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!
Thursday Night, June 9th, Commission Hearings About the January 6th Coup D’Etat:
Liz Cheney and backlash over her anti-Trump stance. She will pay the ultimate price for being loyal to the U.S. Constitution and calling out Trump’s treason.
Liz Cheney opened the impressive Opening of the January 6th Commission with these words: “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”
• Trump believed the rioters were “doing what they should be doing,” Cheney said, and yelled at advisers who said that he should call them off. He said that rioters who chanted about hanging Pence “maybe” had “the right idea.”
• The committee played video of Bill Barr, the former attorney general, saying that he had called Trump’s fraud claims “bullshit” and “crazy stuff.” Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, testified that she “accepted” what Barr said.
• Footage shot by a documentary filmmaker embedded with the Proud Boys showed members of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, two far-right groups who stormed the Capitol, meeting on the evening before the attack. This footage had not been aired previously and included the violent assault on a female Capitol officer, who testified in person and suffered a brain injury during the assault on the Capitol.
• In video testimonies, several rioters said that they had stormed the Capitol in response to Trump’s summons. “He asked me for my vote and he asked me to come on Jan. 6,” one said. It seems logical that the individual who planned it all (i.e., Donald J. Trump) should also be charged and should suffer the consequences of selling out his country to attempt to hang onto power, no matter what.
• Cheney said that Pence, not Trump, ordered the National Guard to the Capitol during the attack, and that “multiple” House Republicans sought pardons over their efforts to overturn the election.
• My thoughts on the request by several Trump loyalists for pardons for their actions during January 6th, before he left office, begs this question: “If there was nothing illegal going on, why would any of these Trump loyalists need to be pardoned?” The obvious conclusion is that they knew damn well that they were playing with fire, and when the effort to overthrow the duly elected president did not succeed, some of them began scrambling for cover.
The second day/date of the hearings will be at 10 a.m. on Monday, June 13th.
“Weekly Wilson” has been dark for 5 days, as you may have noticed if you are a regular reader.
My computer assistant, Allison, spent THREE HOURS on the phone with them, beginning on or about the 6th or 7th and they claimed to have “fixed” the problem. They told her it “might take a few days” to resolve, but it would be back up.
This happened before, and I used Jennifer Lopez to draw eyes to the blog on December 1, 2021, when it went offline for a matter of days, and I looked further back and determined that it also happened in September, 2021, so, every 3 to 4 months, GoDaddy lets my blog go dark and then one or both of us have to spend hours on the phone trying to get it back “up.” I pointed out that MANY people work from home via computer these days, and that going “dark” for a week 3 times in one year is a lot, IMHO.
If any of you truly “tekky” people out there want to suggest other services that might have been able to get the blog up in, oh, say, a day, rather than five to seven days, I’d be interested in hearing the names of such services, since I am a person who was using a land line to call them and refuses to text on a cell phone.
I had been posting almost daily, as you may also have noticed, and I had a very good piece prepared about the Uvelde shootings. Perhaps I will run it tomorrow, as it is now after 1 a.m. and, as I told the technician I finally got (Jennifer, who succeeded someone with anunpronouncable Indian name) “I need this s*** like I need another hole in my head.” This is the truth.
Me, Craig and best friend Pam in “the good old days” on campus in Iowa City.
So, am having so many bad side effectswithout further ado and with apologies, I offer up (again) Jennifer Lopez in her jungle dress, which has absolutely nothing to do with this topic, but might draw your eyes to the blog. I spent an extra long time today being radiated (we jumped immediately to “the boost” because I am having so many bad side effects ) and then I went to the Toyota dealership and got red paint for a dent someone put in my brand new Prius. I had no red paint for the 20th Anniversary Prius, but John at the Toyota dealership ordered me some and then he actually came out and put it on the dent. (Thanks, John!)
Now THAT’s what I call “customer service.”
If I sound frustrated, fed up and less than patient, you have hit all three nails on the head, and I’ll move on tomorrow to post my piece on Uvalde (which is really highlights from around the world on what OTHER countries have had to say about gun violence in America) and to comment on last night’s first airing of the January 6 Commission hearings, which was riveting, historic television.
I never thought I would ever have very positive things to say about someone whose surname is “Cheney” but I have to admit that Liz has done her nation proud, and it is just too bad that the rest of the GOP are people like that Hawley dude from Missouri and Ted Cruz.
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot released new details Thursday about its first hearing, scheduled to kick off in prime time on Thursday, June 9.
June 9th, television-watchers, is this coming Thursday (as I write this on Sunday, 6/5) and the timing for those of us in the Midwest on MSNBC, Channel 356, will be 7 p.m. CDT.
“The committee will present previously unseen material documenting January 6th, receive witness testimony, preview additional hearings, and provide the American people a summary of its findings about the coordinated, multi-step effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and prevent the transfer of power,” the panel said.
Additional information about witnesses will be released this coming week, the committee said.
The hearing, scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET, is expected to focus on former President Donald Trump’s role in the violence that unfolded at the Capitol during the official counting of the Electoral College votes before a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021. In a civil court filing in March, the House committee argued it has “a good-faith basis for concluding that [Trump] and members of his Campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States.”
The panel’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., has said the hearings will include testimony from witnesses “we’ve not heard from before.”
