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!

Category: Health/Medicine Page 2 of 5

If someone discovers a new cure for cancer, this would be worth mentioning, and you can anticipate those kinds of stories.

May 10th Is Pre-Radiation Simulation: Show Gets On the Road Tomorrow

 

The husband and me at my nephew’s June wedding in St. Louis in 2021.

I had a “simulation,” today for radiation that REALLY starts tomorrow—one of two. First simulation involved the much-hated and feared “tube.” The second one (today) was simply to familiarize me with the whirring machines that will be delivering beams of radiation to my attractively decorated right side (which is festively marked up with magic marker at key points to guide the beam’s rays and decals.)

You lie on a narrow table, gazing at the ceiling, which has fake stars twinkling through a black background. A large round metal part of the machine is directly above you.

One can hear Prince singing “Let’s Party Like It’s 1999” in the background, followed by Huey Lewis and the News (“It’s Hip to Be Square”). (Makes you hope the machines are not as old as the music.)

I am warned that the machines that will come whizzing by my head may seem like they are going to hit me in the face, but—not to worry—that won’t happen. (I close my eyes after that warning.) The attendants leave the room, because, well, it’s radiation.
Noises besides music include a sound that resembles a vacuum cleaner, but it’s not the loud pots-and-pan clanking of an MRI machine. The sounds of medical machines doing their thing. They “do their thing” for 15 minutes, after which I am free to go, to start “for real” tomorrow (5/12/2022) with creams and side effects and God Knows What Else.

After hearing the words of wisdom of the Iowa City physician (Dr. Vikas) on Friday, May 6th, I decided that I would like to speak, again, with Dr. Goswami, the President of all radiologists in the Quad Cities, who was on duty at the Genesis Hospital in Davenport (East Rusholme Street; formerly known as St. Luke’s) back in December when this all started. St. Luke’s is now either Genesis East or Genesis West. (Even some who work there seem confused as to whether it is East or West.)

If Dr. Hartmann had not taken off and disappeared without a word to the anxious, not to return to his office until January 25, I might have had all this done at Genesis. But, since nobody would tell me if Dr. Hartmann had Covid or was simply on vacation, and I was eager to “get this show on the road,” I ended up with a much-closer hospital (10 minutes away): Trinity and Unity Point and Dr. McKenzie, whom I had actually met once before in 2018.)

Why did I drive all the way to Davenport for a repeat mammogram?Primarily because they were the only facility that would do a mammogram in the afternoon.

I really liked Dr. Goswami, whose positive words of encouragement (“You did everything right. You’re going to be fine.”) have kept me going for 6 months. You could tell that she was good at her job.

She is a graduate of my alma mater (U. of Iowa), board certified, and did her residency in Wisconsin. She did not pussy-foot around but told me immediately (on Pearl Harbor Day, 2021) that this was going to be bad, even before the lab results came back on Saturday, December 10th. She also pointed out that the small size of the tumor was in my favor and would mean that chemo would not be necessary to shrink the size of the tumor before its removal; nor would chemo probably be indicated afterwards.

In other words, she did not sugarcoat the truth, but prepared me for what has come since. This was in direct contrast to the technician who performed the echocardiogram, who was very close-to-the-vest and mysterious about the outcome of that test to verify that my heart was good enough for surgery. He insisted that only a physician could read the chart and tell me. So, how long did it take a physician (no doubt a heart expert) to read the chart and contact me? FORTY-ONE DAYS. Yup. I did not find out that my heart was “sound” for 6 weeks.
That’s right, one day shy of 6 weeks from when I had the echocardiogram on 11/29/2021 until someone could be bothered to let me know that I had NOT “had a silent heart attack” and was, instead, doing fine, with “the heart of a 30-year-old.” (My response: “I’ll bet he wants it back.”) And, yes, I called 3 times a day, trying to find out.

Plus, I was not told the exact location of the tumor until 10 minutes before being wheeled into surgery, when they were inserting a three-foot long wire into my side to “guide the surgeon.” I had asked. And asked. And asked. Each physician would pass the buck to the next, saying, “You need to ask the surgeon about that.” Or, “You need to ask the radiologist about that.”

When we showed up for an 11 a.m. pre-operative consult with the surgeon (my husband with me) we DID “ask the surgeon about that,” he did not join us until 15 minutes to 2 p.m. We sat in a small, frigid examining room waiting for 2 hours. (Fortunately, we had reading material, but I was so cold in the lightweight cotton hospital gown that I ended up putting my coat back on.)

