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: Local Page 1 of 29

Columns on local goings on could mean the Quad Cities of IA/IL (Moline, IL or Davenport, IA); Chicago; or Austin, Tx, since Connie spends parts of each year in those towns where she has homes. ‘Of local interest” could mean politics, opinion pieces, or business or entertainment-related subjects.

Nashville Film Festival Screens “Still Working 9 to 5” on Sunday, October 2, 2022

Back in 1981, Dolly Parton’s theme song snagged an Oscar nomination for the film “9 to 5.” (Her song lost to the theme from “Fame”).

Some 42 years later the documentary “Still Working 9 to 5” by Camille Hardman and Gary Lee is playing the Nashville Film Festival. It is a documentary that heralds and memorializes the struggles of working women for “raises, rights and respect.” Women have, historically, been valued less than their male counterparts in the work force. That realization caused star Jane Fonda, in partnership with Gary Lane, to try to make a film that would be informative on this topic.

In 1970, one in every three women in the work force was engaged in clerical work, generally as a secretary. There were 20 million such office workers in the 1970s and they were routinely subjected to sexual harassment, poorer wages than their male co-workers and many other inequities. Not only were the women’s good ideas co-opted by male superiors (and then presented as the men’s own) but the women were often not promoted when they were as qualified (or more qualified) than the male worker (whom they had often trained). The men got the promotion. One line from the film that particularly resonated with me, an excuse for this obviously unfair labor practice: “Well, he does have a family to support.”

My own father (born in 1902) refused to support me in my desire to go to law school after completing my undergraduate degree, because there was a perception that there were “women’s jobs” and “men’s work. One male interviewee on the street articulated it this way in the documentary: “They (women) should do feminine work.” In the 60s, feminine work was being a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher. Other fields were not “suitable” because we women would just be taking up space that should rightfully be occupied by a male head of a family. (Oh, how time have changed!)

It was attitudes like these that were foisted on the American female work force and caused one worker, Lilly Ledbetter, to ultimately sue, when she learned that she was one of four managers doing exactly the same job as her three male co-workers, but the men were being paid $6,000 a month while she was being paid only $3,000 a month. Women in general, made only 60 cents on the dollar in the late 70s and the gender pay gap In the U.S. meant that we ranked #51 on a list of the world’s most equitable work forces. A white woman worker at the time the film was released (1980) made 79 cents on the dollar in comparison with a male worker, while a Latino female worker fell even further behind, making only 54 cents on the dollar  when compared to a man.

When Lilly Ledbetter sued in Alabama, the resulting bill, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restitution Act was the first bill that Barack Obama signed as President in 2009. The characters in the original “9 to 5”—Lily, Violet and Doralee—needed their jobs. They were not simply working to supplement their spouse’s incomes. They were career women before society allowed women to have lucrative careers. Only 6 out of every 100 of the clerical staff, if female, ever advanced to management in the 70s.

As nearly the only girl in my group of 10 high school female friends with a working Mom (a schoolteacher), I lived through that era. It was “okay” for a woman to be a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher, but when I mentioned becoming a lawyer, my father  expressed the same sentiments that the men on the street in this documentary articulated. It was (then) okay for a woman to have a job to supplement her husband’s income, (or as a hobby), but “real work” was for men.

This double standard caught the attention of Jane Fonda, well-known (and often vilified) for embracing and examining important cultural issues and trying to make a difference. Some called “9 to 5” a “militant feminist cry.” Others termed it “a breakout cultural moment.” As a busy rebel and pusher of causes, Fonda knew she wanted Lily Tomlin for the cast. Dolly Parton entered, Fonda said, when she heard Dolly singing on the radio; it occurred to her that Parton could probably act as well as sing.  One of the screenwriters had originally envisioned the film focusing on 5 women, but that number was whittled down to 3.

Fonda also realized that “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” She and Gary Lane understood that comedy rather than drama was the best way to get their message across.  Colin Higgins—writer of such hits as “The Best Liittle Whorehouse in Texas,” “Harold and Maude,” “Foul Play” and “Silver Streak” —was brought in to write and direct.

Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton in ‘Still Working 9 to 5.”

The studio wanted a movie star, not a television actor.  Dabney Coleman (now 90) was known for television appearances on shows such as “The Love Boat,” “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” The studio preferred that either Steve Martin or Richard Dreyfuss play the part of Frank Hart, the sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot (think Trump on steroids).

The film went on to become the second highest-grossing film of the year, second only to “The Empire Strikes Back,” taking in $100, 409, 707 at the box office. This documentary—which reunites Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, Dabney Coleman, and other commenters, like Rita Moreno—  is shot against the backdrop of the turbulent years of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) movement, with Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum mobilizing opposition to giving women equal rights under the Constitution. (The ERA bill missed the deadline for passage and so never became law; my silver bracelet is still in my jewelry box.) The Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings are also revisited.

When asked if they intended to light the fire of feminine revolt against injustice back in 1980 with their movie “9 to 6” Fonda said, “Secretaries are lighting the fire; we’re just fanning the flames.” As one protest sign said, “Women are pissed off about being pissed on.”

