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: Music Page 1 of 16

Connie plays 4 musical instruments and her daughter is a graduate of Belmont University in Nashville with a degree in Music Business and once worked for Taylor Swift. She may comment on concerts or reminisce on concerts of old.

“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.

“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.

Presley Trivia & Other Random Musings

Viewing “Elvis” and recognizing that very little was said about Elvis’ many girlfriends or what happened to Lisa Marie Presley in the wake of their 1966 divorce made me take a look at some of the history since his death in 1972.

For those too young to have seen Elvis in his prime, this movie is an education. However, the film does veer dramatically from the truth along the way.  Gone is any mention of Elvis’ many loves including his affair with Ann Margret while filming “Viva, Las Vegas.” Wikipedia tells us that Elvis and Priscilla Presley became increasingly distant after the 7 and ½ year courtship, including her relocation to Graceland after Elvis met her in Germany in 1959. She was 14 when they met; he was 24. They married in 1966, although she lived at Graceland with him for nearly 8 years before they tied the knot. They divorced in 1972. Priscilla gave birth to Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis’ only child, in 1968. Priscilla’s parents apparently went along with the idea of the then 14-year-old girl being “raised” in Memphis by Vernon Presley. Weird.

It is noteworthy that both Priscilla and Lisa Marie and granddaughter Riley Keough appeared with Austin Butler in a special about Baz Lurhmann’s film that I watched. Speaking in the Jungle Room in Memphis, Elvis’ wife and daughter were extremely enthusiastic about this film and Austin Butler’s portrayal of Elvis. Lisa Marie said, “I loved this film and I hope you do, too.” Lisa Marie and Priscilla and granddaughter Riley Keough, an actress, participated.

It made me wonder about any other children of Elvis’ only daughter, who was nine when he died. Didn’t Lisa Marie—who also put out three albums—have other children?

Lisa Marie has been married 4 times. She actually has (or had) four children, but Riley’s brother, Benjamin Keough, died on July 12, 2020, at the age of 27 in Calabasas, California, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  On October 7, 2008, Presley gave birth to fraternal twin girls, Harper Vivienne Ann Lockwood and Finley Aaron Love Lockwood, via Caesarian section at Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, California.

In February 2017, Presley said that her daughters were taken into protective custody. She opposed her husband Michael Lockwood’s request for spousal support, claiming that she had found hundreds of images and videos of child pornography on his personal computer. The divorce was finalized sometime in 2021. Sources say that Lisa Marie—who married both Michael Jackson and Nicolas Cage—remains on good terms with Danny Keough, her first husband, the father of Riley. One source suggested that Keough continues to live on the property, but the couple are not an item. Regardless, Riley, has appeared in 38 films, including 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” as Capable, and she will have a recurring role in the new streaming series “The Terminal” as Lauren Reese in 8 episodes, opposite Chris Pratt. (The series premieres on July 1st),

In 1971 an affair Elvis had with Joyce Bova resulted—[unbeknownst to Elvis]—in her pregnancy and  an abortion. Elvis often raised the possibility of Bova moving into Graceland, saying that he was likely to leave Priscilla. Elvis and Priscilla separated on February 23, 1972, after Priscilla disclosed her relationship with Mike Stone, a karate instructor Presley had recommended to her. (No mention of this in the screenplay). At the time of his death, Elvis was supposedly engaged to Ginger Alden. Prior to Ginger, Presley and Linda Thompson split in November 1976. (Linda Thompson was also once married to Bruce/Caitlin Jenner and, after him, David Foster, who is now married to “American Idol’s” Katharine McPhee. Foster has been married 5 times and was, for a while, step-father to Brandon and Brody Jenner, when married to Linda Thompson.)

“Priscilla related that when she told him, Presley “grabbed … and forcefully made love to” her, declaring, “This is how a real man makes love to his woman.” She later stated in an interview that she regretted her choice of words in describing the incident, and said it had been an overstatement.  Five months later, Presley’s new girlfriend, Linda Thompson, a songwriter and one-time Memphis beauty queen, moved in with him.”

As Wikipedia recounts: “On July 6, 1972, Thompson attended a private movie screening hosted by Elvis Presley at the Memphian Theater in Memphis. Thompson was 22 at the time.] Linda Thompson and Presley hit it off and subsequently dated for four years before breaking up around Christmas 1976. They broke up because, like Priscilla before her, Thompson wanted a “normal” life, which was not possible with Presley’s lifestyle. However, they broke up on good terms and remained good friends until Presley’s death.” Presley met Ms. Thompson, a songwriter, 5 months after Priscilla and he separated. The Presleys were not officially divorced until August of 1972, one month after he met Linda Thompson.

Perhaps the next bio-pic could be a cross between Linda Thompson and David Foster, both of whom seem to have interesting lives? Foster married his fourth wife, Dutch model Yolanda Hadid in Beverly Hills, California, on November 11, 2011. She is the mother of Gigi, Bella and Anwar Hadid, who are constantly in the tabloids. That gave way on 2011 and Foster proposed marriage to Katharine McPhee in 2019. He is 72; she is 38 and just had their child on Feb. 22, 2021. Ms. McPhee/Foster donates to Republican causes.

