runner”, 2017) organized his family of four into a cast to film this horror/thriller indie film. The acting is top notch. Wife Jade does a great job of portraying the worried Mom, Anna, of two teen-aged brothers, Quinn and Shaw. Paul is Stephen for the purposes of this fictional story. [His woodworking with a blade saw put me on edge.]
The flashbacks that occur intermittently in the plot are all formed from old home movies of the family, whether they are shots at the beach or the family climbing the Eiffel Tower. This was very effective.
Shot in 10 days on a budget of $225,000 in Harwich, Massachusetts, the trivia as to HOW one both films and acts simultaneously was interesting to me and worth sharing: “Any shots that featured director Paul Schuyler and any other family members had to be blocked and framed prior to action being called. Whichever actor was closest to the camera would ‘roll camera’ then enter the scene to start ‘action’. Only after the scene was shot could they go back and look at the take to make sure everyone was properly in frame. Multiple takes were required to get a usable take, as there was no one there to operate the camera.”
There are multiple dolly shots that include the entire family. With no crew, the only way to achieve this was to connect the dolly to an array of ropes and pulleys that were manipulated by one of the actors in the scene. Usually using another actor to block any “giveaway” movements that would reveal what they were doing.
Brody, the dog, also performed admirably, creating tension at key moments in the generally well-paced one hour and 29 minute film.
The film won a Special Festival Award, the Spirit of Independent Filmmaking, at the Stony Brook Film Festival; it is easy to see why. “Red River Road” is able to be rented ($4.99 and up) on Amazon Prime.
Nice work, Schuyler family. Definitely answers the question “How I spent my pandemic quarantine enforced vacation.”
I watched the films in the streamed package twice. There were 6. At the end, there was a discussion group with 9 films discussed. Not sure what happened to 3 of the films, but they didn’t reach me in Illinois.
Here are capsule summaries of the 6 I saw:
Iranian Director Milad Faraholahi has created a very dark short that is synopsized this way: “A disturbed girl has a horrible nightmare in which two muddy figures ask her to open a mysterious box. To get rid of that, she decides to kill herself in her nightmare just to wake up.” I felt I needed to know more about what, exactly, unhinged the lead. Suicide is a pretty dire solution to a problem. As far as the scary quality of the house in which the young girl finds herself, thanks to excellent sound effects and music from Milad Movahedi and cinematography from Hashem Moradi, all of the tried-and-true things that are guaranteed to scare us are used super effectively. Creepy sounds. Lights that turn on and off. Dripping water. Mysterious footprints. A door handle that turns menacingly. Knives in water. Blood on pages of a book. I think some subtitles during the phone conversation would have helped, as my four years of French did not prepare me to know what was said. I could barely hear it; I did not understand it, as a result, although, at one point, my computer coughed up the directive “Une erreur imprevue d’est produite” so my complete comprehension of the plot was definitely compromised. Apologies. I did think the creepy sets and the unhinged performance of the lead served the piece well and that the director has a real future in making more shorts or longer films. There are many talented Iranian filmmakers and one, in particular, who caught my eye at SXSW and directed “Everything Will Be All Right” came to mind immediately. I hope this young director (and his crew) pursue more creepy, scary films, because this one was one of the most frightening that I saw…and I mean that in a good way!
Would someone’s skull really make a good bowling ball? (Food for thought; it’s hard to say.)
The Winnetka Bowl has a dedicated bowler in Joe Harsley as Henry. I was immediately reminded of the 1986 film “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” starring Michael Rooker. This Henry is just as diabolical as that Henry, and his ruse of attempting to return a wallet lost at the bowling alley to a hapless victim leads to a scene that shows Henry overpowering the female victim and then making his victims’ heads into bowling balls (hence the title). Henry definitely comes off as someone who is “not right” and the rest of the plot proves it. (*Note to self: do not go bowling in Winnetka.)