When the Broadway version of “9 to 5” came to Broadway in 2009 (and again in a 2019 revival) it was quite interesting to see Harvey Weinstein (THE Harvey Weinstein), an investor in the play, say, “This play could run forever simply on the attitude of employees toward their boss. I know that everyone in my company wants to kill me.”

It was a great film back in 1980 and it’s a great documentary for the U.S to contemplate.— then and now. There’s also a new rendition of the Oscar-nominated theme song, featuring Kelly Clarkson and Dolly Parton.

“223 Wick” Is an Amazon Offering With Lots of Explaining to Do

This “thriller/fantasy” film caught my eye, initially, because it was very moody and scripted by Melanie Clarke-Pettiella and Jess Byard. I’m always in favor of letting more females write horror, (as a former active voting member of the Horror Writers’ Association), so I bought into this Amazon Prime movie, filmed on location in Youngstown, Ohio.

Let’s start with the good things: the music (Rolaz) is good—with the possible exception of a song at the end with the lyric “trapped under the ice.” There is no ice in sight; that line made about as much sense as the rest of the plot.

But on with the positive: great settings, although, if the film had answered an early question asked in the script (“What is this place?”) we would all have been better off.

The synopsis on IMDB says, “Plagued by visions and nightmares, a Catholic priest is ousted from his parish. With nowhere to turn, he follows the sinister visions calling him and discovers a deal he alone must stop.”

That synopsis bore little resemblance to the movie’s plot, [such as it is.]

Father John, played by Alexi Stavros (he has a great voice!) is a priest in a seminary who seems to be locked in a power struggle with the Dean of the seminary, Father Murphy (played by Jack Dimich). There is a second priest named Father McAndrew (Eric Vaughn) and a third named Arthur, who is played by Director Sergio Meyers’ son, Sergio Meyers II.

The film really does establish an appropriately creepy vibe, but almost nothing makes sense from that point on. Father John is not really “ousted from his parish.” He is admittedly in conflict with the head priest (Father Murphy) but he seems to get in a cab of his own volition and asks to be taken to 223 Wick Avenue, which is a building just as creepy as the seminary building he has just exited.

The plot becomes even more incomprehensible once Father John has relocated, starting with much falling and the fact that, for the rest of the film, he will wear a bloody bandage around his head. Why would he agree to spend the night at 223 Wick St. simply because he took a slight fall on the front steps? And, if he did agree to spend the night because he might have sustained a concussion, how does that lead to what seems to be an extended stay? Not likely. And not explained well (or at all).

Visions do plague Father John (migraines), but the vision is pretty much the same one, over and over. It looks a bit like a nuclear explosion. Another character who resides at 223 Wick Ave. (Paul) also seems accident prone. At one point, after Father John has spent the night at 223 Wick (because he fell down on the front steps and hit his head?),  Paul asks Father John to bless the building, room by room, before he leaves, because its owner (Kat, played by Dawn Lafferty) thinks the building is haunted.

The dialogue is stilted, along the lines of “Give humanity back to the Ancient Ones” and “Come with me. Rule like a god.” Or, “This place will always call out for the energy it needs to feed.”

Most of the prinicipals in this largely incomprehensible plot do not live happily ever after [or at all.] The Brixtons own 223 Wick Ave. and there is some mumbo-jumbo about “secret societies” and an all male fraternal order that is over 100 years old, but we see little of that. The relationship between Kat and her sister is also shrouded in mystery and will remain a secret throughout the film.

The writers really needed to pick up the writing pace if women in horror are going to gain a better footing in the field than they had back when I dabbled in the horror/thriller genre a decade or so ago.

The setting, music, cinematography: okay. The plot: not okay.

Overall, this was a moody mess with no idea where it was going and no ability to convey a coherent plot to its puzzled audience.

Best Poker Movies of the Past 25 Years

When it comes to movies,  setting can be everything.

Movies about love, conflict, redemption (and any other theme) are judged as much by where and when they’re set as on their themes.  Take “Titanic,” for example.  It’s a love story, but it is set against the backdrop of that well-known tragic disaster, adding to the poignancy of the romance.

“Forrest Gump” was the biggest live action film of 1994. This Tom Hanks/Robin Wright/Sally Field film utilized multiple locations to present a complicated tale of equality and acceptance. “Forrest Gump” was popularized using numerous nods to history, including some instances in which star Tom Hanks is inserted into actual photographs of the time, “Zelig” style. Along with references to Elvis Presley, there were historical references that made the movie accessible to any audience and helped emphasize Director Robert Zemeckis’ messages. (I met Robert Zemeckis in Chicago when he was publicizing the 2012 film “Flight” with Denzel Washington.)

Choosing the right backdrop and setting can make or break a film.

Poker is a setting writers use to accentuate tension. When poker is included in a film, it can leave you feeling like you have been dealt a royal flush. Worldwide, it is a popular game, with complex rules. Audiences are generally familiar with common poker terms and rules, which helps sell the film. Taking the tension of a high stakes poker game and interpreting it in writing, however, can be a difficult task. But when poker is incorporated skillfully into the plot of a film, it can enhance the viewing experience.