So, so much for depicting Elvis as a one-woman man who was crushed by his wife’s departure. It does seem logical that Priscilla’s departure would severely wound him, since he was known to be unusually close to his mother, Gladys, and deeply affected by her death at age 46. The movie version shows Elvis feeling increasingly trapped in a career that did not reflect what he most wanted to be doing. Baz Luhrmann, in the special, even talks about the somewhat heavy-handed way in which he shows Elvis, onstage, singing “caught in a trap” while Colonel Tom is signing a deal for him to work at the Las Vegas International Hotel for the next five years, in exchange for expunging the considerable gambling debt he had run up (among other compensation).

Another possible untruth involves Colonel Tom Parker telling Elvis he needed to go to Germany in 1958 and serve in the Army the normal way. Actually, one source said that the Colonel objected to Elvis performing for free for the government, or Elvis could have served far less than the two years he spent in Germany. Another source said that he tried to avoid serving altogether, but finally went along with Parker’s plan to rejuvenate his image. However, supposedly special arrangements were made for Presley to live while serving and the concept of him being a regular “G.I. Joe” is questioned.

 

 

 

“Elvis” Features Austin Bishop as Elvis Presley

Austin Bishop is not a name I was familiar with. From now on, his Elvis will be the best Elvis interpretation ever put onscreen. Bishop has the voice down, the movement down, the look down, and the film was wise in utilizing the real Elvis’ singing—including film of Elvis’ final performance before his untimely death on August 17, 1972 at the age of 42.

I would expect Austin Bishop to be nominated for an Oscar for his capturing the essence of the man often referred to as the King of Rock & Roll. (Of course I thought Chadwick Boseman deserved a nomination for portraying James Brown in “Get On Up,” and that never happened.)I just hope that this talented newcomer does not get stuck playing Elvis for the rest of his life.

Butler and Australian director Baz Luhrmann managed to make a long (2 hrs. 40 min.) tribute to the late great rock & roller that entertains while also glossing over much of the real history behind Elvis’ rise to greatness and his precipitous fall. (See some factual Elvis trivia below).
You know it’s going to be a Baz Luhrmann epic from the moment the overdone credits appear. For Luhrmann, the operative phrase should be changed from “Less is more” to “More is less.” Luhrmann is best known for directing “Moulin Rouge” and “The Great Gatsby.” I go way back to 1992’s “Strictly Ballroom.” This film was the best of all of those and, despite the characteristic overkill, Luhrmann took on a huge story. He tried to tie Elvis’ rise and fall in with the turbulent story of the times, which is a tall order. A lot happened in the fifties and sixties and there are many reminders of those moments in time.

For those too young to have seen Elvis in his prime, this movie is an education. However, the film does veer from the truth along the way.(See some Elvis trivia below) Gone is any mention of Elvis’ many loves. Wikipedia tells us that Elvis and Priscilla Presley became increasingly distant after the 7 and ½ year courtship, including her relocation to Graceland after Elvis met her while serving in the Army in Germany in 1959. She was 14 when they met; he was 24. They married in 1966, although she lived at Graceland with him for nearly 8 years before they tied the knot. They divorced in 1972. Priscilla gave birth to Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis’ only child, in 1968. Lisa Marie was 4 when her parents split up and 9 when her father died.

The film was shot completely in Queensland, Australia.“Shooting the film completely in Queensland, Australia, called for meticulous recreations, especially when building Graceland. The production team did a huge analysis by visiting the real Memphis estate multiple times, accessing original plans through the Graceland archives, and studying photographs for hours on end. The model was built on what was once a horse paddock, near a flower farm. The initial interior features blue walls and red carpeting. “We were lucky enough to be taken around [Graceland] by the head archivist, Angie, and she took us into the hall closet,” Martin says. “There’s actually a bit of that blue paint extant in the closet, so we were able to take paint chips and match the color.”

This attention to Graceland detail allows us to see the entrance and the formal dining room, although the circular bed in the master bedroom, the hopelessly outdated kitchen and the famous “Jungle Room” do not appear in the film, nor do the outer buildings that were constructed after Elvis first bought the 18-room mansion on March 19, 1957 for $102,500.

Presley and Priscilla filed for divorce on August 18, 1972. They had been married since 1966, but she had spent the years from 1959 to 1966 living at Graceland, which means that their union lasted for roughly 16 years. According to Joe Moscheo of the Imperials, the failure of Presley’s marriage “was a blow from which he never recovered”. At a rare press conference that June, a reporter asked Presley whether he was satisfied with his image. Presley replied, “Well, the image is one thing and the human being another … it’s very hard to live up to an image.” The screenplay has Elvis saying, “I’m so tired of playing Elvis Presley” and, at another point, “Ever since then, I’ve been lost.”

