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!

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Connie will review the thriller/mystery/horror books of others and will keep you posted on her own writing.

“Nope” Is Jordan Peele’s Summer Movie: Here Are Some Helpful Explanations

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.

Two Rentable New Films: “The Forgiven” & “Abandoned” (Rent or Pass?)

 

We checked out two new films recently, I’ll give you an idea about them to save you the time.

After checking out the trailers on my Guide movie-for rent list, I narrowed the choices to “The Forgiven” or “Abandoned.”

“The Forgiven” starred Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain, a big plus. It was on Amazon Prime and the price of each was $7.95 to rent. The rating by the audience on IMDB was only 5.8 out of 10, but these two are Oscar caliber actors. Plus, I liked another co-star, Christopher Abbott, who dallies with the married Jo Henninger in the film while her husband is away.

“Abandoned” is a horror thriller starring Emma Roberts, John Gallagher, Jr. (“Network News”) and one of my all-time favorites, Michael Shannon.

We watched “The Forgiven” first, and that ended up being the better choice. It is a well-crafted film with a plot set in Morocco and examining what happens when a couple on their way to a wedding accidentally hits and kills a young man on the dark highway who is selling fossils. (Apparently, selling fossils is a big industry for the locals. Who knew?) It also had an appearance by Christopher Abbott, who I knew from “James White,” where he played Cynthia Nixon’s son, and “It Comes At Night” in 2017—a horror movie that never quite delivered on the successful atmospheric brooding cinematography of Director Trey Edward Shults.

IMDB describes the plot this way: “The Forgiven takes place over a weekend in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and explores the reverberations of a random accident on the lives of both the local Muslims, and Western visitors to a house party in a grand villa.: Director James Michael McDonagh filmed on location; we get an inside look at the Arabic culture in what appears to be one of those countries that our former president described as “a s***ole country,” The folks flocking to the villa in the middle of nowhere appear to be either Euro-trash or, as one is identified, the style editor from a famous women’s magazine, which shall be nameless for the intention of this review.

Jessica (Chastain) and Ralph (Fiennes) are an unhappily married couple, Jo and David Henninger, on the verge of divorce. After David hits and kills the young native boy, the authorities are contacted. The boy’s father comes to the villa and demands that Ralph accompany him back to the desolate village from whence he came. We learn that the young man (Driss) might have been planning to rob some of the rich party-goers with another youth.

Should Ralph Fiennes’ character of David Henninger accompany the dead boy’s father back to Driss’ village? If he does, what will happen? Fiennes does accompany Driss’ dad, but what happens after that, while a satisfactory surprise ending, is still one that I am processing.

“Abandoned,” on the other hand, held the promise of a young woman (Emma Roberts) suffering from post-partum depression who has recently given birth and moves, with her husband (John Gallagher, Jr.) to a remote haunted house (which, the end-of-film credits tell us, was located in Smithfield, North Carolina.)

The house had a history, but the price was right. The previous family had a psychotic father who impregnated his underage daughter three times; it is hinted that he had a way with an axe. An old wardrobe in the house seems to be the entryway to a portion of the house where some of the offspring of the underage daughter of the house live on as ghosts, [as in “American Horror Story.”]

Most of the film consists of the vulnerable Emma (Roberts) trying to work through her depression and deal with her infant son, who has a bad case of colic. Michael Shannon enters for roughly 20 minutes of film time, which is a crime in and of itself. Shannon plays the brother of the poor underage sister and he shares the couch with Emma Roberts discussing his life in the house before its occupants met untimely ends.

The movie is a total waste of the talents of an actor as talented as Michael Shannon. For that matter, the script did no favors to the young couple, both of whom are good actors.

I am glad we began our viewing with “The Forgiven,” which at least had a structure that merited sticking with it to the end, but I cannot give a thumbs-up to “Abandoned.” The films rented for $7.95. In one case it was money well spent. In the other it was a waste of time and money.

Poetry from the Past

I was cleaning out an old purse (from 2006) and found, scrawled there, some poetry.