The iconic poker movie  was “Rounders,” released in 1998. The film featured Matt Damon, Edward Norton and Gretchen Mol in a plot that IMDB.com describes this way: “A young, reformed gambler must return to playing big stakes poker to help a friend pay off loan sharks, while balancing his relationship with his girlfriend and  his commitments to law school.”

That classic aside, here are three of the best, albeit, lesser-known poker films of the past 25 years:

“Finder’s Fee” (2001) dropped just before the original poker boom, which changed poker overnight.
Rather than raising the stakes, it folded quickly, which is a real shame. This Ryan Reynolds, James Earl Jones, Matthew Lillard film is overlooked among poker films. The central character finds a $6 million winning lottery ticket. The twist come when he finds himself embroiled in a backroom poker game where the stake is a simple lottery ticket. The action takes place over a single night.

Released in 2017, “Molly’s Game” is the best poker movie to hit  screens in the past five
years. It features Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom, the real-life organizer of illicit poker games between high profile stars.
The film is based on Molly Bloom’s book of the same name and was Aaron Sorkin’s (“The West Wing”) directorial debut.
Kevin Costner and Idris Elba also appeared in the all-star cast with characters based on real-life poker-playing personalities, such as Tobey Maguire. Michael Cera (Player X) and Jeremy Strong, Emmy-nominated this year for his role as Kendall Roy in “Succession,”also were featured in the cast. “Molly’s Game” won several awards, including Best Screenplay for Aaron Sorkin at AARP’s Movies for Grownups Awards.  It is just one of many Jessica Chastain strong roles that were overlooked prior to her Oscar win last year for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” (“Take Shelter” was another, in support of Michael Shannon.)

“Lucky You” (2007) attempted to seize upon the popularity of poker during the boom. Filmed on location in Las Vegas, $58 million was invested in this story of Huck Cheever (Eric Bana), a young talented poker player who made it to the World Series of Poker while striving to move out of the shadow of his poker-playing father (Robert Duvall). The movie made only $8.4 million at the box office, opening opposite “Spider-Man 3.” Eric Bana, Drew Barrymore, and Robert Duvall starred, directed by Curtis Hanson (“8 Mile,” “L.A. Confidential”) who co-wrote the screenplay with Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”). As with “Rounders,” the film has stood the test of time, although it did not find an audience at the time of its release.

 

Hundreds of Top Secret and Classified Documents Found in Mar-a-Lago Raid

The search at Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8 found twice as many classified documents as Trump’s lawyers had turned over voluntarily, despite promising they had returned everything. This was also despite two attorneys (one named Evan Corcoran—hope he’s no relative) signing off and telling the FBI that those they had initially taken were the extent of it, when they were not.

The documents had been seen by members of the club, some of whom ratted The Donald out about his lax handling of the sensitive documents, marked Top Secret, Secret and Confidential. Regardless of how “sensitive” the documents were, they should not have been removed from the White House. It is not true that “they all do it” and that “Obama took some, too.” All previous presidents followed elaborate protocols for when and where they could even look at the documents, but Trump apparently kept some of his “mementos” in his desk drawer and would show it to casual Mar-A-Lago visitors. Among those items were the “love notes” from the North Korean dictator to Mr. Trump. Another he had removed was the letter left him by former President Barack Obama.

The blacking out (redacting) of much of the search warrant language was necessary to protect both the witnesses who have testified to seeing the documents in Mar-A-Lago and to the identity of other secret sources, whose very lives might be endangered.

Apparently, Trump considered anything he touched during his time in office “his.” He considered himself to be much like a king and everything was “his.”

Even if the documents were as ordinary as the menu for breakfast (and they weren’t) removing them from the White House was wrong and an obstruction of justice, and, since the many polite government requests to give them back ended with only a partial return of the papers, the FBI conducted its raid on Aug. 8th. And, to make matters worse, the ex-president and his cronies attempted to move the documents around to prevent the government from seeking their rightful return.

As the “New York Times” put it:

“The investigation into Mr. Trump’s retention of government documents began as a relatively straightforward attempt to recover materials that officials with the National Archives had spent much of 2021 trying to retrieve. The filing on Tuesday (Aug. 30)  made clear that prosecutors are now unmistakably focused on the possibility that Mr. Trump and those around him took criminal steps to obstruct their investigation.

Investigators developed evidence that “government records were likely concealed and removed” from the storage room at Mar-a-Lago after the Justice Department sent Mr. Trump’s office a subpoena for any remaining documents with classified markings. That led prosecutors to conclude that “efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation,” the government filing said.

The filing included one striking visual aid: a photograph of at least five yellow folders recovered from Mr. Trump’s resort and residence marked “Top Secret” and another red one labeled “Secret.”

It is time. LOCK HIM UP!

The legal filing included a photo of documents seized at Mar-a-Lago.Department of Justice

Beware of So-Called “Questionnaires” Posing As Objective: It’s the GOP At Work

Future President of the United States Joe Biden in Independence, Iowa, on the Fourth of July, 2019.

