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.

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.

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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.

“The Night House:” Great Psychological Thriller from Director David Bruckner

“The Night House,” a 2020 break-out success at Sundance that Searchlight Pictures bought for $12 million, is playing now at 2,150 theaters for a 45-day run, which is almost over. So far, it has garnered about $8 million worldwide. The studio showed its faith in the film by not releasing it to streaming first and Director David Bruckner admitted in an interview that it could have been a studio film but wasn’t. He’s glad it wasn’t overly supervised by a studio, but became the independent movie success it is. “The Night House” has given me a new name to add to my list of “favorite directors.”

David Bruckner, the 44-year-old director of “The Ritual” and the accident sequence of the “Southbound” film anthology, filmed this completely frightening psychological horror thriller in 24 days in Utica, New York. I realized that I had seen “The Ritual” when I went back to try to find any previous films by Bruckner.

The film starts with a shot of a small rowboat bobbing dockside outside a modernistic lake house. The woman going up the steps of the house-under-construction has obviously just lost a family member, as her female companion is telling her to call her any time in Detroit, if she feels the need. Rebecca Hall (who also executive produced) as Beth Parchin is a no-nonsense teacher. After her friend leaves, she immediately dumps the hot dish (lasagna?) that her well-meaning friend has given her and breaks out the booze.

The film then picks up the story of life after loss, because Beth’s husband, Owen, got in the rowboat, rowed out into the lake outside the modernistic house he is building, and shot himself in the head. It is ironic that it was always Beth, the wife, who was the depressive one with dark dreams, not Owen, because Owen is the one who has succumbed. Why?

We see Beth trying to cope at work during a meeting with a parent who seems to want to complain about her son’s grade. In an interview, Rebecca Hall says it was this scene that sold her on the script, as Beth shows all the earmarks of a woman who is struggling to hold it all together while under terrific stress. All of the acting Ms. Hall does is convincing, but the directorial decisions that Director David Bruckner has made in order to scare us all are brilliant.

In an interview of his own, Bruckner described how the script for “The Night House” had been “laying around for a couple of years” when he was contacted and, he said, “Here’s this crazy movie that nobody will make. Rebecca Hall read it and understood it and we were off.” Noting that he is the kind of director who works fast and decides in a split second (“I’m definitely a filmmaker who likes to lean into a space.”), Bruckner says, “You really have to go with your gut.”

Lead Rebecca Hall, who is onscreen in nearly every scene and has some difficult situations she creates that involve working opposite a mysterious spirit that isn’t really there, said, of Bruckner, “I loved working with David and think he’s brilliant and well on his way to owning the genre.” The “genre” is horror, and Bruckner has been tapped to re-create “Hellraiser.” He said, to “Shockya” magazine that “It’s a dream come true to a horror person like myself.”

The script for “The Night House” was written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski.  The psychology of the script intrigued both Bruckner and Hall. It asks a question about whether we can ever really “know” the people closest to us. We spend a large part of the film feeling sorry for the recently widowed Beth and thinking that her husband, Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) is a good guy. Or was he? He may have been a good guy in the same way that Ted Bundy seemed like a good guy to his live-in girlfriend at the time .

Bruckner called the film “a complex drama” and a character piece. Mirror logic is a recurring motif in the film. The expert use of sound to create terror is handled beautifully. The film was one of the most original approaches to a horror film in some time.

I asked my husband what part or parts scared him the most in the movie. He singled out the spot when a stereo goes off in the dead of night, seemingly for no reason, at maximum volume. For me, it was the sight of several young girls running to a cliff and jumping off. One of the ghost-like figures seems to walk almost through Hall’s character. It happens so quickly that I physically recoiled. But it’s not a gory slasher film, which was welcome, to me.

When Beth’s husband commits suicide, he leaves behind a note that reads: “You were right. There is nothing. Nothing’s after you. You’re safe now.” I immediately wondered if the term “nothing” could be capitalized and represent an evil entity, Nothing. This was long before the film got into the idea of CAERDROIA, which are Welsh turf mazes, or the Louvre doll, which appears to be a metal doll that has had a number of metal rods driven through it in a voodoo “curse” motif. (The original doll is in the Louvre, hence its name).

