Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

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: Pop Culture (Page 1 of 35)

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Card Company Announces on AOL That They Are Going to Save America with $15 Stunt

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The dirty and sometimes downright offensive game Cards Against Humanity is back with another stunt, and this time they’re taking aim at one of President Donald Trump’s campaign promises.The company announced its holiday promotion on Tuesday, called Cards Against Humanity Saves America. Essentially, the company purchased a plot of vacant land on the border of the United States and Mexico, making it extremely difficult for Trump to build his expensive border wall which the U.S. taxpayers will inevitably pay for.

CardsAgainstHumanity 

✔@CAH

The government is being run by a toilet. We have no choice… we are going to save America and attempt to keep our brand relevant in 2017

Join in and for $15 we’ll send you six America-saving surprises this December: http://CardsAgainstHumanitySavesAmerica.com 

Cards Against Humanity Saves America

It’s 2017, and the government is being run by a toilet. We have no choice: Cards Against Humanity is going to save America.

cardsagainsthumanitysavesamerica.com

 

“Donald Trump is a preposterous golem who is afraid of Mexicans. He is so afraid that he wants to build a $20 billion wall that everyone knows will accomplish nothing,” the website reads. “So we’ve purchased a plot of vacant land on the border and retained a law firm specializing in eminent domain to make it as time-consuming and as expensive as possible for the wall to be built.”

Fork over $15 of your hard-earned cash to Cards, and they’ll send you “six surprises” in the month of December, including an illustrated map of the land, a certificate of promise to fight the wall, and some new cards.

Given the nature of the game, the company has no problem being a bit brash, and because they are self-owned, and don’t rely on big box stores to push their product, the company can get away with a bit more.

On it’s FAQ page for the new expansion, one question asks: I don’t like that you’re getting political. Why don’t you just stick to card games?

Their answer? Why don’t you stick to seeing how many Hot Wheels cars you can fit up your ass?

The card game is well known for its stunts, like digging a giant hole, destroying valuable pieces of art, and offering nothing, yes, nothing, for $5.

 

New Amazon Review of THE COLOR OF EVIL Series (Boxed Set)

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on November 15, 2017
Do I like scary clowns? No! Did the cover of the new box set “The Color of Evil,” by Connie Corcoran Wilson, scare me? Yes! Did I want to read this book anyway? Of course I did! And boy am I glad I did. From the fantastically creepy cover, on the box set as well as each individual book contained within, this is one shivery read. At first, I felt that the action was a bit slow to get started; however, I’m glad I stuck with it, because for a book that is supposed to be geared towards a younger audience, this definitely had some scary and troubling moments.

There are three books in this set and each one delivers the same amount of thrills and chills, however, each are also distinctly different in various ways, even though a common theme and storyline run throughout. The main idea, that Tad McGreevy can see colors around people, auras if you will, that allow him to determine what type of person they are, I found to be very unique. I was almost just as horrified as he was each time he saw someone with the dreaded gray-green color surrounding them.

Yes, there are unexpected twists and turns you won’t see coming. And yes, I definitely recommend this set to anyone who enjoys good, old-fashioned horror. And by that I mean, back in the golden age of horror, when Dean Koontz was writing as Leigh Nichols, and Stephen King was just getting started, along with the likes of Ramsey Campbell, Doug Clegg and Clive Barker. If you are nostalgic for some no-holds-barred, white-knuckle ride, keep-the-lights-on horror novels, then rejoice with this set, because you have three that you’ll want to read one right after the other. And keep an eye on this author, because I can tell she’ll have many more thrills to bring us in the future.

Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” Closes Out the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival with a Tribute to Michael Shannon

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The closing film for the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival was Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” which seems destined for many Academy Award nominations this season. It also served as an opportunity to pay tribute to Michael Shannon, one of the actors in the film, who was present to accept the award and answer audience questions, along with co-star Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays a Russian scientist spy (Dr. Robert Hoffstetler, aka Dimitri) in the film.

The idea for the story of a romance between a creature like the Creature from the Black Lagoon film of 1954, [directed by Jack Arnold and starring Ben Chapman (on land) and Ricou Browning (underwater)] was part of the film’s appeal for del Toro, a well-known fan of horror movies, whose television series “The Strain” is now entering its fourth and final season. It was “Pan’s Labyrinth” in 2006 that vaulted the Mexican director to the ranks of top talents, however, as the film went on to be nominated as one of the Best Pictures of the Year and to win 3 Oscars for Cinematography, Art Direction and Make-Up. “The Shape of Water” has the potential to take home the golden trophy for all of those categories, plus snag acting nominations for cast members.

ACTING:

Sally Hawkins as mute cleaning woman Elisa Esposito in “The Shape of Water.”

It is difficult to select just one actor who would deserve an Oscar nomination, but it seems a foregone conclusion that the female lead, Sally Hawkins, will be up, as she has to play her entire role without words. (She is mute—but not deaf— in the film). Jane Wyman (first wife of Ronald Reagan) won the Oscar as Best Actress in 1948 for playing a deaf mute in “Johnny Belinda;”  Oscar loves lead characters with disabilities (think “My Left Foot” for a more recent example.)

Sally Hawkins was Oscar nominated for playing the ordinary sister of Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” and this part was written especially for her by Guillermo del Toro. It’s going to be hard to argue that she doesn’t deserve to win when she had to play the entire role without speaking.

Then there is the wonderful Richard Jenkins, so good in everything he appears in. He played Nathaniel, the dead patriarch, on “Six Feet Under” but has been working steadily since 1974 (80 films to the much younger Shannon’s 40) and is always believable and good. In this film he play Giles, a gay man who is ostracized in the Cold War era because of his sexual preferences and also because his craft of painting commercial panels is being supplanted by photography. (*Small sidelight: Jenkins is from DeKalb, Illinois and has been married to his wife since 1969).

All the characters are fighting “aloneness.” Giles (Richard Jenkins) is one of them.

I have always loved Richard Jenkins in Ben Stiller’s comedy, “Flirting with Disaster,” one of the best comedies ever made. But we can’t forget his work in the television series “Olive Kitteridge,” for which he won an Emmy as lead actor, nor his film roles in “Killing Them Softly,””Norman,” “Burn After Reading,”  “Fun with Dick & Jane,” “Me, Myself and Irene,” “Step Brothers” or “LBJ,” to name just a few.

Closing night Tribute to Michael Shannon, along with showing of Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water.” (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Michael Shannon, whom Warner Herzog has called “arguably the best actor of his generation” (Shannon has worked with Herzog three times) is terrific, as always, as Richard Strickland.  When Shannon is onscreen, he commands your attention and you can only really concentrate on him.