For me, the movie took me back to July 1, 1957, when my sister turned 16. She was having a slumber party. All the girls were upstairs, but I—the unwelcome 4-years-younger little sister—was downstairs watching television when Elvis appeared on television for one of the first times in history. I was mesmerized. Nobody on TV had ever moved around while singing like Elvis Presley. I immediately began shouting for my sister and her sleepover friends to come down and watch this new phenomenon. They ignored me, of course, but it was a first appearance that I never forgot.

Tom Hanks provides the co-star name to bring in the movie crowd. Casting Tom Hanks as the villain has never been the best idea. He played a hit man in “The Road to Perdition.” While Hanks always delivers a fine performance, being the bad guy is not his sweet spot. This particular bad guy, Colonel Tom Parker, is particularly odd, as Hanks plays him decked out in fake padding and utilizing the Dutch accent that Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk (Parker’s real name) would naturally have developed. It was well-known for years that Parker’s lack of a passport and citizenship papers kept Elvis from going on international tours.

Did the Colonel Tom Parker of Elvis’ world speak with such a heavy accent? I have no idea, but it does make one wonder why it took so long for the truth about his lack of citizenship to emerge publicly. We are given a scene in Baz Luhrmann’s film where Elvis fires his longtime manager from onstage during a performance. Did that really happen? No idea.

Luhrmann’s touch—never a light one—is seen everywhere in this over-the-top rags-to-riches interpretation of Elvis Aaron Presley’s life. It’s a rags-to-riches story. One facet drawing praise is the credit given to the Black artists who influenced Elvis’ sound.

Whenever Austin Butler’s Elvis is performing, the resemblance is uncanny. You can’t look away. Butler spent two years prepping for the role and his imitation of Elvis far exceeds that of Kurt Russell, Nicolas Cage, Michael Shannon or others who have attempted to emulate Elvis.
The cinematography by Mandy Walker was good and the costuming by Catherine Martin is Oscar-worthy. Other co-stars (Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley; Helen Thomson as Gladys Presley; Richard Rosburgh as Vernon Presley.) are background wallpaper.

Lisa Marie Presley is featured in an endorsement, saying, “I love this film, and I hope you do, too.”

“Top Gun: Maverick” Is Big Winner on Memorial Day Weekend (2022)

Most of us have heard the news that Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun” sequel, “Maverick” was his first movie to open making $100 million. Delayed for 2 years by the pandemic, the exploits of Captain Pete Mitchell (Cruise) 36 years after the original film debuted has been a welcome post-pandemic outing for many worldwide ($300 million worldwide).

The  part that critics have applauded universally is the use of the seriously ill Val Kilmer, the original “Ice Man” in the movie, as a Naval Admiral who has been protecting Mitchell during his career. Once again, we get to see Kilmer and Cruise go head-to-head, bragging about who is the best pilot. It’s a touching scene, and there was a lot of buzz about how much Cruise wanted to work to utilize Kilmer in this sequel, despite the difficulties.
For any who have seen the Val Kilmer documentary about his throat cancer diagnosis, it is sad to see the young Kilmer in his prime, now reduced to being used via texted dialogue. His few “spoken” lines worked out with special help from a sound specialist. (Val uses a mechanical device to speak at all any more). It was a touching scene, indeed, and there was also the inevitable funeral scene, when the Admiral who has been protecting Cruise’s Maverick for all these years is laid to rest.

The scenes for this one were shot in San Diego using the U.S.S. Midway. The sub-text of Goose’s son (Miles Teller) pairing with Cruise in the movie’s climactic scenes plays well, adding conflict. With 95 cast members, there aren’t many of the original cast members invited back. Cruise has obviously led a charmed life when compared to Val Kilmer, and the female leads of the original (Kelley McGillis and Meg Ryan as Goose’s wife and the mother of the toddler who grows up to be Miles Teller’s “Rooster”) are not seen. There is one brief scene at the piano, with the young son of Goose astride the piano listening to his father (Goose was originally played by Anthony Edwards). There were a few old-timers (Skerritt, Tim Robbins, Anthony Edwards) who might have been utilized in the sequel, but the new plot involved Meg Ryan having passed away, but not before making Pete Mitchell promise to keep her son out of the air (which he obviously failed at accomplishing.)

The original film was directed by Tony Scott (“True Romance”) who died in 2012. This time out, the director is Joseph Kosinski, whose last IMDB credit is “Taco Bell: Web of Fries” in 2018. Let’s just say that directing a movie that opened with $127 million in the U.S. and $300 million, world-wide, is probably going to do a lot for his future career.

The original film garnered 4 Oscar nominations, and won for Best Original Song for “Take My Breath Away.” This time out, the song is courtesy of Lady Gaga and the big name on the score is Hans Zimmer (“Gladiator,” “Dune,” “Inception”). Other names on the musical credits include Harold Faltermeyer, who was involved with the original 1986 “Top Gun” and Lorne Balfe, who worked on the 2017 “Lego Batman” movie.

Cinematography for the fantastic aerial scenes was supervised by Claudio Miranda, who is associated with “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” The cinematographer for the 1986 film was Jeffrey L. Kimball, who did “Mission Impossible II.”