One of those witnesses, who was hauled off a plane in leg irons as a flight risk, may be Peter Navarro, one of Trump’s inner circle who was among the most obnoxious spokespeople ever to grace the air waves. Navarro emerged as a legend in his own mind, moving away from the trade issues he was supposed to be expert in, to talk about matters as diverse as Covid-19 and the economy. Where he was supposedly going when apprehended at the airport has been variously reported as Nashville, but apparently those in a position of power had misgivings about his attitude towards telling the truth about his involvement in the January 6th coup d’etat.
There is a rumor that Jared and Ivanka Trump may take center stage via video-taped testimony during the televised hearings, although we will all have to wait and see if they say anything of note. Rachael Maddow and others will be handling the broadcast duties Thursday night.
Meanwhile, a lot of buzz has been created by a comedy duo who took the microphone during the NRA’s ill-advised Texas convention and more-or-less chastised the NRA for getting a lot of us killed by opposing sensible gun control laws. (The look on Wayne LaPierre’s face as they sound off on ” how Wayne LaPierre has offered thoughts AND prayers” is priceless. Check it out on YouTube or wherever you seek out memorable news moments.)
It is Saturday, June 4th, and I am pondering what late-night viewing I will watch as my spouse slumbers beside me.
Usually, I scroll through the movies, but recently I have been watching “The Man Who Fell to Earth” on Showtime.
They premiered “The Man Who Fell to Earth” at SXSW in Austin and I signed up to go, but they were showing it within the Convention Center. I have learned (the hard way) that getting to and from the Convention Center during SXSW is no day at the beach. They barricade off the area, so a cab is not an option and the last few times I journeyed down there when SXSW was actually underway I had to hire a pedicab guy to make it from the panel I wanted to hear (horror movies from Bloomhouse Pictures) to the Paramount for the afternoon showing.
So, sadly, I missed the SXSW premiere of this new series, led by Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney) but I was impressed by her former series that originated with the “Silence of the Lambs” film and agent Clarice Starling. Here is what IMDB tells us about Jenny Lumet: Jenny Lumet was born on February 2, 1967 in New York City, New York, USA. She is a producer and writer, known for Rachel Getting Married (2008), The Mummy (2017) and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (2022). She has been married to Alexander Weinstein since May 2, 2007. They have one child. She was previously married to Bobby Cannavale.
IMDB also gives us this Jenny Lumet quote about writing, in general: “I suppose that there are writers that say, ‘I write what I write and if people get it, great, if they don’t, whatever.’ “But I don’t feel that way. I feel very passionate about making connections with people. I want very much to be heard.”
With “The Man Who Fell to Earth” the writers (Jenny Lumet and Alex Kurtzman) have revamped a movie from 1976 that originally starred David Bowie. I still remember sitting in the darkened theater marveling at how well David Bowie fit the role of an alien.
As you look over the pictures above, you may know that Chiwetel Ejiofor is better-known to U.S. audiences for his role in “Twelve Years A Slave” where he portrayed Solomon Northrup. He was Oscar-nominated for that role and he is astounding in this role. One of the chief aspects of this visitor from another planet is that he consumes voluminous amounts of water and has encased himself in what he calls “a skin suit” to better blend in and resemble humans.
Naomie Harris was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2017’s “Moonlight,” but has appeared in both “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” in 2021 and as Moneypenny in 2021’s “No Time to Die.”
Clarke Peters portrays Jusin Falls’ (Naomie Harris’) father and her daughter is portrayed by Annelle Olalaye. Both are good, but kudos to the leads: Ejiofor and Harris.
Another recognizable face was that of Jimmi Simpson as Spencer Clay. At first, I could not place where I knew him from, until I thought back to his many appearances on “West World” as William from 2016 to 2020.
Bill Nighy as Thomas Newton, the scientist who left behind plans that could save not only a foreign planet but our own planet was also a recognizable actor from his appearance in “Love, Actually.”
This is a thinking man’s series and it helps if you pay close attention to the discussions of theoretical physics and our own world’s chance of being destroyed by the year 2030 by the same sorts of crises that afflict that of our hero, who has journeyed to Earth to try to save his own planet and his own countrymen.
The special effects are, well, special—one could justifiably say “spectacular”—and the acting is great. I look forward to each new episode each night and recommend that you sample it, if you want to find a good new series.
(Quotes from August 10, 2016, Adam Howard, NBC News)
Six years ago, when “Oscars So White” preceded “Oscars So Black” as a theme, [spearheaded by Will Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett-Smith, who was annoyed that Smith was not nominated for hisrole in “Concussion,”] the remarks below were made to NBC’s reporter Adam Howard.
The article sub-title was this: Is America ready for the “Fresh Prince” as President? Maybe setting one’s sights on the top office in the land is premature, but what office do you think Will Smith will be angling for?
Donald J. Trump shook up traditional notions of who can be considered a credible candidate for the White House, and his stint on “The Apprentice” is at least partially responsible for the four years of Trump. Smith himself has hinted at a career change, telling TheHollywood Reporter in 2015: “I look at the political landscape, I think that there might be a future out there for me. They might need me out there.”
It seems that Will Smith has publicly blown up his film career with his behavior on March 27th at the Oscars. This article from six years ago seems to point to a new direction that Will Smith might be contemplating, so let’s just lay it out there with these quotes from the actor himself.