I think I wrote this poetry to advance the plot of “Out of Time,” my first novel, published by Lachesis. The sentiment seems eerily prescient of today’s Ukraine situation, however, while the second was about the suicide of one of the twin daughters of the President, part of the plot.

Poem #1, “Ukraine”

Hate breeds hate

And love yields love.

This a message

From above.

 

We must love

Or we shall die

A cosmic order

From on high

 

When will all the killing stop?

Save them from the bombs we drop!

Forgive us all our crimes, our deeds,

Show the path to where peace leads.

We are but a cosmic speck

Of ash and dust

Of finite dreck..

Yet our crimes, our sins abound

As we destroy this planet found.

 

When will all the killing stop?

When will tears no longer drop?

Can this tired world be saved, at last?

Or must we all repeat the past?

That was the first poem in this small notebook within my old purse, with this second one being part of the plot of “Out of Time:”

Death began to call her name,

In dulcet tones that sounded sane.

“Lift the glass. Take but a sip,

It will speed you on your trip.

Taste this fatal glass of doom.

Let me show you to your room.

Please don’t worry. Please don’t fret.

This is your best adventure yet.”

We just watched the fictional account of the young girl, played by Chloe Moritz, who encouraged her boyfriend to commit suicide (“The Girl from Plainville”). She asked for a bench trial, was found guilty, and was given 15 months in jail. The incident led to the passage of “Conrad’s Law” which makes anyone who preys upon a mentally fragile person, urging them to commit self harm, [as happened in the plot of “The Girl from Plainville,”] eligible for a 5-year prison term.

In the case of the character played by Chloe Grace Moritz, she went to jail for the 15 months, but was released early for good behavior. And the problem of teenage suicides continues to be a big one, especially since the pandemic.

This third poem was one I wrote to advance the “time travel” plot of another. Never again will I work for months, slaving away to make somebody else’s plot idea into a novel, only to have them give away the book signing that he was supposed to arrange at our local bookstore (then Border’s)  to a different book he worked on with another “collaborator” (who probably did all of the writing of that one). The plot of “Out of Time” involved a time-traveling rock star, which should have been my first clue that this was a bad idea.

Not unlike “The Graduate,” the rock star hero of the novel falls in love with the mother of his girlfriend. Then, there is travel through time and a decision on which of the women to “save” and a lot of other unlikely stuff. I guess you do learn by doing, however, as I’ve written 3 novels since then in “The Color of Evil” series, and the readers and I believe that writing my own plot was an improvement.

So, here is the last poem that I found, (from something like 2006), on an old notebook in an old purse. You’d have to read the book (available on Amazon) to find out how the poem fits in the plot. I was encouraged to read about the discovery of the black hole predicted by Einstein just today, which makes the idea of traveling through time somewhat more plausible.

From “Out of Time”:

When daisies last in our garden grew,

You were me and I was you.

List closely now; I’ll tell the tale

Before night falls and our world fails.

Time’s winged chariot hurries near

I gather strength

To fight my fear

If I should die, before I wake

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

 

The scalpel lay there, cold and bright,

Reflecting the fluorescent light.

It screamed of fear and pain and crime.

Was there a chance? Would there be time?

The world lay shattered at his feet.

Was its fate sealed? Would time repeat?

Our past will not our future be.

If eyes are not too blind to see.

I know that I shall never see

A love so real as you to me

I’ve tried to purge you from my mind.

But caring’s not my choice, I find.

It always ends, as end it must

Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.

Life to death and death to life.

Stay with me and be my wife.

 

And, with that bit of ancient history, I prove why I seldom write poetry. Or doggerel. Or whatever you want to call it. A wise decision.

I have not written any since 2006 (the date on this old notebook.)

 

 

Home Is the Hunter, Home from the Hill

Our journey of 1,000 miles (give or take a few miles) has led us back to the Quad Cities, where the bush next to my garage is in full bloom.