Jennifer Connolly turned in a nicely understated performance as Cruise’s love interest, Penny Benjamin. Jon Hamm of “Mad Men” has a turn as Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson. Bill Pullman’s son Lewis has a role  as Lt. Robert “Bob” Floyd, and you can’t help but come away feeling that “the torch has been passed” from Cruise as a matinee idol to the likes of Miles Teller, who was so good in “Whiplash” as the frustrated drummer tortured by J.K. Simmons.

 

As Tom Cruise himself said, “You just cannot duplicate 27 cameras shooting simultaneously” when critiquing the excellent flight sequences and the terrific cinematography. Yes, you do feel as though you are looking at numbers on dials and gauges a lot and squinting at Tom Cruise’s lined G-stressed face multiple times, but the aerial shots are phenomenal. The actors were put through 5 months of flight training and Miles Teller spent 7 weeks learning to play “Great Balls of Fire” for the piano scene, so the attention to detail showed.

I learned, while reading up on the original film and reviewing it, that the sex scenes between Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise were inserted later. And, because McGillis had blonde hair in the film but had already dyed it darker for another role, they put her in the elevator with Cruise, wearing a baseball cap with just a few tendrils of hair showing. Also, the actual sex scene was shot in silhouette in a darkened bedroom, again so that her change of hair color would not be noted. The sex scene in this one is mostly a ”they wake up in bed after the deed is done” type of low-key affair, but that doesn’t detract from the film’s overall jingoistic feel good flavor.

Another interesting factoid I read while re-upping my memory of “Top Gun” (1986) was that, after Cruise co-starred with Paul Newman in “The Color of Money,” one of Cruise’s personal heroes, he decided to make “Born on the Fourth of July” as sort of penance for the jingoistic nature of the first “Top Gun,” as Newman was quite the activist and campaigner for any number of progressive causes and this rubbed off on Tom Cruise, post film.

I admit that listening to grown men call themselves “Fanboy” and “Payback” and “Phoenix” was jarring. Of course, “Phoenix” was the call name for the sole female pilot, portrayed by Monica Barbaro as Lt. Natasha “Phoenix” Trace, an actress known formerly for “The Good Cop.” It was nice to see some female empowerment recognized onscreen, 36 years later.

All-in-all. The film is the feel good movie of the season, so far, and eve as new Covid-19 variants sweep the globe (according to the CDC) we all feel that we have been waiting a very long time for a feel good movie with top-notch production values (Paramount). The movie had a $152 million production budget. It shows onscreen.

“The Conductor” About 1st Female Conductor Screens at Denver International Film Festival

The Conductor (2021)The biggest lesson from “The Conductor,” now screening at the Denver International Film Festival, (but also a selection at the Austin Documentary Film Festival), is “Don’t tell me I can’t do something.” The individual being told she can’t be a conductor, because she’s female, was Marin Alsop, now conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, and a trailblazer for other female directors.

Director Bernadette Wegenstein quotes Alsop, the first woman to become the conductor of a major American city’s orchestra, as co-parent with spouse Kristen Jurkscheit of their child, “I want my son to be his own person.” She related years of being told no, including showing a copy of a March 27, 1980 rejection letter from Julliard signed by registrar Mary H. Smith. Indeed, at one point, Alsop said she had to either quit Julliard or quit music.

The child of two musicians who grew up in a two-bedroom apartment at Broadway and West 107th Street in New York City, says that she “had to be an adult from the age of three.” Her parents had to travel frequently for their musical gigs and she was an only child.

Marin’s attendance at a Leonard Bernstein Youth Concert when she was nine years old set her off on a quest. “I want to be that. I want to be a conductor,” said Marin after the concert. Her Julliard violin instructor, however, said, “Girls can’t do that.”

Marin described her father as being visibly upset when Marin’s teacher made that remark. He went out and bought her multiple batons and presented them to her in an ornamental box. Leonard Bernstein also came around, as time went by, and became one of her biggest supporters.  Another big supporter was Tomio Taki, a Japanese businessman who helped her to form the Concordia Orchestra with $5,000 donations from 10 of his wealthy friends and who remains supportive.

Marin says that, to her, “can’t is “the worst 4-letter word ever invented.”

MUSIC

One of the best things about the documentary, beyond wonderful cinematography by Shana Hagan of a variety of cities, including the Lucerne Music Festival, are the symphonies providing the soundtrack. Supervising sound recordist is Dwayne Dell (with a lot of assistance). Mahler. Shostakovich’s Symphony #5. Aron Copland’s Symphony #3. Bernstein directing. Marin’s “String Fever” group, profiled by Allison Fields of News 4 in New York City. The music is as breathtaking as the cinematography, and both are wonderful.