This is a bit of a stream-of-consciousness comment, following the phone call I received yesterday that asked me to participate in a survey. It was a robo-call, automated, and purported to be objective, asking for how much knowledge you had about the candidates for Cheri Bustos’ former seat in Congress.

At first, it asked for things that seemed “normal,” such as age, income, and knowledge of the candidates running in the mid-term election.

I did notice that all of the Republican candidates (Esther Joy King) were mentioned first in each and every comparison to her Democratic challenger, Eric Sorenson. You had to punch 1 through 6 for some questions and, in some cases, such as your gender, there were only 2 buttons to click for male or female. A 1 would generally mean that you disliked the remark and a 6 (and just up to that) indicated strong support for the premise, with the middle numbers indicating more neutral stances.

After the routine, normal questions, the questionnaire took a nasty turn.

All of the scenarios that depicted Eric Sorenson (the Democratic candidate) were quite negative. All of the scenarios for the Republican candidate (Esther Joy King) were portrayed much more positively. The backgrounds of the prospective candidates were definitely being “cherry-picked,” for sure. For instance, Sorensen was depicted as just shy of a zealot regarding global warming and bound to spend all of your money on measures to counteract climate change. Quite frankly, as you watch the nightly news of each and every climate disaster, the charge that Sorensen wants to try to fix the flooding and fires seemed like a positive, to me, but the questionnaire found it objectionable that he was in favor of trying to reduce green house gases so that we might be able to get out of the horrible weather cycles we are currently facing. (One has to sigh heavily when thinking of how much more actively this entire situation would have been addressed under President Al Gore way back in 2000. We would have had 22 years to plan for what is now upon us, but “W” and the GOP did not believe in global warming and vocally castigated those who raised their voices with the scientific predictions that are coming true right now.

Most of the situations depicted were actually  accusations that Eric Sorensen, a former weatherman, had  little to do with. He hasn’t been in office, so he really doesn’t have a track record to mention. They were presented in the context of, “Eric is a Democrat and would support Joe Biden and Joe Biden did ______, ______, and ______.” The things that poor Eric was being accused of were pretty far out there and definitely neither his fault nor something his campaign necessarily ran on. To listen to the recorded voice, poor Eric was almost solely responsible for inflation. Any minute I expected the accusations to veer into criminal territory.

In other words, this so-called objective “survey” was a thinly-veiled advertisement for the GOP candidate.

If you answer your phone and hear that it is a “questionnaire” be warned.

Alexi Giannoulias

I was fortunate that I had researched all of the candidates in the primary and run an informational piece on all of them in both parties and on Alexi Giannoulis, who was running for office after years away from a position in Illinois government.

“Bullet Train”: A 2 Hr. 7 Min. Train Wreck

This Brad Pitt vehicle is—(dare I say it?)—a train wreck.

I had a very bad feeling about the film going in. This line from the script sums up my feelings about “Bullet Train:” “I haven’t got the time or the patience, let alone the interest.” I can’t recommend you take this one in at the Cineplex for actual cash.

If you do invest the time in “Bullet Train” when it streams somewhere, Brad Pitt is the best thing in this overlong fist-fest. He plays a hit-man who is trying to mend his violent ways and learn to solve problems in a more peaceful manner.

Code-named Ladybug in a “cute” discussion with his handler (Sandra Bullock) that already screams “Turkey,” among other pronouncements from Pitt are these: “Let this be a lesson on the toxicity of anger.” “A path to a peaceful outcome is an opportunity for growth.” “I just wanna’ get off this train and go see a Zen garden or some shit.” “When we are so quick to anger, we are slow to understand.” “If you do not control your fate, it controls you.” Not a lot of great original writing in those bon mots. The writing here is byZak Olkewicz (screenplay) and based on the book by Kôtarô Isaka.

Pressed into service in place of the mysterious Carver (Ryan Reynolds in a cameo), Ladybug is supposed to steal a briefcase on the bullet train. The case is being protected by 2 other assassins code-named Tangerine and Lemon. [Also cloyingly cute.] Tangerine is played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who was brilliant in 2016’s “Nocturnal Animals.” It’s a great part for the handsome actor, speaking in his native British accent, who was nominated for a BAFTA in 2017 for Best Supporting Actor for that role. His “twin” partner is Black actor Bryan Tyree-Henry (2018’s “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse”). Also a forced joke, since they are obviously not biological “twins.”

One of the flaws of the film is that the director is David Leitch. As a former stuntman, himself, he has a passion for fight sequences (which is primarily what this movie is). He has been Brad Pitt’s stunt double 5 times and served as Matt Damon’s stunt double many times, including in “The Bourne Ultimatum.” Leitch co-directed “John Wick” (2014) with Chad Stahelski. He directed “Atomic Blonde” (2017) starring Charlize Theron. David also directed the box office smash/critically acclaimed “Deadpool 2” (2018). These movies all depend on non-stop action sequences; that is what you get in “Bullet Train.” Not a fan.

A second failing, for me, is that the plot is impossibly convoluted and not worth the time and effort to follow it. Lots of bathroom humor. (I mean that literally.) A particularly wasted co-star was Michael Shannon as The White Death. (I hate it when Michael Shannon’s considerable talents are wasted, and they are wasted here).

