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: Reviews (Page 2 of 29)

Windy City Film Festival Opens in Chicago on July 12, 2018

The second year of the Windy City Film Festival kicked off on July 12th at the Victory Garden Biograph Theater in Chicago. This is the very same theater made famous by John Dillinger’s assassination outside it after viewing “Manhattan Melody” in the 1930s.

Windy City Film Festival

As a Finalist in the Screenplay Category, I was fortunate enough to be able both to see the interior of the remodeled theater at 2433 Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, a feature length film (“Double Major”) and a series of 8 short films.

We were all warmly welcomed and the choice of hors d’oeuvres was the best and most innovative of any festival I’ve attended as a critic (and I’ve attended a few). Plates of candies  are what they serve at the Oscar gala were arrayed, along with grapes, and the bar offered a discount to those of us who were Festival Finalists. Still, with a glass of wine reasonably priced at $7 that 20% discount wasn’t totally necessary. Bravo to the organizers!

After the opportunity to chat with fellow contestants, I was fortunate enough to chat at length with an actress in one of the selected films,  Jen Buhrow, and, later, had conversations with other contestants, including 2 directors of the shorts that we watched for 2 hours, Thom McCloud and Brad Riddell. All of the films were shot in Chicago.

THE SHORTS

Windy City Film Festival organizers Josh Hope and Mindy Fay Parks .

First, let me compliment the film festival organizers, Mindy Fay Parks and Josh Hope, on the truly great opening credit sequence that introduced several short films. They were as good (or better) than those shown at the opening of the much-larger (and 25 times older) Chicago International Film Festival.

SHORT #1:  RUNNER (Grade: “A”)

This was a riveting short piece featuring Clare Cooney and Shane Simmons. Clare is a runner and, while jogging down an alley in a suburb that had alleys that resembled those in Bridgeport, where my son lived for years, she is an eye witness to a murder. The murder appears to have been an accident caused by an argument between a young couple, when the young man shoves the girl and she falls and hits her head. Still, when the murderer then begins chasing Clare, everyone senses the danger she is in, and when the murderer later turns up at a gathering at a local bar and follows her home, the stress level goes even higher. This one was terrific! Clare Cooney not only acted in it, she directed it. Watch for her in the future.

SHORT #2:  TEN MORE (Grade: “A”)

DePaul Screenwriting Instructor and Windy City Film Festival Finalist Brad Riddell on July 12 at Opening Night.

This was my second favorite of the night. I told Director Brad Riddell that I could relate to it more easily, because, based on a roughly autobiographical brain injury he incurred, it leaves the viewer thinking about his (or her) own mortality and was not aimed exclusively at a young audience. Another huge plus for this film was its star, a local Chicago actor who looks as though he could be Adrien Brody’s brother (if Adrien Brody had a brother, which he does not). The actor’s name was David Tasques and it opens with Tasques playing the piano (which also summoned memories of Adrien Brody’s 2003 Oscar win at age 29 for “The Pianist.”) Puzzled by the water dripping through his ceiling from the floor above and the apartment of the old lady who usually bangs on the floor with her cane when the concert pianist is practicing (causing him to yell “Ten Minutes More”), Tasques’ attempts to find out what is going on leads to a surprising discovery. Director Brad Riddell has written 4 feature films and is currently working on a feature film for a Hollywood studio, as well as on a podcast. He is both a faculty member at DePaul and a working screenwriter.

SHORT #2:  MARGARET AND THE MOON (Grade “B”)

A chubby little girl is watching the film “Danse pour la luna”  that predates cinema as we know it, going all the way back to the Lumiere days and the Man in the Moon. We then see the girl being bullied at school by two young classmates and a lesson about true friendship is learned. Trevor Morgan, who made the film, circled back to the Man in the Moon  film for a sweet ending.

SHORT #3:  SPACEMAN (Grade “B+)

This one was light-hearted, as we follow the adventures of  a young man named Rupert Madursky who refuses to let NASA’s demise stop him from wanting to become an astronaut. As one character reminisces, “Becoming an astronaut was pure and American. We all wanted to grow up to be President or an astronaut.” Christopher Olva wrote, produced and edited this gem, with lighting and lenses by DePaul University. I think one reason I related to it as well as I did is that my husband and I toured Cape Canaveral when they were dismantling one of the towers and having the last NASA manned flight and it was a bittersweet thing to think of this nation’s space program being mothballed. (It still is). The film also had the advantage of being humorous in spots, as when Rupert ticks off a Russian cabdriver by saying to him (in Russian), “Cosmonaut is for second place,” when the driver asks if he is training to become a cosmonaut. (Rupert is fond of wearing NASA gear at all times.) The driver unceremoniously dumps his fare in the street.

SHORT #4:  STEP ONE (Grade: “B”)

Written and directed by Thom McCloud, who is primarily a local Chicago actor, a stressed man in a car is shown sitting near a railroad track and practicing the “Hello, I’m _____” speech that normally means the individual is going to be attending an AA meeting.  As the film opened, the car’s positioning near the railroad tracks immediately made you wonder if the driver intended to join a meeting (he has said his wife will leave him if he doesn’t attend) or if he is suicidal enough to drive that car onto the tracks. Speaking with McCloud later, he shared that the film is autobiographical and that it was shot in one day. Asked about the difficulties of making it, he singled out Pre-production, saying that raising the money to fund it was largely done through crowd funding and by him pitching in his own funds.  It was a thought-provoking piece.