THEMES

Obviously, the big theme is to never take “no” for an answer. Marin never did. As she said, “I’d like to turn every struggle into an opportunity.” She always felt that “Conducting is the only thing in life I want to do.” She rails against the institutions that, she said, have this philosophy:  “There’s something about breaking a young person’s spirit and building them back in the image they have for you.” Not for Marin, whose success has led to other female conductors at other major orchestras. She says:  “I needed individuality.” She repeats that, “You never want to tell them they can’t do something, especially someone who clearly has a passion for it.” Even the New York Philharmonic had to rewrite some of its “rules” about conductor hires and we meet Sylvia Cadaff, who worked as Leonard Bernstein’s secretary for years.

Marin suggests that, “The Old Boys’ network has been there for centuries. We need to form the Old Girls’ network and be there for one another.” While I nodded my head in agreement with this thought, and am happy to report that Marin Alsop has actually taken constructive steps toward this goal, founding a scholarship for female conductors, I wondered what Hillary Clinton and/or Vice President Kamala Harris might say about female support for them in their posts.

Todd Haynes “Velvet Underground” Documentary Hits Festival Circuit

 

Velvet Underground

Todd Haynes, USA, 110 min.

Thursday, October 14, 7PM Premiere (AFS). Streaming on Apple+ on October 15th. (Also showing at Chicago International Film Festival).

 

“Austin Film Society will present a Doc Days Opening Night presentation of Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground: a look at the cultural, social, musical, artistic and cinematic forces that created one of the world’s most enduring bands. Far from your typical rock documentary, Haynes goes deep into the source inspiration of the sounds The Velvets would be known for, while tracking and connecting the band’s rise with and through New York’s independent and experimental film scene.

Haynes weaves a cinematic portrait of a band that was essentially birthed and defined through cinematic ideas and images, using footage from the films of Andy Warhol, Jonas Mekas, Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, and Shirley Clarke, among others; and interviews past and present with those who experienced the brief reign of The Velvet Underground.”

According to Wikipedia, “Rolling Stones” named the “most influential bands of the Sixties” and the bands ranked first, second and third were the Beatles, James Brown and the Famous Flames, and the Velvet Underground.

As a sixties music afficionado, I was “in” to music, especially music from my own sixties generation. I subscribe to “Rolling Stone” and brought back a British record release of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in 1967, carried home from my time as an exchange student abroad. (The record was slightly different from the U.S. release.)

In England and Europe I took in James Brown and the Famous Flames in Paris and bought the U.K. version of the Beatles seminal “Sergeant Pepper” record breakthrough. When in England I attended a concert at the Savoy Hotel, a posh hotel in Birmingham, with a light show, at which an unknown band that had no record contract (yet) appeared. That band was Pink Floyd.

 

So, how did I miss out on being a fan of the Velvet Underground in their hey-day?

 

Now that I’ve seen Todd Haynes compilation of old photos and interviews with original members of the group and heard some of the songs, I think I know why I didn’t jump on the Velvet Underground bandwagon at the time. They were hugely experimental and are credited with giving birth to the punk movement and the New Wave movement many years later. With Welsh band member John Cale (who is interviewed prominently in the documentary) playing the viola and supposedly obsessed with sounds that are droning noises (like a refrigerator humming), that doesn’t sound much like the Beatles or James Brown, does it? It didn’t, to me. Then or now. To show how film was supposed to have merged with music (years before it did), some YouTube links like Nico’s singing with Warhol’s art in the background, should perhaps be included in this documentary. I’ve given you a couple video links.

 

I did not become very aware of the Velvet Underground until David Letterman featured Lou Reed on his Late Night talk show many years later. Since Lou Reed has been dead since 2013, these appearances must have happened 9 or 10 years ago, but I remember that Reed was always held forth by Letterman as the King of Cool, sitting in with Paul Schaffer and the Late Night Orchestra.Lou Reed was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame not once, but two times, once as a member of the Velvet Underground and once for his own music, which continued for many years after the break-up of the group. His big hit was “Walk on the Wild Side.”

 

In fact, as one learns from reading up on the Velvet Underground (but not really from this documentary), the parting of the ways for this band came about when Reed felt that Cale had to go. And the primary reason Lou Reed felt that John Cale needed to go in one direction while Lou Reed went in another was that Cale, an odd bird from the first (a weirdly-coiffed intellectual Welsh guy who played the viola), was taking their music in a fairly eccentric and probably unmarketable experimental direction. Lou Reed had already had a job turning out 99 cent songs for Pickwick Records and he knew how to craft a tune that didn’t sound like the drone of a refrigerator. He also wanted to become a well-known star; he needed to do that on his own.

 

“Walk on the Wild Side” was written by Reed for use in the film version of Nelson Algren’s book of the same name. That book and that movie have a special place in my heart, because I sat across from Nelson Algren at the Englert Theater in Iowa City (Iowa) watching Nelson Algren watch the Jane Fonda/Laurence Harvey movie version of his work. I was glued to watching the author watch his book be interpreted onscreen by Hollywood. The song played over the film credits, if I remember correctly, and it had a haunting, beatnik vibe, as, indeed, Lou Reed represented throughout his life and work.