Out of 19 phone calls on our answering machine, only 2 were important. One was from Iowa City, moving the time they want to see me up from 3:30 (May 6) to 2:40 (May 6) so that I can be told about some research studies that I might qualify for. This is interesting, because, earlier in the festivities, I wrote directly to the woman who is (ostensibly) in charge of all research studies at that venerable institution, and she told me I did not qualify for any of the studies currently ongoing.

I’ve been a devotee of trying to help other people with the same ailment ever since my mother volunteered for several diabetes studies during her days in Iowa City (ages 82 to 95). In fact, I’m currently in a knee study (control group) charting how arthritis ultimately gets us all and have had frequent MRI and X-rays of my left knee for that one for close to 20 years. I also was recently called from that same list of participants to ask if our joints hurt more or less after having Covid-19.

This time, the ailment is something far more life-threatening: cancer. I don’t know precisely what they want to talk to me about at 2:40 on May 6th, but it is one of the main reasons I am journeying to Iowa City at such a late date, after the barn door has been left open, so to speak, and the horse has gotten out. My treatment began last December. Hopefully, it will conclude on or about June 27th. I go tomorrow to have a CAT scan to set up radiation. On or about May 12th, I begin the radiation treatments that are supposed to kill any remaining cancer cells and, hopefully, prevent any recurrence on the left side of my body. I go every week day, Monday through Friday, for 33 days.

We may meet up with long-time friends Pam and John Rhodes for dinner on Friday night (May 6th) in Iowa City, another doctor appointment I have recently set up, but that part remains tentative. Regardless, we will drive up and listen to the experts give their feedback on everything that has been done (and is being done) so far, and listen to the study they mentioned in a phone conversation on our answering machine that they might like me to participate in. I have read that doctors around the country are trying to develop a vaccine to prevent breast cancer and that would certainly be a boon to mankind—or womankind.

The only other phone call that was important was simply to remind me to show up at 1 p.m. for the “simulation” with radiologist Dr. Stoffel and to have the CAT scan for planning purposes. I also have to stop and pick up one of the adjuvant therapy drugs that I was prescribed back in early February. I will have taken 90 of these Anastrozole pills (1 mg.) on Thursday of this week, so the side effects should have kicked in or be kicking in shortly. So far, taking them at night along with 5 other pills, I’m not aware of any extraordinary “bad” things, although perhaps February 5 to May 5 is not long enough? Don’t know. Can’t tell you, but have been told I have to take this pill for 5 years. Have read many horror stories about bad side effects, but, so far, so good. I have to have my bone density checked, which hasn’t been done since 2017, because that is one of the more serious side effects of this estrogen-blocking drug, and the other is high cholesterol (which I already have and for which I already take medication.) It sounded infinitely preferable to Tamoxifen.

Today, we drove from St. Louis and finished off “Comedy, Comedy, Drama” by Bob Odenkirk. We both agree that both books we selected were good, but the book “All About Me” by Mel Brooks gets the nod because of his much longer career. I started a “drama” book…actually 2 of them. One (“Devil House”) has definitely left me cold. It spent hours describing a trip to the supermarket (alert the media!) and barely used any real “” dialogue. Then, suddenly, in the middle of the book, the author began writing an ersatz version of Olde English.

Look: I was forced to memorize the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales when in high school (“Whom that Aprilluh, when the shoruh sota”), which I learned phonetically. It was pure torture then and putting in some made-up version of Olde English did nothing for the book or its plot—such as it is. It started out with promise: a story about a crime writer who moves into a house that witnessed the brutal murder of a high school teacher by two of her students. The teacher was subsequently thought to be a witch. Perhaps it was the fact that she took the time to hack up both students after dismantling them during their surprise attack and then wheelbarrowed their bodies down to the beach and threw them in the ocean. (Doesn’t sound like normal, ordinary, potential victim behavior).

The book was very sympathetic towards the teacher, but, then, just as we were trying to find a reason why an otherwise rational high school teacher who had successfully defended her life would not simply pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1- for help afterwards, there was a shift in tone and the author protagonist interviewed the mother of one of the high school victims.