I had the opportunity to speak with Michael Shannon on the Red Carpet and asked him these 2 questions: Citing such films as “Revolutionary Road,” for which he was Oscar-nominated in 2008, as well as “Bug” in 2006, “Take Shelter” in 2011, “The Iceman” in 2012, and “Nocturnal Animals,” [for which he once again earned an Oscar nomination in 2016], how does he bring himself down to a more normal performance as an ordinary guy, as in the film “Mud”, which was also directed by Jeff Nichols, (with whom he has worked 5 times?)

Shannon’s answer was this: “It’s a job. I’m an actor.  I just show up and do it.” He would repeat that answer from the stage during the Q&A.

Tribute to Michael Shannon at the Chicago Film Festival. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

When asked what his favorite film was, he said “Take Shelter.” I was surprised to get an answer from him, as often that is a question that actors don’t like to tackle, considering it a bit like naming their favorite child. However, it was clear from his joking-around demeanor that Shannon doesn’t necessarily behave exactly like other actors on the Red Carpet or elsewhere. (He even said as much from the stage later, commenting, “I wasn’t a normal person before I got there, and I wasn’t after I arrived.”)  [The character actor who comes closest to Shannon in tone or style, for me, is probably Bruce Dern in his prime, in films like “Black Sunday” and “Coming Home.”]

Onstage at the AMC Theater in Chicago accepting his Tribute award and thanking benefactors on closing night of the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival on Thursday October 26, 2017. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Shannon was very humble in thanking both his agent, who had flown in from Los Angeles, and his best friend from the age of 14 on, as well as his stepmother and shared how proud his father would have been (Dad taught at DePaul in Chicago, and although Shannon got his start here, he now lives in New York City).

Cast member Octavia Spencer, an Oscar winner for “The Help,” is also an actress who is always good, just as she was in “Hidden Figures” and “Small Town Crimes” recently. She said, in Toronto, that when she heard that Guillermo del Toro had written a role just for her in this film, she said, “Oh, Lord! I’ll play anything he wants. I’ll be a tree if he wants me to be!”

There are no bad performances in this film, so take your pick of who you think will wind up with Oscar nods. Certainly Sally Hawkins and possibly both Shannon and co-star Michael Stuhlbarg, the most decent man in the film, (even if he is a Russian spy.)

The script, written by del Toro with the assistance of Vanessa Taylor (who has worked on “Game of Thrones” and also scripted the “Allegiant” installment of “The Divergent” series) was written with each specific actor in mind all of whom joined the cast. Shannon joked, from the stage, that it was “A little like being indoctrinated into a cult” and said that the experience was “epic and overwhelming and very moving at times.” He added, “Guillermo has such a big heart and it was never more on view than in this film.”

Said del Toro of the project, “I wanted to create a beautiful, elegant story about hope and redemption as an antidote to the cynicism of our times.  I wanted this story to take the form of a fairy tale in that you have a humble human being who stumbles into something grander and more transcendental than anything else in her life.  And then I thought it would be a great idea to juxtapose that love against something as banal and evil as the hatred between nations, which is the Cold War, and the hatred between people due to race, color, ability and gender.” He added, “I like to make movies that are liberating, that say it’s okay to be whoever you are, and it seems that at this time, this is very pertinent.”

Kraus, a Chicago native who collaborated with del Toro on his children’s series “Trollhunters”, suggested the idea that forms the basis of the story to Guillermo over breakfast. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

The basic story was suggested to del Toro over breakfast in 2011 by another of his collaborators, Chicago native and author Daniel Kraus, who has collaborated with del Toro on the children’s series “Trollhunters.” It was a concept that Kraus had been mulling for some time. When he shared his story with del Toro, the director decided that would be his next film. The script was then crafted with certain actors in mind.

Sally Hawkins plays a mute cleaning woman (along with best friend on the cleaning staff Octavia Spencer) in a government lab who falls in love with a sea creature that has been captured somewhere in South America and brought to the lab for study. When it appears that the evil government scientists are going to kill the creature, cleaning woman Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), aided by her good friend Giles (Richard Jenkins), cleaning woman Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer) and Michael Stuhlbarg’s scientist conceive a plan to smuggle the creature from the laboratory and, eventually, release him back into the ocean. The fact that an inter-species love affair begins to emerge between Elisa and the creature is an original idea that I’ve not seen portrayed  before. (The only previous similar story I’d ever seen involved the real-life prosecution of a human male who kept sneaking into the dolphins’ pool to have sex with the female dolphins—not quite the same vibe as depicted here.) Del Toro had said he wanted the monster to “get the girl” this time, after seeing so many films (“King Kong,” “Frankenstein”, etc.) where that doesn’t ever happen.

The Sea Creature becomes a huge part of the plot, of course, and it was important to del Toro that a real actor play the creature in the suit. Doug Jones, who has worked with del Toro for 20 years (and played a key role of The Ancient from 2014-2016 on television’s “The Strain”) was tapped to wear the suit—which meant that he faced grueling hours in the make-up chair each morning and each night. Even getting the suit on was quite the chore. Jones was the first on set in the morning and the last to leave at night, with at least 4 hours of make-up each day. Del Toro said of Jones:  “We’ve been working together for 20 years and he’s done some of the most crucial roles in my movies.  He is one of the few guys who does creatures who is also a full-fledged dramatic actor.  Often those are two separate gifts, but Doug has them both.  He’s a fantastic actor, with or without makeup.”

THE CREATURE

The theme of being alone comes in with the creature, because he is the last of his species. “He’s also never been outside his river, so he doesn’t understand where he is or why. He’s being tested and biopsied all because the government thinks, ‘We’re going to use this thing to our advantage, somehow.’”  And the Russians want him, too, if only so that their arch-enemies (the U.S.) don’t have him. The Creature was revered as a god in his original homeland and has some superhuman qualities, such as the power to reflect people’s desires back at them and the power to heal wounds more quickly.  “He comes into people’s lives and he seems to expose and amplify whatever is going on inside a human being,” said Jones. Physically, del Toro told Jones that the creature should have the bearing of a sexy, dangerous toreador, but with the fluidity of the Silver Surfer. To make sure he was attractive enough for a human female to fall in love with him, del Toro said, “Every night, I took it to my home and got the female vote: enough ass or not enough ass? Enough abs or more abs? Shoulders bigger or slimmer? It just had to be a creature you could fall in love with.”