 

The other tune of Reed’s that broke through my consciousness was the song chosen for the movie “Juno” called Sticking with You,” which I remember thinking was a good choice for the theme of the unwed pregnant teenager who decides to stick with the young man (Michael Cera) who impregnated her, who was her best friend, if not technically her “boyfriend.” In keeping with the entire tone of the Velvet Underground and its pushing of boundaries, it seems somehow fitting that the female lead of “Juno,” Ellen Page is now Elliot Page. Here is a version of the song from that movie, sung by the Moldy Peaches:

 

 I had to read up on Lou Reed to be able to interpret and fully understand this Velvet Underground film tribute.

 

I learned that Reed took listeners of his songs on unsettling journeys that detailed his drug use or the electro-shock therapy that his parents put him through. Reed always said he thought his parents made him undergo the shocking (no pun intended) therapy to “cure” him of what might have been his homosexuality. One source says he lived with a trans-sexual individual for three years, but he was also married three times, so I’m not sure if the homosexuality was a correct diagnosis—maybe pan-sexual?— but he was definitely a drug addict and an alcoholic for much of his life and wrote about it in songs like “Heroin.”

 

There was a story told of a falling out between Reed and one of his biggest supporters, David Bowie, who told Reed he was going to have to straighten himself out. Lou had gone on a tour of England and was so strung out that he never took the stage, causing the promoters to hire Ike & Tina Turner to fill his spot. There was talk of Reed, himself, finally deciding to quit using drugs in about 1979. He had contracted hepatitis early in the years of his intravenous drug use and he died shortly after a liver transplant in 2013, living less than 6 months after that treatment.

 

But if Lou Reed—the band’s lead vocalist and its most successful member—is gone, we have John Cale telling us of the years when Andy Warhol was the band’s manager (1966) and pictures from Andy’s work would be projected onto the stage behind the band. Warhol had decided the Velvet Underground would be the Factory’s “house band.” The band toured wearing dark sunglasses because there were so many things happening onstage at times, including impromptu composing of songs  in a sort of improvisational music fashion, and so much happening with lights, etc.. that the sunglasses were to help the band.

 

The female drummer of the Velvet Underground, Maureen “Mo” Tucker, didn’t like cymbals and stood up to play drums in a sort of tom-tom fashion. She is also featured on the documentary talking about her time with the band. Angus MacLise was the drummer and then Moe Tucker in 1965. The band reunited in 1993 and for their 1996 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but were primarily done as an entity by 1970.

 

Various voices tell us that they had to change their name a lot “because we were bad” and that “With Lou we were going to blaze a trail, which we eventually did.” One woman even gives an impromptu dance of “The Ostrich,” which Reed wrote as a satire on the ridiculous dance tunes of the day, like the Monkey.

 

Reed, himself, was described as insecure and angry. Shelley Corwin said he was “angry at people for rejecting him,” which seemed odd, since he was always seen as Mr. Cool and managed to keep a career going even after associates like Tony Conrad tell us, in the documentary, “Lou was always falling down, was sick, and had to be raced to the hospital numerous times.”

 

A large part of the documentary shows how Andy Warhol’s P.R. “juice” would have helped them to succeed, and Andy decided that Nico—a gorgeous blonde—would sing. She couldn’t really sing all that well, so it was short-lived, but she was certainly very pretty and would draw a crowd. (She had a bit part in “La Dolce Vita” as one of the girls behind Anita Eckberg in that Italian film.)

 

Talking heads like Jackson Browne and John Waters pass judgment on the Velvet Underground and Lou is quoted as saying, of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” “That’s what I wanted to do, except with a drum and a guitar.”

 

I was at a poetry reading at Berkeley once where Allen Ginsberg came out, sat on the floor with finger cymbals, and mumbled incoherently. He was so stoned that they finally had to go get the janitor to physically carry him off-stage. And th-th-th-that’s entertainment, Folks! Reminds me of the slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Ginsberg’s was being wasted that night in the summer of 1965, and Lou Reed’s talent was wasted for many years until he decided to depart from the Velvet Underground and clean up his personal act.  They never “shocked the gayness out of him,” but whatever measure of gayness he possessed seems to have been mixed with a fair amount of heterosexuality, as well. [Remember: in those days, you could get 20 years in prison for being gay. It was not embraced by society.]

 

I enjoyed the old clips of Bo Diddly and Mick Jagger, the pictures or film of Andy Warhol and his coterie of avant garde followers.

 

I was less impressed by drummer Maureen Tucker or the viola-playing John Cale, original members of the band.

 

I enjoyed reading the story of a band member (Angus MacLise?) who never showed up on time for practices and/or appearances. Once, he showed up half an hour late for a performance, so, after everyone else had quit playing, he stayed onstage and played solo for half an hour to make up for his lateness.

 

Obviously, these disparate personalities—Reed’s included—were quirky and different and, yes, creative.  All contributed to the assessment that the Velvet Underground, as Todd Haynes’ documentary testifies, was “One of the most influential bands in rock, underground, experimental and alternative music.”