The premise: if you do things backwards, it will throw off evil spirits. When Beth discovers that her husband was building an exact replica of their new house on the other side of the lake, things take a nasty turn. We suspect that Vondie Curtiss Hall as Mel is somehow involved. Or is he?

SPOILER ALERT

Don’t read further if you don’t want to know some important plot points.

After I realized that the various pictures of women who resembled Beth were simply “stand-ins” for Beth, blameless victims whom Owen dispatched in an attempt to lure the evil spirit away from her by using doppelgangers, I wondered why Beth never mentions so much as one word of bodies buried in the basement of the new “backwards” lake house. There are several scenes after her discovery where Beth could have told someone about her grim discovery, but she says nothing, and we are not given a reason for her silence. Is she trying to protect everyone’s image of Owen as “a good guy?” There is no way of telling. I found this to be one of the biggest flaws in the admittedly out-there script. Why? Why wouldn’t a responsible person like Beth, a teacher, not inform the authorities of such a horrible discovery?

Rebecca Hall admitted that she felt that some of her later scenes in a bathroom (mirrors, again) battling the spirit that is trying to lure her back to the underworld may have been a bit wonky. She was right, but I give her high marks for giving it her all.

The quick cuts where we realize, after the fact, that what we have just seen may have all been a dream were expertly handled. Kudos to the director and the music person (Ben Lovett), the cinematographer (Elisa Christain), and the film editor (David Marks). The production design and set and art directors also did a great job in making the night house feel as though Beth is probably never really quite comfortable in it, as it had a decidedly masculine feel. [I kept recommending grabbing her keys and splitting for any other port in a storm, once the weird sounds began, but it would have been a much shorter film if Beth had never stood her ground and battled her demons.]

As we learn during the set up for the plot, Beth already survived a horrible car crash in her youth and was clinically dead for four minutes. That is the set-up for much of what happens and also serves as a bit of a motive for all that is visited upon her.

It’s not as ambitious as “Us” was with its complex backstory, but there are so many things that go bump in the night in this one to truly frighten that it is a movie I’d recommend to anyone who likes psychological thrillers with original themes and lots of horror that isn’t “Saw”-like in emphasizing violence or gore.

 

“The Color of Evil” Trilogy Will Leave You Wanting More

The New Cover Of the book The Color Of Evil

Click to buy the paperback, e-book, or audiobook at Amazon.

The trilogy “The Color of Evil” traces the actions of a group of high school students in small-town America (Cedar Falls, Iowa).

Jonathan Maberry, “New York Times” best-selling author and multiple Bram Stoker Award winner described it as: “old-school psychological horror, artfully blended with new-school shocks and twists…Bravo!

Click to buy the paperback, e-book, or audiobook at Amazon.

Tad McGreevy has a power that he has never revealed, not even to his life-long best friend Stevie Scranton. When Tad looks at others, he sees colors. These auras tell Tad whether a person is good or evil. At night, Tad dreams about the evil-doers, reliving their crimes in horrifyingly vivid detail.

But Tad doesn’t know if the evil acts he witnesses in his nightmares are happening now are already over, or are going to occur in the future. All Tad knows is that he wants to protect those he loves. And he wants the bad dreams to stop.

This is a terrifying, intense story of the dark people and places that lurk just beneath the suirface of seemingly normal small-town life.

Click to buy the paperback, e-book, or audiobook at Amazon.

William F. Nolan, a Living Legend in Dark Horror, said, “Connie Corcoran Wilson is a born storyteller! Her novel ‘The Color of Evil’ is a real page-turner, and a very good one, indeed! ‘The Color of Evil‘ is total entertainment. Wilson’s got a winner here.” William F. Nolan went on to say, of “Red Is for Rage,” the second book in the trilogy, “Connie Wilson is back–and the return trip will be a joy to her readers. I’ve praised her work in the past and am happy to repeat the performance here and now. She’s good! She’s DAMN good! In a world of mainly bad-to-fair writers, she stands above the crowd with plot, description, and strong characters. Believe me, you’ll enjoy her latest. That’s a guarantee! Go Connie!