“A Home Invasion”
“A Home Invasion”
Maddie Downes and Evan Marshall collaborated to make this serio-comic “AHome Invasion” short, which, they said, was inspired by the couple in Missouri who were seen brandishing firearms and threatening Black Lives Matter protesters in their front yard. The couple is seen fighting at the beginning of the piece, removing their wedding rings, and arguing about who will get custody of the dog, Cooper ( played by Scoober). Then, a friend (Nathan) finds the runaway dog outside the couple’s home and, while attempting to return the pooch, ends up uniting the bickering mates, who pull out guns and plan to face the assailant, (who is only trying to do them a favor.) Nathan is shot, for his troubles. Travis Prow handles the cinematography (nice shot at the opening, coming into the house through the window from outside) and the music is courtesy of Joshua Rutkowski. The cast of players, in addition to Evan Marshall (who was promoted to lead actor after an older actor dropped out) includes Jessica Bishop, Henry Koly and, of course, Scoober the dog (as Cooper). A sarcastic commentary on America’s fixation on guns (which seems to override all other preoccupations).
“Black Dragon,” filmed on location in Alamanee County, North Carolina, is one of the most polished of the shorts. It was inspired by the 1968 My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War, which wiped out a Vietnamese village but resulted in only a 3 and ½ year prison sentence for those involved in the Ukrainian style war crime of wiping out an entire village. Matthew Del Negro from “City on a Hill” plays Colonel Palmer who has a small son (Eddy, played by Chris Day) about the age of the Vietnamese girl in the short, Chau, who is played by Celia Au. Chau has the power to bring the dead back to life. Eddy, the Colonel’s son, has suggested that his dad “has an angel watching over ” him. The angel is going to make some demands of the Colonel that will result in many deaths. Alex Thompson directed and co wrote the piece with Nathaniel Hendricks and Harper Alexander handled the cinematography while Jeffery Alan Jones was in charge of sound design. It is a very professional and polished short piece. If you click on Matthew DelNegro (see link above) you’ll recognize him from “City on a Hill” and it was a nice touch that his surname (DelNegro) fit the title of this short (“Black Dragon”).
Parker Gayan wrote and directed this short film about what would happen if you cut into a lemon and found a USB drive. He has a conversation with a Black friend (Stephen Guma) about his discovery, and there is an appearance from The Lemon Man. I was particularly taken with the idea that Parker is wearing a neck brace throughout the piece. When asked if the neck brace had anything to do with the lemon theme, he said, “No. It was an unrelated accident.” Parker’s attempts to look up something_something.lemon, which results in nothing, was also amusing. I couldn’t help but think of the simpler days before computers, which someone like me remembers. Not only would we never have imagined cutting into a lemon to find a USB drive, we didn’t have USB drives back in the dim dark ages of my youth. It also reminded me of a skit one of my 7th grade English classes once put on for our Ad Campaigns in the Classroom unit, where the young boys who created a Mole-busters van also came into the classroom to the strains of the famous Ray Parker, Jr., “Ghostbusters” theme song (“Who you gonna’ call? Mole-busters!”) I enjoyed this loopy short way too much considering its lack of gravity and excess of levity. (The director, in an interview that followed the film, said you can get a really inexpensive Lemon Guy costume on Etsy, in case you were wondering.) I apologize for the random mention of the “Mole-buster” unrelated class unit, but it did win a Scholastic Books contest, at the time, naming me “one of the 10 Most Creative teachers in America” (it came with a cash prize). Somehow, this clip summoned such unrelated memories of random merriment, and random happy thoughts are always welcome.
“Lemons” by Parker Gayans.
This one and “Inevitable” were probably the 2 creepiest shorts, although “Black Dragon” is close. Certainly a giant lemon is not creepy and the bickering couple with the guns, while concerning from the standpoint of safety to the community at large, is not “scary” or “creepy.” Both “Inevitable” and “The Unlocking” were. This is a Thomas Brush film and he certainly demonstrates an over-active imagination, as the character even says, “Please fix my brain!” It was interesting to me that the house where this was filmed was actually a childhood haunt, a home where a friend of the director’s lived . The director had always considered the house “creepy.” He got permission to use the house as the setting for the film (cinematography by Joshua Murray). This story of a completely bonkers guy in a tutu who will ultimately attack our hero and do substantial damage to him was frightening in the same way that a strange noise in your own kitchen late at night can be terrifying if you are home alone. First, we see the protagonist walking around in the house in the dark trying to investigate who might have come in when he left the door unlocked ( he was advised byothers to leave the door unlocked; chaos ensues) but the OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) from which the main character suffers is not misplaced over-anxious worrying, but honest-to-God real-life danger,realized at the film’s climax.
“The Unlocking,” by Thomas Brush.