O……K…….

I’m no expert, but I like good dialogue and a lot of it in the books I read, and I absolutely loathe lengthy descriptions that serve little to no purpose. On top of that, the Olde English thing lost me and—let’s just say that it is a toss-up whether I will continue residing in “Devil House” any longer, so I moved on over to a second e-book selection, the name of which escapes me.

The second book—as my husband agreed—just seems way too “slick.” It’s like a “Mission Impossible” vehicle for a Tom Cruise character. The not-that-original kernel of the book is that an orphan was raised to be an assassin (Orphan X). I’ve actually reviewed a book that had this same premise, only that book was better. This one has now thrown in talk of Mexican cartels and dialing for a Mr. Nowhere who will help find a beautiful young 18-year-old kidnapped by evil Mexican cartel members, and his apartment has been blown up, so he is re-engineering one of those James Bond-type residences that has all kinds of high tech things like hidden rooms and special glass to deter snipers and I-don’t-know-what-all. Meh. I am not getting into this one, either, even though the author has done a more-than-decent job of writing it. It’s just not my thing, apparently, and not my husband’s either, he says. There was one good sexy scene, which I appreciated since so many thriller writers avoid sex scenes like the plague, but, since I’m gearing up now for good old-fashioned radiation, which is supposed to leave one absolutely wiped out, I can’t want to, as my children used to say when young.

So, it’s “Home again, home again” diggety do. The spouse will have to hit the grocery store tomorrow, because I not only have to spend inordinate amounts of time at the radiologists going through a “simulation” but also have to stop and get more Anastrazole, which I run out of in 4 days.

I’ve unpacked. I’m getting ready to watch “Under the Banner of Heaven” with Andrew Garfield, and all’s right with the world.

“Watcher” Screens at SXSW, 2022

Maika Monroe, the blonde star of “It Follows” (2014), has 33 credits, to date. I first became aware of her work in “Hot Summer Nights” at SXSW in 2017. Since then, I have made a point of trying to catch others among her 33 screen credits.

This is a good one to start watching this actress, if you are unaware of her work. She carries this entire film on her slim shoulders and does a great job.

Maika plays lead character Julia, who is married to Francis (Karl Glusman). The couple has recently relocated to Bucharest, Romania for Karl’s job, which makes his fluent command of the native tongue very useful in his marketing position. Julia is studying the language, but is just a beginner.

“Watcher” writer/director Chloe Okuno.

The first scene shows Maika riding in a cab to their apartment and, as the opening proceeds, Writer/Director Chloe Okuno, in collaboration with Cinematographer Benjamin Kirk Nielsen pulls the camera back to show the young couple on the couch of their living room, panning out to the street to watch the couple through the window as they get cozy on the couch.

This entire film is about watching, but the watching is by a creepy-looking guy who lives across the street from the young couple.—or is it? In the early building sections of the film, as tension is built nicely through appropriately tense pounding music (Nathan Halpern). The city, itself, often rainy and dark, is a character. When you are a non-native speaker who does not speak nor understand the language that surrounds you, you feel  isolated and alone. Add to that Francis’ (Karl Glusman’s) heavy work schedule and Julia is left to her own devices for long stretches of time, including late into the night.

Coincidentally, there is a serial killer known as “the Spider” who is on the loose at the time the young couple has relocated to this forbidding old city. “The Spider” has murdered at least four women. He has decapitated at least two of them.

The part of “the watcher” from across the street, reminiscent of “Rear Window’s” plot, is well-played by actor Burn Gorman. For  most of the film we are left to decide for ourselves if Julia is panicking unnecessarily or if she has a legitimate concern when she thinks “the Watcher” is following her in a supermarket or when she encounters him, perhaps by accident, on the subway. After all, he lives in the neighborhood; does that make him a bad guy or a misunderstood social isolate who lives with his elderly father?

Maika Monroe in “Watcher” at SXSW.

Another character in the film is Madalina Anea as Irina, the next-door neighbor. Irina is a pole dancer in the area, which makes you wonder about the wisdom of selecting this particular part of the city as your new neighborhood. I could relate to the “watching” out the window at all hours. When on a trip to Europe with a girlfriend, we unwisely spent one night near the train station in Frankfurt, which, as it turned out, was the Red Light district. We watched “the girls” going off to work beginning at 4 p.m. and coming back in the wee hours of the morning. We were too afraid to leave our seedy hotel to even venture out for food. When we tried to take a picture of one of the working girls on the street, she was definitely unhappy with us and gave us short shrift in guttural German. Not a good idea to be a woman, alone, in that part of the city. Julia’s entire neighborhood seems unsafe and the gloomy, rainy weather that often sets in simply adds to the vibe.

Julia’s mate, Francis, (in addition to having a name that hasn’t been popular in the U.S. for men since about 1902), can be an insensitive clod at times. He makes a tasteless joke about “the Spider” keeping his terror-struck wife company because his own work schedule is so crowded and keeping him so busy at a social gathering with his boss and their wives. Julia has learned just enough Romanian by now to understand the joke, and she is not amused.  Francis tells his frightened wife, at one point, “So I should just jump to the craziest conclusion, like you?” She is not amused by his growing indifference and lack of belief in her accounts of their neighbor’s voyeuristic stalking.

Imagine if the boy who cried wolf in that well-known story was then attacked by wolves. What would happen? Would he survive? Would he simply be ignored regarding the wolves until wolves appeared and it was too late to help him?

This film from an Abu Dhabi backer, Image films, answers that question in this indie film written by director Chloe Okuno in collaboration with Zack Ford and directed by Okuno. The movie premieres in theaters on June 3, 2022. This is one film at SXSW that did not also stream. It was a good entry  in the horror/thriller genre.

 

Actor Owen Teague Appears in “The Cow” & “To Leslie” at SXSW 2022

I’m (still) here at SXSW in Austin, Texas, covering feature films, television episodics and documentaries, with a few shorts thrown in.

See the source image

Owen Teague

The common denominator linking “To Leslie” with “The Cow” is the presence of Owen Teague in the role of “young son.” (above) Teague is far from the best-known name in the one hour and 59 minute film “To Leslie.” Michael Morris directed. It’s worth mentioning that Morris was the executive producer of the 2016 series “Bloodlines,” in which Owen Teague appeared as Young Danny.

The film is based on the real-life story of a West Texas single mom who won the lottery and lost it all to her addiction to alcohol. Oscar winner Allison Janney (“I, Tonya!”), Stephen Root (the stapler guy in “Office Space”), and Marc Maron (“G.L.O.W.”), who also executive produced, have  leads. Royal is portrayed by Andre Royo (“The Wire”), also a fine character actor on stage and screen and  a writer.

The film stars Andrea Riseborough, a British actress who has been hailed by the Sunday “Times” as one of Britain’s rising young stars, along with such other luminaries as Hugh Dancy and Eddie Redmayne. She graduated from the London Academy of Royal Arts (RADA) in 2005, but her West Texas accent is completely convincing. The script is courtesy of screenwriter Ryan Binaco; the Cinematographer is Larkin Seiple.

Andrea Riseborough in “To Leslie” at SXSW.

The opening scenes of “To Leslie” show a jubilant young mother celebrating winning $190,000 in the lottery and declaring that drinks are on her. Six years later, she’s broke and the drinks have definitely been plentiful during those years (and mostly in her).

We learn that the young mother of the opening scene abandoned her son (Owen Teague as James) and his step-mother (Allison Janney) was forced, along with Dutch (Stephen Root) to raise him, by default. To say that Allison Janney’s character is angry and resentful is probably an understatement. Andrea’s portrayal of a woman who has gotten by on looks and charm but is now past those halcyon days of her youth is intense and convincing. I was reminded of Blanche in “A Streetcar Named Desire” who opines, “I have always depended on the kindness of others” as Leslie’s femme fatale vibe begins to wither on her  increasingly mature vine.

The film depicts Leslie hitting rock bottom and trying to claw her way back to at least the middle. She is extended a life-line on that bootstrap journey by Marc Maron’s character of Sweeney, the manager of a seedy motel on the edge of town. Sweeney is running it for Andre Royo’s character of Royal. Royal was left the motel by his family but, because he took too much acid in his younger days, it has left him with mental impairments that make Marc Maron’s participation in running the place essential.

As Leslie gradually swears off booze and gets sober, she and Marc Maron’s character and Royal assist her in renovating an ice cream parlor on the edge of town. The happy ending involves, once again, son James (Owen Teague), to whom Leslie turns when things are at their bleakest. James turns up at the end for a happy ending. All’s well that ends well with this female film equivalent of “Leaving Las Vegas.”

The acting was very good, but the true story has been told many times previously. (Even “A Star Is Born” touches on the old familiar story of alcoholism.)

I did enjoy watching Andre Royo strip nearly naked and race around amongst the cactus and sand of a west Texas prairie, as we are told in the script he is prone to do. Marc Maron’s offer of a job cleaning motel rooms and washing the laundry makes you wonder if he has romantic designs on Leslie and, yes, that seems to be the case as the film winds down.

 

“The Cow”

Owen Teague Heads to SXSW With a Quiet Drama and Twisty Horror

Owen Teague attended the World Premiere of “The Cow” at SXSW.

The second film where Owen Teague has a major recurring role is “The Cow,” directed by Eli Horowitz. This is Eli Horowitz’s first feature film directing job, although he is the co-creator of “Homecoming,” (both the podcast and the television series.)   (I couldn’t help but wonder if Eli is related to its star, Winona Ryder, since Winona’s real last name is Horowitz). Co-writer for the screenplay is Matthew Derby.

Eli Horowitz, writer/director of “The Cow” at SXSW, 2022.

Whether related or not, Winona Ryder is the star of this horror/sci-fi/thriller and Ryder is great in her part.  Dermot Mulroney (“My Best Friend’s Wedding”), whom I met in Chicago when he appeared as Steve Huberbrecht in “August, Osage County” (2013), is the male lead. John Gallagher, Jr, who plays Kath’s (Winona Ryder’s) former student is recognizable to audiences from his role as Jim Harper in “The News Room” (2012-2014) and his role in “10 Cloverfield Lane” as Emmett (2016).

The tag line for the plot reads: “Upon arriving at a remote cabin in the redwoods, Kath (Winona Ryder) and her younger boyfriend (John Gallagher, Jr.) find a mysterious younger couple already there (Owen Teague and Briane Tju) — the rental has apparently been double-booked. With nowhere else to go, they decide to share the cabin with these strangers until the next morning. When her boyfriend disappears with the young woman overnight, Kath becomes obsessed with finding an explanation for their sudden breakup— but the truth is far stranger than she could have imagined.”

Aging and the inevitability of all of us deteriorating and falling apart seems to be a big theme of this interesting and intriguing film. We all want to avoid falling into ill health or, for that matter, getting old at all.  Dermot Mulroney’s character of Nicholas Levi Barlow, who is the renter of the cabin in the woods, has just witnessed his father fall ill and die from a rare degenerative inherited blood disease.

Winona Ryder in “The Cow” at SXSW, 2022.

As someone who sat through “Cow” at the Chicago International Film Festival let me just clear up any confusion that this film named “The Cow” has anything at all to do with cows. It does not. While we followed the plight of a cow, from birth to death, in the film “Cow”, with no dialogue, here we have plenty of surprises and turns and unexpected plot twists that may not be too scientifically viable, but what-the-hell: it’s just a movie.

The best I can offer by way of explaining the title is a line from Greta (Briane Tju’s character), a reference to “Maxie, the blood cow.” If you have a burning desire to determine how that title fits the plot, just as we pondered “The Power of the Dog” as a fitting title, then you’ll simply have to see the film, which, if you’re a sci-fi or horror buff, will be a better investment of your time then watching yet another derivative rehash. (I missed the World Premiere of “The Man Who Fell to Earth” here, which looked very promising, but I was reviewing when David Bowie so brilliantly filled the bill for that part back in 1976.)

The cinematography is by David Bolen and the music is from David Baldwin.

I liked this film and am only sorry that I missed the Red Carpet to get pictures of young Owen and co-star Briane Tju; Getty images wanted $499 to use one that was taken at the World Premiere (identical to the many I’ve shot over the years.)

Katie Couric’s “Going There” Autobiography Entertains

 

Katie Couric autobiography.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!

“The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer” is 99 Cents on Dec. 2, 3 and 4

The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer

I checked out the special for my favorite XmasCats.com book and it is 99 cents in e-book this coming weekend, for three days only. I have to admit that this one, in hard cover (which is a limited edition and only available in hard cover by contacting me) is my favorite. I had it done by a small Indiana press and the illustrations and color are superb.

The NEXT book (#5), “The Christmas Cats Care for the Bear” may be the most timely, as it is an anti-bullying tome, but I really love “The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer,” which is a true story about the deer in Scott County Park and rescuing them, flying them to the North Pole, and making it possible for them to fly with Santa.

The sixth (and final) book will be the final FREE offering in a couple weeks, but this coming Thursday, Friday and Saturday (Dec. 2, 3 and 4) pick up a 99 cent copy of “The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer.” And the following week, check out “The Christmas Cats Care for the Bear.”

Last FREE book will be “The Christmas Cats Flee the Bee,” and I’ll have more to say about that as that weekend gets closer.

Hellfire & Damnation: The Perfect Halloween Collection

Click to buy the e-book at Amazon.

There are three books in the “Hellfire & Damnation” series, all short stories that illustrate the 9 Circle of Hell in Dante’s “Inferno” and give examples of each.

As New York Times best-selling author Jon Land said of the books: “Hellfire & Damnation‘ is a remarkable collection of somber, noirish, flat-out scary and altogether satisfying stories that seek to find hope in a dark world that defies it. Her subtle irony and penchant for finding terror in the least expected places will generate comparisons to Stephen King and Ray Bradbury, with just a hint of Philip K. Dick thrown in. But don’t be fooled: Wilson has a wondrous voice in her own right, and her tight, twisty tales establish her as a force to be reckoned with.”

Hellfire & Damnation 2 Cover

Click to buy the paperback and  e-book at Amazon.

Click on the link to purchase the 15 stories in “Hellfire & Damnation,” Volume I, or move on to the creepy blue cover of Volume II, with an additional eleven stories, a forward by Jason V Brock, and an informative “From the Author” appendix that tells about the inspiration for each story in that volume. Volume III will provide an additional 10 stories to bring you nearly forty stories that will haunt you right up until Halloween and beyond.

As two former Bram Stoker winners and icons in the genre said: “‘Hellfire & Damnation‘ is an impressive collection, a series of remarkable tales—some based on true stories—organized around a brilliant and unifying theme that echoes Dante’s Inferno. Wilson’s harrowing work will stay with you long after you finish the final page.”

Click to buy the paperback and e-book at Amazon.

And, as William F. Nolan, a Living Legend in Horror and author of “Logan’s Run” said: “Let me start right off by saying that Connie Wilson presents what I call ‘matter-of-fact’ horror…Frankly, and I consider myself well read in the shock genre, I have never encountered a style such as she displays here, in story after story. She writes solid declarative sentences rife with dark undertones…Connie Wilson’s dark talent is unique, and readers will stagger away from her icy tales stunned and groggy. I have a final word for it: WOW!

And, echoing the more famous writers (above), reviewer Adam Groves of www.Fright.com said, “In horror fiction, as in most any other sort, true originality is an increasingly rare commodity. But it does exist, as proven by ‘Hellfire & Damnation,’ an anthology that is genuinely, blazingly original.

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