M. Night Shymalan’s “Old” Leads the Box Office on July 23rd, 2021 Weekend

Night Shymalan has always investigated original concepts, ideas that are out-of-the-box, even in his iconic 1999 film “The Sixth Sense.” He has had his share of hits or misses, scoring with “Split” in 2016 and less so with “Glass,” television’s “Wayward Pines,” “Signs,” “The Village,” and “Lady in the Water.”

We’ve gotten spoiled by some of Shymalan’s “twist” endings. It’s unfair to hold the writer/director to “Sixth Sense” exacting standards every time out. Shymalan largely funds his own films himself; it looks like a lot of Bollywood talent was employed on “Old,” which was shot in the Dominican Republic.

THE PLOT:

A family is embarking on what may be their last trip as a unit. Parents Guy (Gail Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) have taken their 6-year-old son Trent and their 11-year-old daughter Maddox on vacation.

Mom and Dad are having some difficulties in their personal relationship. Each has a health issue (Gail Garcia Bernal’s health issue is a blood-clotting problem. His wife, Prisca’s, ailment is a tumor.) As the plot progresses we will learn that most of the tourists at the resort have a health issue of one sort or another.

Prisca thinks she wants out of the marriage and has been unfaithful, but she wants to protect their 6 year-old son Trent and their 11-year-old daughter Maddox  from this unhappy personal news and give them one last happy family outing.We get to see three different sets of actors portray the children, gradually aging them as the beach does its thing. It is unclear why Mom and Dad barely age and one of the film’s flaws.

When the family reaches the resort, they are met by Madrid, carrying a tray of drinks. The actress is Francesca Eastwood, the 28-year-old daughter of Clint Eastwood and actress Frances Fisher, offering them a drink based on their preferences. Later. the managing director of the resort suggests that the family can be transported to a hidden secret beach. They board a van (driven by none other than Director Shymalan, who usually appears briefly in his films, a la Hitchcock) and are dropped off at the remote beach with the understanding that they will be picked back up at 5 p.m.

That last bit of housekeeping turns out to be bogus. If they try to leave the beach they pass out from mysterious and painful headaches and wind up unconscious on the beach. One tourist, who attempts to swim out, doesn’t make it. (Famous last words: “Don’t worry. I was on the swim team.”) One who tries to climb the forbidding-looking cliffs that surround the beach falls to her death.

Getting off the beach is a bitch, but if they stay, they are going to die there as they quickly age 2 years an hour. If you’re there 24 hours, you’ll age 48 years. That will quickly kill off the elderly woman (Agnes) with the dog, Dr. Charles’ mother. It also takes its toll on any health concerns, like Prisca’s slow-going tumor that is suddenly catapulted into hyper-drive. Having time telescope so rapidly brings the parents back to their senses and makes them realize what they have in their marriage, but it’s too little, too late.

The premise of a mysterious beach that can cause the body to age 2 years in one hour is intriguing. Especially in the wake of this pandemic year, an event that has not happened for one hundred years and one which has touched so many of us on a deeply personal level, this is something we can relate to.  As we have watched an insidious killer take our friends and loved ones, the theme of mortality and time changing all things dramatically has become poignantly relevant to one in three Americans who have lost close friends or loved ones. The idea of time flying by and robbing us of our looks, our health, and, ultimately, our very lives, is something that any human being can relate to even in normal times—but even more so in a plague year.

THE GOOD

The premise is interesting and worthwhile. It has been adapted from the graphic novel “Sandcastle” by Pierre Oscar-Levy/Frederick Peeters. The dialogue in the adaptation for the screen by Shymalan does not really flow well. There is a lot of information introduced by having the young son of parents Prisca (Vicky Krieps of “The Phantom Thread”) and Guy (Gabriel Barcia Bernal of “Mozart in the Jungle”)  ask everyone who they are and what they do. This technique does not yield the smoothest flow of information or dialogue. It’s even klutzier than a voice-over would have been.