I asked that the surgeons put the mammogram slide that showed the location of the new tumor up on his computer screen, for my husband and me to see. The doctor only had an old biopsy from 2018, which he did put up on the screen. I spent the entire time leading up to surgery (12/6 to 1/27) trying in vain to find out if the “new” tumor was anywhere near the “old” tumor, because the stereotactic biopsy location of the ”old” biopsy site was in a very bad place. It was inconveniently located and took what seemed like forever—at least 2 months— to heal up. The attendant that day (Jane)—who had not warned me that I might be subjected to a biopsy—denied me a second half-moon sized ice pack, when I requested one, and told me, “You can make one yourself.” She also insisted—despite the negative report from Dr. Croemer and the lab that the biopsy was normal—that I would have to meet with an oncologist or my insurance would not pay for the biopsy. (I sowed up with a 3-page letter about the entire procedure.)

Post simulation, I drove over to what used to be called Illini Hospital and went into their Cancer Center in search of Dr. Goswami, because, online, it said that she worked out of Illini. The two receptionists at the desk of the Cancer Center had never heard of her. One said I should go down the hall to the radiology department and offered to lead me there. We walked there together, and commiserated about how, in today’s medical world, insurance companies seem to try, increasingly, to find ways to dis-allow treatment for deserving patients. One day, said my companion, it will come down to only the wealthy can get care. I did not disagree. I added, “Right. And there will be an age cut-off.” Which there actually has been for some time. (I remember when a good friend’s Mom could not get a stem cell transplant because she was over 50; now it is 70.)

I’ve been told to apply udder cream to the radiated area three times a day, but not within 4 hours of a radiation appointment. I’ve been told to check the first 5 ingredients on the Aloe I ordered from Amazon to make sure that alcohol—which is drying—is not among those first five ingredients. I’ve been told to report at 12:45 tomorrow and the rest of this week, with appointments from then on scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

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.

Texas to Illinois: 1,000 Miles in 4 Days (and You Are There)

We begin our journey from Texas to Illinois tomorrow.

We returned from Mexico (Cancun) on April 23rd and now we are battening the hatches in our Manchaca residence until the Family Fest, which usually coincides with the Fourth of July, which is only a couple of months away. (Plus, we come down earlier to help get ready for it.)

I have scheduled myself into the breast cancer center of the University of Iowa on May 6th to tell them what has happened to me, so far, since a diagnosis of breast cancer on Pearl Harbor Day. After 2 EKGs, one chest X-ray, one MRI, one echocardiogram, one radioactive injection for a sentinel lymph node biopsy, a lumpectomy, 124 Cephalexan pills for a “seroma” (rhymes with “aroma” but not nearly as fun: an infection, post surgery) and time to heal up, I now face radiation for 33 days. I will have a CAT scan (and a bone density scan) on May 2, the day after our return to the Illinois Quad Cities. The actual radiation needs to get started by May 12 so that I can finish up just in time to fly back to Austin for the Fourth of July, with tickets purchased for June 30th. (I hope I’m not as tired as I was after one week with 17 relatives in Mexico!)

But enough boring health stuff. I do want to alert folks that I’m going to be participating, in one way or another, in a lot of film festivals, with reviews to appear here:

1) The Chicago International Film Festival, which I have covered for over 20 years. It ends on Oct. 23rd and I’ll be there for the duration.

Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, screenwriters of “A Quiet Place,” the morning after the film opened SXSW in 2018 with Connie at Starbucks.

2)  The Austin Film Festival that commences on Aug. 27th. This is a “writers festival” and writers from television and movies are invited to tell “how to do it.” Last year, (Scott) Beck and (Bryan) Woods from the Quad Cities were invited to appear, based on their screenwriting for “A Quiet Place.” I wanted to participate then, but the dates overlapped with Chicago, so I couldn’t. This year, I can do both, if I get on a plane after Chicago ends.

3) The Denver International Film Festival, which is in early November.

4)  Sun Dance Film Festival in Idaho, via video.

And, as usual, I’m planning on covering SXSW in Austin in March, as I have done for the past several years.

Now, for your viewing pleasure, here are some photos of  Cancun, Mexico, which  I shot with my

brand new IPhone 13. Enjoy!

Nicoletta Italian restaurant.

The Royal Islander

“Roe v. Wade”— Film That Premiered at CPAC— Is Boring Biased Hit Job

“Roe v. Wade” follows Dr Bernard Nathanson (Nick Loeb), the narrator of the 1984 anti-abortion film The Silent Scream, from his first interaction with abortion in 1949 – when his girlfriend at the time terminated her pregnancy – to his change to a virulent anti-abortion stance in 1985.”By film’s end, Nathanson changes sides as dramatically as the real Jane Doe (Norma McCorvey) did. While on the subject, try to find the 2020 documentary “AKA Jane Doe,” helmed by Nick Sweeney, because it is one thousand times better than this release. That film involves a death-bed interview with the real woman at the center of “Roe v. Wade,” Norma McCorvey.“AKA Jane Doe,” the 2020 documentary, is more authentic and much more entertaining.