The filmmakers spoke about their films afterwards, often giving contact information and extra details (such as that regarding the house that is the setting for “The Unlocking.”) There were 2 additional shorts discussed at length, but I was not sent either short.
This “thriller/fantasy” film caught my eye, initially, because it was very moody and scripted by Melanie Clarke-Pettiella and Jess Byard. I’m always in favor of letting more females write horror, (as a former active voting member of the Horror Writers’ Association), so I bought into this Amazon Prime movie, filmed on location in Youngstown, Ohio.
Let’s start with the good things: the music (Rolaz) is good—with the possible exception of a song at the end with the lyric “trapped under the ice.” There is no ice in sight; that line made about as much sense as the rest of the plot.
But on with the positive: great settings, although, if the film had answered an early question asked in the script (“What isthis place?”) we would all have been better off.
The synopsis on IMDB says, “Plagued by visions and nightmares, a Catholic priest is ousted from his parish. With nowhere to turn, he follows the sinister visions calling him and discovers a deal he alone must stop.”
That synopsis bore little resemblance to the movie’s plot, [such as it is.]
Father John, played by Alexi Stavros (he has a great voice!) is a priest in a seminary who seems to be locked in a power struggle with the Dean of the seminary, Father Murphy (played by Jack Dimich). There is a second priest named Father McAndrew (Eric Vaughn) and a third named Arthur, who is played by Director Sergio Meyers’ son, Sergio Meyers II.
The film really does establish an appropriately creepy vibe, but almost nothing makes sense from that point on. Father John is not really “ousted from his parish.” He is admittedly in conflict with the head priest (Father Murphy) but he seems to get in a cab of his own volition and asks to be taken to 223 Wick Avenue, which is a building just as creepy as the seminary building he has just exited.
The plot becomes even more incomprehensible once Father John has relocated, starting with much falling and the fact that, for the rest of the film, he will wear a bloody bandage around his head. Why would he agree to spend the night at 223 Wick St. simply because he took a slight fall on the front steps? And, if he did agree to spend the night because he might have sustained a concussion, how does that lead to what seems to be an extended stay? Not likely. And not explained well (or at all).
Visions do plague Father John (migraines), but the vision is pretty much the same one, over and over. It looks a bit like a nuclear explosion. Another character who resides at 223 Wick Ave. (Paul) also seems accident prone. At one point, after Father John has spent the night at 223 Wick (because he fell down on the front steps and hit his head?), Paul asks Father John to bless the building, room by room, before he leaves, because its owner (Kat, played by Dawn Lafferty) thinks the building is haunted.
The dialogue is stilted, along the lines of “Give humanity back to the Ancient Ones” and “Come with me. Rule like a god.” Or, “This place will always call out for the energy it needs to feed.”
Most of the prinicipals in this largely incomprehensible plot do not live happily ever after [or at all.] The Brixtons own 223 Wick Ave. and there is some mumbo-jumbo about “secret societies” and an all male fraternal order that is over 100 years old, but we see little of that. The relationship between Kat and her sister is also shrouded in mystery and will remain a secret throughout the film.
The writers really needed to pick up the writing pace if women in horror are going to gain a better footing in the field than they had back when I dabbled in the horror/thriller genre a decade or so ago.
The setting, music, cinematography: okay. The plot: not okay.
Overall, this was a moody mess with no idea where it was going and no ability to convey a coherent plot to its puzzled audience.
Well, if any of you were Chicago residents, you know that it rained A LOT today, Sunday, September 11th.
I have to confess that I did not make it to the IWPA booth at Printers’ Row for precisely that reason.
I got up about 9 a.m. (early, for me) and it was raining.
I had a cup of coffee and sat around for over an hour, thinking it would let up.
It did not.
I went back to bed and got up closer to 11 a.m., and I consulted the hour by hour weather forecast, which said that there was a 100% chance of rain for the next several hours.
About 1:20 p.m. the rain actually ceased…briefly. It was right back at it within half an hour.
BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE
Not to be too big a wuss, but dragging a box on wheels through the wet streets of Chicago is not great for paperbacks, and paperbacks were what I had with me. I was going to go with the political books of the hour, because, as we used to say about Nixon, “We won’t have DJT to kick around any more.” (Or so I fervently hope).