SPOILERS

One of the problems with the film is the pace of the plot. It moves too quickly over momentous events with no time to build up any interest in whatever character has just bitten the dust.  There are dead bodies turning up floating in the water, attacks by a paranoid schizophrenic tourist on the beach, and the group doesn’t wait around to act. Example: letting the doctor on the beach operate with a pocket knife roughly five minutes after a tumor’s acceleration in size causes Prisca to pass out. That  seemed a tad speedy. There was talk of whether the group had any alcohol to use as an antiseptic. If the answer was yes, we never saw the antiseptic materialize before Dr. Charles (Rufus Sewell, who played the Fuhrer John Smith in “The Man in Castle the High Castle”) was plunging what looked like an old pocketknife into Prisca’s mid-section.

Another ridiculous plot point has one family’s young daughter mature from six to adolescence, become pregnant by Guy’s son (who has also accelerated from the age of six) without even a compulsory sex scene, and—voila!—she delivers a baby on the beach, all in record time.

I turned to my husband and said, “You wouldn’t want to doze off on this beach with this group around. They’d be throwing dirt in your face in your grave before you nodded off.”

THE BAD:

The inclusion of an instantaneous pregnancy and childbirth and the impromptu operation-on-the-tumor did not enhance the film or buttress its believability. Far from it. Both could well have been omitted, as could some of the many tourists.

For instance, the big Black character, a rapper known as Mid-sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre), never really was necessary, other than to be the object of a random attack by Rufus Sewell playing Charles, the dotty doctor.

I just watched Rufus Sewell portray Nazi Fuhrer John Smith in the final season of “The Man in the High Castle.” Watching him randomly puncture people with sharp objects was quite the change of pace. (We later learn in the film that, while he is a cardiac thoracic surgeon, he is suffering from mental health issues).Charles has a much-younger hot wife (Abbey Lee of “Mad Max Fury Road” and “Lovecraft Country”) and Chrystal displays her toned bikini body alongside Charles’ elderly mother, Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant), before Agnes shuffles off this mortal coil.  Chrystal’s demise in a cave was like something out of a third-rate horror movie. Chrystal didn’t really offer much to the film other than her beach body.

CINEMATOGRAPHY:

While there were some crafty shots that concealed the reaction of the parents to their children’s sudden aging until the final moment, there were so many blurry unframed shots from Cinematographer Michael Gioulakis that I thought the cliffs were making me dizzy, too. One critic praised the blurry focus. I was not a fan. The cinematography and music were unremarkable, but the beach—which gave the director fits—was spectacular.

MUSIC:

There is a song called “Remain,”  composed by Saleka Night Shymalan, that was tuneless and forgettable.

VERDICT:

Overall, I was not impressed with the film as a whole, but I always find M. Night Shymalan’s hits or misses interesting and original.

William F. Nolan: A Living Legend in Dark Fantasy Leaves Us

William F. Nolan & Connie Wilson.

Incredibly sad to learn of the death of William F. Nolan, co-writer of “Logan’s Run” and so much more.

I first met Bill when interviewing him some twenty years ago or so. He became a mentor and wrote many blurbs for my books, telling me I had real talent. In his later years, Bill would hold forth online and friend and fellow writer Jason V Brock and wife Sunni looked out for Bill in his old age in Vancouver, Washington.

This picture was taken in Austin, Texas, at a long-ago Horror Writers’ Conference and Bill was in fine form and on panels. His short stories were the best and his optimistic attitude towards a writer just attempting to write “long” (after years of writing “short”) was much appreciated.

Here’s what Bill wrote for the back of my second book, “Red Is for Rage:” “Connie Wilson is back and the return trip will be a joy to her readers.  I’ve praised her work in the past and am happy to repeat the performance here and now.  She’s good. She’s DAMN good! In a world of mainly bad-to-fair writers, she stands above the crowd with plot, description and strong characters. Believe me, you’ll enjoy her latest! That’s a guarantee! Go, Connie!”

How could you not love a blurb like that from the author of “Logan’s Run,” “Logan’s World,” “Nightworlds” and a living legend in dark fantasy? Bill had literally hundreds of works, including “Twilight Zone” episodes and worked with the author’s group that included Ray Bradbury among their numbers and arose in southern California in the fifties. He was residing in Vancouver, Washington, at the end of his life and died from the complications of an infection. He was 93.