SHORT #5:  CHEESE SHOP (Grade: “B”)

The director of “Cheese Shop”

The director of “Cheese Shop” shared, from the stage after the viewing, that Director Sammy Zeisel also had experience at working in a cheese shop, and learned how difficult things that are seemingly simple can be. The out-of-work actress who takes the job in the cheese shop learns that everything from wrapping wedges of cheese to mopping floors can be difficult. Cheese Shop is a bitter-sweet, funky little film…like a simple wedge of cheese, says the write-up, and it is.

SHORT #6:  BLAKOREA (Grade “B-“)

This film was also an autobiographical story of the marriage of a black G.I. suffering from PTSD and his Korean bride. Two young children are in the middle of their parents strife and are ultimately left with their black grandmother, Pearl.  Christine Swanson, its director, cast the film well and the actors all deliver. The reason it was slightly less appealing for me was difficulty with understanding the Korean battered wife. The film almost needed subtitles for some of her dialogue. I winced when the black grandmother served watermelon to her Asian/American grandchildren on a visit that turns into a permanent placement. Not sure that plays well in the P.C. world of today, but this was obviously an earnest effort and it was well done. The child actors were outstanding and the picture of the real Pearl with her granddaughter at the film’s finale was priceless.

SHORT #7:  MICKEY’s PETS (Grade:  “B-“)

Mickey’s Pets star is fourth from the right.

Ashley S. Brandon made this short documentary about Mickey’s pets, and the real Mickey, multiple tattoos covered by a lovely green dress, was present onstage following the film. She is shown with her pts, saying, “I’m never lonely and they never judge me.” Mickey is working on stuffing a peacock to enter in the 45th Annual National Taxidermy Competition in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. The winner of the title Taxidermist of the Year will take home a $1500 prize. Mickey Alice Kioapte certainly stood out in the room full of exclusively male animal stuffers (if that is a term). Side bar: I had a boyfriend in college (Frank Cornwell) who used to be in to taxidermy, and, of course, we all know that Norman Bates was. Of course, Frank also used to work for the phone company and randomly climb a telephone pole outside my  apartment window to phone me, so THAT was odd, too, and so is this nice little film.

SHORT #8:  COME TO LIFE (Grade:  “C”)

The plot here is that, when a young man’s wife leaves town for a few days, he is lonely and so creates talking creatures, made from pillow cases and socks to keep himself company. The first problem was that the sound and the lip movements were “off,” (which I was later told was because the film was being “streamed” from a computer.  The second problem, for me, is the current insistence that all marriages onscreen must be inter-racial. If that isn’t true, then there has to be a LGBQT character or somebody has to be handicapped. [This is based on recent reviewing at SXSW and not on these shorts, but it’s getting to be a bit much.] I’m sure many of the viewers were really intrigued by the concept, but, plot-wise, I was not. I do understand that creating them onscreen must have been quite an accomplishment, but the idea that this grown man was so lonesome for his wife because she left for 2 days that he resurrected characters (from his youth?) who he said had been hiding in the attic just didn’t work for me. It sounded incredibly juvenile, since he is depicted as an adult, not a college student.

Still, impressive work from all. Go Chicago! It is an honor to have a screenplay being considered amongst the 24 others (25 total) and I have no illusions of grandeur for what is only my second solo outing in screenplay writing.

Amy Schumer’s “I Feel Pretty” Sets Off Controversy

OK…So, I went to see Amy Schumer’s new movie “I Feel Pretty” (and received a button that says “I Feel Pretty Awesome,” which I wore all day).I liked it—the button AND the movie.

There, I’ve said it. I liked it.

I thought it was insightful and funny and I liked lines like, “I met this baby the other day that was wack as hell.” [You can see the meeting with said baby in the clip I just posted of the movie trailer]. The trailer contains the best parts of the film, and, no, it isn’t a laugh-out-loud funny movie, because Amy is trying to make the point that (to quote a line from the movie):  “This line/movie is for every girl who is ready to believe in herself.” Or, “I think a lot of people are all confused about themselves…You doubt yourself over and over. What if we didn’t care about how we looked?” 

The premise is that, when Amy hits her head, she suddenly sees herself as perfect. She no longer has the crippling insecurities that beset her prior to being hit in the head. It takes another blow to her skull to turn her back into insecure Amy. One of the lines spoken to her boyfriend in the film (Ethan, well played by Rory Scovel) is: “She is awesome. She is the complete package. Your girl can handle herself in a knife fight!” Or, as Ethan says to Renee, “You know who you are and you don’t care how the world sees you.”

The movie  makes a plea for “The strength and wisdom to say ‘I’m better than all that. We are real women.”

Why is she being pilloried on social media for making such undeniably positive statements? The answer seems to be that some think she is too pretty to be saying these things? Is that it?  Amy is too pretty to make a statement that benefits all women everywhere? (Sheesh) Get over your bad selves, nit-pickers. And, to the newly-wed Amy: YOU GO, GIRL!

I couldn’t help but empathize with what she must be thinking and feeling as people hurl brick-bats at her for articulating the undeniable truth that most of us are insecure in some way and that it can often become almost a debilitating disease, if it inhibits us too much or prevents us from becoming our true, authentic, best selves. The film also gets the point across that TOO MUCH confidence is, well, too much.

That is probably what the uproar is all about: mid-movie Amy briefly becomes a jerk to her friends (played by Aidy Bryant of SNL as Vivian and Busy Philipps as Jane) and we want to LIKE Amy and empathize with her. If she’s confident and thinks she’s great and is enjoying herself, well, we can’t have THAT now, can we? How dare she!?

If you watch the trailer (above), you’ll see the funniest parts of the movie, complete with Amy’s attempt to win a bikini contest (she doesn’t), but, mainly, you’ll see her becoming a jerk as she gives in to her uber confident inner self,  confidence which was triggered by a fall from a Soul Cycle bike that dumped her on her head.  I’m thinking that her in-your-face confidence was just too much for some females to stomach. Be reassured: she doesn’t STAY a jerk.