 

I was hopelessly square (apparently) and from Iowa and preferred the Beatles (seen “live” at the San Francisco Cow Palace in 1965) and James Brown and the Famous Flames (seen “live” in Paris in 1967) and seem to have learned what little I knew about Lou Reed and friends from David Letterman and from research done for this documentary.

 

If you’re a big Velvet Underground fan you’re going to probably be older than I am old, which, since I’ve been reviewing non-stop since 1970, means you are not “young.” To follow John Cale’s “Velvet Underground” you had to like often discordant sounds presented as “music,” but, hey! To each his (or her) own. You’ll love this slice of sixties Americana if you were “in” to the Velvet Underground’s music way back when. It’s easy to see the genesis of Bob Dylan, MTV, music videos and so many other staples of today’s music scene.

 How many Velvet Underground fans remain in 2021? Judging from the rave reviews at Cannes (and elsewhere), more than you’d think.

“Annette” with Adam Driver & Marion Cotillard Sings Its Way Into Cannes’ Awards

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard portray a celebrity couple in “Annette.” She’s a world-famous opera singer and he is a comedian billed as “The Ape of God.” Driver is also an executive producer of the film helmed by Leos Carax, who is known as an avant garde French filmmaker. Carax  previously directed the Cannes favorite “Holy Motors,” a big Cannes favorite, which I found almost unwatchable.

“Annette” follows along in this tradition of  very weird films from Leos Carax. It is based on the dialogue and music of the group known as Spark, brothers Ron and Russell Mael. Much of the dialogue is sung, which has been done before both on television in a police sit-com directed by Steven Bochco (“Cop Rock”) where all of the dialogue was sung, and in a film featuring Anna Kendrick directed by Richard Lagravenese, “The Last Five Years.” And let’s not forget about operas like Bizet’s “Carmen.”

The singing is not particularly good, but Adam Driver likes to sing, as proven by the completely unnecessary singing he did in “Marriage Story.” The plot has Marion Cotillard’s character of Ann Defrasnoux cast as a world famous opera singer whose career is going great guns. Plus, she and Henry (Driver) are crazy about each other, although she was dating her accompanist (Simon Helberg) before she met Henry.

Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) is a misogynistic comic who goes onstage clad only in black BVDs and a green bathrobe and rants, usually in a darkly humorous vein. At first, like Kanye, Henry McHenry’s schtick in his act (known as “The Ape of God”) is considered cool and chill by his audiences. His brand of toxic masculinity, blending intimate, often obnoxious confessions with a crude onstage persona (a la Andrew “Dice” Clay or Donald J. Trump), has the audience cheering. But things change.

Henry’s audience turns on him and his fortunes as a comedian suffer. The fall from favor that Henry experiences made me think of a stand-up routine I once suffered through with a late-in-the-game ailing George Carlin, where he went on a supposedly comic rant in a routine about suicide. Patrons were streaming for the exits. So, that is, roughly, what happens to Henry, who finally wears out his welcome like many insult comics.

“Annette” turns into the plot of “A Star Is Born” when Ann’s opera career continues to thrive while Henry’s fans reject his “Ape of God” appearances. This sets up problems in a marriage and the early crooning of their song (“We Love Each Other So Much”) now gives way to a fall from grace, with Henry drinking too much and a melodramatically staged storm leading to tragedy.

But Annette, the daughter that Ann gives birth to, is still there for Henry to care for. Henry begins to shirk that responsibility more and more, leaving paternal duties to Ann’s accompanist-turned-orchestra director, well played by Simon Helberg (“The Big Bang Theory”).

Somewhere in the second half of this 2 hour and 21 minute film Henry—who has discovered that Baby Annette has inherited her mother’s fantastic vocal instrument—decides to exploit his young daughter’s talent by having her tour non-stop singing for stadium-sized audiences. The part of Annette from birth until age five is played by an obvious wooden dummy throughout the first three-fourths of the film. That is very odd, but so is the film. Only in the final prison scenes of the movie do we get a real live girl, Devyn McDowell, who sings her part opposite Adam Driver as he languishes in jail.

The look-alike redhead is only five years old and she is terrific! I would have liked the film to be set up in such a way that we could have had more of Devyn. She is one of the best things in it. The five-year-old traveled to Belgium and Germany for filming and “Annette” not only won the Best Soundtrack and Best Director awards at Cannes, it was the opening night film. At 6 years old, Devyn also worked with the talented, award winning cast of Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne in the anticipated thriller, “The Good Nurse”, directed by Tobias Lindholm

Ultimately, we learn that the most important thing in life is to have someone to love (and vice versa). The singing in the prison sequence between Baby Annette and her father isn’t as distracting as elsewhere in the film. Devyn actually is very, very good for a five-year-old and the message of the film is pretty impressive. As the New York Times critic said, “The final reckoning is as devastating as anything I’ve seen in a recent film,” calling the movie depiction of megalomania “feverishly imaginative.” It earned the film a 5-minute standing ovation at Cannes.

I was burned by “Holy Motors,”one of Leos Carax’s early films (2012). This one is just as odd, but has a better message and better acting.

