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.

“Sheet Music” by Jaran Huggins Screens at Nashville Film Festival

It’s hard to grab an audience’s attention in 15 minutes. The attention span of the average audience member is about that of a gnat, especially these days, with so many things competing for our attention.

That being said, if I had been in Writer/Director/Producer Jaran Huggins’ shoes while writing directing his short “Sheet Music,” I would have started the 15-minute short with the song that concludes “Sheet Music.”

What song?

“The Song We Sing,” is the song,  performed by Chloe Kibble, a Nashville girl whose father was one of the members of the group “Take6.” She is truly wonderful delivering the closing original song; her gold dress is the perfect wardrobe choice.

Kudos to the writer of the song, Bryard Huggins, who wrote the lyrics. He is an accomplished performer who tours with Gladys Knight as her featured guest artist. Bryard has released 6 albums and 7 singles. Bryard Huggins is the brother of “Sheet Music” Writer/Director/Producer Jaran Huggins, a recent graduate of Temple University (BFA in Film and Media Arts.)

“Sheet Music”—the 15-minute short that Jaran created, which screened at the 53rd Nashville Film Festival— has some things going for it, but most of what makes it truly riveting happens in the final frames, when Chloe Kibble lets loose with “The Song We Sing.” Yowza! That girl can sing! I wanted to hear more of Chloe and to hear her sing much earlier in the short.

The plot, according to the press notes, “Tells the story of two Black performers who are able to find their liberation in the roots of oppression.” There really is not much evidence of “oppression” onscreen, other than the white usher failing to bring the about-to-perform female singer a glass of water.

For the first approximately 13 minutes, nothing happens.

Two Black performers wait backstage to perform in a white establishment in a Black neighborhood. The two are Adryan Coogan Jr. (played by Ty Norwood Jr.) and Leilani Drakeford (played by J.C. Willis). Leilani did a credible job with a not-very-riveting script. Her inability to get the white usher to bring her a drink of water is our clue that she and her accompanist are victims of oppression, along with a less-than-welcoming white doorman who opens the club door for the duo.

The production designer (Kimberly Redman) has done a fantastic job of reproducing a slightly down-at-the-heels small dressing room of the era. There are appropriate posters and, as J.C says, the dressing room is a small closet that might have belonged to the janitor. Then again, are dressing rooms in small, seedy establishments glitzy, as a general rule?

The conflict that Jaran shows us comes from Adryan forgetting the duo’s sheet music. The lead singer (J.C. Willis)—one half of the team billed outside as “Adryan Coogan Jr. and J.C. Willis” of “The All American Ragtime Blues” duo—doesn’t seem that concerned about the missing sheet music. However, the pair is waiting for their call to go onstage, which is imminent. Because of the MIA sheet music, the pair ultimately walks out, hand-in-hand down the alley.

This struck me as a poor way to launch a singing career (or any career). I was not overwhelmed at the logic of the two getting a shot at performing in front of an audience (that will be mostly white) and simply walking out, leaving the club owner to deal with the fall-out.

So, to sum up: 1) Slow opening

2) Not very interesting dialogue; the first 13 minutes dragged.

3)  Adequate articulation of the dialogue (better from Leilani Drakeford than from Ty Norwood, Jr.). For me, the couple’s decision to stiff the owner of the night club and run off was a very bad idea for a duo trying to jump start their performing career.

4) Great sets and costumes. (Kudos, Kimberly Redman).

5) Great performance of the song  “The Song We Sing.”

I’m not sure whether this short was originally created for a thesis at Temple or if it is merely a way for Jaran to launch a film career, but, if he is as talented as his brother Bryard, his anticipated move to Los Angeles may prove fruitful. There wasn’t enough of the music, but the one song was thoroughly enjoyable. After 13 minutes of waiting for it, it was like a cool drink after a long hot walk up a steep hill.

This Harriet Tubman quote from the press notes is prominent: “Every dream begins with a dreamer who dares to dream.” I don’t  want to get into a debate with Harriet Tubman, but the quote made me think of that other oft-used quote (author unknown): “Every journey of 1,000 miles begins with one small step.”

Both are true, but it would be a good idea to have talent, drive, stick-to-it-iveness, and maybe some influence with somebody at the top who can help you as you dream your dream or struggle towards your goal(s).