As an established A-list star entering a new phase of his life and career, Smith may also feel more liberated to speak his mind. For instance, during a “Suicide Squad” press event in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Smith spoke candidly about the perception of anti-Muslim bias back in the U.S. “The Middle East can’t allow Fox News to be the arbiter of the imagery, you know. So cinema is a huge way to be able to deliver the truth of the soul of a place to a global audience.”
Smith then went on to pointedly attack Trump’s controversial Muslim ban proposal: “As painful as it is to hear Donald Trump talk, and as embarrassing as it is as an American to hear him talk, I think it’s good,” Smith said. “We get to know who people are and now we get to cleanse it out of our country.”
These comments came just a week after Smith lamented that the Republican presidential candidate’s rhetoric towards women had found a captive audience. “For a man to be able to publicly refer to a woman as a fat pig (Rosie O’Donnell), that makes me teary,” he said during an interview with news.com.au. “And for people to applaud, that is absolutely f***king insanity to me. My grandmother would have smacked my teeth out of my head if I had referred to a woman as a fat pig. And I cannot understand how people can clap for that. It’s absolutely collective insanity. If one of my sons — I am getting furious just thinking about it — if one of my sons said that in a public place, they couldn’t even live in my house anymore.”
“For me, deep down in my heart, I believe that America won’t and we can’t elect Trump,” he added.
But Smith’s streak of outspokenness hasn’t just been limited to the presidential race. During an appearance earlier this month (August, 2016) on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” the actor spoke with a degree of cynicism about the claim that racial divisions have never been worse.
Earlier in the year, Will Smith had backed his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith ‘s call for an African American Boycott of the Oscars, after the Academy Awards failed to recognize a single actor or actress of color (including himself, a would-be contender for the drama “Concussion”) for the second year in a row.”
So, the remarks made to NBC’s reporter Adam Howard are above; draw your own conclusions.
Since North Carolina and Kansas will play for the NCAA Championship on Monday, April 4th and that predicting season is almost over, we can then begin the pools on whether or not there will be regime change in Russia AND for which office the Fresh Prince might best run.
Right now, watching “Saturday Night Live” (which featured a clever, but questionable skit about mental acuity in cases like aphasia or dementiaor Alzheimer’s Disease) the host of “SNL” has declared himself the “least famous host of ‘SNL,’” which may be true. I can’t even tell you what his name is (Jerrod Carmichael;I cheated and looked). He just informed us that he is the star of a television comedy special in which he comes out as gay. Jerrod says that we are in an Andy Warhol Fever Dream right now. Having just watched the documentary the “Velvet Underground” with real footage from Andy Warhol’s The Factory era, I agree. When will we break out the dark glasses to be able to tolerate the chaos?
Comedian Carmichael is trying to “heal the nation” by talking about Will Smith’s Oscar brouhaha.
Jerrod’s parting remark to the “SNL” audience and directed to former President Barack Obama: “You got us all hopped up on hope and change, Barack. We need you back, because I think you’re going to have to talk about it. The nation needs to heal.”
Ethan Hawke helms “The Last Great Movie Stars” at SXSW.
The documentary “The Last Movie Stars” at SXSW from CNN Films and HBO Max is helmed by Ethan Hawke. He was approached to take an in-depth look at the life and careers of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Joe Rudge gets credit for the music. The filmed interviews with various luminaries are explained by Director Ethan Hawke as having been done when Newman was still alive. For reasons that are not explained, the tapes were destroyed, but someone with a great deal of foresight had commissioned a transcript of the remarks of those who were close to Paul and Joanne.
So, we have interviews that were actually done with people like Gore Vidal—an important individual in their lives— and some remarks from Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, themselves. Ethan Hawke approached an All-Star cast and asked them to read the parts of these famous interview subjects as though portraying the famous voices of yesteryear .
Therefore, we hear George Clooney’s voice giving us Paul Newman’s remarks, etc. Other All-Star cast members in the project included Mark Ruffalo, Karen Allen, Steve Zahn, Maya Hawke, Billy Crudup, Alessandro Nivola, Sam Rockwell, Zoe Krazitz, Oscar Isaac, Ewan McGregor, Bobby Canavale, Josh Hamilton, Laura Linney, Vincent D’Onofrio, Brooks Ashmanskas (as Gore Vidal) and others. Mario Andretti co-produced and Martin Scorsese executive produced.
Sanford Meisner, Joanne’s New York City acting teacher, said of Joanne Woodward (now 92 years oldand suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease) that the reason she went into acting was “it was the only thing she knew how to do.” Joanne’s mother was an avid movie buff and one funny story has a 9-year-old Joanne jumping into Laurence Olivier’s lap inside his limo as he arrived for the premiere of “Gone With the Wind” accompanying his then wife Vivian Leigh, (as Joanne’s mother had bought the pair tickets to the World Premiere.)
Joanne and Paul made 16 films together, and Paul directed Joanne in her Oscar nominated role in 1968’s “Rachel, Rachel.” Although Paul had directed the film, he was snubbed in the category of Best Director of 1969, which, Joanne admitted, bothered her.
The remark is made that “They presided over the end of the theater and the advent of television” during their lengthy careers. They did 100 TV shows in 2 years.
Newman is the only American actor to have been nominated for Best Actor over a 5-decade period. The couple’s last film together, 50 years after their first, was “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge.”
“The Last Movie Stars” at SXSW, 2022.