A third problem is that the music feels very dated. The musical director was Dominic Lewis, so lay the blame for selecting such songs as “Staying Alive,” “Holding Out for a Hero,” and “I Just Wanna Celebrate” at his feet.
. None of these songs are even remotely new. “Staying Alive” is almost 40 years old. “Holding Out for a Hero” was released in 1986 (36 years ago). “I Just Wanna Celebrate” was released in 1971, 51 years ago. There are also some oldies-but-not-goodies, including the one with the lyric “If you miss the train I’m on Hear the whistle blow 100 miles.” Yeah. Soundtrack sucked.

The entire film screams “Look how cute and hip we are.” Various stars make cameos (Channing Tatum, Ryan Reynolds, Sondra Bullock, Zazie Beetz) and, all-in-all, I felt cheated out of a decently themed movie with something to say. It was not worth the price of theater admission.

Other critics say it is going to be Brad Pitt’s new ongoing vehicle in the same way that Robert Downey, Jr., repeatedly rode “Ironman” to the bank. All I can say to that is, “Count me out.”

Besides the convoluted repetitive plot, the non-stop fight sequences, and the lack-luster musical score, the humor came off as forced and unfunny. The entire film was way too “cutesy” and much too dependent on CGI special effects (primarily of trains crashing).
The propping up of dead bodies to make them appear to be alive: not “funny.” I want to see Brad Pitt in the context of a well-written film with some depth and a message. I’m so glad we took in “Vengeance” (B.J. Novak) before “Bullet Train.”

At times I was confused about whether we were watching Japanese actors in Mexico or vice versa. I got the feeling that the entire movie was aimed at a Japanese audience that will enjoy the Bruce Lee vibe, and, to them, I say Sayonara. I really did not enjoy much of anything about this pastiche, but I do like me some Brad Pitt, (even though the line from the movie that sums up his sex appeal in this is, “You look like every white homeless man I’ve ever seen.”)

Having told you what I think of this Boomslang of a film, in good conscience I should report that others coming out of the theater were chatting about how much they enjoyed this mindless mess of  movie/ fight sequence. Something tells me that they have seen far fewer films than I have seen.

I found the humor strained and the entire undertaking a waste of money ($85,900,000 down the “Bullet Train” drain.)

“Vengeance” (B.J. Novak) Is A Great First-Time Film from “The Office” Star

The film “Vengeance” is written and directed by B.J. Novak of “The Office” fame. The synopsis of the plot reads: “A writer from New York City attempts to solve the murder of a girl he hooked up with, and travels down South to investigate the circumstances of her death and discover what happened to her.”

As the film opens, B.J.—who plays the main character Ben Manalowitz in a sort of early Woody Allen-esque fashion modeled on the “Annie Hall” template—is out and about in New York City with John Mayer, the singer. Mayer essentially plays himself. It is well-known that the singer (“Your Body Is A Wonderland”) has practically made a career out of dating numerous female pop icons. The conversation between Mayer’s character (John) and B.J.’s character of Ben, which seems to take place atop a New York City rooftop party, is all about hooking up with various women on a casual basis. The two are using their cell phones to revisit past and present conquests and agreeing with one another (without really communicating) with the rote response “100% !”

The next step in the plot has Ben (B.J. Novak) answering a late-night phone call from someone who says his name is Ty Shaw (Boyd Holbrook). Ty describes himself as the brother of a one-time hook-up of Ben’s named Abilene Shaw (Lio Tipton). Ty assumes that Ben will be coming South to Texas for Abilene’s funeral. Ben is at a loss to process this suggestion, as he barely remembers Abilene at all.

Where, in Texas, is this home town? Three hours from Dallas and five hours from Abilene, so literally in the middle of  nowhere in west Texas. Ben tries to beg off, saying, “I’ll be there in spirit,” which causes Ty (the brother) to respond that he will pick Ben up from the Spirit Airlines terminal at the airport.

Ben does fly to Texas, because he has the idea that his experiences in rural Texas might provide good raw material for a podcast topic he is pitching to a radio executive, played by Issa Rae as Eloise.

When Ty picks Ben up at the airport, he lays out a case for Abilene, an aspiring singer, having been murdered. They are in Ben’s pick-up truck and  Ben is quite taken aback, exclaiming “I don’t avenge deaths. I don’t live in a Liam Neeson movie.” This leads to a wry conversation with Ty about Liam Neeson movies, with Ty proclaiming “Schindler’s List” to be “a huge downer.” Hard not to laugh.

It also sets up the scene at the burial of Abilene where Ben—who barely knew the girl—is asked to get up and say a few words about his “girlfriend.” Ben does an excellent job of uttering platitudes along the lines of “I never expected to be in a situation like this.” He goes on to mention banal remarks about “spending more time” with someone (“All of us”) and mentions how she “loved music.” It should be mentioned that Jessie Novak actually wrote one of the songs entitled “I Finished My Shift at Claire’s” and B.J. Novak gets credit for one with a title something like “When I Get Signal.” Andrea Von Foroester was in charge of the music and Cinematographer was Lyn Moncrief in this Jason Blum production.