If you had your TV sets tuned to the Bears game at Soldier Field, right across the street from me, you will know that it was really pouring down during the game. Enough said.
My apologies to any of you who did make it out, but I could not imagine that there would be more than one or two folks brave enough to saunter down to Polk Street during the downpour.
The books I had with me are all available on Amazon, and I hope you check them out.
I recently reviewed Pete Mesling’s short story collection “Fool’s Fire.” There are 17 stories.
I have tried very hard not to give away the entire plot of any of the 17 stories that Pete Mesling has included in this collection. He has already warned us that he may be moving on to longer work(s), so this may be his last short story collection for a while. There is nothing more annoying than a reviewer who gives away the whole store (especially the ending) in a review. So that will not happen here.
I had never read anything by (or about) Pete Mesling before I was somewhat apprehensive about whether or not Pete’s command of English would be above that of the average horror writer. Not to worry. Pete has excellent command of his mother tongue and seems to have a great handle on spelling, punctuation and grammar. His descriptive passages are good, (although I always want to cut to the chase and get to the plot, so my bad on not wanting to read a great deal of description.)
Here are the pros and cons of Pete’s stories in this collection.
Title – When I wrote three collections of short stories I was told that a unifying device was necessary. After much thought, I ended up with Dante’s “Inferno” and stories that focused on the crimes and sins punishable at each Circle of Hell with the title(s) “Hellfire & Damnation I, II and III.” I have not completely figured out what the “unifying device” is for this collection, if, indeed, there is one. Certainly the settings range far and wide. For me, those set in the USA were superior to the ones that were set in foreign countries.
Dialogue – The one thing I have learned in my writing career (which now spans 65 years) is that dialogue goes a long way towards making the medicine go down smoothly. Pete gets high marks for knowing this. He uses a lot of dialogue in his best stories. I once wrote an entire short story that was 95% dialogue. It also contained a number of oxymorons. I still like it as well as anything I’ve written. Therefore, I liked the stories that were at least 15 pages long and also utilized a great deal of dialogue.
Originality – Some of the stories seemed too derivative, to me, as with the dragon descriptions in “The Wintrose Chronicles.” It is perhaps unfair to Mesling to say this, as I don’t know if his dragon descriptions predate “Game of Thrones.” The cell phone story (“A Dream Come True”) is definitely more unique and original.
Length – I have estimated the length of each story for you. For me, if a story is only a page long, it needs to be expanded. I do realize that flash fiction (which I have also written) often gives you a very good, if brief, story concept. I still think, for a collection, if it’s only one page long, perhaps expand the story. Many of the stories I would like to see drawn out and expanded, a statement that is true of about half of the short stories. The story about the woman donning the wolf skin was just getting started when it ended.
Overall, I liked Pete Meslingg’s writing style. If you are a horror story afficionado, you will, too. You will be able to buy this book on Amazon, and I hope that you do. I tried to leave a review there, and Amazon would not let me.
Pete Mesling’s 17 short stories, gathered under the title “Fool’s Fire” are briefly described below:
“Impostor Syndrome” – Tries for a “monster takes over human” twist that reminded me of Stephen King’s “Desperation”—(probably because I had just read that large novel.) This one is roughly 20 pages long, so it is more the length that you normally associate with a short story. Giving you any more details would potentially ruin the story.
“The Private Ambitions of Arthur Hemming” – Has a Dr. Frankenstein vibe; is set in Teufelsgarten. It ultimately seems to be more a story about obtaining the belongings of others through nefarious means than of the experiments depicted in “Bride of Frankenstein” or “Frankenstein.” The descriptions do remind of those old James Whale black-and-white movies. The story is approximately 20 pages long.
“A Dream Come True” – This 8-page story is one of my personal favorites. It is not set in a gloomy castle in Germany or a hilltop abbey, but is more modern. It deals with visions on one’s cell phone that seem to have created what is referenced as “a dream plague” for the cell phone’s owner. The method of ridding the cell phone’s owner of disturbing dreams may not seem fair or practical, but the story—set in present-day surroundings—is original.
“His Blade So Keen” – Pain implants, individuals with blades, and blood and gore, all in 8 pages.
“The Thing in the Road” – This story reminded me of a film out now called “The Forgiven” (Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain). It’s a very short 3-page story. It summons the idea of what one would do if, while driving, you hit something or someone in the road.