They met when both were understudies for “Picnic” on Broadway in 1953, although there might have been an earlier meeting at their mutual agent’s office that did not go particularly well. “Picnic” won the Pulitzer Prize for William Inge’s first play. Paul said, of meeting Joanne, “We recognized in each other a couple of orphans and orphans have a healthy appetite for everything.” Years later, he would say, of their enduring marriage, “I think the glue that held me and Joanne together was the thought that anything was possible. The promise of everything was there from the very beginning.”
It is only fair and accurate to mention that Paul was already married to his first wife and had three children with her when he and Joanne met in 1953. He wanted to marry Woodward, but his first wife would not give him a divorce, so the affair went on for five years before the first Mrs. Paul Newman relented. Paul and Joanne subsequently had three daughters of their own. Once, when questioned about Paul Newman’s appeal as a sex symbol on a talk show appearance, Joanne said, “I don’t get it. He’s over 40, has six kids and snores.” She also said, in 1987, of acting, in general: “Acting is like sex. You should do it, not talk about it.”
One interesting fact was the close friendship with novelist and well-known radical/homosexual Gore Vidal, to whom Joanne was once engaged. Even after she broke it off with Vidal to marry Paul, the Newmans briefly lived at Vidal’s home.
Paul’s desire to be taken seriously as an actor was mentioned. He admired Brando’s appearance in “On the Waterfront,” which, he said, was the first film that made an impression on him. He wanted acceptance from such luminaries as Ben Gazzara, Elia Kazan, Tennessee Williams, Eli Wallach and James Dean. In fact, both Paul and Joanne auditioned for parts in “East of Eden.”
When James Dean died in a car crash (September 30, 1955, at the age of 24), Paul Newman’s star rose. Newman always said, of his early outsider status, “I’m not a true eccentric. I’ve got both feet firmly planted in Shaker Heights, Ohio. There are people that didn’t consider me an actor.”
Paul’s film debut was in 1954’s “The Silver Chalice.” He considered it embarrassingly bad, although it had a star-studded cast. The 1954 film had Oscar winner Jack Palance and the female lead was Virginia Mayo. Others in the cast included a very young Natalie Wood (age 16; Newman was 30 and it was their only film together), Lorne Greene as the narrator in his debut screen role, E.G. Marshall and Pier Angeli. Newman had auditioned for James Dean’s role in “East of Eden” (1955) and so, when the two were working on neighboring lots, Dean went over to visit Newman on the set of “The Silver Chalice” and met Pier Angeli, where he met the love of his short life.
When “The Silver Chalice” ran on television in 1966, Paul Newman took out ads in the Hollywood trade papers, calling it “the worst motion picture produced during the 1950s,” apologizing for his performance, and asking people not to watch the film. His action had the opposite effect.
That had the opposite effect. Many people tuned in to watch it on television. Newman once screened the movie for friends at his house, giving them whistles, pots, and wooden spoons, and encouraging them to make noisy critiques of the film.
My list of the Top 20 Paul Newman Films:
1) “Butch Cassidy and the Sun Dance Kid” (1969) – Is there anyone who was alive and going to the movies in the year 1969 when George Roy Hill directed Newman and Robert Redford in the William Goldman written script that doesn’t think of Newman as “Butch?” Think of the scene where Newman is urging Redford to jump from a high cliff, to avoid those pursuing them so relentlessly that they end up in Bolivia. Redford admits, reluctantly, that he can’t swim. Newman laughs and says, “The fall alone’ll kill ya’!” And they jump.
2) “Cool Hand Luke” – (1967) – “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Fifty hard-boiled eggs. Strother Martin’s green teeth. Luke as a symbol of man’s indomitable spirit. A classic. Newman was nominated for the Oscar, but did not win.
3) “The Hustler” – (1961) As “Fast Eddie” Felsen, he took on Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) in the pool game of the century. Newman was nominated for the 1962 Oscar, but did not win.
4) “The Color of Money” – (1986) – Reteamed as “Fast Eddie” with Tom Cruise, Newman took home the Oscar for his role in this film. It might not have been as good as some others on this list, but this one won him the gold statuette. He is the only American actor to be nominated for Oscars over 5 decades.
5) “Hud” – (1963) – The scene with Patricia Neal in the kitchen oozes sexuality. Another movie for which he was Oscar-nominated in 1964, but did not win.
6) “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” – 1958 – As Brick Pollitt opposite Elizabeth Taylor’s Maggie the Cat, the pair personified hot, steamy sex. He even looked good on crutches.
7) “Sweet Bird of Youth” – (1962) Chance Wayne (Newman’s character) was as hot as Brick. Geraldine Page was the beneficiary in this Tennessee Williams play made into a movie.
8) “The Long, Hot Summer” – (1958) – As Ben Quick, Newman provided the steam in this movie based on a William Faulkner novel “The Hamlet.” The cast he worked with included Joanne Woodward, Anthony Franciosa, Orson Welles, Lee Remick and Angela Lansbury.
9) “The Verdict” – (1982) . As Frank Galvin, an attorney with a drinking problem, Newman gave an Oscar-worthy performance and was, in fact, nominated for a 1983 Oscaar, another one he didn’t win. The movie received 5 nominations. Lindsay Crouse as Nurse Kaitlin Costello was great.