The eulogy from Ben graveside gets him off the hook with the family (re his relationship with Abilene) for the moment, but, because he needs more material for his podcast proposal, Ben is talked into staying at the family home and actually sleeping in Abilene’s old childhood bedroom. Ben keeps humoring Ty in his quest for vengeance, which, in one insightful line, the script explains is the new reality that the truth is too hard to accept, so people are always looking for someone to blame. There are also some deep nuggets concerning social media adding to the proliferation of conspiracy theories and those who hold forth their own opinions as everyone’s truth (without proof), so the film is not just all fun and games and searching for killers who may or may not exist.

The piece starts out to be a somewhat snobbish look down Ben’s nose at the fly-over country he is visiting, a land where, according to the locals, “In Texas, we don’t dial 9-1-1.” It ends up failing to endorse the proposal that all city folk are smarter and sharper and better. The sincerity of the locals cannot fail to impress. However, you do come away with the impression that the bright lights of the rural Heartland won’t win fame and fortune unless they move to a city where their talent can be recognized, so you tell me if that is a vote for west Texas or, like Sam Kinnison’s act, someone screaming, “You live in the desert. Move to the water.”

As it turns out, Abilene—(who initially is misrepresented as someone “who wouldn’t even touch an Advil)—did have a bit of a drug problem, and the reason seems to be the dead-end life she was living in rural Texas, her New York City dreams having not panned out.

Abilene attended a party near an oil field, where cell reception was poor. The party took place at the intersection of four competing jurisdictions off Highway 29. This meant that neither the local Banefield Police Department (Officers Mike and Dan), the border patrol, the DEA, nor Sheriff Jimeniz really would care enough to investigate a party like the one where Abilene died, which seems to have been a routine event in the area.

The Shaws are a family where the younger brother of Abilene’s (Eli Bickel as Mason) is routinely referred to as “El Stupido.” When Ben objects to categorizing the middle school-aged boy this way, Ty, his older brother, says, “It’s okay. He doesn’t speak Spanish.”

Ty is portrayed as “a good old boy” and a typical Texan. Only Quentin Sellers seems to have a clue about the Big City. At one point in the dialogue, Ashton Kutcher’s character mentioned that he had moved to this godforsaken spot from another state. I’d have to see it again to tell you if it was Iowa or Idaho, but we all know that, IRL, Ashton is from the Cedar Rapids/Amana area, so please let me know if Iowa got a plug.

The movie makes fun of the Texas fascination with the Whataburger franchise. The simplistic reason for liking it is given as “because it’s right there.” However, when Ty is pushed to explain further, he says, “You just love it, and that’s how love works.” This “heart to heart” theme comes off as perhaps superior to the lack of compassion or empathy evinced by city dwellers, early in the film.

Many of the snobby Jewish boy’s pre-conceived impressions about the South are shown up for what they are: prejudice. In a revealing debate with one of Abilene’s sisters (Isabella Amara as Paris Shaw) about literature, it becomes clear that Paris has actually read the source material, while Ben has not. (Harry Potter books abound in Abilene’s bedroom, thanks to 2 female set decorators who grew up in San Antonio and are about the same age as Abilene of the film.) Ben is merely reciting rote opinions without being as well-informed as this Texas high school girl, but he has retained an air of superiority. Alex Jones, without the shouting.

Ashton Kutcher, who has not appeared in a major movie role since roughly 2013 (“Jobs”) appears as Quentin Sellers. The Iowa-born native recently revealed that he had been suffering from “a super rare form of Vasculitis” that he contracted three years ago. The disease attacks the veins and arteries and is an auto-immune disorder that involves inflammation and can cause organ failure or aneurysms in its most severe form. Kutcher said, “Like two years ago, I had this weird, super-rare form of vasculitis,” Kutcher shared these experiences in an exclusive video clip released to “Access Hollywood” from an upcoming episode of National Geographic’s “Running Wild with Bear Grylls: The Challenge.”

“Knocked out my vision, knocked out my hearing, knocked out like all my equilibrium. It took me like a year to build it all back up.”

Therefore, it was a treat to see a healthy 44-year-old white-clad Kutcher playing Quentin Sellers, founder of the Quentin Sellers Music Factory in the middle of Texas. Quentin gives an inspiring speech about “all these bright creative lights with nowhere to plug in their energy,” as he holds himself out as a music impresario in the middle of nowhere. His wardrobe is a plus (mostly white) and he looks great.

The writing is extremely insightful. The actors do well with their parts, and, for a first-time director, Novak has hit a home run. The dry humor (see trailer) leaves you laughing out loud.

My only criticism would be the denouement of the film. It seemed out of character for the protagonist. I won’t say any more than that, because this is one you’ll want to rent and enjoy for yourself.

I look forward to B.J. Novak’s next writer/director outing.

Will the Texas Power Grid Prevail in These High Energy Times?

I’m sitting in the Illinois Quad Cities, where it is currently 95 degrees. And humid. Very, very humid. It’s 100 degrees in Des Moines and 91 degrees in my old hometown in northeast Iowa (Independence). Because of the humidity, it feels more like 107.

In Austin, Texas, our home away from home, it is 97 degrees. One wonders how the weird Texas power grid will hold up, given its spectacular failure in February of 2021. Texas wanted to have its very own power grid to escape and avoid federal oversight, but they are “on their own” in such power emergencies. And when it’s hot in the summer, AC is a power emergency. And when it snowed in Austin (a rare occurrence) it was a power emergency on the other side of the dial.

“Daily Kos” reported that “intensifying Texas heat is poised to test the power grid on Thursday with demand seen topping 80 gigawatts for the first time ever.”

Running turbines are expected to bolster electricity supplies, reducing the threat of outages as homeowners and businesses crank up air conditioners across the second-largest US state, according to data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas Inc. [ERCOT]

We lived through the power outage in February of 2021 in Austin, Texas, that killed hundreds and cost many homeless people the total loss of their toes and/or feet. It was truly NOT a good thing. We had to melt down our snowman to be able to flush our toilets! We had to use Saran wrap on dirty plates because there was no water with which to wash dishes (or anything else). Not fun. The catastrophe totally upended businesses like the HEB food store shelves, which were largely bare for at least a week after the storm hit.

Elsewhere today (8/6/2022), near the White House, lightning struck and killed 3 people, critically injuring 4 people. Donna and James Mueller, grandparents from Wisconsin, died. Kentucky has been hit by floods. Missouri also experienced torrential downpours. The U.S. hurricane system will produce an above-average series of storms, up 60%, says the National Weather Service. Death Valley National Park has 1,000 people stranded there amid flooding, and water is becoming a precious commodity in the western part of our nation, where fires have ravaged states like California

The drought is so intense that there is no absorption of any rainfall. Fires have been everywhere in the west, while states like Washington, and cities like Seattle, where only 40% have A/C, are suffering in this nationwide heat wave. Yellowstone shut down. Our national parks are proving to us that these are different days and we should have fought harder to install Al Gore, who probably really won in 2000 and championed global warming. (Just think how much better off we would have been with a president who championed curbing climate change for 8 years, rather than one who started 2 unwinnable wars simultaeously.)

Cities are hitting 110 temperatures in Scottsdale, AZ, and in  Phoenix, the current temperature is 106. Heat stress is real. It takes a toll on our GDP. Emergency room visits; Health care costs. All are affected. Cooling centers and city planning will be affected in our murky future.

I hope that Texas’ weird power grid system makes it through this hot period, before I arrive in the fall. Personally, I think it is very unfair to turn the Texas Power Grid into a “money-making” scheme, operating much like surge pricing by Uber and Lyft. More is charged during “peak periods” and the bills, currently, are staggering in cities like Dallas.

By NOT being part of the East or West power grids of this country, the state also misses out on the ability to borrow power from other states in an emergency and on the ability to sell excess power to other states. Only El Paso escaped the chaos in February, 2021, as they had joined one of the two national power grids, which was wise.

Amidst all this chaos, the $369 billion climate investment of the new bill passed by the Democrats and the Biden administration seems very, very sound, if, arguably, not large enough.  The goal is to decrease fossil fuel emissions by 40% by 2030. [The bill that is passing today will also provide health changes, including capping Medicare out-of-pocket costs at $2 k and giving Medicare the power to negotiate some drug prices, while also extending the Affordable Care Act for 3 more years].

One wonders how much longer the GOP  will continue to maintain that there is no global warming, Donald J. Trump won the election, and Covid will go away when the weaather gets warmer.

 

“Low Cut Connie” Cuts Loose At Raccoon Motel on August 3, 2022

Low Cut Connie’s” Adam Weiner.

The live show at the Raccoon Motel on August 3rd, Wednesday, in Davenport, Iowa, featuring Low Cut Connie lasted for an hour and a half, beginning at midnight. It was like an All Night Energy Infusion, even if it was 1:30 a.m. on a weeknight when it ended.

The doors opened at 9 p.m. A lead-in group was scheduled prior to the main event. I actually called the venue in the afternoon and was told that the headliner (Adam Weiner) probably would not start before 10:30 p.m. or 11:00 p.m. We drove over around 10 p.m. and that projection was optimistic.

The main act did not commence until midnight, at which point headliner Adam Weiner expressed his relief that the crowd was still there at midnight on a Wednesday night. He expressed anxiety over whether the crowd would have gone home, but the roughly 100 fans present were rewarded with a true high energy rendering of the band’s songs.

I have some great video, but I have written to the publicist(s) for permission to post same, as I am currently on Double Secret Probation (or whatever they call it at YouTube) for posting one 30-second song from Bryan Adams’ “Candle in the Wind” tour (or whatever he called it when he played in Moline six years ago). YouTube has restricted all postings in recent years. Postings of various Rolling Stones concerts and others are still up and were not attacked as postings today have been. The threat: my account would be terminated if I were to sin again.

