Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

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The category is self-explanatory, but it would include new or old businesses, political elections, trends, restaurants in town, entertainment in town, etc.

Oscar Nominees Are Announced for March 7th, 2023 Awards Ceremony

Oscar Nominees

Best Picture

“All Quiet on the Western Front”

“Avatar: The Way of Water”

“The Banshees of Inisherin”

“Elvis”

“Everything Everywhere All at Once”

“The Fabelmans”

“Tár”

“Top Gun: Maverick”

“Triangle of Sadness”

“Women Talking”

Actress in a Supporting Role

Angela Bassett, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

Hong Chau, “The Whale”

Kerry Condon, “The Banshees of Inisherin”

Jamie Lee Curtis, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Stephanie Hsu, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Actor in a Supporting Role

Colin Farrell on the Red Carpet at the 50th Chicago Film Festival.

Brendan Gleeson, “The Banshees of Inisherin”

Brian Tyree Henry, “Causeway”

Judd Hirsch, “The Fabelmans”

Barry Keoghan, “The Banshees of Inisherin”

Ke Huy Quan, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Actor in a Leading Role

Cate Blanchett 

Austin Butler, “Elvis”

Colin Farrell, “The Banshees of Inisherin”

Brendan Fraser, “The Whale”

Paul Mescal, “Aftersun”

Bill Nighy, “Living”

Actress in a Leading Role

Cate Blanchett, “Tár”

Ana de Armas, “Blonde”

Andrea Riseborough, “To Leslie”

Michelle Williams, “The Fabelmans”

Michelle Yeoh, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Best Director

Martin McDonagh, “The Banshees of Inisherin”

Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Steven Spielberg, “The Fabelmans”

Todd Field, “Tár”

Ruben Ostlund, “Triangle of Sadness”

In the “Best Picture” category, I have seen 7 of 10. By the time of the March 7th broadcast, I will have seen 8, minimum. It is always difficult to see all of the films if you don’t live in a major metropolitan area. It is especially difficult if the film is an international offering and has poor distribution. No predictions or comments until I complete my viewing of the nominated films prior to the March 7th awards ceremony.

Actress in a Supporting Role – I’ve seen all of these nominated performances. I did not enjoy the “Everything, Everywhere All At Once” film, so I’m not blown away by the nomination of 2 actresses from that film. I did appreciate the film more after reading that, basically, a very few people put this film together. I do acknowledge that the lead role would be quite demanding. I will make some predictions closer to March 7th.

Actor in a Supporting Role: I’ve seen all of these performances. My initial thoughts on the nominees here is that Judd Hirsch, although good in his role in “The Fabelmanns,” is barely in the film. “The Causeway” film was underwhelming (a Jennifer Lawrence indie film) although Brian Tyree Henry was good in a small film. I can see where Hirsch might get the vote for his long career, but, for me, Brendan Gleeson was the best of these 5.

Actor in a Leading Role:  I’ve only seen 3 of the 5 nominees. This was partially because two of the films did not have as wide a release, and partially because of my own health issues. I still need to see Paul Mescal and Bill Nighy before commenting. With the three I have seen, I am torn. I appreciate the acting tour de force that Brendan Fraser gave us in an overall depressing film that was almost like a stage play in having taken place on one set. I’ve watched “Elvis” three times, but I have always felt that Colin Farrell deserved more recognition for his work and Austin Butler is a newcomer. I met Colin Farrell in Chicago at the premiere of the Liv Ullman-directed film “Miss Julie.”

Actress in a Leading Role:  I’ve seen all of the nominees. I actually like Andrea Riseborough’s performance in “To Leslie” the best of these nominees. She was great opposite Marc Maron! I am puzzled as to why the lead in “Till” didn’t make the cut. One also wonders about the Jennifer Lawrence role in “Causeway” and the diss of Viola Davis in “The Woman King.”

Best Director:  I’ve seen all the nominees except “Triangle of Sadness” director Ruben Ostlund. I’m a longtime fan of Martin McDonagh (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and “In Bruges”). Everyone is a longtime fan of Steven Spielberg, which may work against him, since he has won previously. “Tar” was a great performance from Cate Blanchett, but it was not a great movie for the audience. Likewise, unless “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once” begins a sweep—which will happen without me being onboard—I would vote for either McDonagh or Spielberg.

More predictions and commentary to come. These, for me, are the Big Categories, and, of nominess, I’ve seen 28 of 35 of the Big Ones. While this is only 80%, I had the kind of 2022 that makes it amazing I saw that many!

Critics’ Choice Awards Given on January 15, 2023

Critics’ Choice Awards 2023: WINNERS

 FILM

BEST PICTURE

Avatar: The Way of Water

Babylon

The Banshees of Inisherin

Elvis

Everything Everywhere All at Once – WINNER

The Fabelmans

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

RRR

Tár

Top Gun: Maverick

Women Talking

BEST ACTOR

Austin Butler – Elvis

Tom Cruise – Top Gun: Maverick

Colin Farrell – The Banshees of Inisherin

Brendan Fraser – The Whale – WINNER

Paul Mescal – Aftersun

Bill Nighy – Living

BEST ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett – Tár – WINNER

Viola Davis – The Woman King

Danielle Deadwyler – Till

Margot Robbie – Babylon

Michelle Williams – The Fabelmans

Michelle Yeoh – Everything Everywhere All at Once

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Paul Dano – The Fabelmans

Brendan Gleeson – The Banshees of Inisherin

Judd Hirsch – The Fabelmans

Barry Keoghan – The Banshees of Inisherin

Ke Huy Quan – Everything Everywhere All at Once – WINNER

Brian Tyree Henry – Causeway

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Angela Bassett – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – WINNER

Jessie Buckley – Women Talking

Kerry Condon – The Banshees of Inisherin

Jamie Lee Curtis – Everything Everywhere All at Once

Stephanie Hsu – Everything Everywhere All at Once

Janelle Monáe – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS

Frankie Corio – Aftersun

Jalyn Hall – Till

Gabriel LaBelle – The Fabelmans – WINNER

Bella Ramsey – Catherine Called Birdy

Banks Repeta – Armageddon Time

Sadie Sink – The Whale

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE

The Banshees of Inisherin

Everything Everywhere All at Once

The Fabelmans

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery – WINNER

The Woman King

Women Talking

BEST DIRECTOR

James Cameron – Avatar: The Way of Water

Damien Chazelle – Babylon

Todd Field – Tár

Baz Luhrmann – Elvis

Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert – Everything Everywhere All at Once – WINNER

Martin McDonagh – The Banshees of Inisherin

Sarah Polley – Women Talking

Gina Prince-Bythewood – The Woman King

S. S. Rajamouli – RRR

Steven Spielberg – The Fabelmans

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Todd Field – Tár

Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert – Everything Everywhere All at Once – WINNER

Martin McDonagh – The Banshees of Inisherin

Steven Spielberg, Tony Kushner – The Fabelmans

Charlotte Wells – Aftersun

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Samuel D. Hunter – The Whale

Kazuo Ishiguro – Living

Rian Johnson – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Rebecca Lenkiewicz – She Said

Sarah Polley – Women Talking – WINNER

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Russell Carpenter – Avatar: The Way of Water

Roger Deakins – Empire of Light

Florian Hoffmeister – Tár

Janusz Kaminski – The Fabelmans

 Maverick – WINNER Miranda Claudion – Top Gun Maverick

Linus Sandgren – Babylon

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Hannah Beachler, Lisa K. Sessions – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Rick Carter, Karen O’Hara – The Fabelmans

Dylan Cole, Ben Procter, Vanessa Cole – Avatar: The Way of Water

Jason Kisvarday, Kelsi Ephraim – Everything Everywhere All at Once

Catherine Martin, Karen Murphy, Bev Dunn – Elvis

Florencia Martin, Anthony Carlino – Babylon – WINNER

BEST EDITING

Tom Cross – Babylon

Eddie Hamilton – Top Gun: Maverick

Stephen Rivkin, David Brenner, John Refoua, James Cameron – Avatar: The Way of Water

Paul Rogers – Everything Everywhere All at Once – WINNER

Matt Villa, Jonathan Redmond – Elvis

Monika Willi – Tár

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Ruth E. Carter – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – WINNER

Jenny Eagan – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Shirley Kurata – Everything Everywhere All at Once

Catherine Martin – Elvis

Gersha Phillips – The Woman King

Mary Zophres – Babylon

BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP

Babylon

The Batman

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Elvis – WINNER

Everything Everywhere All at Once

The Whale

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Avatar: The Way of Water – WINNER

The Batman

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Everything Everywhere All at Once

RRR

Top Gun: Maverick

BEST COMEDY

The Banshees of Inisherin

Bros

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Triangle of Sadness

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio – WINNER

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Turning Red

Wendell & Wild

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

All Quiet on the Western Front

Argentina, 1985

Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths

Close

Decision to Leave

RRR – WINNER

BEST SONG

Carolina – Where the Crawdads Sing

Ciao Papa – Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Hold My Hand – Top Gun: Maverick

Lift Me Up – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Naatu Naatu – RRR – WINNER

New Body Rhumba – White Noise

BEST SCORE

Alexandre Desplat – Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Michael Giacchino – The Batman

Hildur Guðnadóttir – Tár – WINNER

Hildur Guðnadóttir – Women Talking

Justin Hurwitz – Babylon

John Williams – The Fabelmans

 TELEVISION

BEST DRAMA SERIES

Andor (Disney+)

Bad Sisters (Apple TV+)

Better Call Saul (AMC) – WINNER

The Crown (Netflix)

Euphoria (HBO)

The Good Fight (Paramount+)

House of the Dragon (HBO)

Severance (Apple TV+)

Yellowstone (Paramount Network)

BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

Jeff Bridges – The Old Man (FX)

Sterling K. Brown – This Is Us (NBC)

Diego Luna – Andor (Disney+)

Bob Odenkirk – Better Call Saul (AMC) – WINNER

Adam Scott – Severance (Apple TV+)

Antony Starr – The Boys (Prime Video)

BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES

Christine Baranski – The Good Fight (Paramount+)

Sharon Horgan – Bad Sisters (Apple TV+)

Laura Linney – Ozark (Netflix)

Mandy Moore – This Is Us (NBC)

Kelly Reilly – Yellowstone (Paramount Network)

Zendaya – Euphoria (HBO) – WINNER

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

Andre Braugher – The Good Fight (Paramount+)

Ismael Cruz Córdova – The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (Prime Video)

Michael Emerson – Evil (Paramount+)

Giancarlo Esposito – Better Call Saul (AMC) – WINNER

John Lithgow – The Old Man (FX)

Matt Smith – House of the Dragon (HBO)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES

Milly Alcock – House of the Dragon (HBO)

Carol Burnett – Better Call Saul (AMC)

Jennifer Coolidge – The White Lotus (HBO) – WINNER

Julia Garner – Ozark (Netflix)

Audra McDonald – The Good Fight (Paramount+)

Rhea Seehorn – Better Call Saul (AMC)

BEST COMEDY SERIES

Abbott Elementary (ABC) – WINNER

Barry (HBO)

The Bear (FX)

Better Things (FX)

Ghosts (CBS)

Hacks (HBO Max)

Reboot (Hulu)

Reservation Dogs (FX)

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

Matt Berry – What We Do in the Shadows (FX)

Bill Hader – Barry (HBO)

Keegan-Michael Key – Reboot (Hulu)

Steve Martin – Only Murders in the Building (Hulu)

Jeremy Allen White – The Bear (FX) – WINNER

D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai – Reservation Dogs (FX)

BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

Christina Applegate – Dead to Me (Netflix)

Quinta Brunson – Abbott Elementary (ABC)

Kaley Cuoco – The Flight Attendant (HBO Max)

Renée Elise Goldsberry – Girls5eva (Peacock)

Devery Jacobs – Reservation Dogs (FX)

Jean Smart – Hacks (HBO Max)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

Brandon Scott Jones – Ghosts (CBS)

Leslie Jordan – Call Me Kat (Fox)

James Marsden – Dead to Me (Netflix)

Chris Perfetti – Abbott Elementary (ABC)

Tyler James Williams – Abbott Elementary (ABC)

Henry Winkler – Barry (HBO) – WINNER

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

Paulina Alexis – Reservation Dogs (FX)

Ayo Edebiri – The Bear (FX)

Marcia Gay Harden – Uncoupled (Netflix)

Janelle James – Abbott Elementary (ABC)

Annie Potts – Young Sheldon (CBS)

Sheryl Lee Ralph – Abbott Elementary (ABC) – WINNER

BEST LIMITED SERIES

The Dropout (Hulu) – WINNER

Gaslit (Starz)

The Girl from Plainville (Hulu)

The Offer (Paramount+)

Pam & Tommy (Hulu)

Station Eleven (HBO Max)

This Is Going to Hurt (AMC+)

Under the Banner of Heaven (FX)

BEST MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION

Fresh (Hulu)

Prey (Hulu)

Ray Donovan: The Movie (Showtime)

The Survivor (HBO)

Three Months (Paramount+)

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (The Roku Channel) – WINNER

BEST ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION

Ben Foster – The Survivor (HBO)

Andrew Garfield – Under the Banner of Heaven (FX)

Samuel L. Jackson – The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (Apple TV+)

Daniel Radcliffe – Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (The Roku Channel) – WINNER

Sebastian Stan – Pam & Tommy (Hulu)

Ben Whishaw – This is Going to Hurt (AMC+)

BEST ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION

Julia Garner – Inventing Anna (Netflix)

Lily James – Pam & Tommy (Hulu)

Amber Midthunder – Prey (Hulu)

Julia Roberts – Gaslit (Starz)

Michelle Pfeiffer – The First Lady (Showtime)

Amanda Seyfried – The Dropout (Hulu) – WINNER

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION

Murray Bartlett – Welcome to Chippendales (Hulu)

Domhnall Gleeson – The Patient (FX)

Matthew Goode – The Offer (Paramount+)

Paul Walter Hauser – Black Bird (Apple TV+) – WINNER

Ray Liotta – Black Bird (Apple TV+)

Shea Whigham – Gaslit (Starz)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION

Claire Danes – Fleishman Is in Trouble (FX)

Dominique Fishback – The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (Apple TV+)

Betty Gilpin – Gaslit (Starz)

Melanie Lynskey – Candy (Hulu)

Niecy Nash-Betts – Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (Netflix) – WINNER

Juno Temple – The Offer (Paramount+)

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE SERIES

1899 (Netflix)

Borgen (Netflix)

Extraordinary Attorney Woo (Netflix)

Garcia! (HBO Max)

The Kingdom Exodus (MUBI)

Kleo (Netflix)

My Brilliant Friend (HBO)

Pachinko (Apple TV+) – WINNER

Tehran (Apple TV+)

BEST ANIMATED SERIES

Bluey (Disney+)

Bob’s Burgers (Fox)

Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal (Adult Swim)

Harley Quinn (HBO Max) – WINNER

Star Trek: Lower Decks (Paramount+)

Undone (Prime Video)

BEST TALK SHOW

The Amber Ruffin Show (Peacock)

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS)

The Kelly Clarkson Show (NBC)

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) – WINNER

Late Night with Seth Meyers (NBC)

Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen (Bravo)

BEST COMEDY SPECIAL

Fortune Feimster: Good Fortune (Netflix)

Jerrod Carmichael: Rothaniel (HBO)

Joel Kim Booster: Psychosexual (Netflix)

Nikki Glaser: Good Clean Filth (HBO)

Norm Macdonald: Nothing Special (Netflix) – WINNER

Would It Kill You to Laugh? Starring Kate Berlant & John Early (Peacock)

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Tom Hanks is Otto in “A Man Called Otto”

 

The comic possibilities of a suicidal suspect who keeps failing at offing himself were plumbed by Burt Reynolds 45 years ago in “The End.” The reasons why Burt’s many attempts at suicide failed were not identical to Tom Hanks’ in “A Man Called Otto” based on the Swedish film “A Man Called Ove” and the 2015 Oscar-nominated Swedish hit by Hannes Holm (which was based on the book of the same name by Fredrik Backman.) But the engine driving the film was the same in both films.

The cranky old man schtick has also been well plumbed by actors like Clint Eastwood portraying Walt Kowalski in the 2008 film “Gran Torino.” The grouchy man who is mad at the world role is played, this time, by America’s favorite Everyman, Tom Hanks. It’s a good thing, because the plot is obvious from a mile away (we’ve seen this film before). However, with Tom Hanks as the lead, it’s possible to shrug off the sugary overload and enjoy the (relatively) happy ending. Plus, Tom adopts a stray cat, always a crowd pleaser.  [Based on remarks Hanks made on a late-night talk show, the cat was a pretty independent critter that would barely look Tom’s way and never on cue.]

The younger version of Tom Hanks is played by Truman Hanks, Tom’s real-life son. This is also something that has been done before, as with the recent pairing of Dustin and Jake Hoffman starring opposite Sissy Spacek and her daughter Schuyler Fisk in “Sam and Kate.”To hear the elder Hanks tell it, his son Truman has been learning the entertainment business from the ground up, starting with camera and electrical work. Truman does not resemble Tom as much as his older son, Colin,  but Truman was the right age for the part (if a little chubby by Dad’s standards).  The flashbacks, establishing young Otto’s somewhat awkward social presence, are fine, with Rachel Keller portraying young Sonya, the love of Otto’s life.

Little by little we learn that Otto and Sonya were in a bus accident; their unborn child died.  Sonya went on to teach school and  to urge her husband to continue to invest in life, although the loss of their child was a bitter blow. Even more deeply felt was Otto’s loss of Sonya to cancer at 63 years of age. He now visits her daily in the cemetery and chats graveside.

With Colin Hanks at the Chicago Film Festival.

From Sonya’s death on, Otto is the Town Grouch. He makes daily “rounds” to make sure no one is driving the wrong way on the “not a through street” entrance to their Midwestern housing  development.  He supervises the trash recycling area. After new neighbors move in across the street, he is asked to loan Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo)  and Marisol (Mariana Trevino) everything from a ladder to an Allen wrench. “Idiot” is the most common perjorative that Otto uses when someone near him cannot parallel park or is driving the wrong way in the neighborhood. But the cracks in the crabby façade are growing bigger and broader with the entrance into the neighborhood of the vivacious pregnant Marisol, her husband Tommy and their two little girls. The two little girls in the new family (Christiana Montoya as Luna and Alessandra Perez as Abbie) are a sure sign that Otto will thaw from his previous role as Mr. Grumpy Pants.

Along the way, there are at least three failed suicide attempts by Hanks, which, again,  reminded me of that long-ago Burt Reynolds blackly comic vehicle “The End” (co-starring Sally Field and Dom DeLuise). It also reminded me of a very unpopular comedy routine that George Carlin launched on an unsuspecting audience in Chicago near the end of his life. [The audience began exiting in droves; they did not find suicide the least bit funny.]

There’s nothing off-key about Tom Hanks’ performance in this very predictable bitter sweet story. The music (Thomas Newman) is unremarkable and the fact that Tom Hanks could read the phone book and still entertain us is not news. I wondered why Hanks chose this particular story, and then I saw that Rita Wilson (Mrs. Tom Hanks) was Executive Producer and read that she was quite taken with the project after seeing the Swedish film.

I don’t object to a “happy” ending or a nicely-packaged movie about a Scrooge-like character who will, in the course of the movie’s 2 hour  40 minute length, grow much warmer and fuzzier. The supporting performances are adequate;with the exception of Mariana Trevino as the irrepressible Marisol, the other characters are not overly memorable.

It was a nice family movie with some good messages about living life and nurturing community. German director Marc Foster’s offering is not likely to surprise, but the fleeting references to Hanks’ suicidal tendencies will not drive patrons from the theater. Comedian Mike Birbiglia is wasted as a Dye & Merica real estate agent. The movie opened wide on Friday the 13th (Jan.).

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Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon” Defines Excess in Hollywood

“Babylon” is Damien Chazelle’s salute to the movies, following on the heels of Sam Mendes’  similar homage to film  in “Empire of Light.”

I’ve never met Sam Mendes, although I admire his work. But I have met Damian Chazelle, when he came to Chicago for the premiere of “La La Land” at the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival on October 13, 2016. Damien Chazelle is a genuine, personable, interesting young man. He has again partnered with longtime collaborator Justin Hurwitz, (who also did the music for “La La Land” and “Whiplash”). The  score was very reminiscent of the music from “La La Land.”

The film attempts to depict what Hollywood might have been like back when the silent movie era was giving way to talkies. It is both an homage to those chaotic times, beginning in 1926, and a criticism of the excesses of Hollywood. The opening 20 minutes, depicting an elephant being transported to an orgy-like party hosted by someone seemingly based on Fatty Arbuckle, goes a long way towards showing those excesses. It’s way over-the-top. You could say that about the entire film.

One of the things that amazes about this $80 million-dollar stroll down memory lane, is the cast. In addition to Brad Pitt as the male lead and Margot Robbie as the female lead,  there are bit parts for a myriad of actors, both known and unknown. Who were these masked men (and women)?

Flea has a part. Eric Roberts—who I interviewed on my WeeklyWilson podcast during the pandemic—plays Margot Robbie’s father. Lukas Haas who played  the small boy in “Witness” when he was nine years old in the seventies, plays George, Brad Pitt’s best friend.  Tobey Maguire, listed as an executive producer, has a truly hero-destroying role as a gangster. Spike Jonze plays Otto. Michael Dukakis has an uncredited part as a soldier. Anna Chazelle has an uncredited part as Bobbie Hart. Kaia Gerber, look-alike daughter of Cindy Crawford, has a bit part as a starlet.  Jovan Adepo plays jazz trumpeter Sidney Palmer. Jean Smart (“Hacks”) plays a composite character based on columnists like Hedda Hopper/Louella Parsons, Elinor O’Toole. Max Minghella (“The Handmaid’s Tale’s Nick Blaine) plays Irving Thalberg. Comedian/actor Jeff Garlin (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) plays Don Wallach, Ethan Suplee  (“Remember the Titans” 2000) plays Wilson and spends most of his time onscreen spitting grossly, Manny Liotta plays a  P.A. (Production Assistant). This is a very partial list of the surprisingly elaborate cast list. (Hard to stage an orgy without a crowd, I guess.)

But the lead as Manny Torres is relative unknown Mexican actor Diego Calva, who comes to the screen in a major part as a relative unknown to U.S. audiences. Calva played a drug lord on Netflix’s “Narcos: Mexico” but, if you missed that, you missed him. He came to his star-making part in much the same way as the fictional Manny Torres: by doing whatever anyone in the movie business wanted/needed done. He reminded me of the “fixer” characters played by Harvey Keitel in “Pulp Fiction” or by Leiv Schreiber in “Ray Donovan.”

During an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night television show, Calva shared some behind-the-scenes insights into the film and into his own background. Golden Globe nominated for “Babylon,” Diego learned to speak English specifically for “Babylon.” He said he learned English from playing “Pokemon” video games in Mexico. He confirmed that the chicken in the orgy scene was a great actor.  He also confirmed that they used a chicken puppet for some takes. Diego admitted he was most excited to meet Tobey Maguire, since he had been a “Spiderman” fan from a young age.

Among other comments the young actor made was this one about the opening orgy scene:  “It was so crazy. I’ve never been surrounded by so many naked people before.” Of his co-star and love interest in the film, Margot Robbie, Diego said:  “She’s always going to do the unexpected. She’s a fearless actress, just full on energy.  When you’re so tired, she can play it 100 times more.”Diego studied at the Centro de Capacitacion Cinematografica in Mexico. He is a talent to watch.

The thing that resonated with me—especially since it was quite similar to Sam Mendes’ musings on the movies—were the lines that pin down Chazelle’s feelings about film. It’s not unique amongst creative types, whether filmmakers, writers, song writers, or painters that the work we leave behind gives us a feelingof a little bit of immortality. Ideally, whatever we have created has been good. It will be around long after we are gone.Immortality.

Chazelle scripted one scene, in particular, between Jean Smart and Brad Pitt where she tells the fading screen star “Your time has run out. There is no why. Film is bigger than you. No one asks to be left behind.” Telling him how he will live forever on celluloid, the columnist says, “You’ve been given a gift. Be grateful.” And Pitt’s character, in an earlier scene, states, “What I do means something to millions of people. For real people, on the ground, it means something.” He tells Olivia Wilde’s character (Ina) to spare him the pretentious notes on his reading of a script, expressing some disgust at those who try to characterize film as “a low art” and, instead, enshrine Ibsen and Strindberg and the theater.

The general critical consensus has been bad for the film among both critics and audiences. I understand that, as so many of the scenes are well over-the-top and, I’m sure, offensive to many. The opening scene with the elephant and elephant dung is but one example. There is a later one involving Margot Robbie at a party rejecting the urgings to be “elegant” and become more like the group at the party with whom she is associating. She tries, but fails, to “act” respectable, since her original nickname was “the wild child.” Now, she is to eschew her Jersey roots and act well-behaved, but she rejects that advice in a way that goes beyond the norm. She literally smears food all over her face, insults everyone at the party, and, ultimately, projectile vomits both outside the house and inside on a newly-purchased expensiv rug. It’s a bit much. The orgy scenes and naked bodies may have been necessary (although the golden shower scene with a Fatty Arbuckle type was a bit much) and the descent into the depths of depravity in L.A. that Tobey Maguire insists Manny and companion take with him was overkill.

The film cost a lot ($80 million) and when you see the voluminous cast list, it isn’t surprising. Not only does it have two of the biggest current stars in Hollywood (Pitt and Robbie) but it seems to have everyone else who might have been hanging around. My favorite small part was the inclusion of Eric Roberts. Roberts undoubtedly holds the record for most American movie appearances ever.

A lot of the scenes screamed gross—like the vomiting one and dung-spewing elephant. You  get the feeling that the creative license to try new things led to throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the wall.

Another thing that swelled the film’s length from a normal hour and a half to over three hours was the emphasis on the music. Chazelle has highlighted the music of his collaborator, Justin Hurwitz. Although trumpet player character Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo) admitted  that he did not really play the trumpet, the film focuses on the band and its performances. I don’t have an exact count of how many minutes this occupies, but it was substantial.

Another source pointed out that the film’s release in competition against “Avatar” was not great marketing.

Outside the door of the Alama Drafthouse Theater the day I saw it was a warning that the final scenes, paying tribute to many other movies that have gone before, might cause viewers to have seizures, if they were vulnerable.

I salute the effort to capture Hollywood magic of the 1920-1930 in a bottle, but it just didn’t work.

“One Way,” “American Assassin,” and “The Nanny:” Films at Christmas (Streaming)

We are currently watching “One Way.” Drea De Matteo, from “The Sopranos,” has a roleas Vic, as do Kevin Bacon and Colson Baker, otherwise known as Machine Gun Kelly. Travis Fimmel is another in the cast, and it is rated “R” on Amazon Prime for $4.99.

It will be interesting to see if Machine Gun Kelly is much of an actor, so the $4.99 price tag seems worth it. The film, by Andrew Baird, is an indie thriller and, so far, Colson (i.e., Machine Gun) is on a bus and attempting to escape. He portrays Freddy, who has stolen some coke and is on the lam. Freddy may not have thought out this heist too completely, as he seems to have sustained a gunshot to his abdomen.

The background music is pretty hard core and the person being tortured, Mac, is a Machine Gun Kelly knock-off, pink hair and all. Some commenters on ratings pages have mentioned that they had difficulty hearing all the dialogue because of the volume of the background music, but it is compelling and carries and sustains the suspense and momentum.

Two nights ago I watched “The Nanny,” another indie film, which had some good acting within it. The young nanny from Senegal, Aisha, (Anna Diopp) was good in her part, but the ending was rather abrupt. She was hired as the nanny for a couple, portrayed by Michelle Monaghan and Morgan Spector.  They don’t pay her what she is owed, and the boss even makes a pass at her. However, the film, which seems to be heading toward a tragic ending, has a rather sudden happy ending, so there’s that. Anna Diopp was impressive in her role.

I followed that up with a film called “American Assassin” which caught my eye as something being streamed live by YouTube. Every few minutes a message would appear on the screen saying, “We’ll be back in 1 minute and 58 seconds.” The film would buffer. Michael Keaton would be training assassins of the Navy Seal variety and acting all tough. I like Michael Keaton very much, but I prefer films in which he has witty dialogue, which he never fails to deliver well. [I’m still stuck on “Night Shift,” one of his very first films, with Henry Winkler as his boss.]

I had been eagerly awaiting Damian Chazelle’s “Babylon” film, but the advance word from those who have seen it is not positive. I met Chazelle at the premiere of “La La Land” at the Chicago International Film Festival” and he was very, very nice. I look forward to all of his films, and I’ll see this one, regardless of the bad reviews I’ve encountered.

Drea is playing a bad girl known as Vic. She and her minions have just murdered the Machine Gun Kelly look-alike (Mac), after torturing him to try to find out where the real Machine Gun Kelly had gone with their illegal product.

Time to start concentrating on the plot. So far, it is holding my attention better than either of the two mentioned above.

The Voice Finale: Very Disappointing

I watched the taped last program of “The Voice” that selected the winner.

What a colossal disappointment!

As I relayed in a previous article, they had already kicked off the two best singers. The two best were African American singers who were spectacular and, instead of them, we had one truly impressive voice remaining (Omar) and 4 others who were okay, but not that impressive.

Of the 4 others, at least 2 were selected because they were “cute,” even though one of them (the young fellow who had never really sung before this) finished last, the entire program was so jam-packed with filler and performances from people you’ve barely heard of that it was not a good finale for Blake Shelton’s last show, his 9th win. I wonder how the show will do with Blake Shelton departing? They also inserted so much “filler” (Howie Mandel teaching Camilla to tell jokes?) that they ran out of time to tell us who finished in 3rd and 2nd place, after they blurted out that the cowboy had won. We were left with the blonde, the Bodie guy and Bryce Leatherwood and less than 2 minutes to announce the culmination of literally weeks of run-offs and duets and votes. W-H-A-T?

It was nice, for Blake Shelton, that the country and western singer with the good name (Leatherwood) won, as he was on Blake’s team, but all THREE of Blake’s team made the cut, when the Brodie person was average and the cowboy hat wearing country singer who won (Bryce Leatherwood) seems very likeable, but was simply not as good as the two Black singers kicked off in the previous program when there were 8 left.

There was also a blonde from Cemilla Cabello’s team, who was among the top three.

The program had so much “filler” and so many guest performances by nobodies (well, two were somebodies) that I was glad to have it on tape so I could fast forward through the short guy in orange whom I had never seen or heard of before and the Spanish-speaking performer whose name started with the letter “M.” (If my daughter had been here, she could have filled me in on how out-of-it I am and provided names for me to give you here.)

I was shocked at Adam Lambert’s appearance, as he wore a baggy white suit and really looked heavy and old (and he sang a totally depressing song, mostly in falsetto, on a totally weird set.) Carson Daly also appears to need to join the same gym as A

dam Lambert, as both of them have packed on the pounds. I say this as someone always dieting, but I’m not on TV, so—–

Best performance of the evening by a contestant was Omar’s Stevie Wonder medley, but the entire program was really depressing and even poorly planned, time-wise.

Two Amazon Sci-Fi Films That Are Out There

I’m watching the Channel 5 news from Chicago here in Austin and beginning a week of supervision of our twin granddaughters. (age 13). We won’t starve, but I am definitely going to have to learn how to turn the thermostat up from 70. [I can take 70 if I’m in bed sleeping, but I’m going to have to have it warmer when I’m just sitting around, and I have on 3 layers of clothing right now!]

There is talk of watching a movie tonight, although the Crawdads movie is in competition with the “Everything Everywhere” film. We watched two movies last night that were among the weirdest I’ve seen in a long time.

One was called “The Wave” and starred Justin Long. Very weird.

The other one was even weirder, “Vivarium.” Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots are a couple seeking a new house. They tour a new development with a realtor. All the houses are green and identical. The only problem is that they are not able to leave. They also are saddled with an annoying automoton/robot child that grows throughout the time they are imprisoned in this not-that-ideal community.

The film was directed (and co-written) by Lorcan Finnegan, and it is easy to infer that the “trapped-in-daily-life” vibe from Vivarium is meant to emulate the dull, boring and hum-drum lives that most of us live. Nevertheless, point taken, it was a strange and weird movie. I could relate to the housing development’s completely uniform appearance and the ways in which the couple try to escape are interesting, but the character portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg begins digging in the front yard for reasons that are not very clear. It reminded me of the old saw about how you might dig your way through the Earth and wind up in China if you dug deep enough, and  it certainly might have occurred to Eisenberg’s character, since he and Imogen had tried about everything else including climbing up on the roof and writing “Fuk You” in large letters in attempts to escape. A very weird commentary on how life just tends to go on in a routine that you can’t escape, no matter how hard you true.

On other news fronts, I am learning to play Mah Jong (m joined Newcomers Club and this is how desperate I a to try to make friends in a community when we (a) don’t have jobs (b) don’t have kids in school and (c) aren’t particularly “church-y.” I resumed my playing of “Hand-and-foot-canasta” that I learned pre-pandemic. I like the latter, but the vote is out on the former.

In watching the evening news from Chicago we are seeing projected temperatures of 11 degrees It was 84 here 2 days ago, although it has dropped off into the fifties since that record-setting day.

The two films I mention (above) are both Amazon films and free, so that earns them a Gold Star, but be prepared for a couple of weird sci-fi flicks if you try out either of them.

“Sam & Kate” Makes World Premiere at Austin Film Festival with Star-Studded Cast

“Sam & Kate” cast onscreen at the Austin Film Festival on October 28th.

October 28th was the World Premiere of the film “Sam & Kate” at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas, during the Austin Film Festival.

“A life affirming family dramedy that takes place in a small town in the heart of the country. Dustin Hoffman plays BILL, a larger-than-life Father to Sam (Jake Hoffman) who has returned home to take care of Bill and his ailing health. While at home, Sam falls for a local woman, Kate (Schuyler Fisk). At the same time, Bill starts to fall for her mom, Tina (Sissy Spacek).”  That is the synopsis provided by IMDB, but the movie is far more intricate than that.

Darren Le Gallo, husband of Amy Adams and a first-time director, was present at the World Premiere of “Sam & Kate,” which featured veteran Oscar-winner Dustin Hoffman and Sissy Spacek appearing as the parents of their real-life offspring.  Hoffman plays Bill, the father of Jake, and a crusty old guy in the tradition of Clint Eastwood’s character Walt Kowalski in “Gran Torino.”

Writer/Director Darren LeGallo.

Sissy Spacek, mother of co-star Schuyler Fisk, gives an outstanding performance as someone afflicted by a hoarding disorder. Her bathroom scene is one of the best examples of Oscar-caliber acting from a female put onscreen this year.

There is also a back-story for her daughter, Kate, too, which makes Kate, a bookstore owner, unwilling to become romantically involved with the persistent Jake of the title, well-played by Jake Hoffman.

The stars of the film took the stage at the Paramount for a Q&A after the film screened, and both agreed that they’d been looking for something to do together when this script came their way. “It was just serendipitous,” said Spacek.

Dustin Hoffman in Austin, Texas, on October 28th.

Hoffman the elder commented that, “People get set in their ways if they’re single for too long” as explanation for why the younger couple are  older than those still single in society. Jake Hoffman’s character of Sam remarks that he can’t believe that Kate is still single, since she is obviously a beautiful and eminently eligible woman.The younger couple shared a funny story from the stage. There is a post-coital scene when Sam and Kate finally do spend a night in bed. During the set-up for filming the scene, the younger Hoffman said, to Schuyler Fisk, “I want you to come to my (real-life) wedding.” Jake also told the audience how his father told him about the script in the first place, asking him if Jake wanted to play the part of his son. When Jake heard the title of the film (“Sam & Kate”) Dustin Hoffman said, “Yeah, you prick.  You’re the lead.”

Sissy Spacek remarked on the “wonderful layered relationship” of the characters and said that doing the film “Was a no-brainer.” She described working with her daughter as “thrilling” and “exciting.”

Hoffman ended his remarks from the stage by commenting on the different ways of working that a director may select. “Some directors,” he said, “have a vision in their heads as the filming begins and they want you to duplicate what they see in their heads.  By allowing you the liberty—and, amazingly, it’s his first time out—Director LeGallo let us take the film outward and into ourselves.” He also remarked on the audience that sat patiently waiting for the Q&A with very few audience members leaving, saying, “You’re a very special audience. You were gold.” (This remark also would extend to the Opening Night audience for “The Whale” on Oct. 27th.)

 

The film was a sad, but ultimately uplifting tribute to love and kindness. Jake (as Sam) tells Kate (Schuyler Fisk) after his crusty father’s death, “It got me thinking about what I would regret, and that’s you, Kate. I can’t imagine dying without telling you what you mean to me.”

 

Elizabeth Faith Ludlow (Mary) and Elizabeth Becka (Beth) in Austin at the World Premiere of “Sam & Kate.”

Also quite good in the film was the music by Roger O’Donnell and the appearance by Henry Thomas (of “E.T” fame) as Ron, complete with singing and guitar-playing. The supporting roles of Mary (Elizabeth Faith Ludlow) and Beth (Elizabeth Becka) were also completely on target as supporting players. The duo sat together in the audience and enjoyed the film’s World Premiere.

 

“Sam & Kate” is a small indie film that Vertical films allowed the festival to screen for this Writers’ Festival, where it was definitely appreciated and enjoyed.

 

 

 

Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” at the 58th Chicago International Film Festival

 

Kathryn Hahn accepts a Career Achievement Award from Festival Artistic Director Mimi Plauche on Octobrr 18th at the Music Box Theater.

The October 18th, 139-minute Centerpiece of the 58th Chicago International Film Festival was a showing of “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” preceded by a Career Achievement Award to Kathryn Hahn, who appears in the film.

Benoit Blanc returns to peel back the layers in a new Rian Johnson whodunit, a sequel to “Knives Out.” This fresh adventure finds the intrepid detective (Daniel Craig) at a lavish private estate on a Greek island, but how and why he comes to be there is only the first of many puzzles.

Blanc soon meets a disparate group of friends gathering at the invitation of billionaire Miles Bron for their yearly reunion. Among those on the guest list are Miles’ former business partner Andi Brand, current Connecticut governor Claire Debella, cutting-edge scientist Lionel Toussaint, fashion designer and former model Birdie Jay and her conscientious assistant Peg, and influencer Duke Cody and his sidekick girlfriend Whiskey. As in all the best murder mysteries, each character harbors their own secrets, lies and motivations. When someone turns up dead, everyone is a suspect.

The cast of this one is just as star-studded as the cast of the first “Knives Out” movie. The central figure is a rich industrialist (think Zuckerberg) who may have stolen the idea for his success from his former girlfriend, Cassandra Brand, played by Janelle Monae. Miles Bron is played by Edward Norton.

Others in the group of dissidents include Dave Bautista as Duke Cody, Whiskey (Madelyn Cline) Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), her assistant Peg (Jessia Henwick) Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odem, Jr.) and the brief random appearance by Ethan Hawke. Even more noteworthy: the film is the last appearance by Angela Lansbury, who died recently, and of Stephen Sondheim, who died in November of 2021.  Daniel Craig reprises the role of Detective Benoit Blanc, complete with the Kentucky accent.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (L-R) Edward Norton, Madelyn Cline, Kathryn Hahn, Dave Bautista, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Kate Hudson, Janelle Monae, and Daniel Craig. Cr. [John Wilson/Netflix © 2022.]

The set design and costume design people deserve special kudos. For me someone who was not ga ga over the first one, will find that this one was bigger, louder and less appealing. The “mystery” part was too easy to figure out from the outset. While it is a harmless frolic, it doesn’t really have any Big Truths to impart, even though Rian Johnson (who wrote and directed both the first and second “Knives Out” film) says it is a commentary on the unequal division of wealth.

The film is going to play in 3 different theater chains for a limited period in November (23-29) hitting over 600 theaters at once, and then will stream on Netflix beginning December 23rd.

“Raymond and Ray” (Ewan McGregor & Ethan Hawke) at the 58th Chicago International Film Festival.

“Raymond and Ray” premieres on Apple TV+ on October 21st.  Ethan Hawke (Ray) and Ewan McGregor (Raymond) play half-brothers in the film, offspring of a feckless father who traveled the world apparently impregnating a variety of women. Check it out and see if you agree with one of its stars (Ethan Hawke), who once said, “It’s fun to see a movie that’s made for someone over the age of 15.” This is such a film.

These two sons by different mothers whom Dad (Benjamin Reed Harris III, portrayed only after death by Tom Bowers) gave the same name, grew up together. One guesses that the duo probably survived their father because they had each other. A line from the script is “We come from chaos.”

 

“Raymond and Ray,” Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke, at the 58th Chicago International Film Festival.

Raymond—the more conventional of the two and an employee of the Cincinnati Water & Power Department—convinces Ray (Ethan Hawke) to accompany him to their mutual father’s funeral over Ray’s initial objections. The pair have very bad memories of dear old Dad. Raymond (Ewan McGregor) warns his half-brother regarding their father’s passing, “It’s gonna’ take a whole lot more than a hole in the ground to get him out of your head.”

Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke can spin gold out of dross; their excellence in these roles was expected. Ethan Hawke, in particular, plays a character who has been a jazz musician for his entire life and is a reformed drug addict. Hawke delivers some scene-stealing moments playing the trumpet, both at the funeral and in a jazz club after the service is over, accompanied by co-star Sophie Okenodo as Keira. Hawke portrayed 50’s jazz trumpeter Chet Stevens in the 2015 film “Born to be Blue” and  spent about 8 months learning to play the trumpet prior to that outing. It shows—although Hawke claims no expertise as a trumpeter.

Ray’s (Ethan Hawke) reputation in life has been that he attracts women “like shit attracts flies,” so Sophie Okenodo is written well in an interesting departure from expectations. Kudos to the writer/director Rodrigo Garcia. I loved lines like this one when the sons hear what a charming fellow their dead father was to others. Says Ray (Ethan Hawke): “Does whipping our asses with a belt count? ‘Cause, if it does he was a hoot.”

Rodrigo Garcia previously wrote 5 episodes of one of my All Time Favorite television series, “Six Feet Under” between 2001 and 2005. Only two other writers ( the show’s creator, Alan Ball, and one other writer wrote more ). “Six Feet Under” was a great training ground for this film, as it examined the family that ran a funeral parlor, and there are many scenes shot in a funeral parlor in this movie. The quirky funeral director is well-played  by Todd Louiso and Vondie Curtis Hall plays the Reverend West.

Others have criticized the writing: too middle-of-the-road, too predictable, not far enough into either comedy or drama. I disagree. As someone who has been reviewing film for 52 uninterrupted years, “Raymond and Ray” showed the audience insights that few other films have even attempted, and did so with humor.

I agree that the many “reveals” became a bit much by film’s end, but the script delivers on some nuggets that have not often been examined at all. One Eternal Truth that Rodrigo Garcia illuminated for the audience is that we all belong to something greater than ourselves.

But the one that resonated, with me, came at film’s end, when the two brothers have lived up to their father’s odd wish that they actually physically dig his grave.Raymond (Ewan McGregor) says to Ray (Ethan Hawke), “We never really knew him, did we?” This truth is driven home again and again as the duo converse with others in their father’s life, including some of the women he loved and left.

I learned this lesson IRL, as someone who has buried both parents. I was constantly being brought up short by remarks made to me about what a lovely, sweet woman my schoolteacher mother was. It’s not that I didn’t love my mother or that I didn’t agree that she was “lovely,” It’s that the self a parent reveals to his or her offspring is often a completely different human being than the one the son or daughter experiences. It is jarring to hear from others about what a great conversationalist one’s parent has been—with and to others. That was the Eternal Truth that this screenplay illustrated so beautifully.

Spanish actress Maribel Verdu, as Lucia, enlivens the entire film. A veteran of “Y tu Mama Tambien” and “Pan’s Labyrinth,” the Spanish actress was a stand-out.

Certain aspects of the film deserve special praise. The music (Jeff Beal) is great and the cinematography by Igor Jadu-Lillo is, as well. Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity,” “Roma,” “Children of Men”) is one of the executive producers.

“Raymond and Ray,” Running time: 106 MIN.
• Production: An Apple TV+ presentation of an Esperanto Filmoj Limited, Mockingbird Pictures production. Producers: Alfonso Cuarón, Bonnie Curtis, Julie Lynn. Executive producers: Shea Kammer, Gabriela Rodriguez.
• Crew: Director, screenplay: Rodrigo García. Camera: Igor Jadue-Lillo. Editor: Michael Ruscio. Music: Jeff Beal.
• With: Ethan Hawke, Ewan McGregor, Maribel Verdú, Tom Bower, Vondie Curtis Hall, Sophie Okonedo.

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