10) “Road to Perdition” (2002) – Newman came storming back in the role of John Rooney, co-starring with Tom Hanks in the film based on the Max Allan Collins graphic novel, which was based on an actual gangster named John Looney who terrorized the streets of Rock Island. The gangster’s name was changed from Looney to Rooney and Jude Law was added as a villainous photographer. Daniel Craig has a role. This Sam Mendes-directed film was to be Newman’s last “great” role, and also the last time that legendary cinematographer Conrad L Hall would do the lighting, which is superb. [Hall was reputed to be the best in the business and the last man working who could call for the right camera lighting without a light meter.]
The second ten are included to show the breadth of this fine actor’s career, but the “Must See(s)” are above.
11) “Absence of Malice” (1981) – Playing Michael Colin Gallagher with Sidney Pollack directing, the film garnered 3 Oscar nominations and co-starred Sally Field, Bob Balaban and Melinda Dillon.
12) “The Sting” – 1973 – Reteaming Newman (as Harry Gondorff) and Robert Redford as con men. Arguably, belongs in the Top Ten. A great Scott Joplin song or two didn’t hurt.
13) “The Drowning Pool” – (1975) – Lew Harper (from 1966) comes back to the scene as a gumshoe detective. Co-starring Joanne Woodward and Anthony Franciosa. The film gave ingénue Melanie Griffith, daughter of Tippi Hedren, her first big part.
14) “Harper” – (1966)- Lew Harper’s first appearance on the scene as detective extraordinaire.
15) “Somebody Up There Likes Me” – (1956) – The life story of Rocky Graziano, Newman rebounded from “The Silver Chalice,” which he considered so bad that he bought up all the prints and publicly apologized.
16) “Slap Shot” – (1977) – Reggie “Reg” Dunlop – Hockey. George Roy Hill directed. Some familiar co-stars resurface, including Strother Martin (from “Cool Hand Luke”), Lindsay Crouse (from “The Verdict”) and Michael Ontkean.
17) “Sometimes A Great Notion” – (1971) – Logging story. Nominated for 2 Oscars. Based on the Ken Kesey novel. Co-starred Henry Fonda, Lee Remick and Richard Jaeckel, whose scene when he is trapped under a log and will soon drown if the log cannot be removed is worth the rental.
18) “Exodus” – (1960) – Ari Ben Canaan. A movie about the formation of Israel based on the Leon Uris best-selling novel.
19) “From the Terrace” – (1960). Newman played David Alfred Eaton. “An ambitious young lawyer chooses a loveless marriage and an unfulfilling life, in exchange for a successful Wall Street career,” says the International Movie Data Base.
20) “Towering Inferno” – (1974) – Newman played Doug Roberts and there was talk of strife between Newman and Steve McQueen, who played the fire chief assigned to rescue the hapless individuals trapped in a high-rise building. It had a great cast: Newman, McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Jennifer Jones, Robert Vaughn, Robert Wagner and…..wait for it….O.J. Simpson. (Yes, that O.J. Simpson.)
I was teaching junior high school students at the time, and we took busloads of students, who had been participating in some after-school “craft activity” classes, to see a double bill of “Towering Inferno” and “Earthquake.” Wags dubbed it “the Shake-and-Bake special.” My friend, Nelson Peterson, the history teacher, put a sign on MY bus that said, “HOOKERS: this bus” because the students in my group had been taking part in an after-school class on rug-hooking. I’m still smiling.
I truly enjoyed “The Last Great Movie Stars” at SXSW 2022 and, if I slighted Joanne Woodward’s career, let’s not forget that Paul is gone (atage 83, from cancer, in 2008), while Joanne is still with us. For those of you who only know Paul Newman from his spaghetti sauce and salad dressings, try to see all of the above films. We’ll work on Joanne’s “Best” list if and when she rejoins the love of her life, Paul Newman. In the meantime, if you see this film screening on television, you can recapture bits of their career through film and interviews.
(*NOTE: This is the first chapter of a 6-chapter documentary series.)
The log line for the Apple TV documentary “The Big Conn” is as follows: “Eric C. Conn was a lawyer living a little too large in eastern Kentucky…until two whistleblowers realized he was at the center of government fraud worth over half a billion dollars, one of the largest in U.S. history. And that was just the beginning.” The investigative documentary series is helmed by James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte.
The four-part investigative series had its World Premiere at SXSW and it will launch, globally, on May 6th. It is a fascinating look at a man who is described as “an evil Robin Hood” for securing Social Security Disability payments for his Kentucky and West Virginia clients in 30 days, at a time when the Social Security Administration was backlogged for 18 months. In the process, Eric Christopher Conn made big bucks and spent the money just as fast as he got it. His office employees document a globe-trotting habit of traveling for one week of every month to exotic ports of call such as Thailand, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Las Vegas. In many instances (16, at least) Eric would return to Pikesville, Kentucky with a brand-new bride.
The mind boggles merely at the concept of someone loony enough to marry 16 times. He can’t even keep his wives’ nationalities straight, but managed to list 5 United States citizens, 5 from Columbia, 1 from Vietnam, 1 from the Philippines, 1 from Ecuador and 1 from the Dominican Republic. (Later, he admitted that he might have forgotten one or two of his wives from foreign countries). The first thought that pops into your head is, “Who does that?”
The answer to that rhetorical question is given by one attorney involved in the case, who says: “You’re dealing with a guy who doesn’t have a moral compass. You can’t get mad at a snake for being a snake.” Trey Alford, an Assistant District Attorney who ultimately refused to give up on the case, described it as “the ultimate trifecta: bad lawyers, bad judges and bad doctors.”