Guillermo had encountered Mike Hill at a horror film convention and del Toro set him on a mission (at his own expense ahead of filming) to create a model of the sea creature this way: “He said he wanted me to give the creature a soul.  He wanted it to be something a woman could fall head over heels for in every way.  So I started sketching a handsome looking version of a fish man, giving him kissable lips, a square jaw and doe eyes and I went from there.”  Real-life fish like the tropical lionfish were used as a model for how the creature might eat and for its translucent bioluminescence.  Work began on the creature’s facial elements, especially its eyes.  “One of the early conversations with Guillermo was that he wanted the eyes to be changeable on set in order to change the mood or look of the creature. Since you can’t take Doug’s makeup off to change them, we ended up coming up with a magnetic system to interlock the eyes.  It was the only solution.  Once we were shooting, we would change the eyes 4 or 5 times a night.” A working set of gills was especially challenging because “we were dealing with a lot of water in some scenes. The gills give the creature an additional way of reacting without words, and we could use Doug’s breathing to enhance emotions like excitement, anger or affection.”

Finally, four spectacularly intricate suits, each capable of becoming waterlogged, were made for the production by the team at Legacy in Canada. Said Jones, “The suit is super tight and inside it there are actual corsets to make it even tighter.  But we segmented the abdominal plates so that they do give and move a little bit. It’s not solid, so it can create the graceful motions the story demands of Doug.”

It took 4 people to hoist Jones into the suit and in some scenes Jones was entirely blinded by his prosthetic eyes. The film’s visual effects supervisor, regular del Toro collaborator Dennis Berardi, began by creating an exacting digital double of Doug Jones in the prosthetic suit.  “We got to the point where we could do a digital version of the creature that could match up with Doug’s beautiful performance,” he says, adding, “Our hope is that the audience can’t distinguish at all between the digital version of the creature or the Doug Jones version.” (I’d say they completely succeeded.)

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (aka, Dmitri) in “The Shape of Water,” as played by Michael Stuhlbarg (Photo by Connie Wilson).

“The Shape of Water’s” shadowy atmosphere drops the audience into the depths of the story and Dan Laustsen’s creative cinematography was essential to achieving del Toro’s vision. During the Q&A following the film, Michael Shannon commented that, “The cinematography is off the charts.” He said that, in his 40 films, he had previously been a Deakins fan, but that the work of Laustsen, a product of Denmark, was essential to the film’s look.  Working with monochromatic tones of color, they meticulously shifted light and texture to craft a more modern, yet desaturated look, full of deep-sea tones.  Del Toro explained, “I knew I wanted the film to be monochromatic, so most of the palette is blues and greens with amber as a counter-balance.  Red only comes in as the color of blood and love.”

Del Toro said, “Dan is a genius with light.  He was able to light the film as if it was 1950’s black and white, even though we used color.  The light is very expressionistic and full of shadows and I think feels very classic.  For some of the underwater sequences, Laustsen harked back to the technique of shooting “dry for wet”, creating the illusion of water.  This involved using heavy smoke, wind machines and projection to create a dripping, pulsating atmosphere akin to water, while allowing the actors to work with their eyes open, vital to their expressions.” Said del Toro, “We did a lot of research on how to do dry for wet well, from how many frames per second to use to how you can create floating particles.  We knew the key was to create a video projection of caustic light on the characters that is very operatic.” Laustsen put the much-loved Arri Alexa digital camera to work and used Arri/Zeiss Master Prime lenses, which allowed for maximum precision. “Guillermo wanted lots of camera movement, and he likes very precise movement, so we worked with all kinds of cranes, dollies and Steadicams. It was very exciting.”

Dan Laustsen has shot more than 40 feature films, television movies and documentaries, both in his native Denmark and internationally. He has won (the Robert Award (Denmark’s version of the Academy Awards) for Best Cinematography 3 times and was nominated for the Swedish Academy Award (Guldbagge) for Best Cinematography. He shot “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “John Wick: Chapter 2.” This was Luastsen’s third collaboration with del Toro, following “Mimic” and “Crimson Peak.” It seems inevitable that this film will and should be nominated in the Cinematography category at Oscar-time.

(*Note: The scene I snapped above with “the 3 Michaels” onstage together came about when Michael Kutza (far right), Cinema Chicago founder asked about each star’s next project and learned that Michael Stuhlbarg is going to play opposite Kevin Spacey in a bio-pic about Gore Vidal. Stuhlbarg said he would be playing Vidal’s gay lover of 52 year.  Kutza remarked, “Why doesn’t Spacey just come out and admit that he’s gay?” The 2 actors cracked up. A few days later, amidst some rather unsettling sexual harassment charges from years ago involving a 14-year-old male co-star of Kevin Spacey’s, he did, indeed, admit that he is currently living as a gay man, but said he  has, at times, been bi-sexual.)

EDITING:

Sidney Wolinsky, ACE (Film Editor), a graduate of Brandeis University and San Francisco State University, has been an editor on “The Sopranos,” “Rome,” “Ray Donovan,” “House of Cards,”  and David Chase’s film “Not Fade Away.” He also edited the pilot episodes for “Sons of Anarchy,” “Blue Bloods,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Ray Donovan,” “The Strain” and “Extant.” He received 2 Eddies for his work on “The Sopranos” and an Emmy for the “Boardwalk Empire” pilot.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

Paul Denham Austerberry, with credits on such films as “The Three Musketeers” and “Amelia”, as well as “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” was brought in to design the sets, including the period apartments of characters Giles (Robert Jenkins) and  Elisa (Sally Hawkins). Del Toro said, “I fell in love with the fact that Paul has a very strong opinion of design, meaning he could counter anything I talked about with new ideas.  But even though Paul has great ideas, he’s also very practical, and that was important because this film had such a big scope, with complex sets and underwater shooting. He had to be able to orchestrate and manage all that.”  Sally Hawkins said, “The sets were like stepping into a painting. That’s what it felt like, to me.” In both cinematography and sets, I was reminded of Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo.”

Another important area for production design was the laboratory where the creature is housed.  “We didn’t want a lab that would come off as too sterile and bright. We want you to feel lots of unsettling things have gone on in there and it has some dark history.” The creature’s room is a maze of pipework, ducting and cylindrical chambers. “For the creature’s compound,” said del Toro, “I wanted it to feel almost more medieval than modern, to add to the fairy tale feeling.”

Interestingly, the pipes that you see that look like heavy cast iron pipes are really all done out of Styrofoam.  Said Austerberry, “That set was such a complicated jigsaw puzzle.  We were working on it right down to the wire.  On top of everything else, we had to design everything to endure lots of water and steam and for a huge lighting job as well.” He had in mind Brutalist architecture, the concrete-heavy, function-based style that flourished from the fifties to the seventies.

Then there was the capsule, which was described as an iron lung in the script. “I pulled lots of historical references to iron lungs. There was one in particular that Guillermo loved.  He loved the color, the shape and the language of the materials.  It was one of the first things we designed actually, because it took over 8 weeks to make.  The idea is that the chamber is on wheels so it can then be attached to the larger pressurized cylinder in the laboratory to transfer the creature.”