“The Dragon’s Tooth” – Examines the idea of a film featuring an actor who may (or may not) be dead, even though he is appearing as the lead in a movie. The actor is Emil Jannings appearing in a Fritz Lang film. I’ve been a movie buff forever, reviewing them since 1970, but this Austrian star of yesteryear is too far back, historically, for me to appreciate the references. The concept is good; maybe update it to someone who has been heard of in the last half century.
“The Chance of a Lifetime” – Very short. There’s a hanging victim and an examination of what happens when one shuffles off this mortal coil.
“Caught in a Trap” – Runs on for roughly 40 pages, examining the “special powers” of a girl named Susan Evans who goes for acupuncture but ends up being contacted by another individual with “special powers” who urges her to come meet him in Indianapolis. I liked this one. The ending is very open-ended, making one think that there will be other chapters in the story. Susan Evans is invited to meet a man named Jacob Kettering with powers similar to her own. For me, the more “modern” settings of stories worked better than those set in Austria or Germany or other exotic spots.
“Chandu’s Bargain with the Too-Tall Man” – At the top of the first page (of 9) it says, “The vicinity of Bagdi-Kalera, a Small Fishing Village Near the Southwest Coast of India.” This already spells trouble (for me). What if a plant (called Sweet Bright) could cause a town famous for twin births to, instead, start the women of the town on a trajectory of having (at first) triplets and, later, giving birth to veritable litters of children? Would this be a good thing for the town or a bad thing for the town? Read this story and find out. An original story concept. (It would be fun to see this analyzed in terms of the recent Roe v. Wade reversal in this country and how such a drug might influence U.S. society.)
“The Wintrose Chronicles” – This one also had an exotic setting, Wintrose Abbey. I found it slow going, although I was happy to see it had a lot of dialogue. The imagery of dragons, to me, suggested too much time spent viewing “Game of Thrones” or its prequel, “House of Dragons.” There are monks and an abbey and an attempt to corral the head dragon and imprison it, which, according to the story, will have the effect of driving all the other dragons away. The dragon is caught, but things do not go as planned. This story did not have as much dialogue as some of the others.
This story had much more description, both of the dragons and of the abbey. One of the good things the author has done, in many stories, is to employ a great deal of dialogue to carry the reader along. Having written 3 of these collections, myself, I can attest to the wisdom of that choice. But, unfortunately, in telling the story of the abbey and the dragons, there is not enough dialogue to carry the reader along smoothly. This is not necessarily a failing of the author’s, as I read a Joyce Carol Oates short story that had so much description of a bicycle leaning against a wall that I nearly passed out from boredom before it got to the really good stuff, i.e., the plot.This one ran 43 pages.
“Gypsum and Me” – This story literally ran a page and a half. A dog falls down a well. Its master falls down the well, too. Not much more going on here.
“The Singular Talent of Nisqually Joe”– Tracee, an aspiring artist, has an indefinable “je ne sais quoi” added to her paintings by an earthquake. Her agent wants her to duplicate the improvement that the earthquake has made in her work, so she seeks out a man who has the ability to make things shake (Joe Nisqually). It goes well for a while, but Tracee’s relationship with Joe leads to her downfall. The story runs about 15 pages.
“An Occurrence at Kendrick Outdoors” – This one runs 7 pages. It involves a shooting. Enough said.
“The Night of the Wolf” – If it is true that clothes make the man—or woman—a wolf skin thrown across the female protagonist’s shoulders renders her, in one and one-half pages, a survivor of a wolf attack about to take revenge. Genevieve Ripley has only to put on the stitched pelt and she will become invincible. The spirit of Hobbamock sang to Genevieve in a dream. In Wampanoag and Narragansett traditions, Hobomock was the Manito (spirit) of death– a destructive, often evil being usually in opposition to Kautantowit. That is for those of you who would, otherwise, have no idea of the significance of this “singing” to Genevieve. This story runs 2 pages; it is really only the start of a good story.
“A Mild Recognition of Impermanence” – Barney and Brenda are married. Brenda is a bit of a shrew. Barney is hired to tear down a whipping post that existed out East. When he touches the cursed object, he is transported to the days of old when the whipping post served as the location of beatings administered to Black slaves. By the end of the story, Barney has, apparently, decided he is going to leave Brenda because “life is filled with options.” It would appear that leaving Brenda is a definite option, although he is picking up the McDonald’s meal she requested as he thinks this.
In some ways this story reminded me of one of my own about a hen-pecked husband who, more-or-less Stepford Wives style, tried to make a robot to replace his bitchy wife. I would say that planning to “send her a letter in a few days” does not seem the classiest way to break up a marriage of long standing. It reminded me of Carrie on “Sex and the City” when Ron Livingston broke up with her using a post-it note. Not cool.
“A Pressing Concern” – This one is only a page and a half long, which makes me wonder if it was written for a flash fiction competition. As nearly as I can tell, the protagonist is crushing his own skull in a press, little by little.
“Guardians of the Lazyrinth” – A childless woman knits herself a son. There is also a real boy named Julian DeNeuve, who is bicycling to A Ta Facon on his Red Hornet bicycle to get his father cigarettes and to purchase gum for himself.
I liked “Nope” and I’ve tried to explain it more for those who aren’t interested in researching all of the allusions and references to other films. Therefore, proceed at your own peril. I have tried not to reveal all of the mysteries of the plot, but there may be spoilers.
We journeyed out to the theater to see “Nope,” Jordan Peele’s latest film, starring Oscar-winner Daniel Kaluuya from “Get Out” and “Judas and the Black Messiah.” Peele is more political than M. Night Shymalan, whose films and themes Peele’s works most resemble (of directors working today). As such, much of the film is commentary on the film industry (spectacle), including the role of Blacks through the years. There is also commentary on the American emphasis on commercialism. (The coin in the plastic evidence bag is a subtle dig). It’s a veritable homage to alien encounter films throughout history, with horror/thriller films, especially Spielberg’s, entering in, as well. There is dialogue regarding possible proof of the existence of aliens and the value of such proof to anyone securing it: “People are gonna’ come and do what they always do. Try to take it for themselves.”
Thus begins the plan to capture pictures and video of the aliens, who seemingly are lurking behind a cloud that never moves above a remote far west ranch. Is that a spaceship in the night, or is it a marauding creature? Therein hangs the tale. The central plan to capture video of aliens that dominates “Nope” will be quite an adventure; the audience gets to go along for the ride. I enjoyed it more than my puzzled spouse, but I admit to having spent way more time watching the movies this film honors. It struck me as not unlike the the way that Mel Brooks satirized genre after genre with his humorous films. Only this movie is a cross between thriller/horror/science fiction, saluting those genres. (There are plenty of alien encounter movies to draw from.)
Special kudos go to the sound engineers overseeing the sound effects, the score by Michael Abels, and the cinematographer shooting what appears to be a silver disc in the sky, Hoyt van Hoytema. A prophetic quote from the Book of Nahum (3.6) starts us off: “It will cast abominable filth at you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle.” Literally.
The characters who lead us on the adventure are a brother and sister (Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer) who have inherited a horse farm that provides trained horses for Hollywood productions. Haywood’s Hollywood Horses was founded by Otis Haywood, Sr. When Otis, Sr., dies in a strange fashion—seemingly shot by objects that fall from the sky without warning—Otis, Jr., known as O.J. dedicates himself to carrying on the Haywood tradition. Young O.J. wants to continue training horses as an animal wrangler and also wants to buy back some of the horses the ranch has had to sell to a neighboring circus-like attraction, Jupiter’s Claim, to stay financially afloat.
O.J. (Daniel Kaluuya) is the son who understands animal behavior and tries to warn others about not looking an animal in the eye and remaining calm, etc.; his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) is O.J.’s somewhat unreliable sidekick. Emerald does not see the horse farm as her future. She constantly inserts personal promos for her many other skills, which range from motorcycle riding to acting. Emerald is more extroverted, but O.J. is the one who negotiates with Jupe (Steven Yeun) to provide horses for his attraction, Jupiter’s Claim. It is also Emerald who, upon agreeing that aliens might be visiting the nearby remote landscape, wants to secure definitive proof via photographs and video as a money-maker.
Emerald contacts Cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), a crack videotographer,who lugs what appears to be an old IMAX camera out to the remote western site, to assist the young video salesman Angel Torres who originally hooked up photographic equipment the duo bought. The video sales guy is played by Brandon Perea as Angel Torres and he contribute much in the area of comic relief. While I enjoyed Angel’s contribution, we had difficulty understanding TV “Password” hostess Keke Palmer’s dialogue.