Despite the heroic and persistent efforts of two honest Master Docket Clerks to blow the whistle on Eric’s high, wide and handsome shenanigans, it took over 6 years for anything to be done. Conn had made himself a Big Name in Appalachia, better-known than Ali or Elvis, with extensive use of billboards, television and other forms of advertising, and, even after he was accused of graft and corruption, clients flocked to his offices for his services because he guaranteed he’d get them a check within 30 days, and he usually did.
Con handled 1800 cases between 2006 and 2010 and the amount of fraud for the government that they would need to recover to break even was estimated at $2.62 billion, when you factor in the payments to applicants who were unqualified to receive them, over years of their dependence on the $900 a month to (in one case) $2,000 a month disability payments. The problem after the fall of Conn is that there were 1500 applicants, some of whom were genuinely deserving, but the Social Security Administration now had to solve the mess they had created for themselves by being completely indifferent to the reports that the whistle blowers, Sarah Carver and Jennifer Griffith, had been making for years.
The lid was blown off the corrupt scheme when a “Wall Street Journal” reporter named Damian Paletta, who is now the economics reporter for the “Wall Street Journal” (and the author of a book about Donald Trump’s time in office entitled “Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History”) journeyed to Appalachia and did a story on the situation. Paletta is not unsympathetic to the legitimate disabled and was, himself, disabled as a youngster.
The message that comes through, loud and clear, is that the Social Security Administration did an extremely poor job of policing its own. Shame on them!
Secondly, the true heroes and heroines of the story are not recognized at all. They include whistle-blowers Sarah Carver and Jennifer Griffith, various attorneys, including Ned Pillersdorf, Trey Aldorf, and “Wall Street Journal” journalist Damian Paletta.
Meanwhile, we can all ask whether the corrupt Judge Daugherty, whose alcoholism and arrest of his daughter set off the scheme in the first place was properly punished, when he ended up serving only a few months of a short (4 year) sentence.
The only one of the three (Dr. Atkins), characterized as a “whore doctor” during Congressional testimony, who refused to take a deal and went for a jury trial did worse than those who copped a plea. But did any of the three principals receive adequate punishment for such large-scale fraud?
To find out how they ended up, watch the four-part series premiering globally on May 6th with sections entitled: “Mr. Social Security” (#1); “United We Stand; Divided We Fall” (#2); “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” (#3) and the finale, which will spell out the sad end of this story of greed, corruption, incompetence and stasis.
Rosario Dawson in new series “DMZ” at SXSW in Austin, Texas.
I’m here at SXSW 2022 and preparing to travel down to the Convention Center on Thursday to collect my badge, get my Nikon tagged, and prove I’ve been vaccinated—3 times.
This is not my first rodeo, but it is one of the most screwed-up, pandemic or no pandemic, mostly because of my own computer shortcomings. My computer was hacked, which ended up costing me close to $200 to fix AND an important announcement regarding things in general got lost in my SPAM folder, I had surgery on 1/27 and missed some important deadlines because we were driving to get here. Probably just as well that I won’t be standing in as many lines for as long as usual, since I’m not yet 6 weeks post-surgery until tomorrow.
Also, one year ago in Austin we had the infamous freeze and had to melt down Frosty the Snowman in order to flush our toilets. (Yikes!) Remember that? We went without water for about 5 days, but did not lose our power–although our son and wife, 3.3 miles away, lost both for about a week. Ah, the golden memories.
Armie Hammer. at SXSW in 2018 (my photo at the Stateside Theater.)
I’m just so pleased that SXSW seems to be emerging from the pandemic stronger than ever because, as you may remember, they were one of the first Big Events to cancel that year and go all online, (whereas Mardi Gras just went ahead and exposed a bunch of party-goers in the Big Easy.) Not all of the celebrities of past years will be there this year, as evidenced by THAT guy!
I’m going to be taking in a lot of the films on my home television set, because, due to recent surgery and being on the road when the deadlines occurred, I seem to have missed the deadline for signing up for Red Carpet photo ops. I’m still invited to chat with the stars of a variety of new streaming shows one-on-one, including the new “DMZ” (a fictional new Civil War with Rosario Dawson and Benjamin Bratt, where Rosario is searching for her missing son).
Another big new sci-fi offering that Steven Spielberg has a hand in will be “Halo,” which is being touted and the entire working group behind Ben Stiller’s “Severance” (minus Stiller, himself, or Adam Scott) will be meeting with registered press who wish to ask questions about that intriguing series (I’ve seen 3 episodes, so far).
All together, there are 99 features, 76 World Premieres, 4 International Premieres, 4 North American premieres, 2 U.S. premieres, 13 Texas premieres and 111 short films.
I’m torn between attending the up-close-and-personal meeting with the stars of the new “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” since I remember the original with David Bowie, or participating in a Lizzo promotional event that sounds really fun. I almost certainly will be the oldest person at any of these get-togethers, and I will often opt for the really interesting documentary over the so-so feature. (How many reviewers have been at this non-stop since 1970?)
Pick up a copy of my book on 70s movies, “It Came from the 79s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now” on Amazon to celebrate SXSW and prove that I’ve been at this a looong time.
Who can choose between “Linoleum,” a Jim Gaffigan-starring light comedy (also sci-fi-ish) and Ethan Hawke’s examination of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward entitled “The Last Movie Stars?”
Stay tuned to this page as I share with you, my faithful readers, the upcoming SXSW offerings that I’ll be seeing from March 11 to March 20th.
We’re watching “Station Eleven,” a 10-part mini series that Patrick Somerville adapted for the screen. Somerville was the show runner (and writer) for “The Bridge,” (2013-2014) followed by two years on “The Leftovers” (2015-2017) and “Maniac” in 2018.
When I first obtained my condo in Chicago in 2003, I took an evening class in Writing the Novel at the University of Chicago. Patrick Somerville was the instructor. He was, at that time, a noted “metrosexual” serious fiction writer.
The class had been meeting for some time, so I had to have permission to join the already-assembled group. When I entered, I was asked to tell the group something about myself. The group was largely female and consisted of very highly-educated women— doctors and lawyers who, apparently, wanted to write a novel. (I had already written a novel at that time, “Out of Time,” so I had a bit of an idea what I was in for.)
Looking around at the assembled group, I decided to hit them with my best shot. I told them that I was “an active, voting member of the HWA,” which stands for the Horror Writers’ Association. I figured that would get their attention, although not necessarily in a good way. It was true at that time, although I have moved on to ITW (International Thriller Writers) since then.
Patrick Somerville was very interested in hearing about HWA. I think that, even then, he was planning his escape to L.A. to write for Hollywood. He was never very chummy with me. He would hang out with the women who were always smoking and, sometimes, someone would bring a bottle of wine to class. I still remember there was a woman doctor in the class who was writing a novel set in a nudist colony in pre World War I. Odd. We would have to read parts of our writing to the class and there did not seem to be any “real” writers in the class—unless you count me, and I’ll leave that up to you. We read and discussed “The Plague” by Albert Camus and it was a totally worthless exercise in learning (or teaching) someone how to write a novel.
Now, Patrick Somerville is involved in a partnership with David Eisenberg called Tractor Beam productions for film and TV production.
Right now I’m watching actors act out a scene in a high rise that could well be the Hancock Building in Chicago. “We gotta make moves. Never, ever, ever can we fake moves.” Rapping. This sudden deterioration into rap music is but one of many signs that this series has jumped the shark for me. I think the vast array of writers responsible may be part of the issue, but the biggest crime is the jumping around in time that leaves you wondering if the dead character is supposed to be a “flashback” or “imaginary” (see the new “Dexter”) or what, exactly, is going on. (Where is Ridley Scott’s linear approach when you need him?)
It was going along swimmingly with this log line:“A post apocalyptic saga spanning multiple timelines, telling the stories of survivors of a devastating flu as they attempt to rebuild and reimagine the world anew, while holding onto the best of what’s been lost.”
Well, class, I think we can all relate to that theme, at this point, 3 years into Covid-19.
The early episodes of the series, sketching the arriving pandemic were good. “What would you have done, if you knew the flu was coming?” asks the small girl. The character says he would have come home earlier and spent time with his mother, who died from the flu. “I would have made the choice I wanted to make—you know?”
The little girl who asked the question said she would have said good bye to Arthur Leander, (portrayed by Gael Garcia Bernal, who appears in only 4 episodes) and notes, “I didn’t get to say good-bye to anyone.”
I had a passing ships-that-pass-in-the-night relationship with Gael Garcia Bernal, who showed up at the premiere of a film he had directed and starred in. I had never seen such a huge crowd for any celebrity in Chicago before or since! The largely Spanish-speaking audience packed the theater to the point that they were seated on the steps leading down to the stage. I finally got up and left so that the audience would have an extra “real” seat.
Himish Patel, who was so good in “Yesterday,” plays Jeevan Chaudry in “Station Eleven.” He and his brother Nabhaan Rizwan as Frank Chaudry, and a young woman (Mackenzie Davis as Kirsten Raymonde) and a small girl (Matilda Lawler as Young Kirsten) are fighting for the apartment in what may be the Hancock Building. The group was re-enacting a play written by Young Kirsten, before going out to see if there is anything left of Chicago. They are either going to starve to death in 90 days or freeze to death in what looks like a very cold Chicago winter.
I wonder if the Chicago location was chosen by Patrick Somerville because of his past association with the Windy City? I’m even more surprised to read in the credits that principal shooting was in New York City, but there definitely are some real Chicago exteriors, as well.
Like most of the things I’ve mentioned, there was a lot of jumping around in time, which made it very difficult to figure out what was going on. Still, the use of the Cubs stocking hat and the exterior Chicago locations is welcome to a Chicago quasi-native.
Frank has just been dispatched in the plot by an intruder. But young Kirsten is being told to go forth with Jeevan and that look like what is going to happen. They are leaving the high rise for the first time in a long time.The music is ponderous and moody, but the exterior shots of Chicago, with “The Present” typed on the screen, are what remains in my mind. The female lead has apparently stayed behind (Kim Steele wrote this episode based, as all episodes are, on the book by Emily St. John Mandeville).
The biggest thing about the future after the Apocalypse is preserving respect for the Bard, apparently. Odd that Shakespeare is so cherished when it is possible to graduate from a Big Ten university these days with an English degree, but without having taken a single Shakespeare class, I’m told.
“I stood looking over the damage, trying to remember the sweetness of life on Earth, but I couldn’t remember.” (oft repeated in several episodes)
“We don’t even know if it’s like it was before.”
“There is no before. Or after. The past is safe; everything else changes.”
And from that post-Apocalyptic scene, the dead character Arthur Leander (as King Lear) enters the dressing room to be with Clark (David Wilmot). This makes it really difficult to know where we are in time, since Arthur has been dead.
“You say I only hear what I want to” by Alanis Morrissette is playing in the background. This is part of a traveling troupe of actors who keep culture alive by traveling the countryside performing Shakespeare (and other plays).
Sarah, as portrayed by a truly ravaged-looking Lori Petty, is a composer.
Elizabeth Colton, as portrayed by Caitlin Fitzgerald, is one of the better-known actresses in the series, as she played Libby Masters in “Masters of Sex” (2013-2016).
I just finished reading Katie Couric’s autobiography, “Going There.”
I had read that she “burned a lot of bridges” but now, at 64, maybe that doesn’t matter to her.
The NBC “Today” show years with co-anchor Matt Lauer come off as her “best” times, and the move to CBS to become the first solo female anchor of an evening newscast seems to have been a mistake. She was not welcomed with open arms and the deal for her to do pieces on “Sixty Minutes” was especially problematic. Oprah Winfrey came and went in a nano-second on “Sixty Minutes.” You can sort of figure out why when you hear about the lack of a warm, collegial feeling amongst the staff. A direct quote from Lesley Stahl to the Hollywood Reporter is, “I just wanted to be a survivor.”
Couric’s stint as the global news anchor of Yahoo News sounds the least productive, among those jobs where she was employed by a large organization. When Yahoo hired Katie for a pretty penny, they fired the staff of veteran journalists around the country, of which I was one. We didn’t make a lot of money reporting on the news in our local areas, but many of the journalists nationwide, like me, were as well-qualified as Ms. Couric to report on our particular neck of the woods. Our money went to Katie, so we were all summarily fired, without even enough time to get our stories down from the Associated Content website. I must admit that this impacted my opinion of Katie Couric, at the time.
I’ve mellowed some since that abrupt uprooting, and it did lead to two books on the 2008 Obama campaign (“Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House”), which, otherwise, would have remained blog ramblings from the field that took place over 24 months of time. After I learned, unexpectedly and with no warning, that none of our writing would be preserved, I hired two teachers who were off for the summer and we split up the areas by topic.
Katie Couric’s current “job,” supported/organized by her second husband John Molner, is something known as Katie Couric Media. She admits, in the book’s closing chapter that, “It’s an adjustment when the white-hot spotlight moves on.” That seems to be true. She founded KCM in 2017, after a short-lived stint with Yahoo, usurping local reporters.
She also wrote this autobiography. Katie’s second husband, John Molner, told her, “If you’re not going to be honest, don’t write a book.”
That certainly seems like sound advice. Katie seems to have been honest even past the point of no return. She shares that she had breast reduction surgery, and she endured a colonoscopy on live TV, following the death of her husband Jay Monahan from colon cancer at the age of 43. She was certainly giving viewers an in-depth look into Katie Couric.
Katie is also very up front about her dating life before and after Jay. We learn how Larry King hit on her when she was an unknown. (He accepted her rejection of him in a gentlemanly fashion.) She talks about her cougar romance with a young swain, Brooks Perlin. One admirer who got away (and broke up with her) was Tom Werner, one-half of the powerhouse producing team Carsey-Werner, responsible for such hits as “The Cosby Show” and “Roseanne.” Werner comes off as a moneyed narcissist with all the sensitivity of Donald Trump.
Speaking of which DJT does make an appearance in the book, in ways both positive and negative. She is able to secure permission for filming in Central Park from Trump, but they have a falling out and he bad-mouths her to the press as a “third-rate journalist.” Even though she had attended the Donald’s marriage to Melania, when their paths cross in a restaurant, he pointedly ignores her.
She mentions an attempt to fix her up with Michael Jackson, an ill-fated attempt that goes nowhere. Her 50th birthday bash is described in some detail, as is the going away party when Katie leaves NBC. We should all be so lucky as to have Tony Bennett serenading us on our birthday(s).
The plot of Jennifer Anniston’s “The Morning Show” is pretty much limned in Katie’s many remarks about her on-air partnership with Matt Lauer. You definitely get the feeling that she liked the Matt she knew and—-just like Jennifer Anniston’s character on the television show—-she says she never saw the seamy side of Matt Lauer. After his fall from grace, sadly, they basically never speak again in any meaningful fashion.
The name-dropping of journalistic names is non-stop—Charlie Rose, Sarah Palin, Tom Brokaw, Bob Schieffer, Scott Pelley— but the down-to-earth tributes to her mom and dad and two sisters are just as omnipresent. We learn of her brave struggle alongside husband Jay Monahan, who died at only 43, leaving Couric as the single mother of two little girls. Later, as she explores her husband’s Southern roots and his love of Civil War re-enactments, Couric gets in a plug for racial equality as revealed by her now-grown daughters’ insights. (They are horrified by what their father’s obsession with the Old South represented.)
It’s a snapshot of the historic times that Couric covered as a reporter and, while her profile as a broadcaster doesn’t seem to be extending as far into the senior years with as much pizzazz as Barbara Walters’ career did, she still has had one hell of a ride.