It’s hard to know where to start in critiquing this slow-moving, poorly paced polemic.

The 2020 “Roe v. Wade” is co-directed by Nick Loeb and Cathy Allyn and the writing credits go to those two and Ken Kushner. There are other films with an ultra-conservative point-of-view, like this one, that smeared Obama and slandered Hillary, written and directed by Dinesh D’Souza. Those films were equally biased, but at least they were well done.  Here, viewers are subjected to 112 minutes of poorly staged treacly, unconvincing monologues, delivered by a motley crew of actors.

Among the veteran actors who signed on for the paycheck are Robert Davi (“Die Hard”) as Justice Brennan, Jamie Kennedy (“Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell”) as Larry Lader, Joey Lawrence (“Blossom”) as Robert Byrn, Corbin Bernsen (“L.A. Law”) as Justice Blackmun, Steve Guttenberg (“Three Men and a Baby”) as Justice Powell, William Forsythe (“Cold Pursuit”) as Justice Stewart and Jon Voight (“Midnight Cowboy”) as Justice Warren Burger.  Former Fox news personality Stacey Dash (“Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens”) appears as Dr. Mildred Jefferson.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the lead, is portrayed by Nick Loeb (Loeb is also the writer/director and producer). It seems to be Loeb’s vanity project for reasons both personal and philosophical. The press kit insists that this version of events is accurate because facts and figures were made up by Roe v. Wade supporters. (Of course, we are to accept that every point-of-view presented here is Gospel, including the general rock-throwing at Planned Parenthood.)

When the wives and daughters of various Supreme Court Justices weigh in at their family dinner tables onscreen as being in favor of abortion rights for women, the inference is that these women are to blame for the court’s ultimate decision. Actually, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll, 77% of Americans favor retaining Roe v. Wade as the law of the land, but most citizens want restrictions (most of which already exist).

Only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortions.  Planned Parenthood provides American women pap smears, pregnancy testing and services, diabetes screening, breast cancer screening, STD testing/treatment and prevention, male infertility screening/treatment and menopause treatment. But never mind those worthwhile services comprising 97% of what Planned Parenthood does for the community. Let’s paint 100% of their services as bad and move on.

The character of Larry Lader (Jamie Kennedy) is  interested in making money from the abortion trade. Lader convinces Dr. Nathanson, who is, at first, very enthusiastic about earning blood money by providing abortions on demand. To show this, the script unwisely has Nathanson (Loeb) and the others in the room sing a song about abortion as follows: “There’s a fortune/In abortion/You never bother/The real father.” Later, when he recants, Loeb has a scene that is far beyond his acting range, which we can call the Norma McCorvey Reversal scene.None of the people in the scene can sing. Not a lick. The scene is excruciatingly bad, but it’s not the worst in the film. There are plenty more to come. Buckle up.

Writer/Director/Producer/Lead Nick Loeb, of “Roe v. Wade.” (Courtesy of “Roe v. Wade”).

Playing the lead in this film would be a stretch in the hands of a good actor, since abortion is a sensitive, controversial, complex topic that deserves a sensitive, competent actor as the lead. Here, Loeb is out of his depth as a thespian. Loeb has said, in  interviews, that he decided to play the part because two of his former girlfriends had undergone the procedure and he now regrets their actions. (He has since become the father of a daughter).

The film does have seasoned, competent professionals who attempt to carry off this anti-abortion hit job, but the writer/director/producer and actor are all Loeb, along with fellow writers Cathy Allyn and Ken Kushner. Loeb’s tuneless off-key serenade was just a small taste of the bumpy road ahead.

There are several long, boring monologues that come off as preachy and embarrassingly bad. [It was really a chore to get through the scene with the actor reading as though he were an unborn fetus.] Robert Daniels (“The Guardian”) called these speeches “mawkish grandiose speeches that ring hollow.” Daniels was being kind. Daniels dubbed the film “An Anti-Abortion Film of Staggering Ineptitude.” He went on to single out Loeb as the worst of the cast, while calling the acting of the others “tacky.”“The Daily Beast” revealed that Loeb and Allyn were initially supposed to be simply producers of the film. They had to assume directing duties when the film’s director and first assistant director bailed.

There were more problems, as Daniels shared  (3/25/2021 review):  “In a 2018 Hollywood Reporter piece, Loeb explained that the crew’s electrician told him “F***  you,” threw her headset on the ground and quit the project. The costumer left, too.” Regarding filming at Louisiana State, “We were told we were rejected due to our content, even though it will be a PG-rated film.” From The Hollywood Reporter: “They refused to put it in writing, but they told us on the phone it was due to content.” Tulane—Loeb’s alma mater— refused to accommodate the crew, as did a New Orleans synagogue.

The script calls feminism “destructive” and invokes Mother Teresa and Susan B. Anthony as pro-life while tearing down Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood. Sanger drew a sharp distinction between birth control and abortion and was opposed to abortion throughout the bulk of her professional career, declining to participate in them as a nurse. Sanger, however, felt that in order for women to have a more equal footing in society they needed to be able to determine when to bear children.

Speaking of “determining when to bear children” and having a pro-choice right to determine what happens with your own body, if female, there has been speculation that Nick Loeb’s desire to make this film stemmed from his failed 4-year relationship with Sophia Vergara (“Modern Family”), which ended in 2014. (A year later, she would marry Joe Manganiello).

Vergara and Loeb, when a couple, froze her fertilized eggs, undergoing IVF together in 2013. In 2017 Vergara filed legal documents to block Loeb from being able to use the embryos without her written consent. Loeb fought for the right to bring the embryos to term via a surrogate. Recently, a California judge has permanently blocked Loeb from using the embryos without Vergara’s  permission. [ The entire dispute embodies, in a microcosm,  the film’s main theory about who should have total reproductive control.]

I lost a friend to a self-induced abortion gone wrong in 1963.  Despite my Catholic upbringing, I think women deserve a choice in what happens to their bodies (and their eggs). The ultimate decision should be between the woman and her physician, with strict guidelines (as has always been the case), not a decision by a group of old white men like those portrayed in this film, or by just one party in an IVF scenario. I wouldn’t be thrilled if my former fiancée decided to take my eggs and bring them into the world without my consent.

Millions have been spent on the “Roe v. Wade” film project (figures ranged from $6.5 to $8 million). The film seems to be a single-minded attempt to convince the world of the “rightness” of the POV of its writer/producer/director and star and the conservative community. If you have enough money and know how to manipulate the levers of power and use propaganda, you can weaponize that propaganda to seize and hold power. [We’ve seen that lesson as recently as January 6th.]

This is not a good screenplay. Many of the weak performances simply add insult to that injury. “Roe v. Wade” also offers inarticulate editing, patriotic tableaux, repetitive flat compositions (often involving static Supreme Court goings-on), ineffectual camera zooms, insufferably grandiose speeches, tuneless singing and a cast that reminded of “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.” In this case, the “shooting” is disseminating pro-life propaganda for a paycheck.

No doubt some of the principals are deeply committed to the premise that abortion is a scourge; nevertheless, the more well-known the actor, the more detrimental to his or her body of work this film will be. It’s really difficult to believe that “Roe v. Wade” won any awards, although Jon Voight is a well-known Oscar-winning actor (“Coming Home,” 1978). At almost eighty, Voight is playing Warren Burger, who was then 66.

It is surprising to me that any reputable actor or technician wanted to be involved, unless they were in Pro-Life Crusader mode. (As reported elsewhere, the gig was not universally embraced by cast or crew.) In a March 3rd article in The Hollywood Reporter (“Nick Loeb’s ‘Roe v Wade’ Actors Cry Foul Over No-Show Paychecks),  New Orleans SAG-AFTRA actress Susan LaBrecque complained that, after 2 years, she and as many as nine other actors have yet to be paid for the New Orleans shoot in 2018, despite the film’s premiere at CPAC last month. They’ve now gone to SAG-AFTRA for resolution. [Co-director Cathy Allyn responded to The Hollywood Reporter that the funds had been released to SAG as of Feb. 10. “They have the money and it’s up to SAG to release it.”]

Loeb hosted the world premiere of his film, Roe v. Wade, on Friday, February 26th at the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) host hotel, the Hyatt Regency Orlando. The Conservative gathering featured Donald J. Trump as its keynote, Trump’s first post-presidential appearance.  Loeb arranged for the movie to premiere in order to sell tickets to funnel into marketing costs ahead of an April 2nd release on Amazon Prime, iTunes and PVOD.

In a “Hollywood Reporter” interview, Loeb said, “But it’s not a preachy, pro-life, religious movie.”

Yes, Nick, it is. And, unfortunately, not a very well-done one.

Happy Birthday Night in Downtown Austin (March 20/21)

Birthday dinner in downtown Austin at Fogo de Chau.

This will be a stream-of-consciousness retelling of last weekend’s Birthday Weekend in downtown Austin.

It was my husband’s birthday AND we had secured appointments for our second Pfizer Covid-19 shots at the HEB store on 7th Street. That is truly something to celebrate, since we are supposed to fly to Mexico in early April and who wants to fly to a foreign country if unvaccinated?

We started our weekend adventure about 11:15 a.m. (for a noon appointment) and went to HEB first (did you know that the last name of the owner of HEB is Butts? Just wondering…). There was really no line, so we were done there in record time and picked up all kinds of stuff for our room: pop, beer, fruit plate, doughnuts (for the morrow), vegetable plate and dip, chips, etc.