I wish Jaran Huggins the very best as he sets about making his dreams come true.

As for me, I would have started with the show-stopping song and lost most of the dialogue that preceded it. The conflict was not that evident in the dressing room scenes that lead up to the song.

Sitting through the pointless dialogue at the outset was still worth it, to hear Chloe Kibble, who was glorious. I wish she had had more to do (and sing) in the film.

 

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.

“Jacir” Opens Up Worthwhile Discussion of U.S. Attitudes Towards Immigrants at Nashville Film Festival on September 30, 2022

“Jacir” at the 53rd Nashville Film Festival.

“Jacir” screened on Friday, September 30th, at the 53rd Annual Nashville Film Festival. It is the story of a refugee, Jacir, as he flees Aleppo (Syria) and tries to assimilate into the ghetto (Memphis, Tennessee). Written and directed by Waheed AlQawasmi, the 1 hour and 44 minute film is filled with great performances, good rap music, and a variety of profound insights into what life as an immigrant in the United States is like.”

Synopsis: “JACIR follows the life of a young Syrian refugee (Malek Rahbani) on the streets of Memphis, Tennessee, as he faces the stark reality of chasing the American dream. He finds himself alone, living in poverty, without knowledge of the culture, and struggling with his poor English… very far from the ideal new life he imagined.” (”Land of the free. Bullshit!”)

Jacir is a Good Samaritan who tries to help others. This propensity for being there for others gets him into trouble with the immigration authorities and his sponsor, Adam (Tony Mehanna). The authorities, represented by Agent Simmons (Mark Jeffrey Miller), just want refugees to become ghosts. Don’t make waves is the operating mantra.

Jacir, however, is the kind of person who tries to help others out of empathy and instinct. He saves his neighbor’s life on one occasion and intervenes when she is being robbed by burglars. This causes his name to appear on police reports, which brings ICE authorities down on him, causing increased scrutiny of his paperwork and an actual chase through the streets of Memphis. He faces deportation until a climactic moment when others reach out to help him.

A strange new environment is the least of Jacir’s problems. He befriends a cat, Morty, who belongs to his next-door neighbor, Meryl Jackson (Lorraine Bracco) “Good old Meryl” is a conservative Caucasian lady who is an opioid-addicted shut-in and former blues singer. Her character represents a large swath of America who reflexively reject people from another country as interlopers, reacting with suspicion and hostility, no matter how friendly the stranger appears. Unwelcoming is an understatement.

Tremendous Thespian Trio

“Jacir” at the 53rd Nashville Film Festival.

The three leads portraying Meryl, Jacir and Jerome are terrific. They are ably supported by the actors playing the restaurant boss, Adam, and his daughter, Nadia.

Lorraine Bracco, who plays Jacir’s next-door neighbor, is an Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe nominee known for her turns in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and David Chase’s The Sopranos, among many other films and TV projects. Bracco gets the line, “I’m not good at a lot of things, but I am good at listening.” I’m certain I’m not the only “Sopranos” fan in the audience who immediately thought of Bracco’s stint on that show as Tony Soprano’s psycho-therapist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, a role she played from 1999 to 2007. That whiskey quality in her voice made her character’s back story as a blues singer very believable and gave her singing of the song “Night by Night” authenticity. Meryl, as a widowed woman estranged from her only son, finally “does the right thing” and accepts Jacir’s overtures of friendship and good will, instead of continuing her initial racist diatribes. Her performance is in line with her outstanding role in “Goodfellas” in 1990 for which she received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress at the 1991 Academy Awards.

Malek Rahbani is the grandson of Mansour Rahbani, the Lebanese composer, musician, producer, and one-half of the Rahbani brothers. Malek grew up surrounded by artists, music, and poetry. His TV career includes playing Tiger on Chawareh Al-Zill and co-writing and acting in the Jungle Law series, which he worked on with his brothers, Mansour and Tarek. He is one of a formidable trio of lead actors in this thoughtful film, gradually growing close to “good old Meryl” and experiencing rejection from his employer and sponsor, Adam, who tells him, “I curse the day I sponsored you.”