Girls always seem to accept other girls, or women other women, only if they are sweet and malleable and supportive and “nice,” as my husband euphemistically terms it. It still isn’t acceptable in society to be sassy and funny and irreverent, if you’re female. You still get labeled as “a bitch” if you display any of those characteristics, even though Amy Schumer rose to fame because of  the irreverent salacious humor of her stand-up act (and, yes, I HAVE seen her act, “live”). [It can’t be the men who are complaining and giving the film a thumbs down on YouTube, can it?]

I thought the opening sequence where she is participating in a Soul Cycle class with model-thin women and her bike seat gives away and she experiences a jarring blow to her vagina was note-perfect. She hobbles out with her pants torn and in pain. Have none of you (females) who are giving it a thumbs down on YouTube never experienced the crushing pain of falling onto the metal part of a boy’s bike? No? [Okay, then. It must be just me.]

I’ve also been involved in exercise classes where it was quite obvious I did not belong. My favorite story is the one where, somehow, I ended up LEADING the class and had NO idea where I was to “lead” them. It was a lot like the scene in “Animal House” where the marching band marches into a brick wall. I also remembered my husband once commenting  that I was only equipped to compete in the Olympics in the “400 yard roll” or some such joke. (He WAS kidding, but his humor was lost on me at the time.)

I actually wrote several humorous essays about exercise classes I have known and published them in “Laughing through Life, so if you want to hear all about the types of things that befall Amy in her class, but happened, IRL, to me, you can order a copy on Amazon.

But that’s not the point.

The point of the movie as written and directed by Abby Kohn (“2009’s “He’s Just Not That In To You”) and Marc Silverstein (husband of *BusyPhilipps,”How To Be Single”) to me, was that Amy wants each and every one of us who is female to feel comfortable in our own skins. So what if we have too much junk in the trunk? Forgetaboutit. So what if we are not rail-thin?  Move on. Get over it! Be confident.

BUT, and this is important, do NOT lose good friends because you become an insufferable ego-maniac.

Other good things about the movie:

Michael Andrews selected the music (“This Girl Is On Fire” for one) and it is great. Michelle Williams plays the daughter of a cosmetics icon who has a very soft voice like Jackie Kennedy’s (okay, you’re too young to remember how Jackie’s voice was very soft and not forceful at all, and Marilyn Monroe’s was the same way, so just work with me here) and, therefore, has a hard time being taken seriously. She also is involved in some serious sibling rivalry with her handsome brother, Grant LeClair (Tom Hopper), who comes on to Amy at one point (Amy remains true to Ethan, so why did the haters not note THAT?)

Many critics praised the appearance of Lauren Hutton as Gramma LeClaire (Lily LeClaire) in “I Feel Pretty,” who founded the cosmetics company, which is attempting to turn out an affordable cosmetics line suitable for sale in Target stores.

Lauren appears as a retired model, which she really is. She made her film debut in 1968 in “Paper Lion” and still works as a model, apparently because she is still reed-thin.

Lauren definitely has been out in the sun too much for too long and she has done nothing to diminish the age-related wrinkles caused by too much sun exposure. I actually looked up her age, after the film, since I was hoping she was older than me. She was…but not by that much.

For someone who is listed as 74 (birthday: Nov. 17, 1943) she is thin, but, aside from that, she might consider whether the path she wants to take is the one taken by Jane Fonda, or the one taken by others, which doesn’t have to mean plastic surgery, but does mean trying to diminish age-related deterioration. Yes, I know. This is in direct opposition to the message of the movie, but the message of the movie for a young woman is quite different than for a “mature” (don’t say “old”) woman: society has not moved forward enough to accept prune-like visages that could have remained recognizable if the owner of the face had taken the slightest precautions.

To me, since we are only given one face, it is irresponsible not to at least try to keep it looking halfway decent. While that also applies to our bodies, I agree with Amy that a woman in today’s society ought to NOT have to be reed-thin to be considered attractive. We women have to bear children and cook and clean and, usually, also work,and genetics will get you every time, so not all of us will remain emaciated in our golden years. Lauren is reed-thin, so she gets to keep modeling. She looks like hell, facially, but nevermind that, as long as she is thin.

That, to me, was the message for we “mature” types and, yes, that was a contradiction of the first magnitude, which I blame(d) on the age difference between the character Amy is playing (Renee Bennett) and the one that Lauren Hutton is playing (Lily LeClaire).

And probably something that the writers never considered, either, since the male writer (Marc Silverstein) is also the husband of Busy Philipps, [whois supposed to be getting a talk show this fall] and Abby Kohn might have tried  for Jane Fonda for the Lauren Hutton role—or any other mature actress who has not thrown caution to the winds and abandoned her face to extensive sun damage.

 

 

Zayn Allen (A DC Comics Fan) Says: Get It Together, D.C.

     Guest post from Zayin Allen with some snarky Siskel/Ebert Treatment

(*With the usual snide remarks from the adult in the room who would like the never-ending barrage of these things to quietly go away and leave us with good films. C.W.)

Let’s talk about DC Comics films. After Man of Steel the world was in their hands. Then came the release of Batman V Superman. Although critics savaged the film and  it received little praise,  the film was honestly not that bad, (IMHO). Wonder Woman was a beautiful film, and  the gorgeous and talented Israeli actress Gal Gadot nailed the role effortlessly.

Everything was set up: Zack Snyder was the leading front runner to direct Justice League. After the unfortunate death of his daughter, DC was left in the dark. Justice League was taken over by Joss Wedon and that was the day DC films fell. The budget was too high for the film to look the way it did. The film seemed rushed, the lines came off  as forced, and the storyline was butchered (compared to what it could have been). (*Having just written a script based on THE COLOR OF EVIL, one never knows how many “experts” weighed in on the script and, as one screenwriter said, to me, “After they get done pissing all over your script, you won’t recognize it, anyway.” Perhaps that is what happened? Don’t know. Just guessing here.)

DC fans want real justice: the legendary Snyder Cut. Before the untimely death of Snyder’s daughter, he had completed half of the film, the rest being deemed “unwatchable” by Snyder himself.

Joss Wedon, with only this to work with, had to pick up the torch. A once beautiful DC film concept (which would tie up questions from Batman V. Superman), turned into a bubble gum Marvel movie of sorts. (*Connie says: nearly ALL of these things are bubble gum movies for serious film buffs, with a few notable exceptions, like “Logan”)

That’s is what I feared after the film’s late arrival. This is not the same as the mixed reactions to Man of Steel, which resulted in a full-on DC Comics cinematic universe. WB,  the home of movies like American SniperGravityInception, and It, wanted Justice League to fit a certain mold (*You mean, they wanted it to be good? Just asking. C.W.). Justice League, which was supposed to be a two-part movie, didn’t fit the mold in Snyder’s hands.

Basically I’m saying it’s a damn shame (*That those who like this kind of D.C. Comics or Marvel Comics stuff. For the rest of us it’s just a damn shame that they started making them to begin with, pushing out the good movies of yesteryear. C.W.) must witness the destruction of a universe because of just one movie.  At this point. to me it seems as though getting a new WB movie is like throwing spaghetti at the wall: they’re trying to see if anything sticks. 

The next film set to release in late December, 2018 is James Wan’s  Aquaman. Fans are still patiently waiting for a trailer to see if the same mistakes are going to be made. The release for Shazam! is to follow in April 2019 under the direction of David Sandberg. The other movies that were listed on the DC Film slate were: Wonder Woman 2, Suicide Squad 2Flashpoint, and The Batman, Green Lantern Corp, and Man of Steel 2. (*Yikes! Will these things NEVER end? C.W.)

The future of DC Films is up in the air. I have my doubts that James Wan’s Aquaman will be just fine and that Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 2 will triumph. My positive side thinks that focusing on stand-alone/single-hero movies for the moment is the best thing to do. (*Or, just for a change, maybe do something other than rip off comic books, like get a good, original concept. C.W.)

Man of Steel and Wonder Woman were beautifully done,  as well as Batman V. Superman, which featured the trinity (Batman, Wonder Woman, And Superman).

How I feel is beside the point. (*Yes. And how I feel is not even addressed.  Point? There’s a point? Is it that D.C. makes bad comic book movies? Just guessing here. C.W.)

DC fans feel micromanaging these movies to the point where the budget is too high and the audience walks out of the theater disgusted is a bad call.  Let the various directors execute their visions— except Joss Wedon. He already had his chance.

(*As for Connie, she will be eagerly awaiting “Haunt” by the writers of “A Quiet Place,” Scott Beck & Bryan Woods. It is in post-production now and they are also DIRECTING this one. I saw “Wonder Woman.” Meh. Pretty, but….Not much of a fan. C.W.)

ssuu.com/shelfunbound/docs/shelf_unbound_april-may_2018

“Shelf Unbound” magazine has named THE COLOR OF EVIL boxed set to its list of the BEST INDIE E-BOOKS of 2017. (p. 44).

All 3 books are currently touring as a boxed set in e-book formatbut the  also are available in paperback and audio book.

 

Type in The Color of Evil by Connie Corcoran Wilson to go to the Amazon ordering site for the 753 pages that comprise “The Color of Evil” (Book 1), “Red Is for Rage” (Book 2) and “Khaki = Killer” (Book 3).

In the Notes from the Author section on page 44 of “Shelf Unbound,” Connie mentions that the inspiration for the series came from a short story that appeared, originally in Volume I of her short story series “Hellfire & Damnation” (Books 1, 2 & 3).

For trailers and reviews of each of these series go to www.TheColorOfEvil.com and www.HellfireAndDamnationTheBook.com. Enjoy!

The Impact of “Black Panther” in Film and Society

                                      Guest post by Zayin Allen

(A La Siskel & Ebert here….)

Marvel’s Black Panther is historic and iconic all at the same time. The film has brought in nothing but positive reviews, and the conversation concerning the film’s importance has been further increased by positive social media. This  happened even before the film was  released. (*Generally, this means that the P.R. machine of the studio was working in high gear and working well.)

Under the expert direction of Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed), this film is more than a superhero blockbuster; it has become a movement all its own. Director Coogler deserves kudos for touching on some tough topics, like the incarceration of people of color and the gentrification of their neighborhoods.

The film acknowledges everything from the traditions of African societies to debatable topics pertaining to the African American community. (*Connie wonders what the ‘debatable topics’ might be, since she has not yet seen the film. Debatable by whom? Who is debating what?Black Panther is a film filled to the brim with power and extolling the beauty of black women who aren’t pushed to the side but are a key element to the nation of Wakanda.

The all-female protection squad, Dora Milaje, make their power known through their chant  “WAKANDA FOREVER,” followed by the strong and culturally iconic X emblazoned across their chests.

Tennis player Sachia Vickery crosses arms on chest in celebration of victory (L). US athlete Tommie Smith raising his fist in protest at the 1968 Summer Olympics (R)

All in all, Wakanda, which is an eyegasm (*Connie says: W-H-A-A-T?)  for audiences, isn’t the same film for white viewers as the film black viewers see. Seeing modern day African American kings and queen gives  African Americans in this country a certain measure of  cultural comfort. (*I wonder if that is a true statement with Jeff ‘Beauregard’ Sessions as our Attorney General and Donald Trump as Agent Orange, but let’s not get off on politics here. CW)

Africa has often been viewed as  an eye sore, especially in the American media (*or when Donald Trump trashes the entire continent, actually referring to it as “a s—hole.”). Past generations viewed the second largest continent in the world as chaotic, impoverished, and savage. (*Probably past and present. Who knows about the future?) Today’s generation will envision Wakanda when asked about their perception of Africa.

(*Connie says she doubts this, because there are plenty of other films about Africa that are not as glowingly positive about this FICTIONAL country in this particular film. It’s like saying that we should all move to the country where “Wonder Woman” was shot, if we are female. Welllll, there IS no such country, is there, now?  I think the film will be good, but I don’t think I’ll regard it as a travelogue look at the REAL Africa. Especially not after I watched that horrible 2016 turkey “93 Days” that Danny Glover was in (Chicago Film Festival offering) about the Ebola virus in Africa. You can only watch so many people bleeding to death onscreen before you say, “Uh….book me to a different country/nation/continent, Ma’am.”) 

Black Panther  offers a positive look at the African American experience. (*Except that it’s not a real country and that might make it a bit dubious. It’s like saying: ‘Avatar offers a positive look at Jupiter.’ (or wherever that was supposed to have been in the sci-fi film by James Cameron. Total fiction, in other words. But I digress and this isn’t  Zayin. This is a bit like Siskel & Ebert here. Old vs young? Marvel Comics fan versus really good movie fan? Something like that. I’d also point out that Black Panther’s “rating” on IMDB is 7.8; “A Quiet Place,” which has not opened wide yet, is 8.4 and rising.)

Black Panther has been doing so well at the box office for the simple reason that it is different. (*Connie says it is also because of its terrific cast, but....) The film offers a powerful image of the culture. It’s what’s behind the shine of Wakanda; it’s what is behind the message of Killmonger. It’s what is behind T’Challa’s 16- year old genius Shuri, whose intellect surpasses Tony Stark aka Iron Man.

(*Connie was not impressed with Iron Man’s intellect after film #1 and is glad to hear that the great actor Robert Downey, Jr., might quit being Iron Man after one more film and go back to actually good roles. First one was fun. Others? Not so much.)

These messages and visuals  on the screen are what make Black Panther a successful film.  (*Again: many reasons why it is a successful film, including a good script, good cinematography, good acting, good directing, etc., but okay.) It’s a film where African Americans can step outside hatred and judgment and be unapologetically black.

(*O…..K….Connie will review the film, no doubt positively, at a later date and, no doubt, differently than Zayin. I thought Chadwick Boseman should have gotten an Oscar nomination for “Get On Up” (which, by the way, Mick Jagger produced/financed) but Boseman didn’t, because the studio released it at a really stupid time of the year. Boseman was also very, very nice when in Chicago at the Premiere of “Marshall” and If I have a picture of him there, I will use it when I am done here.

Chadwick Boseman at the Premiere of “Marshall” in Chicago. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

“Roxanne Roxanne” Was Long Overdue and Deserves More Attention.

Guest Review by Zayin Allen

Writer-director Michael Larnell tells the true story of Lolita ‘Roxanne Shanté’ Gooden (Chante Adams) in “Roxanne, Roxanne.” She was a young teen who journeyed from the battle rap queen of Queensbridge, NY, to shattering the glass ceiling with her iconic freestyle “Roxanne’s Revenge” over the beat of Untouchable Force Organization “Roxanne, Roxanne”.

Afficionados of hip hop will have fan moments over the subtle hints of hip hop gems along the way. The film is refreshing because it offers a new perspective, a woman’s perspective.  Executive-Producer Roxanne Shanté herself made sure that the film was centered around music, bur it also had moments where viewers understood the other side of music.

Roxanne Roxanne revolved around a young girl being immersed in an adult world too quickly. It’s a similar  situation with most talented artists who become famous too fast.

The film was well acted by Hollywood’s finest Nia Long (Boyz N The Hood) and Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) . The real breakout star has to be Chanté Adams who, in her first role after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, s a newcomer captures the essence of Roxanne Shante.

                                      Roxanne Roxanne/Netflix

You’ll be drawn to the intensity and chemistry of Nia Long and Chanté Adams on screen. The mother daughter dynamic between the two is powerful. Nia Long’s performance will hold your attention. It is as though she’s trying to teach a life lesson to the viewer.

Shanté’s story was a story that needed to be told, but it was more suited to be on Netflix rather than be released as an actual theatrical release like Straight Outta Compton or Notorious. As a fan of the Hip Hop genre I’m quite disappointed with myself for previously missing out on a performer as talented as Roxanne Shante. This is why more Hip Hop biopics such as (NOTORIOUS, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON) should be done PROPERLY. It helps to highlight the story of under-appreciated rap pioneers all while complementing the message that not everything comes easy and a mother is usually right.

ROXANNE ROXANNE is rushed but well put together story about a young African American teen girl who, although struggling against great odds, opened a door for many to follow in the hip hop industry.

That, alone, is noteworthy.

**************
(I know almost nothing about rap music, but I did see the recent Tupac Shakur docu-pic, which came out at the same time as ‘Wonder Woman.” I confess that after Slim Shady and Eminem and a brief shining moment when L. L. Cool Jay was my son’s hero (in his high school years) and, as a result, he and a friend went into a studio and made a rap record with their own money, I haven’t given rap music much thought since. I’ve heard the names, of course, but I’ve tried not to hear the rap ballads/albums. This is a good area—along with Marvel movies—for a young man like Zayin to follow. My one comment is that it seems sort of hypocritical that this film wasn’t helmed by a woman. The thing that is all the rage this year at film festivals: flicks directed by women. It’s the coming thing, and it’s about time. Here is a movie about a female rapper, but it’s directed by a man. Does anyone else find that odd in the year of “Lady Bird” (nominated as Best Picture and directed by Greta Gerwig) or Miranda Bailley’s film at SXSW or the fact that 40% of the films at the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival were helmed by women? I’m just asking, not telling. C.W.)

Avengers Infinity War Anticipation: Will It Live Up to the Hype ?

Guest Review by Zayin Allen

Coming off the hype of “Black Panther,” the top-grossing super hero movie of all time, Marvel Studios has a hard act to follow. “Black Panther” offered both a step forward for the culture and a much needed change within the superhero genre. “Black Panther”  changed the momentum of the Marvel Universe. A different villain who was right, is, in a sense, a different hero, going in a different direction.

“Avengers Infinity Wars” will have to change its dynamic altogether. As much as I hate to say it, Marvel has the superhero movie genre locked down right now. DC needs to be better coming off its recent flop.

The problem with Marvel was the villain, but “Black Panther” succeeded where the last 12 MCU films failed. This means the highly anticipated arrival of a villain who can tie together all MCU films has to be great.

*cue Thanos*

Josh Brolin will be reprising the role, having previously voiced the Mad Titan. Although his stature and demeanor are menacing, his true power has yet to be unveiled. His goal is to collect the Infinity Stone and take over the universe. We last saw him in the post credit scene of Guardians 2 proclaiming after many failed attempts he would get them himself.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has offered  fans at least three of the five Infinity Stones. The Space Stone ( Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers), The Reality Stone (Thor: The Dark World) The Power Orb (from Guardians of the Galaxy) and The Time Stone( Doctor Strange).

The last remaining stone The Soul Stone has yet to be revealed in the MCU. More than likely in ” The Avengers: Infinity Wars”, at which point Thanos will either collect or know the whereabouts of the stones and use them for the Infinity Gauntlet, which will grant him unforeseeable power. Each individual stone has great power on their own, but with all of them together, that represents  the call of action for all seen and hopefully unseen heroes in the MCU.

The proper formula for a superhero movie calls for a good villain, a sacrifice, and a triumphant return. (Hence, “Dark Knight,” “Black Panther,” “Alien”, and what should have been “Justice League”).

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige himself said that Thanos, within the first five minutes of “Infinity Wars” will prove why he’s a sinister and destructive force. Both Chris Evans (Captain America) and Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) hinted that the fourth “Avengers film” would be their last. [*To which this old person says, ‘We can only hope and pray.'”]

Someone is going to go out in a devastating way in “Avengers: Infinity Wars” but who and how is why seats will be filled April 26th.

(The review opinions above are from Zayin Allen, a college student in Delaware, who is enthusiastic about these movies. May I simply say: JUST SHOOT ME NOW if I have to watch any of these movies,— with the possible exception of “Black Panther.”)

“Write When You Get Work” Is A Nicely Written Romantic Film

“Write When You Get Work”, written and directed by Stacey Cochran (on right) had its World Premiere at SXSW. It is a romantic caper of thievery, money, and access, shot on Super16 in New York.

When the film opens, we see Finn Wittrock and Rachel Keller in a passionate embrace at the beach. The chemistry is so hot that it might melt the ice in your drink. It is 9 years before the main plot, and this couple are not only gorgeous, but obviously deeply in love with one another.

Stacy Cochran, Writer-Director of “Write When You Get Work” and co-star Andrew Schulz in Austin at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson for WeeklyWilson.com and TheMovieBlog.com)

However, Jonny Collins (Finn Wittrock) is a bad boy who is never going to stop being a bad boy. He gets his lady love into all sorts of trouble when they are young. (“Four convictions in one year as a minor!” says her employer at a private school that has hired her, Guy Brinckerhoff (Scott Cohen).

Rachel Keller, a St. Paul, MN, native who appeared in the 2014 “Fargo” TV series is trying to go straight. She has gotten her life together, and she is not in any mood to have it wrecked again by Jonny, who reappears in her life and seems unwilling to stop showing up.

Finn Wittrock, who appeared as a psychotic clown Dandy Mott from 2014-2016 on “American Horror Story” is a Julliard graduate who hopes that theater work will continue to find him. He says he “caught the acting bug from my dad,” who is an actor and voice teacher. Although only 5′ 9″, he is a handsome, charismatic leading man and his pairing with Rachel Keller was wonderful.

Stacy Cochran, Writer/Director of “Write When You Get Work.” (Photo by Connie Wilson for WeeklyWilson.com and TheMovieBlog.com)

Playing Jonny Collins’ best friend, Sticker, otherwise named Mitchell Mullen Vegas was Andrew Schulz, who showed up at SXSW. He is a producer and actor known for “Sneaky Pete” (2015). The plot is propelled forward by the fact that Sticker is married to an African American policewoman and they have a darling little girl who is about ready to start pre-school.

Much of the story centers on how getting into the “right” pre-school is uber important in New York City. The figure $35,000 is thrown out for the cost of one student to attend the prestigious Luscinia School, which Rachel Keller’s character has recently joined as its Director of Admissions.

The film had a very nice “twist” ending which I won’t ruin for you. It’s a nice film and a pleasant surprise. See it if you get the chance.

“Galveston” Premieres at SXSW with Ben Foster & Elle Fanning

 

“Galveston,” based on the novel by Nic Pizzolatto, World Premiered here last Saturday (March 10th). Although I was assigned Red Carpet duties for “Galveston” and Ben Foster, its star, was supposed to attend, along with Elle Fanning,  it would have meant missing out on an interview with the screenwriters for “A Quiet Place.”  I saw it at the end of the festival, instead, without Ben Foster or Elle Fanning.

The brief plot summary for “Galveston”: “After surviving a set-up by his criminal boss (Beau Bridges), a hitman rescues a young prostitute and flees with her to Galveston, Texas, where the two find strength in each other as dangerous pursuers and the shadows of their pasts follow close behind.”

The novel the film was based on (“Galveston”) was written by Nic Pozaletti,  novelist-turned-screenwriter who wrote 22 episodes of television’s “True Detective” series.  Directed by Melanie Laurent, she also scripted it, and it wasn’t as strong as the source material. Producer was 74-year-old Jean Doumanian, better known for producing many of Woody Allen’s best-known films, [before he sued her over “The Jade Scorpion,” when she announced that he had 2 days to find alternative financing and Allen said she had been skimming]. [Interestingly, Doumanian also had a brief, troubled tenure running “Saturday Night Live” in 1980-1981 before Lorne Michaels returned. The credits for “Galveston” read “Jean Doumanian Productions, in association with Storm Outside.” Low Spark films appears as the company that helmed this and, later, when a motel used in the production is named Emerald Shores Motel, it is noteworthy that the company mentioned is Emerald Shores LLC. It is also true that the Motel’s desk woman, Nanee Covington, is well played by C.K. McFarland.]

THE GOOD

                                                                     Ben Foster (Pinterest)

Nobody can put sheer intensity and emotion onscreen better than Ben Foster, the Fairfield, Iowa, native who has studied Transcendental Meditation since the age of 4. Foster dropped out of high school in his freshman year and flew to Los Angeles, based on the strength of an audition tape, to be cast at 16 in a TV show called “Flash Forward.” He never looked back and came to the attention of the public, in general. for his superb work in “Hostage” with Bruce Willis, playing a character named Marshall “Mars” Krupcheck, in 2005.

By that point, I was watching him portray Russell Corwin on “Six Feet Under” (2003-2005) and admiring his acting intensity.  Of this quality, he has said, “That is source, that is art, that is spirituality.  And meditation is a way to defy fear and experience that source.” It seems to have served him well. He has racked up some impressive roles in films like “The Messenger” in 2009, opposite Woody Harrelson, portraying Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, whose task it is to tell soldiers’ families that their loved one has died in combat. Before that, there was Charlie Prince in “3:10 to Yuma” in 2007 and “Alpha Dog” as Jake Magursky in 2006.

Foster, selected in surveys when very young as an actor to watch, has said, “The heat around young actors burns out.  Natural ability and magnetism only get you so far.  The rest is hard work.”

Foster’s co-star in “Galveston,” Elle Fanning, is another young actress who knows all about starting young. Fanning began working on film as the younger version of her older sister, Dakota, at the age of 3, in “Taken” and “I Am Sam.”

Only 19 now, she was just as intense as Foster in her scenes as a young girl from Orange, Georgia, trying to escape a troubled past that included sexual abuse by her stepfather that results in a child, Tiffany (played as a child by Tinsley & Anniston Price and also by Lili Bernhart as a 23-year-old). She upped her game because Foster brought out the best in her, perhaps.

The acting in this film is over-the-top good.

THE BAD

The plot , script and direction: not so much.

The overall tone and setting of gritty reality was done well, and the costume design by Lynette Meyer to portray Elle as a trashy young thing was excellent, although to dismiss her character of “Rocky” as “a prostitute” is to shortchange that character. She is more an innocent with no other way to support herself than a true professional lady of the evening.

Rocky (Raquel/Fanning) shows up in the plot when Roy Cady (Ben Foster) is sent to rob a house which, in reality, is a set-up by his evil boss (who runs a laundromat), Stan Pithco (played by a decidedly portly and greasy Beau Bridges).  When Roy manages to survive the hit, he notices a pretty girl in a red dress tied to a chair. Almost on impulse, Roy cuts her loose and takes her with him— not as a hostage, but more as an act of mercy.

The script, in fact, spells this out in dialogue between Fanning and Foster, when she asks why he is kidnapping her. He responds, “I saved you. Be clear on that.”  Later, Foster goes to the wall for the young girl and her sister/daughter (think “Chinatown”), telling the now-grown-up Tiffany, “All this time I was your friend. You weren’t abandoned.”

There is a story line that involves Cady’s incorrect assumption that he is dying of lung cancer, his drinking (“You look like hell and you smell like it, too”) and his altruistic act(s) in defense of “Rocky”, whose real name is Raquel Arceneaux (Elle Fanning). Never do we get the impression that the 40-year-old and the 19-year-old are sexually involved, (although they do have one memorable date that might have led down that path, had the path been slightly longer.)

There are storms and rain and approaching hurricanes throughout the film (think Shakespeare) and the end made very little sense, except as it evoked a literary novel. By the denouement, the entire film will leave you marveling at the acting while feeling like you really need a stiff drink to recover from the many godawful things that have just happened to the characters.

VERDICT

I enjoy watching Ben Foster work. He has the same ability that Michael Shannon has to completely dominate the screen with his  intensity. Elle Fanning also has come a long way from  previous films. She  did a stand-out job opposite Foster. Maybe his excellence brought out the best in her?

I originally selected this film for Red Carpet duties because I met Foster once before, in Chicago, when he appeared there with “The Messenger” in 2009. He is nothing if not intense, but he is also a good interview and not at all like the almost psychopathic types he occasionally inhabits onscreen. Then the opportunity for interviewing the screenwriters from “A Quiet Place” loomed, in conflict with those duties, so I finally caught the film today at its last showing, and I’ve given you Elle Fanning’s comments (above).