O.J. feels it important to keep alive the tradition and history of the (fictitious) relative Emerald says was the Black Bahamian jockey shown in a few minutes of film thought to be the very first moving picture image ever captured. The short piece of film was captured by 19th century inventor and adventurer Eadweard Muybridge in 1878. Muybridge had been commissioned to study the movement of a galloping horse; the name of the Black Bahamian jockey was lost to history, but, for purposes of this film, Jordan Peele has created a fictitious identity for the rider—Alistair Haywood, the family’s horse ranch founder. O.J. Sr,—presumably Alistair’s son and heir— is played by veteran horror actor Keith David, who appeared in “Armageddon” (1998) and “Dante’s Peak” (1997) over his long career.
Here are some of the homages to other cinematic moments:
.When Keke Palmer slides on the motorcycle, it is a reference to a classic anime film, “Akira.” It’s been referenced in dozens of movie for the last 30 years.
.When a character says, “They’re here,” it’s an homage to “Poltergeist.” Easter egg references (“Spielbergian,” said one critic) abound, but the “Nope” plot is definitely original.
.There is the opening reference to a chimp attack during the filming of a TV show called “Gordy’s Home” in 1996. A real chimp attack was featured on Oprah’s syndicated TV show. Charla Nash, a woman who was mauled and disfigured by her chimp Travis appeared on Oprah. When Jupe’s former co-star Mary Jo (Sophia Coto) from “Gordy’s Home” visits Jupiter’s Claim, she is wearing a hat and veil to hide her scars from the chimpanzee attack. Both the scars and the outfit resemble Nash during her real-life interview with Oprah.
.OJ and Emerald visit a Fry’s Electronics store to purchase the surveillance equipment they hope to use in their efforts to capture the alien on film, where they meet employee and alien enthusiast Angel (Brandon Perea). Each Fry’s location featured a unique theme before the family-owned chain when out of business in 2021. Burbank’s Fry’s Electronics store had an alien theme.
.”The Wizard of Oz” has been named as a big influence by Peele. The way in which the alien uploads “food” via dust tornadoes reflects that, as well as the name Emerald and her repetitive wearing of the color green.
.O.J. wears orange, in tribute to his name. The hooded orange sweatshirt that says “Crew” is identical to those worn on the set of the Rock’s film “The Scorpion King.” There is also a poster of the 1972 film “Buck and the Preacher,” Sidney Poitier’s directorial debut, seen in the film.
.Every famous movie about alien encounters that you can think of is referenced, directly or indirectly. The fist bump between child and chimp reminds a bit of the E.T./Elliot finger connection. Even the film’s title of “Nope” is similar to “E.T.,” since E.T. meant extra terrestrial and some have said that “Nope” means “Not of This Planet.” On the other hand, the phrase is spoken throughout the movie. There is one point where our hero (Daniel Kaluuya) opens the truck door, looks out, murmurs “Nope” and re-enters the vehicle. Every major alien encounter film—“E.T.,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “War of the Worlds,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “Arrival” receives attention. This isn’t even throwing in the “B” movie efforts like 1998’s “The Faculty” or films like “Alien Autopsy” (2006), “The Mothman Prophecies” (2002); “Ancient Aliens” (2009); “The Blob” (1958); “The Thing”; “District 9” (2009); “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008) or any number of lesser movies.
.Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) reminds of other key characters in Spielberg films, like Quinn in Spielberg’s “Jaws” or Bob Peck’s Muldoon from “Jurassic Park.” I found his grizzled presence reminiscent of Lance Henriksen, a veteran presence in numerous horror films. Wincott’s decision to venture out and film the creature in a climactic scene seems to be his desire to get “the impossible shot.” As Antlers told Emerald when she approached him to help them film the encounter, “Horse Girl, this is a dream you’re chasing. The one where you end up at the top of the mountain—all eyes on you. It’s the dream you never wake up from.”
I found the movie to be quite original and unique. Like Peele’s other films, you can peel the plot layers back like an onion. Most fun I’ve had at the movies this summer, because English majors always want to explore symbolism and themes that are buried beneath the surface, and that is what Peele incorporates in his films, which I enjoy. You can still enjoy it on the surface as a thriller, without the deep dive, however.