The ”command center” where Michael Shannon’s evil boss Strickland looks down from above was researched from fifties wall murals.  His office floats above the command center, overlooking the minions who work for him through the glass via an early closed-circuit camera system that was based on 1960’s TV studio set-ups.  “When you see Strickland behind this wall of images, it really speaks to how he sees himself as above everyone and privy to all information he can take,” Austerberry reflects.

Several scenes take place in the laboratory’s bathroom and locker room. These were shot in Toronto’s massive Hearn Generating Station, an old power station that has become an icon of a bygone industrial age.  “We looked at Hearn because it has tiled rooms. Unfortunately, the tiles in Hearn are cream and Guillermo was like, ‘We can’t have that color in this movie,’ so we ended up still using the location but hand-painting every tile to be in our color palette,” Austerberry relates.

The apartments that Austerberry designed for Elisa and Giles sit atop a classic bijou-style movie theatre.  To forge the exterior, he used Toronto’s Massey Hall, a designated National Historic Site of Canada, which was designed in neoclassical tradition by architect Sidney Badgley in 1894.

Austerberry said, of the apartments of Giles and Elise: “Their apartments are like two hemispheres of the same globe, but we lit each half differently.  With Giles, even if the scene was at night, we lit it like sunset in very warm tones.  The color coding of Elisa’s apartment is aquatic, with cool lighting and lots of cyan.  Hers is corroded by water, while his is not corroded at all. His is full of wood and golden  light, very grounded colors because he is the grounding for Elisa, whereas Elisa’s apartment has the magical light of the cinema below it.”

Austerberry shares:  “Guillermo brought us an image he had from a photograph competition in India with an old lady in a darkened room with a really aged textured and a cyan blue wall in the background and that became a big inspiration. We talked a lot about the idea that once this was a grand room but, at some point there was a fire and it never got repaired, so it looks very aged with that patina that Guillermo loves.”

The walls were a major focus, and an exhaustive quest led Austerberry to a vintage Anglo-Japanese wallpaper pattern featuring little curves that subtly resemble fish scales, similar to an ancient Japanese engraving.  He then merged that pattern over a faded cresting wave reminiscent of 19th Century Japanese artist Hokusai’s iconic woodblock print, ‘the Great Wave off Kanagawa.’

“We had a scenic artist paint a beautiful version of the Great Wave in textured plaster and then we just layered and layered and layered over it until it’s basically gone, but you still sense there’s this shape of water on this wall. Guillermo wanted the wall to be stark and subtle, but to tell a little story, if you knew what you were looking for.  So, that’s how it became so finely detailed.” All of the walls in the apartment were created as “wild walls,” meaning that they were all on quick releases so that they could be moved at a moment’s notice to accommodate a roving camera.  In addition, the windows each had to be plumbed for the deluge of rain that leads up to the film’s climactic moments.

The most challenging set of all was the modest retro bathroom, which is Elisa’s oasis from the world and becomes the creature’s refuge and the site of their deepening romance. “Our sets are generally made out of wood, Styrofoam and plaster.  But for this one we had to make everything out of aluminum and Bondo, instead of plaster, because it all would ultimately be submerged in a tank.  At one point we actually lowered the sets slowly into the tank so that you can see the water rise.  It was all very, very tricky to pull off, Austerberry describes.

With this kind of attention to detail, does anyone doubt that an Oscar nomination will follow?

THE MUSIC

Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat is noted for his collaborations with some of the world’s best filmmakers, including Wes Anderson, George Clooney (currently on display with his score for “Suburbican”), Stephen Daldry, David Fincher, Stephen Frears, Tom Hooper, Ang Lee, Terrence Malick, Roman Polanski, and Angelina Jolie. He has garnered 8 Academy Award nominations.

Among his film scores are “The Girl with the Pearl Earrings,” “The Queen,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The King’s Speech,” “Argo,” “Philomena,” “The Imitation Game”  and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” which won the 2015 Oscar for Best Score.

His more recent work includes Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken” and “Florence Foster Jenkins”, as well as “The Light Between Oceans and “Suburbican,” out now.

COSTUME DESIGN

Luis Sequiera has worked with Guillermo on 3 successful seasons of “The Strain” on television. His feature film work includes “Charlie Bartlett” starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Hope Davis, “Mama,” produced by Guillermo del Toro with Jessica Chastain, “The Thing,” “Breach” with Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe, “Carrie” with Julianne Moore and Chloe Grace Moretz and “Thomas & the Magic Railroad.”

With this amount of background on the technical difficulties the cast and crew faced in making “The Shape of Water,” I’ll formulate something resembling more of a review next, but it should be clear that it’s going to be a very positive one for this film that easily could win it all in March.

Closing night of the Chicago Film Festival…26 days of non-stop movie watching, viewing over 40 films and still behind on the reviewing, so stop by as I keep on keeping on. And don’t forget that THE COLOR OF EVIL boxed set series is currently (through November) on sale for half-price as part of the boxed set virtual tour in E-book! Thanks for stopping by; please leave a message about anything you’ve read.

 

 

Sir Patrick Stewart Honored with Lifetime Tribute Award at the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival on October 25, 2017

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Sir Patrick Stewart give Lifetime Tribute Award at the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival on Octobr 25, 2017.

Sir Patrick Stewart was honored with a Special Tribute night on Wednesday, October 25, 2017, at the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival. This spring, the Emmy and Golden Globe nominated actor earned some of the best reviews of his career as Professor Charles Xavier in “Logan,” reprising a role he originated in the first installment of the “x-Men” franchise which he has appeared in, off and on, for 17 years.

Although perhaps best known for his role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Stewart has a wildly varied resume that includes comedy (“Robin Hood: Men in Tights”, “L.A. Story”) drama (“Match”), dark horror cinema (“Green Room”) and English drama (“I, Claudius”).

Stewart is a three-time Olivier Award winner and an Honorary Associate Artist with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2001.

During his remarks, Stewart shared that his entire life was changed by a teacher, Cecil Dormand, now 93, who placed “The Merchant of Venice” in front of him when he was a boy of 12. “Something happened,” said Stewart.

Of playing Captain Jean Luc-Picard in the “Star Trek” reboot, he told the crowd that, when he signed a 6-year contract, he was told, “Don’t worry. It will never happen” of the odds of the series lasting that long. But last it did, with the series going into its 7th season. Stewart said that he once said, “What I lack in my career is just more camera time.  Well, I got it.” He also directed 6 of the episodes in the last 3 years.