This film is overlong, has average singers singing the dialogue, and uses a theme we’ve seen done many times previously, but it was far more entertaining than I anticipated it would be.

Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin in “RESPECT”

The first cut of “Respect,” Jennifer Hudson’s starring role as Aretha Franklin, ran 5 and ½ hours. The final cut runs 2 hours and 25 minutes. Both of those times for this movie are too long.

It was nice that a female director and screenwriter were involved in the project, but Director Liesl Tommy is only known for “Jessica Jones” (2015) and “The Walking Dead” (2010). At the risk of being  snarky, this film has about as much energy as “The Walking Dead.” It drags to the point that even Jennifer Hudson’s undeniable vocal talent cannot sustain interest in this overlong bio-pic.

Broadway theater director Liesl Tommy is working from a script by screenwriter Tracey Scott Wilson (Producer of “The Americans” in 2013). Forest Whitaker plays Aretha’s domineering father.Mary Jane Blige has a role playing Dinah Washington and Marc Maron (“G.L.O.W.”) plays Jerry Wexler. Skye Dakota Turner plays Aretha as a child and is very good. These competent actors do as well as they can with a script and a film that is simply a showcase for Hudson singing Franklin’s hits, one by one. For that, you can simply play her records/CDs. This is a bio-pic that is supposed to be telling us about Aretha Franklin’s life, but  one which glosses over many essential threads of the Queen of Soul.

There is an allusion to a childhood marked by sexual abuse, with Aretha giving birth to the first of four children at age 12 in 1955 and a second child at age 14 in 1957. Who was the father of child #1 and child #2? Franklin did not like to talk about her children during interviews and various answers as to who sired child #1 exist (one possible father was named in a handwritten will found after Aretha’ death and was the man who became her first husband, but other potential fathers were mentioned.)

Since the first two children were essentially products of rape, statutory or outright, Aretha’s reluctance to talk about those offspring is understandable. Marlon Wayans gets the role of the man who enters Aretha’s childhood bedroom when she is very young and molests her. Later, in the film’s version, Edward Jordan (Marlon’s character) and Aretha marry and he becomes the father of her second child, born when Aretha is 14.

But the children are barely seen. “Who is raising these four children?” Yes, we can look this up elsewhere, but even there the answers make it sound like a floating support network of random friends and family raised Aretha Franklin’s four sons.

Likewise, in looking up information about her mother, who divorced Clarence Franklin because of his numerous infidelities, we learn that she died of a heart attack before Aretha’s 10th birthday. Yet, in the film, Aretha is shown as a young woman of at least twenty preparing a meal for friends and bragging about how good her cooking is when the phone rings and word comes of the death of her mom. The movie doesn’t even have the news being given directly to Aretha, but to whomever answered the phone. There is no clear cause of death passed on to Aretha by the answerer, nor to us, the audience. We can find out (by looking it up) that she died of a heart attack, but shouldn’t a bio-pic mention what killed the subject’s mom? And shouldn’t it have been more accurate concerning how old or young Aretha was when her mom died?

Aretha was born in Memphis, Tennessee.  Here is the house that is said to be her birthplace.

Aretha Franklin’s birth place in Memphis.

In watching the film and watching the celebrities who are said to have dropped by Aretha’s childhood home (and are pictured there during a Saturday night party), the home certainly must have been one that followed the Franklins’ move to New York (and, later, Encino, California and Bloomington Hills outside Detroit.) Aretha’s father, Clarence, did do well as a fellow preacher and contemporary of Martin Luther King. He was known as “the man with the Million Dollar Voice.” But the Memphis house pictured is a far cry from the comfortable old house depicted in the movie.

In an interview in the Chicago “Tribune” Hudson said, of her female director, “I love that Liesl was brave enough to allow things to breathe.” She remarked on how the actors chosen to play their roles were also musicians.

I don’t know what Hudson meant by “allowed it to breathe” but the inaccuracies (like when Aretha’s mother died) and the failure to address such things as “Who’s minding Aretha’s kids?” or “Who shot Clarence, Sr.., and why?” are not small lapses of judgment or tiny inconsequential matters in Aretha Franklin’s life.

Losing your mother at age ten is traumatic. We could make a guess that Aretha’s becoming a mother, herself, just two years later could be a consequence of such early loss. Her father—-“the man with the million-dollar voice”—-died of his wounds (shot during a break-in at the house) in 1984, when Aretha was 42. The phone call that came to Aretha to tell her about her mother’s death, looks almost like the director got confused about which parent died when. (The woman setting the table when that unsettling news reaches her looked closer to 42 than 10.)

There are allusions in the film to Aretha and her preacher father traveling together, with him preaching and her singing, but we never see any of that early beginning outside of his church. The entire flow of the screenplay, based on a Callie Khouri story, lurches along like that.

Aretha wanted Jennifer Hudson to play her in a bio-pic;  they began meeting right after “Dreamgirls,” so it has been 15 years of waiting for Jennifer, a Chicago girl, to get to play the Queen of Soul.

We waited so long for so little.

Page 1 of 16

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén