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: Of Local (Quad Cities’) Interest Page 1 of 42

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

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.

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.

Documentaries at the 53rd Nashville Film Festival

Nuisance Bear

Nuisance Bear (2021)

I signed on to see the “New Yorker” documentary about a polar bear who was known as the “Nuisance Bear.” No dialogue, just the bear, rooting around in the garbage or running away from vehicles.

Thousands of people flock to Churchill, Manitoba, to watch bears wandering around at certain times of year.

The star of this film was a big white polar bear who could be seen banging on a metal fence, hanging around garbage pails, running from vehicles and, ultimately, being shot with tranquilizers so it could be airlifted via helicopter in a net to some far-flung more suitable location.

I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a male or female bear. Regardless of what gender the bear was, it was going to wake up wondering, “What happened?” (I’m sure many of you have been there.)

The Panola Project

This documentary from Rachel Decruz and Jeremy S. Levine made me think of my daughter’s temporary job during the pandemic, helping distribute the Covid-19 vaccine for the state of Tennessee. At the time, she was on hiatus from her normal job as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines and also helped conduct the census.

In this short documentary Dorothy Oliver of Panola, Alabama, is working hard to get 40 people from the Panola community of only 350 people to agree to come be vaccinated, so that the state team would come out. Apparently, the minimum number for which they would agree to bring the vaccine to the patients was 40.

Dorothy said, “It’s in my heart to do what I need to do to help people,” making me think of another Nashville Film Festival feature film, “Jacir,” where a Syrian refugee living in Memphis had the same sort of good heart (and suffered for it).

It was 39 miles to get the patients to the vaccine and, as Dorothy remarked, many of them did not have cars.

Original music and dancing by Jermaine “Mainframe” Fletcher.

Freedom Swimmer

Between 1950 and 1980 during the Cultural Revolution more than 2 million Chinese residents attempted to swim from China to Hong Kong.

The narrator of this animated film said, “Every young person in China wanted to leave.” He cited the greater freedom that was associated with Hong Kong in those days, which is now abating because of the prospect of mainland China cracking down on these freedoms.

The narrator said he had been trying to make it to Hong Kong for 15 years and started trying to emigrate at age 14. If a Chinese citizen was caught trying to escape he (or she) was branded a “capitalist” and would be jailed. He was unemployable in China thereafter and the narrator said he had been jailed 3 times.

He talked about the 3 routes that one might take: East had sharks. The central route was by train. The Southwest route was by water, but it was heavily guarded. Plus, our storyteller had to build a raft to allow him to take his small daughter with him.

They set off on Chinse New Year when the water was freezing, convinced that the authorities would not think any sane person would seek to travel at such a terrible time. They had a live chicken and gifts with them as their cover story (visiting relatives), no real food to eat except scraps, and it took 13 hours just to reach the beach. The journey, itself, took 8 hours.

When his small daughter, now grown, asked him if he was frightened at the prospect of the trip, he said, “There is no fear when there is no hope.”

The Australian documentary went on to say that, upon arriving in Hong Kong, the husband and his wife were given free clothing. He chose bell bottoms (then in style) and she took 3 free sweaters. The father worked 3 jobs, sometimes working 20 hours a day, trying to give his family a headstart in their new country.

Haulout

This film by Maxim and Eugenia Arbugaeva followed marine biologist Maxim Chakelev in Chukotka in the Siberian Arctic as the walrus population gathered, as they do annually.  A lot of it was Chakelev sitting around in his hut and eating something that looked gross out of a can. Chakelev has done this for at least a decade and, this year, the news from the front was not encouraging.

Unfortunately, because of global warming, the ice floes that the walruses normally rest and feed on as they sweep into Chukotka, have largely melted and the walruses arrived exhausted and hungry. Then, they were overly crowded on the beach.  A scene that will linger in my mind for many moons, was an estimated 96,000 walruses crowded together on land, with another 6,000 in the water. There’s no dialogue, as the biologist, no doubt, speaks Russian, but there are a few informational subtitles.

Panics and stampedes happened several times a day and the biologist is seen counting the dead corpses of 600 walruses that did not make it and died on the beach, the most ever, in 2020.

The Sentence of Michael Thompson

Michael Thompson was, by all accounts, a pretty good guy living in Michigan with a relatively good job with General Motors and a family.

However, in May of 1996, he was caught trying to sell 3 lbs. of pot and, in a particularly rigid bit of sentencing, was given a sentence of 40 to 60 years for this non-violent crime. One of the mitigating factors was that he had access to a firearm, although the gun was not with him when he was dealing the pot, but was at home in a different location.

Still, Michael went to jail and spent 25 years behind bars for what is now legal in many states. In that respect, he represents 40,000 other prisoners in jail for pot offenses.

The film was directed by Kylie Thrash and Haley Elizabeth Anderson and it drags quite a bit, despite being only 25 minutes long. You pretty much know where this is going from the outset and  it took way too long to get there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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.

Best Poker Movies of the Past 25 Years

When it comes to movies,  setting can be everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the “New York Times” put it:

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

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

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

It is time. LOCK HIM UP!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexi Giannoulias

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

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