We then drove to the hotel on Rainey Street and checked in early. We found out upon checking in that it was going to cost an additional $50 to park the car overnight. Later, we would find out that it would cost an additional $20 to watch a movie in the room. So, the tab was now soaring to over $550.

Our first shot weekend, the entire bill was $150, at the Stephen K Austin Sonesta Hotel downtown on Congress Avenue,  and it was quite quiet there.

Jessica and I celebrate at the Hotel VanZandt in downtown Austin.

The “live” band across the street played until midnight and then some idiot outside kept revving a motorcycle until 2 a.m. I had forgotten my omnipresent wind machine. Also, there had been no mention of their much-vaunted pool deck being under construction. (The one I show in my photo is an apartment building across the street). Nor did they mention “work on the outside of the building,” which meant that we were to keep our blinds closed unless we wanted to flash someone. I will attach a photo of the bathroom, which had a large tub overlooking the city—or, in this case, the workers outside.

There are robes in the room, but mine did not fit. There were no coffee pots. We asked that one be brought up when we checked in. It took 7 hours to get it. It made one cup of coffee and then would not work.

So, we hunkered down with the son, daughter-in-law and granddaughters to enjoy our goodies and watch Iowa in their first round of play. That went well, although Iowa would subsequently lose to Oregon, so there goes the season.

We also took advantage of the wine happy hour (5 to 6 p.m.) and, after that, went to Fogo de Chau, which I have probably misspelled, and ate.

Rainey Street on March 20-21st, Austin, TX.

This is directly across the street from the Convention Center downtown and was fairly busy. It is a chain (Brazilian Steakhouse). I think the price was $54.95 per person, but this was the son’s treat for his father’s birthday, and it was delicious. Waiters circle throughout the room constantly with roasted meats (sirloin, prime rib, chicken, pork, lamb) and they bring a very small dish of mashed potatoes to the table. Then there is a salad bar. Weirdly enough, they issue you a plastic baggie thing to use on your hand, like this is (somehow) going to protect you from spreading germs, were you to be infected with a disease of any kind. I don’t generally do much salad bar stuff, but I did take some potato salad (very bland) and two olives and some bread with butter packets. It was good that I took the bread, because the girls mainly wanted to eat bread and, at one point, they ran out of bread, which is odd. (Later, they brought some additional bread to our table, by request).

The dinner was delicious and very much appreciated. We then went back to the hotel, where we rented “Let Him Go” (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) and Craig—who had his shot first on Saturday—experienced some after-effects—(fever, chills) that put him out early. I stayed up until 2 a.m. and was very sorry that I had not brought my wind machine. I was finally forced to press my phone into service, as it has a not-that-satisfactory version of my wind machine on it.

Hotel Van Zandt, Austin, Tx.

Hotel VanZandt. Corner room. Austin, TX.

When we awakened the next morning, my phone was nearly dead and we had to check out immediately to make it to my 12:30 appointment back at HEB. We were supposed to check out at 11 a.m.. but had asked for a slightly later check-out, so we left at 11:30 a.m. As a result, we got there around noon and—fortunately—there was no one there but me, at first. They were looking for someone named “Emily.” Another Hispanic gentleman signed in with his paperwork right after me. He was first; I was second, and then the MIA Emily showed and was given her shot, following mine. It is now Monday and I have not had any fever or chills or unusual fatigue or headaches, all good things.

So, we are both vaccinated for Mexico and the birthday—which included shirts, an Amazon gift card, a Home Depot gift card, and the room, itself, (with a complimentary lime pie dessert at the restaurant) feted Craig’s 76th year on the planet.

“The Oxy Kingpins” Screens at SXSW 2021 and Describes the Origins of the Opioid Epidemic

“The Oxy Kingpins” (SXSW Online Film Festival 2021).

This documentary, directed by Brendan Fitzgerald, is a look at the opioid epidemic in America and how Big Pharma was complicit in causing the deaths of over half a million Americans. Former drug dealer Alex tells us as the film opens that oxycontin is really just heroin. Given the over-prescribing by the medical establishment, within a 2-week time the patient could become addicted and have a $200 to $300 a day habit.

The film tells the story of how big pharmaceutical companies raked in the profits without a thought to the harm the drug was causing.  Telling the story is  Pensacola attorney Mike Papantonio, whose fifteen-attorney firm (Levin and Papantonio) is hard at work prosecuting the drug companies for greedily promoting their product, even though it was obvious it was addicting an entire generation. As the film says, “At the end of the day, they were just getting rich.”

The Purdue Pharma Sackler family saga is referenced as a RICO investigation, (which means it was Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization.) Meanwhile, other big pharmaceutical companies were distributing the pills to small towns, sending 12 million pills to a town of 5,000 people without any attempt to stop the resulting addiction. In fact, at one point, an e-mail from the top  clearly warns pharmaceutical company employees NOT to use the word “suspicious” because to do so would mean that an investigation might occur. Instead, McKesson Corporation (MCK), the Number One deliverer of all drugs in the United States, made $194 billion in one year and its CEO, John Hammergen, was paid a yearly salary of $700 million.

Mike Papantonio and his investigators pin their hopes on the state of Nevada, which has a policy of unsealing all court documents. In the past, court cases against pharmaceutical concerns like McKesson or the #2 and #3 distributors in the U.S., Cardinal and Amerisource, were sealed. The company would pay a fine of $10 or $15 million,  but insist that the incriminating documents be sealed. As Papantonio said, “We have a drug that is killing people and it’s kept from the public.”

Driving home the point that drug manufacturers and distributers were only too willing to look the other way in order to make profits, Papantonio referred to these actions by men like CEO of Cardinal Health George Barrett as “white collar corporate crime.” Men like Alex, the drug dealer now gone straight, spent 8 years in prison for distributing drugs like Oxycontin, but the Big Pharma profiteers walked away with millions.

Papantonio chose Nevada to use for a prosecution which  dragged on for 3 and ½ years, because of Nevada’s policy of unsealing court records. Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez also turned down the defense’s request for one (of many) delays.

“The distributors chose rural areas that were areas of despair” and customers like Anna, shown onscreen, bought as much as they wanted from their local Safeway Pharmacy. She was born in Hawthorne, Nevada, population 4,772 in Mineral County, a part of Nevada with the second-largest consumption of Oxycontin in the state and the fourth highest death rate where 3,100,100 doses were distributed with barely an eyebrow raised.

It’s a good documentary, although more real-life stories like Anna’s rather than concentrating quite so much on the attorneys would have driven the case home even more intensely . I was immediately reminded of the indie film “Shooting Heroin,” about the opioid problem in Pennsylvania. It’s a situation that was drawing attention, including Senate hearings in May of 2018, but the pandemic  pushed the opioid deaths from the news.

Fictional films that have dealt with the same crisis in the last few years, which would make good companion films for this factual treatment, would include “Ben Is Back” (Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges) and “Beautiful Boy” (Timothy Chalamet and Steve Carrell).

YOYO Philosophy Prevails in Texas (*You’re On Your Own)

View from Room 808 in the Sonesta Hotel in downtown Austin.

Today’s Austin American-Statesman column by Ken Herman contained the headline: “Abbott to Texans:   You’re On Your Own.”

In addition to thoroughly disapproving of Governor Abbott’s recent dictum to the state that all mitigation effort are off and everything is 100% “open” in the state of Texas now, Herman ended his column with these words:

“Abbott’s bottom line is we’re all on our own to do what we think is best.  Businesses are free to open to whatever capacity they want.  And customers are free to choose which businesses to patronize.

Sounds very Texan.  The problem is the worst decisions of the worst among us could become a determining variable about when real normalcy returns for the rest of us.  As we have seen since Day One of this life-threatening mess, we’re all still in this together.

Snide sidenote:  Hey! It could have been worse.  Abbott could have put ERCOT in charge!”

 

(*ERCOT, for the non-Texans out there, stands for The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which turned out to be ironically named when the entire system failed.)

Vaccination for Covid-19 Becomes a 4-month Task

Twenty-three million Americans are now completely vaccinated against Covid-19 and 70 million have had the first (of two) shots. I am among the seventy million who just received the first shot of the Pfizer vaccine, today, at 12:30 p.m., at an HEB grocery store in Austin, Texas.

Stephen K. Austin Sonesta Hotel, 701 S. Congress Ave., Austin, Tx.

Sonesta Hotel, formerly the Intercontinental Hotel in Austin, Texas.

We have been placing ourselves on various lists (State list, HEB, CVS, Walgreen’s) for months now. I even got a local doctor, thinking that might help (it didn’t).

I finally took to tweeting to various entities and wrote an e-mail to HEB, since the state website seemed completely unworkable. That site would ask you to select a pasword, which we did. When we’d try to check back in to see if there was any vaccine available (usually not), it would not accept our passwords, even though we knew what they were. We would then be forced to say “Forgot password.” The site would say it was going to send us an e-mail (to our e-mail boxes), an e-mail which never arrived.

I pinned my hopes on HEB, which has performed brilliantly during the pandemic for well over a year. Their Favor delivery service has been phenomenal, and far better than similar services in the Midwest. Today, I spent 20 minutes sitting in a chair waiting for my name to be called outside the pharmacy inside the HEB store at 2701 E. 7th St. in Austin, Texas. Later, I wrote to HEB, “You may have literally saved my life.”

We are slated to travel to Mexico near Easter and the thought of travel at this time is scary and travel without a vaccination is terrifying. We already had Covid-19 in October, but getting the vaccination, as many of you know, has been an arduous process.

So, I kept pestering anyone I could think of to pester, with tweets, phone calls and e-mail. After writing about this to HEB, I called one of their stores and asked to be connected to the pharmacy. I held for a “live” person for a long time, but after we spoke she said there was one spot, at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 28th (today). As she was making that appointment for me, another opened up and she said she only had 8 minutes to fill it, for my husband, who was booked on Saturday, Feb. 27th. This means that our second shots will take place on or near his birthday (March 21st).

It also means that I got the Big Bright Idea of driving downtown and getting a hotel room nearby for one night. We dined at the Roaring Fork and made it to our appointments and I have included pictures of the Stephen K. Austin Sonesta Hotel, which used to be the Intercontinental Hotel at 701 Congress Avenue (until a month ago.) I had always wanted to see the rooms in this hotel, since it is Grand Central Station during the normal SXSW Film Festival.

Enjoy!

 

 

Of Podcasts and Vaccines: Tuesday, Feb. 24th, 2021

Today is Tuesday, February 24th.

Lone Star Deception Poster

“Lone Star Deception” (available on Amazon) with Eric Roberts and Anthony Ray Parker.

After 3 months of fruitless search on various computers I managed to get both of us appointments for vaccinations with the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine the old-fashioned way: I called.

Believe me, we’ve been trying very hard to use the State of Texas website to sign up, and, as that turned out to be a pipe dream, we put ourselves on lists with Walgreen’s, CVS, HEB, and anywhere else we could think of, including some that would have meant driving several hours to Houston or Dallas. Nothing worked.

The way the State of Texas site works is you sign up and create a password, which we both did.

Then, you are to sign in to check on the availability of vaccine, which we tried to do, but the machine would never take our passwords (despite knowing what they were), so we’d say “Forgot Password” (even though we had not.) The computer would promise to send an e-mail to our mailbox, an e-mail which never arrived. And so it went.

I had a lot of faith in HEB, given the national publicity that came about when they were so on the ball about the impending pandemic that they actually sent observers to China and worked out a system for their stores to work smoothly during this bad time. And they did. The grocery delivery was wonderful, unlike the Midwest, and even after the catastrophic power failures and water outages, most stores were up and running by yesterday with a full complement of food. (We went to one in Kyle).

Today, the HEB website showed 64 doses of the vaccine were available near us, but, when I tried to sign on and get an appointment, it would say, “No appointment times available.”

Lone Star Deception Poster

“Lone Star Deception,” Eric Roberts, Anthony Parker.

I finally made a phone call to HEB, even though it meant holding for a very long time to get to a “live” person.

Within 10 minutes my husband had been assigned a time on Saturday at noon, and during the booking of his spot, I got one at 12:30 on Sunday, this coming weekend (2/27 and 2/28). Then, since the store is in downtown Austin, I got fancy and booked us a hotel room and dinner at the hotel on the corner in downtown Austin where I have spent many SXSW runs drifting through, waiting, or interviewing film folk. The rate was reasonable ($150) and the Roaring Fork within the hotel is my very favorite downtown Austin restaurant—so far. [The hotel changed hands about one month ago, and is now a Sonesta Hotel, which is probably why I think of it under a completely different name. I would have sworn it was called the Intercontinental, but I may be thinking of Chicago.]

Now, news of what may well be my last podcast, this coming Thursday, Feb. 25, from 7 to 8 p.m.

In keeping with the spirit, I’ve booked the Writer/Director of “100 Days to Live.” Ravin Gandhi is a first-time feature film director who is really the CEO of GMM Nonstick Coating in Chicago.

It was on his bucket list to make a film, and that film is currently streaming on your TV set. I interviewed its female lead on February 4th.

Eric Roberts & Anthony Ray Parker.

I noted, in going back through the 45 or so interviews I’ve done on my podcast, that  8 of them have been with Directors or Producers or Stars. Of that number, five were first-time directors of a feature film. Those, going back to the beginning, were Ed Dezevallos of “Lone Star Deception,” Jonathan Baker of “Inconceivable,” Gretl Claggett of “Stormchaser,” Chelsea Christer of “Bleeding Audio,” Ryan Bliss of “Alice Fades Away” and, now, Ravin Gandhi of “100 Days to Live.” Also among my podcasts I spoke with Heidi Johannesmeier (of “100 Days to Live”) and Sergio Rizzuto of “Hard Kill” (2nd lead opposite Bruce Willis) and THE Eric Roberts, who had a leading role in “Lone Star Deception.”

I’ve written up 20 questions for Ravin and if, for some reason, he does not join me on what may well be my last show, I’ll tell you what I learned from the Writers/Directors/Producers and Stars of the other films I’ve both reviewed (on Weekly Wilson and The Movie Blog) and on the air.

Join us “live” at 7 p.m. (CDT) on Thursday, February 25th. If you have a question, the call-in number is 866-451-1451.

“76 Days:” Engrossing Doc About the Outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan (Free Online)

“76 Days” is a 93-minute documentary about the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan, China, a film directed and written by Hao Wu, Weixi Chen (the cinematographer) and an individual who chose to remain anonymous. One wonders how the team managed to record this battle within a Chinese hospital and whether the anonymity is because the Chinese government might disapprove of the telling of this story.

The film is shot within the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital, beginning on January 23, 2020, in that city of eleven million people. The 76 days will end on April 8th and air raid sirens will mourn the dead in the city on April 4th.

The documentary opens with a dramatic scene of sick people trying to crowd into the hospital from the cold, despite the institution’s 45 stated maximum occupancy for patients.  This siege will not end until April 8th, the lockdown that the city endured.

The patients seem to be primarily elderly, although one young girl, a hospital employee, is seen wailing throughout the opening scenes. She keeps saying “I want to say good-bye. I’ll never see my papa again.” We track the mourning family member outside, where she once again pleads for one last glimpse of her deceased loved one, who is being taken away in a hearse.

We see Dr. Wang exhorting his colleagues to “unite as a collective whole and win the battle to protect Wuhan.” One volunteer explains that he had “a hero’s dream to go support Wuhan.”

Trang Dingyuan came from Shanghai to help. The first supporters (volunteers) arrived from Sichuan, but others drove all the way from Shanghai to help staff the hospital in Wuhan. It is an 8 hour and 47 minute drive from Shanghai to Wuhan. The universality of what New York later experienced is experienced, but with more PPE amongst the employees.

Mostly, the film is a testimony to the chaos that the epidemic has caused, with no hospital beds and resuscitation failing on several patients as the cameras record the desperate struggle.

Some humorous relief is provided by an elderly man, referred to as “Grandpa.” Grandpa, who has dementia, will not stay in his room and continues to wander the hospital corridors, usually while muttering things like “I’m already one foot in the grave.” He cannot read and there is a heated phone discussion with his son about how long he has been an upstanding member of the Communist party. [His son seems to think he should set a better example as a proud Communist, but, instead, Grandpa is mostly crying in his room—when he’s not out wandering around and causing problems.] Even when the hospital is trying to release him back into the world, Grandpa starts wandering in the wrong direction, back into the hospital. The staff applauds when Grandpa is finally released upon the world.

In the midst of all this death, a young woman in childbirth (whose water broke 2 days earlier) must be delivered by Caesarean section. She had Covid-19, which she has passed on to her newborn daughter. We follow that drama through to the end as the child—a chubby female with a full head of hair whom the staff nicknames “the hungry penguin”— is whisked away to another area of the hospital and an incubator.

A box of cell phones collected from the dead and dying is introduced early in the documentary. It is at the end of the documentary that Yang Li, head ICU nurse, draws the unenviable duty of sorting through the abandoned phones and calling the next of kin to tell them to come pick up their dead relatives’ belongings. Usually,Yang Li seeks to return a phone to the relatives. One deceased woman’s bracelet is retrieved for her daughter, despite the fact that it is against regulations and the deceased, Grandma Luo Jinsong, had swollen arms at the time of her death, causing difficulty in retrieving the jewelry.

When she completes the task of returning the bracelet and the phone to a young girl who is sobbing, Yang Li expresses her condolences. She turns from the camera and appears broken, numb. It reminds of the line from earlier in the film, “How could it have come to this?”

The beleaguered hospital employees work tirelessly to try to save their patients and to preserve order within the hospital. I was surprised to hear patients being asked if they had “vomiting or diarrhea,” since neither of these symptoms received much air play on American television. I was also surprised to learn that ICU is emblazoned above the doors to the Chinese facility, much like Intensive Care Unit appears above these areas in American hospitals.  I assumed that all signs would be in the language of the country. There was also a much better degree of PPE in this Chinese hospital than during the early days of the pandemic in the U.S. and most of the doctors and nurses appear as masked and fully covered workers.

Writer/Director Hao Wu helmed “All in My Family” in 2019 and “People’s Republic of Desire” in 2018. His documentary about underground Chinese churches (2006) earned him a detention from the Chinese government. “76 Days” has had 3 wins on the film festival circuit: Best Documentary at AFI Fest, Grand Prize and Social Impact Award for Heartland International Film Festival, and 3 additional nominations, including at the 43rd Denver Film Festival. After premiering at Toronto, it will release on December 4th.

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