In his younger years, Stewart confided, he was smitten with Hollywood stars like Doris Day, Tab Hunter and Debbie Reynolds. “I wanted so much to marry Doris Day. I don’t think she ever knew that.” For someone who never had a television set until he was 24, Stewart was more smitten with Hollywood than many.

Of the movies he admires, he mentioned by name “On the Waterfront” and the recently-watched “Shawshank Redemption.” He also spoke of his work in the cult favorite “Green Room” that featured work by the recently-deceased Anton Yelchin.

Sir Patrick Stewart and wife in Chicago on October 25, 2017.

When Hugh Jackman announced that “Logan” would be his last outing in the role of Wolverine, the creature with claws and a violent nature, Jackman and Stewart had been working together for 15 years. They decided to really probe the characters and their inner lives, which is exactly why “Logan” is so much better than other Marvel comic offerings. It is, if you will, a return to the character-driven films of the seventies, rather than the “Let’s see how much stuff we can blow up” of the current crop of films.

The two old friends and co-stars watched the final X-Men entry at the Berlin Film Festival and, recounts Stewart, he felt tears running down his cheek and then noticed that Jackman, too, was crying. At that point, Jackman reached over and took Patrick Stewart’s hand and the two watched the end of the World Premiere with Daphne Keene’s 11-year-old girl taking over the role that Jackman originated and, the next morning, Stewart announced that he, too, was not going to be in the series any longer.

As he said, “There can never be a better way to say me, too.  I announced it the next day, after the World Premiere.  I was already killed once in this series. I was rather uncomfortably vaporized by Famke Janssen.” There are those who say Stewart might earn an Oscar nod for his performance in “Logan.”

As he mused on “the power of art to affect people’s lives,” he also talked about “A Christmas Carol,” his one-man show, and, as Cinema Chicago founder Michael Kutza presented him with his Lifetime Achievement award, he praised the Chicago-based Improvised Shakespeare Company and Rod Steiger, who was instrumental in helping him at the start of his career.

At the very end of the program, Stewart left for a private reception at a Gold Coast home saying, “Thank you so much.  This is marvelous.’

Jane Goodall & the Wild Chimpanzees of Gombe Are the Subject of Husband Hugo VanLewick’s Treasure Trove of Discovered Film

Reading Time: 5 minutes

When  I taught 7th and 8th grade Language Arts, I always showed the students the documentary (16 mm. film rented from the local library) “Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees.” Imagine my excitement at learning that Director Brett Morgen (“The Kid Stays In the Picture” (2002); “The Chicago Ten,” (2007); “Cobain:  Montage of Heck” (2015)) had unearthed a vast treasure trove of National Geographic film shot by Jane Goodall’s husband, Hugo Van Lewick, long considered one of the most accomplished photographers of wild life.

Jane Goodall was Louis Leakey’s 26-year-old British secretary when Leakey selected her to go to Gombe in 1957 and study chimpanzees. She had no formal higher education, as her parents were not wealthy enough to afford university, but she had an abundance of patience, an open scientifically inclined mind, and a life-long love of animals. She had a desire to get close to wildlife. Jane’s father left for the war when she was five, and her mother was very supportive of her daughter’s unorthodox aims.

Said Jane, “I wanted to do things that men did and women didn’t. I wanted to come as close to talking to animals as I could. I had dreamt of going to Africa ever since the age of 8 or 9.  I felt that this was where I was meant to be.  I had no idea what I was going to do, but I wanted to be able to move among them…And so began one of the most exciting periods of my life: the time of discovery.”

Through Jane’s extensive documentation and Hugo’s photographic record (he arrived September 1,1962, funded by National Geographic), we learn that it took almost 5months in Gombe before the chimpanzees began to accept Jane Goodall.  Jane began naming the chimps (David Graybeard, Goliath, Mr. McGregor, Flo and her baby Fifi and, eventually, Flint) and the chimps began to actually come into the tents to steal bananas. In fact, ultimately a system had to be put in place to keep the chimpanzees from stampeding the place in search of any manner of goods to carry off. Jane comments: “Staring into the eyes of a chimpanzee, I saw a thinking, reasoning personality looking back..How like us in so many ways.”

Both Jane and Hugo found it “absolutely thrilling to have the chimps so close.” Jane writes, “What an amazing privilege to be accepted by a wild, free animal.” Hugo’s funding from National Geographic (which contributed most of the film used, but without much organization or color, as the director confided, both of which he had to provide) ran out and Hugo left, moving to the Serengetti Plain to photograph all manner of animals. A telegram arrived for Jane that said, “Will you marry me? Stop. Hugo.”

And so the woman who had given little thought to marriage or having a family did marry Hugo and the newspapers of the day had a field day with headlines like: “Me Hugo, You Jane.” “Jungle Relationship Leads to Altar.” “Eat Your Heart Out, Fay Wray,” and “Beauty and Her Beasts.” Soon, the couple had a son, whom they called Grub. As Jane recounted the couple’s partnership, she said, “You got married. You got pregnant and you had a baby.” Jane dedicated herself to raising their son for the first three years, and commented that, “There is no doubt that my observations of the chimpanzees helped me to be a better mother.” She commented that she “understood the mother/child bond better” after giving birth. However, she also soon found that she couldn’t both raise a child and study the chimps.

Jane Goodall with one of her wild chimpanzees.

Jack Parr (better known as the early host of the “Tonight” show) came to interview Grub and we learn that Grub had to be locked In a sort of grandiose enclosure or cage, as chimpanzees have been known to eat other small primates.  At the age of six, Grub was sent back to England for schooling and, after a period spent working as Hugo’s assistant on the Serengetti Plain, Jane returned to Gombe, visiting her son who was being raised by Jane’s mother (his grandmother) on holidays in England.

When Jane returned to Gombe, however, tragedy struck. The chimps had been struck by a polio epidemic and many of them died or were crippled. McGregor had to be shot, and Jane comes down definitively on the side of euthanasia, saying, “I see no difference between helping an animal and helping a human.  The epidemic didn’t start with us, but it was tragic.” A rule was made that students studying the chimps could no longer touch them.

Flo, the dominant female amongst the group, had a daughter, Fifi. Then came Flint and the opportunity to observe a baby chimpanzee grow to adulthood in the wild presented itself. The observations so far had already proven that chimps were capable of making tools (in this case, long sticks used to lure ants from logs). Now more funding could be garnered to study a baby chimp that would grow to adulthood while being observed.

However, Jane’s own marriage to Hugo was faltering, impacted by their differing circumstances, and ended in divorce (Hugo died in 2002). Hugo’s letter to Jane spelled out the conditions of marriage: “The woman is to be a compliment to the man in all things.” Let’s just say that Jane Goodall did not completely buy into that philosophy and the pair went their separate ways, while remaining friends.