Frankly, I always thought that groups that were touring would welcome free publicity, if positive, but the group, itself, told YouTube to remove the short snippet, which notified me and put a big “Restricted” banner on my account that remained for the past 6 years. I had to go to “copyright” school and—mind you—this was for a mere 30-second spot from their concert. Understandable that a group would not want audience members to give away the store, but the particular song I wanted to use was posted from a previous concert in Miami by another YouTuber, which I then used, instead.   I am still wondering about the harsh nature of YouTube today and working to make sure that there will be no blow-back if I post some truly great video footage of Adam Weiner scaling his piano for the crowd’s enjoyment (while playing).

If it were possible for Adam Weiner to turn himself inside out to please the crowd, I think he would do that for his audience. I was front and right, front row. Weiner reached out and shook my hand. A bobblehead at 10 o’clock kept trying for physical contact, but Adam was too quick for him, most of the time. (*A Bobblehead is someone who goes absolutely batshit crazy at a concert, flailing around, throwing their fist in the air and, in this case, constantly reaching out and trying to touch the lead singer. Did I mention singing along so that the rest of us can’t hear the artist? That, too.)

Supporters include Elton John, Barack Obama, Howard Stern, Bruce Springsteen and  all of the respected music review magazines, such as “Rolling Stone.” Low Cut Connie performed as part of the festivities for the inauguration of President Joe Biden, appearing at a show called a Love Letter to Pennsylvania. In May of 2015, Low Cut Connie met President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House in a special meeting arranged by White House photographer Pete Souza and former President Obama listed them on his summer listening list of artists.

The COVID-19 crisis and the resulting shut-down of the live music industry forced Low Cut Connie off the road in early 2020. With music venues shuttered and his touring band in quarantine, Weiner performed a livestream concert for a virtual audience out of his South Philadelphia home beginning on March 19, 2020.   The show was dubbed Tough Cookies as a tribute to the band’s  devoted fan base.  Tough Cookies  received critical praise for its intimacy (Weiner sometimes performed in his bathrobe) and for Weiner’s high energy performance style. On December 21, 2020, The New Yorker published a full-length feature on the Tough Cookies variety show, naming Weiner “Pandemic Person of the Year” for his ongoing efforts to raise spirits during the  pandemic. We watched it quite regularly during the shutdown that began around March 13, 2021 (about the time I began my podcast).

We saw the band perform at Lucy’s Chicken in Austin, Texas “live” just prior to the pandemic shut-down, during the time that SXSW was in full swing. The performance on Wednesday night in Davenport, Iowa, was absolutely high-octane and superior to the Austin gig. Also, this time, the band performed the same song they performed on Seth Meyers’ late night show (“All These Kids Are Way Too High”), which they did not perform in Austin (despite repeated requests). Just when you think that the band can’t give the performance any more energy, they take it up a notch. At this show, even guitarist Will Donnelly climbed atop the piano briefly. My only criticism would be the “horn echo” effect in one song, which was very flat. (Lose the cornet echo).

The tickets to this remarkable night were only $20. The band’s tee shirts were also priced at that level and CDs on sale at the merchandise table were available for $5. It was a great night; the crowd went away very satisfied. The band was heading ultimately to the Minneapolis State Fair, where they would, no doubt, wow that crowd, too.

I’ve seen a lot of bands “live,” including the Beatles (San Francisco Cow Palace, 1965) and every Rolling Stones tour since 1982, but Low Cut Connie and Bruno Mars are the only bands working today with the fire and finesse of The Greats. If the media hadn’t already dubbed James Brown “the hardest-working man in show biz,” I’d nominate Adam Weiner (which, since James Brown has been dead for years, I’ll do right now.)

“Low Cut Connie:” Tonight. Raccoon Motel. (Be There! Roll Will Be taken!)

LOW CUT CONNIE w/HOLY WAVE
As a public service to all Tough Cookies and Low Cut Connie fans, it should be noted that you can hear them, tonight (Aug. 3) for $20 LIVE in downtown Davenport (315 E. 2nd St.) at the Raccoon Motel as they journey through on a tour that will see them performing at the Minneapolis State Fair in St. Paul, eventually. Doors open at 9, but no music till 10 and they have a lead-in band (see the Low Cut Connie blog for more on them).
How to describe Low Cut Connie? Think of Adam Weiner as an updated version of Jerry Lee Lewis, maybe? And don’t forget about Will, the guitarist,  and the pandemic-streamed concerts that got us all through Covid.

Tickets are on sale at their website and I’m sure there will be merchandise, since I already have a Low Cut Connie shirt somewhere (which I probably won’t be able to find when I attend.)
It’s a Wednesday night, and the doors open at 9 p.m. with 10 p.m. listed as the opening act, which I looked up on their website and know nothing about. I do know a bit about Low Cut Connie, however and it doesn’t hurt that my name is Connie—right? We don’t anticipate having anywhere to sit, which may make for a short concert for Yours Truly, who is not even 2 weeks out of radiation, (which makes you tired). But we’re such true blue fans that I will stand as long as I can (I hear there are 10 bar stools and th-th-th-that’s it, Folks.
I’m sure we’ll fit right in. (Ha!)
Here’s a sampling of a little bit of Adam Weiner’s and Will’s work.

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