Perhaps Foster will mellow even more as his daughter with Laura Prepon (“The Hero”) approaches one year old this August, and his years (2014 and 2015) with Robin Wright  (Penn), 14 years his senior, fade into oblivion.

See “Galveston” for the acting, but don’t try to make too much sense of the ending, nor of the scenes with Roy’s former African-American girlfriend, Lorraine (Adepero Oduye), which could have been omitted completely without harming the plot.

This is a French person’s script and  take on life in the South (shot in Savannah, Georgia and elsewhere in Georgia with many references to Austin, where Pizzolatto was once a bartender). That could account for some of what I found unsatisfactory about the film. My roommate was a French major in college, so, one year at the Chicago Film Festival (she accompanied me), we watched nothing but films that were in French with English subtitles. Fun for her. For me? Not so much. [ If you’ve  watched many French films, you’ll know what I mean.] I think the movie might have been better served in the Director/Writer area by utilizing a more-experienced U.S. director of either gender .

 

“A Quiet Place:” If You See Just One Suspense Thriller, Make It This One

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 09: Director/Executive Producer/Writer/Actor John Krasinski attends the ‘A Quiet Place’ Premiere 2018 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Paramount Theatre on March 9, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

I’m here at SXSW Film Festival (for the 3rd year) and the Opening Night film, “A Quiet Place,” written by two Hitchcock-loving Bettendorf, Iowa, 34-year-old filmmakers, (with some contributions from Director and Star John Krasinski of “The Office” fame), is wowing the critics and the crowds.

I was fortunate enough to grab a few minutes to speak to Scott Beck and Bryan Woods about this big-budget Paramount film the day after it premiered. It is not difficult to see how these two young Iowa graduates, who have been collaborating since junior high school (and throughout college at the University of Iowa) have helped create a suspenseful thriller that is destined to become a classic. It’s the start of something big, career-wise. Their next film “Haunt,” currently in post-production, is one they both wrote and directed.

 

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 09: Emily Blunt and Director/Executive Producer/Writer/Actor John Krasinski attend the ‘A Quiet Place’ Premiere 2018 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Paramount Theatre on March 9, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

The filmmakers were articulate, congenial, diplomatic and enthused about the audience’s 100% Rotten Tomatoes response to their film about a family of four that must remain totally silent in order to keep some scary underground-dwelling creatures from killing them. They’ve  survived in a dystopian world (no further explanation) where any loud noise will bring these “things” down on the family of Krasinski, his wife Emily Blunt, their deaf teen-aged daughter Millie (played by a lovely young actress, Millicent Simmons, who is deaf in real life), a son of about 10 and a younger boy who looks just about ready for kindergarten in a normal world.

But, when the film opens, they are not in a “normal” world, but are searching for drugs in a ruined drugstore, where the youngest of the brood finds a noisy toy that he’d really like to keep. You know this bodes ill for the family, which has resorted to using sign language to communicate, has sound-proofed their dwelling and has an extensive camera and light set-up to try to protect themselves from the blind, armored creatures in an attempt to try to stay alive. There is also a tower that the father (Krasinski) lights a fire atop at night. We see two other fires in the distance, so we know there are at least a few other survivors. The set design and special effects are extraordinary, reminding of the “Alien” days, (when we finally see this threat—which isn’t for a long time). Marco Beltrami’s score is great and–most importantly—the acting from all is terrific.

(Left to Right) Scott Beck, Connie Wilson and Bryan Woods at SXSW (Austin, TX) on March 10, 2018.

The log line for the film is: “A family lives an isolated existence in utter silence, for fear of an unknown threat that follows and attacks at any sound.” That is an original premise that has not been done before. It leads to one of the most spare scripts in Hollywood history. Not only do the actors seldom speak (they sign or whisper or mouth the words), we don’t get to “see” the monster(s) until quite late in the film. And they are “Alien-” quality when we do.

There is not one “down” or boring scene, always the goal for a screenwriter, but difficult to achieve. No unnecessary exposition or wordy speeches. Just good old-fashioned Hitchcockian suspense from a screenwriting team that mentions “Vertigo” as one of their favorite movies and have been making films since they were six years old.

 

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 09: Writers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck attend the ‘A Quiet Place’ Premiere 2018 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Paramount Theatre on March 9, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

I met up with them at a Starbucks the day after the film and wrote a piece giving the local ties to the Quad Cities of Iowa, which appears above this one. To achieve that, I  had to embarrass myself and climb over about 8 other movie-goers in my row to go to the microphone during the Q&A.  Where, exactly, were these two talented young men? Fortunately, my willingness to go that extra mile led to a brief but informative meeting the very next day.

The film’s extraordinary quality is leading to this recommendation: if you like suspenseful, well-acted, well-directed films, beautifully-shot films where you care about the characters and root for them to escape, even against overwhelming odds, you’re going to love this movie.

Bryan Woods (left) and Scott Beck at SXSW in Austin (TX) on March 10, 2018.

Most of those present on Opening Night did, and the remark I heard made most often in the lobby following it was, “This was so much better than last year’s Opening Movie.”

Last year’s opening film was Terrence Malick’s “Song by Song” with Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman and some other “A”-list talent. Perhaps Malick should have hired Beck & Woods to script the thing, as that renowned filmmaker’s work, which was often wonderful, was not well-received because of its meandering storyline.

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 09: (L-R) Actors Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe and director John Krasinski attend the Opening Night Screening and World Premiere of ‘A Quiet Place’ during the 2018 SXSW Film Festival on March 9, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

The film opens wide in the U.S. on April 6th and, yes, it IS that good. Take it from someone who’s been reviewing film for 47 straight years.

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