Grub, their son, now lives in Dar Es Salaam, where he builds boats.

Brett Morgen describes some of the difficulties faced in helming “Jane” about Jane Goodall and the wild chimpanzees and her life. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Filmmaker Brett Morgan, who appeared after the showing for a Q&A. announced that the film will be showing in Chicago by Friday, October 26. He was asked how he got the film and responded:  “I received a call from National Geographic about this lost film. But there were no 2 consecutive shots. We had to construct the narrative. That was 2 and ½ years ago.  The film was also totally silent, so we had to add sound editing in the office. There was a massive library of chimp vocalizations and we arranged for all the footage to move to the music. We also put in 225 hours of hand painting to make the film resemble the vibrant forest that Jane described, as it was sort of brown when it was found. There were very few scratches on the film. Every shot is Hugo’s. There is no stock footage.  Hugo was a total neophyte when he went to Gombe, but these two people defined and redefined their vocations.”

In response to questions from the audience, Morgan said, “It was also kind of empowering that Jane didn’t’ have to give up her dream for a man.  It is a very refreshing message for boys and young men and is of equal or greater value for young boys. Kids: follow your dreams! The message for parents comes from Jane’s strong mother: she listened and accepted Jane for who she is and allowed her to be heard and identified.”

Documentary “Jane” plays the Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

When asked about interviewing others who might know Goodall (now in her eighties) Morgan said, “I don’t do the broad interview approach where you interview anyone and everyone.  Jane was enough.”

VERDICT

This is a truly outstanding look at the work of two pioneering students of animal behavior and the landscapes and photography of wildlife in Africa are beautifully done, with a score by composer Philip Glass. Although there were moments when the soaring crescendos of Glass’ music became almost intrusive, the film as it was originally found (silent and brown) was vastly improved by the addition of the animal sounds and the voice of Jane, herself, reading from some of her books, including “Reason for Hope.” I learned so much that I had not known about this truly remarkable woman and one of her observations late in the film, when her chimpanzees became aggressive and violent, was sad: “I had no idea of their (the chimpanzees) brutality. I thought that was just humans, but now I think it is deeply embedded in our genes.”

As Director Brett Morgan said, “Jane Goodall is an author, first and foremost, and also a good speaker.” He mentioned “Reason for Hope” and talked of the poetry and lyricism of her writing. She has devoted her life to trying to help preserve the wild chimpanzees, moving around the globe with her message and never spending more than 3 weeks in any one place since leaving Gombe. She has said of Morgan’s film that it is “the only one that has captured Gombe” and her favorite of all previous films made about her work.

“Lady Bird” Is The Name That Saiorse Ronan Gives Herself

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“Lady Bird” is the name that Saiorse Ronan gives herself (in the film of the same name), rather than her given name of Christine. The Greta Gerwig-helmed indie film was smartly written and gives Gerwig an impressive directorial debut with an equally impressive cast, including Laurie Metcalf as LadyBird’s mother, Tracy Letts as Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein as Julie, Lady Bird’s best friend, Lois Smith as a nun with a sense of humor,  Lucas Hedges as Christine’s first boyfriend (who turns out to be gay) and Timothy Chalemet as Kyle, the boyfriend who deflowers Lady Bird in what she hoped would be a special experience for both of them.

I first became aware of Greta Gerwig in the Rebecca Miller-directed “Maggie’s Plan,” where she co-starred with Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore (2015). However, her first “big, breakthrough” role was in “Frances Ha” in 2012, which she co-wrote with Noah Baumbach, with whom she has had a personal relationship since 2011. She showed up again as Abigail “Abbie” Porter in 2016’s “Twentieth Century Women” with Annette Bening. Now she is both acting, directing and writing. She has said, Creating projects is really what’s happening these days. The chance to participate in your own career is a lot more exciting than just hoping that it all works out.”

THE GOOD

Judging from “Lady Bird,” Gerwig has a great sense of humor and a lot of natural wit. The “Lady Bird” script showed that. Set in 2002 Sacramento there are autobiographical touches from Gerwig’s own growing up in Sacramento that ring true.

For example, when Christine (aka, Lady Bird) mentions that Alanis Morrissette wrote the song “One Hand In My Pocket” in 10 minutes, her sarcastic mother (Laurie Metcalf,  RoseAnne’s sister on that TV sit-com) says,  wryly, “I believe it.” There is Lady Bird’s first boyfriend Danny (played by Lucas Hedges, who also turns up playing Frances McDormand’s son in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), who is from such a large Irish Catholic family that he says, “It’s hard to find a girl to date who’s not my cousin.”

Sacramento—where Gerwig really grew up—is knocked as “the Midwest of California” but, later in the film, we get the impression that she really enjoyed growing up there.

One scene involving an anti-abortion speech by a well-meaning volunteer has the opinionated Lady Bird unimpressed by the woman’s earnest speech explaining how she was a child whose mother nearly aborted her, but did not. Lady Bird says, “If your mother had had the abortion, we wouldn’t have to sit through this effing assembly.” Of sex, in general, (after her first sexual experience), Christine says, “I found when it happened that I really like dry humping more.” She is also crushed to learn that her partner, with whom she thought she had a “special” relationship, has been with six other girls. He nonchalantly reassures her, “You’re gonna’ have so much unspecial sex in your life.”

Laurie Metcalf and her husband, played by playwright (“August: Osage County”) and Chicago actor Tracy Letts, are always struggling financially, so Lady Bird’s hopes of going to an East coast school are not supported by Mom. However, Dad helps his daughter secretly fill out applications for a variety of schools on the East coast and Christine does, indeed, gain entrance to one.

Laurie Metcalf’s Mrs. Hedges has been so hard on her daughter—and they are both such strong personalities—that Mom cannot even bring herself to walk her daughter to the gate to fly East to college. But Lady Bird/Christine recognizes that her mother does truly love her and, in a touching scene near the end of the film, calls home to tell her mother that she loves her.

THE BAD

There are no IMDB fact sheets or trailers for this film yet. Suffice it to say that all the actors mentioned above do a great job and the script is top notch. It will move on to the Austin Film Festival next, which runs from October 27-November 3rd.

Playwrght/actor (“August: Osage County”) Tracy Letts, at the showing of “Lady Bird” in Chicago.

Tracy Letts, who plays Christine’s father in the film, joined us for a Q&A at the end of the movie and shared that the crew shot “mostly in L.A.” He said, “Sacramento means nothing to me. It had zero meaning for me.” As the rock of the family, Lucas Hedges, Letts said that the cast didn’t meet each other until the film premiered at Sun Dance.  He added, “This is the movie I thought we were making when we read the script and that is not always the case.”

Letts had high praise for Gerwig’s work as writer/director, saying, “She was so sure-handed. She knew exactly what she wanted.” He went on to say that he had known Laurie Metcalf, who plays his wife, for 30years, from the Steppenwolf Theater, but they had never worked together. He said, “Her script was fantastic.”

When asked about rehearsal time, he said, “When making a movie at this budget level, there’s no rehearsal.  You make yourself available to the chemistry,” and, he noted, despite not being a father himself, “We just clicked from day one,” meaning Saiorse Ronan of “The Lovely Bones” and Letts as her father. He repeated, “If there’s a better algorithm than the script, I don’t know it. It was all on the page. The script was great.”

Letts had a bit of criticism for Lucas Hedges (his character), saying, “I didn’t identify with that abdication of the father.  When the trouble starts, he steps out of the room.  The idea that he suffers from depression? Depressed? Who isn’t?” While Letts didn’t identify with the opinionated controlling mother and the father who likes to play the softie and do very little disciplining, I could relate to it on a personal level and I know many other folks who have lived that scenario in their own lives, too. The good news is that the daughter realized her mother’s genuine caring and concern for her welfare and it did not lead to permanent alienation.

VERDICT:

As Letts says, “She’s (Greta Gerwig) really a very attractive person because she’s so smart and magnetic.  She’s gonna’ make many other good films.” I agree and enjoyed this first one.

 

Genre:  comic drama

Cast:  Saiorse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, Timothy Chalemet

Length:  93 minutes

Writer/Director:  Greta Gerwig

Cinematographer:  Sam Levy

Music:  Jon Brown

 

 

“Sammy Davis,Jr.: I’ve Gotta’ Be Me” with Director Sam Pollard at the 53rd International Chicago Film Festival

Reading Time: 4 minutes


Director Sam Pollard brought his hugely entertaining documentary “Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta’ Be Me” to the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival and spoke about the fascinating subject of this film.

A host of celebrities, ranging from Whoopie Goldberg to Billy Crystal to Sidney Poitier testify to the man who was “showbusiness from the top of his head to the tips of his toes.”
Sammy Davis, Jr., won his first talent show at the age of three (He sang, “I’ll be glad when you’re dead, you rascal you.”) and performed with the Will Mastin Trio comprised of his father and uncle.

Until he was 45 years old, long past the life span of the trio, his earnings were split three ways amongst the members of the trio. Sammy was born to a Catholic mother and a Baptist father at 2632 140th St. and 8th Ave in Harlem, but converted to Judaism. He never went to school and, much like Michael Jackson, never had a real childhood.

Sammy’s big break-through as a singer was the song “Hey There” and stars like Eddie Cantor and Jerry Lewis (who is interviewed shortly before Lewis’ recent death) helped advise him. He lost his left eye in a 1954 car accident that was rumored to have been Mafia-inspired. It took him two years just to re-learn how to pour a glass of water, but he came back to performing as good as before. And when he was good, he was very, very good, singing, dancing, acting and doing impressions of white actors (a breakthrough for the times).

THE GOOD

The film clips in this bio-pic (written by Laurence Maslon) are truly enjoyable and take you back to the days of the Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. Those days began to fade in 1964 and the personal snub that Sammy felt when JFK excluded him from his Inaugural Ball (primarily because of Davis’ marriage to May Britt, a white Swedish beauty) hurt Sammy to the core. He is quoted as saying, “”Nobody’s gonna’ get inside any more. I can’t afford that luxury.”

When Harry Belafonte wanted Sammy to come to Selma for the civil rights march, he was appearing in “Golden Boy” on Broadway and told Belafonte his absence would close the play. Harry bought the house to get Sammy to come to Selma. Despite Davis’ efforts, he was often not accepted by the black community, who often considered him a sell-out and an Uncle Tom.

Sammy was the epitome of extravagance. He was ostentatious and larger than life, saying, “I have no desire to be the boy next door.” He is quoted as saying, “If I’m not going first class, the boat ain’t leaving the dock.” He was also the first black man to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom in the White House.

THE BAD

The stories told of Sammy’s abuse when serving in the Army are truly heartbreaking. Even when he appeared in “Golden Boy” with Paula Wayne ( Arthur Penn directed), rednecks said, of Paula, “She’s the one who kissed the N—-.”

His only Number One Hit was “The Candyman” from the “Willy Wonka” movie and Sammy thought it was a terrible song. He also supported causes when they were not fashionable, supporting Richard Nixon for President and making trips to Vietnam when the tide of public sentiment had turned against the war. (“It’s not cool to be in support of the war.”) He became an anachronism in his own time

Stories like the one about a patron at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas complaining that Sammy was swimming in the swimming pool, which caused them to drain the pool were horrifying. The only place he felt safe was onstage, as he fought the odds his whole life (and usually won).

When he contracted throat cancer, he did not have surgery for fear he would never be able to sing again, but had radiation. He died on May 16, 1990, in his Beverly Hills home with third wife Altovise by his side.

None of the children from his marriage with May Britt, nor May Britt herself appeared in the documentary. Pollard shared that he hired a crew and a studio and flew to Nashville to interview Sammy’s daughter Tracey, but she did not show up on the appointed day. His children seem to have been lost to him, as “everything was about Sammy.” (His marriage to May Britt ended in 1964).

VERDICT

Documentary about the life of Sammy Davis, Jr., played at the 53rd International Chicago Film Festival with Director Sam Pollard in attendance.


This is a great documentary about a fantastically talented legend. Director Sam Pollard said, “We’re all complicated. He was larger than life and a public figure. I’m always drawn to the complexity
. If you’re going to do a documentary about someone as phenomenally talented as Sammy, you look for the dark edges.” Pollard said he had read the autobiography “Yes, I Can: The Story of Sammy Davis, Jr.” (by Sammy and Jane and Burt Boyar) when he was 15. He noted that Sammy “had trouble being alone” and that they were “very fortunate that we had access to all the audio tapes from his autobiography.”

As Whoopie Goldberg and Billy Crystal say in the documentary, “I don’t know if we’ll ever see that much talent in one person again.”
Crystal likened him to a comet passing by the Earth.

Many black performers who appeared at his 60th anniversary in show business testimonial on February 4, 1990 (just 3 months before his death), such as Michael Jackson and Geoffrey Hines, saluted him, saying, “Thanks to you, there’s a door we all walked through.”

The scenes of Davis tap-dancing with Hines literally days before his death from throat cancer demonstrate that he was one of a kind; he actually made Hines (tap dancing co-star of “White Nights” with Mikhail Baryshnikov) look clumsy by comparison.

“Killing Jesus” and “The Charmer” Win Awards at the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival on October 20th, 2017

Reading Time: 4 minutes


The Chicago International Film Festival announced winners of many awards, celebrating the films chosen by the Festival juries in various categories.

Among those selected for awards were two foreign films that definitely impressed me: “The Charmer” from Denmark by Iranian born first-time director Malad Alami won the Silver Hugo and “Killing Jesus,” which won the Roger Ebert Award for Colombian director Laura Mora. (Malad Alami moved to Sweden from Iran at the age of 6).

THE CHARMER

This film from Denmark was actually about the practice of Iranian men who come to Scandinavian countries (in this case, Denmark) and attempt to find a Danish female citizen who will either (a) marry them, so that they can stay in the country or (b) agree to support them, so that they can stay in the country. Apparently, this happens quite a bit and, in this case, the good-looking and polite young man who is attempting to strike gold by trolling the bars of Denmark is Esmail.

As the film opens, Esmail is in a semi-relationship with a young woman and living with her, but she has just asked him to move out, saying, “You’re suffocating me. I don’t really know you.”

Esmail responds, “We’re good together, aren’t we?”
His companion in bed says, “We’re good at this, but that’s not enough.”

Esmail learns soon after that, if he cannot file a “Letter of Cohabitation” with the authorities, he will be sent back to Iran.
Also, in his travels from bar to bar in search of a new playmate, Esmail meets a tall, thin Danish man who says, “They’re looking for someone like you. I’m more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy.”

The two keep meeting in this fashion until the Danish man offers to give Esmail a ride home to his tiny, depressing rented room. When they arrive at the destination, the Danish citizen reveals that his wife, Anna, had been one of Esmail’s sexual conquests and she has subsequently committed suicide by jumping out the window when the affair ended. The husband (now her widower) is obviously devastated.

At this point, I expected a standard murder story
, but things become even more interesting, as Esmail—now being completely honest about his tenuous status in Denmark—-meets a young girl, Sara, who is of Iranian parentage, but was born in Denmark and is currently studying law. She lives with her mother, a famous singer, Leila Kazemi, who is highly regarded in the Iranian community.

Sara and Leila Kazemi invite Esmail both to a large Persian party and to their home for dinner. Mother Laila even gifts Esmail with one of the suits that belonged to her dead husband. He is present at a large party they are giving, where the guests all make the assumption that this is Sara’s boyfriend and that they make “a handsome couple.” Leila has weighed in on Esmail’s status problems saying, “What a shame. I really like him. He’s very polite. He’s got intelligent eyes. I’m sure he’ll do well if he’s allowed to stay.”

When Sara (the daughter) asks Esmail what he thought he would find in Denmark when he emigrated from Iran, he responds, “I could never have imagined you.” The implication is quite clear: Sara really likes Esmail and Esmail is falling for Sara.

But the path of true love never runs smoothly.

Director Milad Alami won the Silver Hugo for “The Charmer” from Denmark.

The director, Malad Alami, who was present at the screening, explained how he talked to many people who had experienced this deception or perpetrated it themselves. Find a gullible woman—perhaps a sexually-starved one—be very considerate and attentive and see if that wins you a ticket to life in Denmark.

Alami spoke about how Esmail “can’t really do this.” He is too honorable to misrepresent himself this way. Esmail is also horror-struck (and frightened) when Anna’s husband accosts him and begins stalking him.

The lead of Esmail was one that Alami did extensive casting for, auditioning between 150 to 175 men. He ended up hiring an actor he has known for a long time, Lars Brygmann, who, he said, “has this kind of sensitivity and innocence, but also a lot of darkness.” This was his Brygmann’s first feature film, as it was, also, Alami’s first directorial feature.

Alami did a wonderful job telling this interesting story, so much so that his film won the Silver Hugo on October 20th at the Awards Ceremony.

KILLING JESUS

When you read the write-up in the program regarding Director Laura Mora’s film “Killing Jesus” (Matar a Jesus) you see where the plot will go. “Two men on a motorcycle: shots are fired; another man is left dead on the ground. Paula’s father has been assassinated.” Paula got a good look at the hit man on a motorcycle.

Paula (Natasha Jaramillo) is a typical dreamy college student. The victim, her father, was an admired professor who advocated for unpopular but democratic ideals. The law offers no answers. With revenge in her sights, Paula desperately sets out to find her father’s killer.

By chance, she meets him—dancing, smiling—at a nightclub. The two grow closer. His name is Jesus. He wants to be with her. She wants to get close to him.
So, the plot is inherently rife with conflict as Paula (Natasha Jaramillo) learns more about the man who shot and killed her father (Giovanny Rodriguez).

I found that it helped to have watched the television series “Narcos” to really understand the extent of the criminal element in Colombia and that the message of the movie, ultimately, was that Paula and Jesus were both victims. Jesus is not such a “bad guy,” when Paula gets to know him, but his life in Colombia is completely limited by the unfettered crime of the city and he is simply a pawn in a much-larger criminal enterprise.

The thing that set this film apart was the chemistry of the two leads and the backdrop of the city of Medellin. There was some very nice cinematography (James L. Brown) that showed Medellin spread out below, viewed from a “secret spot” that Jesus takes Paula to, since she is a student of photography.

The director (Laura Mora) shared that she wanted to work with non-professional actors who were from Medellin because their manner of speaking would be more authentic. The two do a good job and, although there are a few jerky camera shots, the cinematography by James L. Brown was very good.

All-in-all, I was very happy that both “The Charmer” and “Killing Jesus” left Chicago with some of the recognition that each film deserves.

“A Moon of Nickel and Ice” from Canadian Director Francois Jacob: Grim

Reading Time: 1 minute

Director Francois Jacob of “A Moon of Nickel and Ice” (Canada).

In the ice Russian mining city of Norilsk, residents endure sub-zero temperatures and the weight of a dark history: Once a Soviet labor camp in the 1930’s and 1940’s, tens of thousands of political prisoners died while extracting nickel ore from beneath the tundra.

In this visually striking and haunting documentary, local inhabitants, including a wry theater director, patriotic miners, cynical students and a rebellious historian, confront both past and present.

My companion and I first saw “Thoroughbreds” and we were mightily entertained and impressed. I promised him that if the first 15 minutes didn’t “grab” us, we could leave.

A sweaty Russian miner explained why he doesn’t like jobs where he has to supervise others. His working conditions looked like a prison camp, because it WAS (IS?) a prison camp. Everything looked like the Swedish film about the snowplow murders that I recently saw and liked (which is now being made into an American version starring Liam Neeson.)

I glanced over after 15 minutes. My companion, an AFI (American Film Institute) graduate was sound asleep. We left.

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