The third member of the Terrific Trio of actors in this exploration of the refugee experience in the United States is Black comedian and actor Darius “Tutweezy” Tutwiler, a  comedian and social influencer with over 700,000 followers on Instagram. Jerome, a co-worker of Jacir’s at the Arabic restaurant shares the realization that they are both outcasts in this country, shunned and discriminated against. At one point, Jerome tells Jacir that he is “one step closer to being a Memphis n—-.” Jacir’s showing up in a Trump/Pence shirt that says, “Making America Great Again” is a nice sarcastic touch (Jerome makes Jacir change).

Justin Toland composed the music; Al Kapone executive produced the rap song. The music is an integral part of the film. Like America itself, reactions to Jacir are a polyglot mélange of racist views that one might hear from the MAGA crowd (especially prominent in a restaurant scene). Against that fabric we see the hopeful attempts to fit in and be useful from the good-hearted Jacir, the general indifference of white residents like Meryl and the immigration officials, and the brave souls who recognize that Jacir is deserving of their compassion and empathy.

The script is insightful and thought-provoking. The character of Jerome makes it very clear that being Black in America is not much better than being an immigrant refugee; the destruction of the restaurant where Jerome and Jacir work, with graffiti saying “Sand N——” underscores the truth of what Jerome says. (“We go through the same shit, fool!”) Cinematography by Ryan Earl Parker depicts Memphis’ Beale Street almost as though it were a fever dream reflection of the nightmares that afflict Jacir routinely as he remembers the war-torn Syria from which he fled.

I nodded my head in agreement when the screenplay articulated the thought, “It’s just so much easier to tear things down than to build them up.” These are concepts that people like Steve Bannon should take to heart. Convicted con-man Bannon promotes “the second turning” of complete destruction of all established norms and authorities in interviews. (See “American Dharma”).

As the script points out, it seems as though “Everyone (in America) is just out for themselves.” But Jacir is living up to his mother’s words that he should stay strong and composed no matter what happens. He is one of the “good guys” whose assimilation can make our country stronger and cancel out the evil deeds of immigrants like those who perpetrated the Boston Marathon Bombing. It is easier to understand why a foreigner might strike out against his adopted country when we experience life seen through Jacir’s eyes. And, on the eve of Hurricane Ian, we must remember that good does still exist in this country, with strangers reaching out to help their fellow man, side-by-side with those who would collaborate to use pandemic funds set aside for hungry school children in Minnesota to buy personal luxuries. Even World Famous quarterbacks are implicated in immensely selfish behavior, but good people still exist, just as welcoming citizens balance out the racist isolationists.

At one point, Jacir cries out in agony, asking where he is supposed to be at home, since he has been driven from his own homeland and is now being rejected by his adopted country. However, as Jacir says, “When you have a couple of bullets fly past your head—at that point neither religion, money or citizenship will help you out.”

This is a great film with a Terrific Trio of three lead actors who make it work. The love interest is Leila Almas Rose as the feisty Nadia and the critical look at the U.S. and how we treat immigrants is both scathing and long-overdue. Both newcomers, “Tutweezy” and Malek Rahbani, do themselves and the film proud on what I hope will be the beginning of many future film appearances for each of them.

“Wannabe” Screens at the Nashville Film Festival on September 29, 2022

 

“Wannabe” is a 13 minute 33 second short written and directed by USC graduate Josie Andrews that will screen at the Nashville Film Festival, which opens September 29th.

It is bound to impress, as it is very slick, sophisticated, and timely—not necessarily in that order.

Quite apart from the original song performed in the short (“Control,” written by Michael Lloyd, Greg O’Connor and Writer/Director Josie Andrews, and performed by the Alley Kats), two things stood out, to me, about this impressive short.

First, the Director’s statement (from Josie Andrews), who graduated Salutatorian of her USC 2018 film class, and, second, the setting of the short, of which Director Andrews said: “We were lucky enough to shoot our performance + exterior scenes at Sunset Strip’s iconic Viper Room before its demolition while all backstage spaces were replicated and built on stage at USC.”

Director Josie Andrews with lead Jada (Margo Parker) on the set of “Wannabe.”

Here, in her own words, is Josie Andrews’ story of the inspiration for the short film’s story:

“Although I knew I wanted to be a storyteller from the day I was born, this is not a story I ever thought I’d tell.

I got my toes wet doing community theater and by second grade I was scouring backstage.com for auditions in New York, calling everyone in my parents’ phone book, begging someone to take me.  To all of our shock, I booked my first national tour at 8 years old and continued on to perform full-time.

While my many years onstage taught me what it meant to be a good collaborator, it did not teach me what it meant to be a woman navigating Hollywood.  Graduating early and moving to L.A.on my own at 16, other women’s stories in acting classes reinforced that objectification and harassment were commonplace and not to be questioned.  So, when I entered USC as an undergraduate acting major and utilized my student status to intern at places such as Lionsgate, NBC Universal and The Weinstein Company, I thought I had no choice but to tolerate explicit texts and inappropriate advances from my superiors.

1st Assistant Director Becca Han with Margo Parker, Victoria T. Washington and Daisy  in “Wannabe” at the Nashville Film Festival.

It wasn’t until an unknown assailant broke into my hotel room and raped me while I was traveling out of the country that my capacity for abuse reached a boiling point. For the first time in my life, I went to the police only to be told that despite security tapes and witnesses, pressing charges would involve staying in the country for a lengthy trial, thus not returning to school.

While my body returned to school, my spirit did not. Void of confidence, I dropped my major and stopped performing altogether, losing my identity.  But hiding in the back of a cinema studies lecture, I had a revelation:  perhaps I was still a storyteller, just a different kind than I initially thought. Perhaps the real agency lay behind the camera; perhaps that’s where I had to be to regain my own.

Wannabe is not just a plea to believe those who have come forward, but a cry to consider the thousands who have not.”

Ms. Andrews has woven the story of a girl band from the raw material of her personal experience coping with rape. In these days of MeToo, the mention of Harvey Weinstein is enough. It took investigative journalism by Mia Farrow’s son Ronan and brave victims to ultimately bring Weinstein to justice after years of abuse.

Daisy Lopez getting touched up in “Wannabe.”

From this raw material, Josie Andrews has fashioned the story of a girl band trio. the Space Girls, that is auditioning in the hopes of catching on with a producer who can help them achieve stardom. The role of the record producer who offers them a helping hand is played by veteran music producer Peter Zizzo as Landon.

Zizzo, in real life, has a lengthy history of musical successes in producing records for many well-known groups and soloists, including Jennifer Lopez, Celine Dion, Avril Lavigne, Jason Mraz, Billy Porter, Brie Larson, M2M, Pixie Lott,
BeBe and CeCe Winans (Grammy Winner: Best Gospel Album). Here he plays a straight dramatic supporting role.

 

As the female trio concludes their performance of the (original) song “Control” the lead singer, Jada (Margo Parker, known from Lifetime’s “If Walls Could Talk,” “Girls Night Out,” and “Retrograde L.A.”) recognizes the man taking notes on a clipboard leaning against the bar as her rapist. He feigns complete ignorance and innocence of the crime.

The Space Girls—lead singer Jada, Sky (Daisy Lopez) and Bianca (Victoria T. Washington)—are eager to be given that Big Break that every wannabe group dreams of, but should Jada agree to work with the man who raped her but suffered no consequences?

The fabled L.A. Viper Room.

She is obviously torn, and the group members are, as well. There is even a suggestion that Jada may not be positive that Landon (Peter Zizzo) was the true culprit.

This was the first USC post-pandemic production, and it is the product of a largely All Female cast. Cinematography was by Luke Evans; Production design by Colin Sheehan; Art direction by Hannah Kelly; Costume Design by Cristina Acevedo; Music by Greg O’Connor and Michael Lloyd; and Editing by Foustene Fortenbach.

Aside from the performance by the fictional group, which is good, the recreation of the Viper Room on a back lot is impressive. The L.A. hang-out was  partially owned by Johnny Depp until 2004.  It was the famous location outside of which actor River Phoenix collapsed and died on October 31, 1993, almost 30 years ago. River Phoenix was only 23 years old. He died of what is popularly known as a speedball, ingested at the club. (A speedball is a combination of heroin and cocaine.)

The once-thriving nightclub the Viper Room is being razed. If you ever wondered what the Viper Club looked like inside, this might be your only chance to find out.

Kudos to the nearly All Female cast and crew that has produced “Wannabe.” Very well-done and very professional in every respect. You get the impression that the “wannabes” are on their way to becoming successful in the film industry.

(Pictured, Writer/Director Josie Andrews with star of “Wannabe” Margo Parker, as Jada.)

“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.

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