I won’t be able to send him flowers (or a cookie bouquet) on his birthday this year, as I had in previous years. I am so sad to learn that he has shuffled off this mortal coil. He joins my boss at Performance Learning Systems, Inc. (Joe Hasenstab) and my first serious boyfriend (LaVerne Wilkinson) as important people in my life who have died in the very recent past.

As Wikipedia put it: Among his many accolades, Nolan was nominated once for the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America.[1] He was voted a Living Legend in Dark Fantasy by the International Horror Guild in 2002, and in 2006 was bestowed the honorary title of Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. In 2010, he received the Lifetime Achievement Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association (HWA). In 2013 he was a recipient, along with Brian W. Aldiss, of the World Fantasy Convention Award in Brighton, England by the World Fantasy Convention. In May 2014, Nolan was presented with another Bram Stoker Award, for Superior Achievement in Nonfiction; this was for his collection about his late friend Ray Bradbury, called Nolan on Bradbury: Sixty Years of Writing about the Master of Science Fiction.[5] In 2015, Nolan was named a World Horror Society Grand Master; the award was presented at the World Horror Convention in Atlanta, GA in May of that year.[

BornWilliam Francis Nolan
March 6, 1928
Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.
DiedJuly 15, 2021 (aged 93)
Vancouver, Washington, U.S.
OccupationWriter, Artist, Actor
GenreScience fiction, Magical Realism, Fantasy, Literary, Western, and Horror
Notable worksLogan’s RunTrilogy of TerrorBurnt Offerings (film)Helltracks
Notable awardsMWA Edgar Allan Poe Award Nominee (1x); IHG Living Legend in Dark Fantasy Winner, 2002; SFWA Author Emeritus, 2006; HWA Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, 2010; World Fantasy Convention Award, 2013; World Horror Society Grand Master, 2015
Years active1952–2021

“Symptoms of Withdrawal” by Christopher Kennedy Lawford Offers Insight

I just finished reading Christopher Kennedy Lawford’s memoir (2005) “Symptoms of Withdrawal.”

Yes, it was published in 2005, so I’m a bit behind on this one. Something reminded me of the Las Vegas trip when I won at roulette with one (1) bet on one number and went upstairs to watch young Lawford be interviewed about a book, which I think was this book. It was a long time ago and that would make it 16 years ago. I remember that the Japanese gamblers gathered around the roulette wheel when I placed exactly one $50 bet on one color and number clapped when I took the money and ran. I had had a spirited discussion with my spouse about the wisdom of betting on roulette at all, but I had just won $50 at the poker bar, so I figured I was playing with the house’s money. I wanted to make it upstairs to hear this interview.

The interview was worth it. The adult son of actor Peter Lawford and one of the fabled Kennedy clan (JFK’s sister Patricia is his mother) would have been 50 years old when this book was published in 2005. He shared that his father was the last person to talk to Marilyn Monroe on the phone the night she died, when Marilyn called him. He talked about his much-discussed 17-year addiction to drugs of all kinds, which ultimately led him to quit all of them and become a speaker and writer on the topic.

Christopher Kennedy Lawford was a handsome guy. He looked like a real charmer, and I’m sure he was. By the time he died of a heart attack (brought on, some say, by a hot yoga class) in 2018 at the age of 63 he had gone through 3 wives and was with a new girlfriend in Canada.

I found his book very interesting and I was a sympathetic reader up until Chapter 39. What happened in Chapter 39, you may ask?

The younger Lawford writes, “I left my marriage in sobriety because I was being dishonest and after seventeen years wasn’t sure I wanted to be married anymore.” Young Christopher went on to say, “To tell lies to others is foolish; to tell lies to yourself is a disaster.” He added, “I have always had a certain ambivalence about marriage…Something about that life didn’t feel right to me. It wasn’t Jeannie (his wife) or my kids. It was me.” Interestingly enough, Wife #2 (Lana) uses the quote about telling lies to yourself in her IMDB biography.

In the next paragraph Christopher adds, “Many of the people in my life, including my kids, thought I was crazy to break up my marriage and got very angry with me. At the time, it was something I felt like I had to do. I could not lie anymore to others or myself. I thought we would all acclimate to the change and go on in the new circumstances. I seriously underestimated the pain my leaving caused and how difficult it would be for Jeannie and my kids to adjust.”

He adds, “I had made quite a show of trying to destroy myself, and now, after years of reconstruction, I was left with the knowledge that if you took away my sobriety, the only thing that I knew how to do was take advantage of the circumstances I was born into. I believed I needed to leave home to find out who I was.”

Christopher Kennedy Lawford’s therapist at the time said to him, “What about your children?”

By this point, he had three—2 sons (David and Matthew) and a daughter (Savannah Rose).

The therapist correctly added, “It is vital that you do not recreate unconsciously  what was done to you by your father.” If you had read the book, you’d know that the divorce of Pat Kennedy Lawford and Peter Lawford meant that young Christopher—their only son—-really had no father and depended a great deal on the “fathering” of relatives like Robert Kennedy, until RFK’s assassination, and, after that, on Teddy Kennedy.

The therapist then added something that sounds like malpractice, really: “You can recreate it consciously.  You can choose to turn away from your family, or not. It’s your life, but you must make a conscious choice.”

Christopher Kennedy Lawford then writes, “I think it was at that moment that I understood how to take responsibility for my own life.”

Wellllll.

By this point in time we have learned that the good-looking quasi-Kennedy had always been a big hit with the ladies and was a real “pleaser.” However, all that pleasing did not extend to following the rules when it came to illegal substances and he paints a pretty vivid picture of someone who hit rock bottom more than once before getting sober. He had dabbled in the worlds of both of his parents, taking acting roles on both television and in the movies, and he had wangled some time as a driver to his Uncle Teddy, among other youthful forays into politics.

What it appears happened here is that the always-reluctant-to-grow-up Christopher—having fathered 3 children and spent 17 years as an addict—finally kicked his bad habits and then decided that he could substitute his appeal to the ladies for some of his other weaknesses. In rather short order, he threw over a close-to-20 year marriage and took up with a beautiful young Russian actress named Lana Antonova. [There went the marriage to Jeannie Olsson, which lasted from 1984 until 2000.]

Lana and Chris were married for 4 years and divorced in 2009. She is a Russian-born actress and, since she was born in 1979, she was 24 years younger than her husband.

Enter Mercedes Miller in 2014. That marriage would only last 2 years before the couple divorced in 2016. His last wife, Mercedes was a yoga instructor and Kennedy, who was worth $50 million when he died, was in Vancouver, Canada when his heart gave out. He already had a new girlfriend and was working to establish an addiction treatment center when he died at age 63, just 2 years later than his actor father, Peter.

Christopher Kennedy Lawford lost his Uncle Jack when he was 8. (He turned down an invitation to fly to JFK’s funeral to stay home and host a sleep-over with a friend.) Uncle Bobby was shot and killed when Chris was 13 and he lost his best friend David Kennedy (after whom his own son is named) at the tender age of 28.

He earned a law degree from Boston College Law School, but really didn’t care for the law and never passed the bar. He studied counseling at Harvard University and lectured on addiction at Harvard, Columbia University and other college campuses. He spoke out on recovery issues for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Barack Obama and for the Caron Foundation, a nationwide drug and alcohol rehabilitation network.

This book by Christopher Kennedy Lawford, “Symptoms of Withdrawal,” is the only one of his many books I’ve read. It contained many family photos of the young Lawford with his Kennedy relatives.

I was sympathetic to his tales of how much he missed his father, growing up, and how that turned him to drugs and alcohol, until he turned around and did, to his own kids, exactly what his own father had done to him, breaking up the home he had shared with their mother for nearly 20 years.

It also appears that the young Lawford then snagged himself a “trophy wife” and, later, a third younger woman, whom he also dumped in 2016 (he died in 2018). He speaks at length of how he hopes to be a good father (unlike his own dad) to his three kids, and I hope he achieved that, at least, because he does not seem to have mastered the “good husband” part.

“We can re-create the days when Frank, Dean, Sammy and my dad were together,” Christopher told the Boston Globe in 2005. “But they all ended up dysfunctional, messed-up guys. And they once had everything. Money. Good looks. Success. Yet at the end, they were miserable, miserable men alone, angry, drinking. So what’s that all about?”

What’s that all about, indeed.

 

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