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

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Family Fest 2023 in Austin, Texas Is In the Books

My son (Scott) and his wife (Jessica) and their girls (14-year-old twins Ava and Elise) just concluded another successful Family Fest at their home in Austin, Texas.

People normally fly in from St. Louis, Denver, the Quad Cities, Boston, Nashville and our numbers have been as high as 30, although this year there were some defections in the ranks and we topped out at 14.

Of that number, eleven slept at his house and three of us commuted back and forth from the Hills of Bear Creek (Mench aaca) 3.3 miles away.

On Sunday, most of the group floated for 3 and ½ hours down a river in inner tubes. I think it was the Calumne River, but don’t quote me on that.

Son Scott grilled many things: sausage, ribs, brisket. Jessica made many delicious side dishes and I contributed a Texas sheet cake and deviled eggs. On Labor Day we had a birthday cake for the 2-year-old, Winnie Eddy.

Craig, Connie, Stacey, Megan (blue suit kids).

The Ken Paxton impeachment trial is ongoing, creating a major political scandal in the Longhorn state. The “New York Times” was covering it on an hourly basis.

There was a shoot-out in nearby Buda today and the temperature here is predicted to top 100 degrees for the foreseeable future.

Most days and nights, we staked out the pool, playing water volleyball, bags, and other games. Only one board game was used, Baby boomers versus Millennials, which was way too easy.

A birthday cake was secured for Winnie Eddy, the youngest member of the group, who had recently turned two.

Wrigley, the dog, had a good time and neighbors Bill Kohl and Satch and Brandi Nanda and daughter Kira stopped by, along with the Beans from next door, who came with Jackson, Penny and Milly in tow. (Penny was very excited about the idea of a baby in the house.)




Scott at outdoor bar in Buda, Texas.

A good time was had by all.

Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer:” Instant Classic

Head and shoulders portrait

Oppenheimer, c. 1944

Roughly one-half of the movie “Oppenheimer” focuses on the unjust way Robert J. Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, was persecuted after he performed so spectacularly in heading up Los Alamos and giving the United States the atomic bomb to end World War II in Japan. Oppenheimer was denied a security clearance during kangaroo court hearings in 1954, which basically meant he could no longer work in his field. He continued to lecture, but he was ruined.

Director Christopher Nolan has made one of the—if not THE—most important film in a very important career. This $100 million depiction of how the United States came to create the atomic bomb at Los Alamos is a dense subject. The movie was based on the 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning book “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer” by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin (2005). Prometheus, of course, was the god who gave fire to mankind. For his crime he was chained to a rock and a vulture ate his liver each day, which grew back each night.

There are so many characters in the book and it appears that Nolan has attempted to wrap his creative mind around all of them and present every character onscreen. I applaud him for taking the dense text and transforming it into this three-hour epic film. The “L.A. Times” critic said: “Arguably Nolan’s most impressive work yet in the way it combines his acknowledged visual mastery with one of the deepest character dives in recent American cinema.”

At three hours, it’s a long film.

It’s deep, all right.

I felt fairly dense myself after trying to follow all of the twists and turns in the plot. I was especially ill-prepared when it comes to quantum physics, having dropped out of Physics in high school after two days. (That act was almost a replay of “Peggy Sue Got Married” where Kathleen Turner gets up from an algebra test and announces that she happens to know that she will never need this stuff in the future.)


The movie, shot on 70 mm film, has stunning imagery, especially in the early parts. (Later sections that deal with the security clearance hearings in offices are more black-and-white).  I was immediately reminded of the sweeping panoramas of filmmakers like Terrence Malick (“Days of Heaven,” “Tree of Life”), or David Lean (“Dr. Zhivago”), or Stanley Kubrick (“2001: A Space Odyssey”). No less a movie maven than author David Morrell commented on the different color palettes employed throughout the film.

The movie does not show the actual dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed 220,000 people, but, instead, gives us the test explosion in New Mexico, called Trinity. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema deserves Oscar nominations for his work. I disagree with the critic who said you didn’t need to see this one on the IMAX big screen. If ever there was an argument for IMAX, a film like this is it. (Last one I shelled out for IMAX treatment was the remake of “West Side Story.”)

If I may wander from the actual film’s words for a moment, supposedly Oppenheimer’s brother, Frank, also a nuclear physicist (who was also hounded from the field) said that his brother’s words after the test were, “I guess it works.” That is not in the film. But the lines that do appear, with Matt Damon and others articulating them, describe the after-effects of the Trinity test blast. Says a witness to the Trinity blast, “I hope you learned something.” To which Matt Damon’s character responds, “We learned we’re going to need to be lots further away!”

That’s about as close to humor as this film will get.


Cillian Murphy, who visually resembles Oppenheimer (and was actually up for the lead role in a previous Oppenheimer treatment), has worked with Nolan on 6 films. He uses his preternaturally large blue eyes to good advantage in portraying this tortured genius. Murphy supposedly subsisted on a diet of fruits, nuts and figs and very little else to keep the elfin stature of the real man intact throughout filming. In real life, Oppenheimer was said to often forget to eat, so that seems apropos.

The number of Oscar-winning or nominated actors in the film is a tribute to the director’s stature. I will probably accidentally omit someone, but Robert Downey, Jr., is bound to be an Oscar nominee for his pivotal role as Lewis Strauss, the two-faced politician who set Oppenheimer up for ruin because of personal animus and Cillian Murphy comes into his own as a leading man.

Others in the cast include Josh Hartnett in a welcome return to form, Gary Oldman, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Conti (who plays Einstein), Matthew Modine, Alden Ehrenreich, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Tony Goldwyn, James D’Arcy, Jason Clarke and Matt Damon. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some of the bigger “name” actors or actresses, but the wealth of talent is very deep when you’re casting an Oscar winner like Malek in a small part. All of the actors complimented Nolan, the mastermind.  Some critics have mentioned the relatively meager parts for women, as opposed to the meatier male roles. This “it’s a man’s world” depiction is true to the period, however.

Personally, I related to the four-times married Kitty (Emily Blunt), shown at her wit’s end with two squalling toddlers and stuck in the quickly thrown-together town built for the Manhattan Project scientists in Los Alamos. She mentions that there is “no kitchen” upon being shown the house for the first time.

Oppenheimer had his hands full with prima donna scientists who constantly quit or are in conflict, but Kitty was stuck in the house with two extremely colicky kids. Baby Peter is even taken to a friend’s house by his father when his constant crying becomes too much for the couple. Younger daughter Katherine (“Toni”), who was born at Los Alamos in November of 1944 is only seen as an infant in the film. She grew up and studied to be a United Nations interpreter but was denied a security clearance because of her father’s fifties security clearance hearings. This was 10 years after Oppenheimer’s 1967 death from throat cancer. In 1977, after that denial, Toni—who had inherited the St. Thomas cottage where her parents lived in later life, hanged herself. She left the family cottage and grounds to St. Thomas for the use of the public.


Oppenheimer was a World Class womanizer. Matt Damon has an exchange with Oppenheimer where he says, “You’re a dilettante, you’re a womanizer, unstable, theatrical, neurotic!” Oppenheimer’s affair with Florence Pugh (virtually unrecognizable with dark hair) portraying paramour Jean Tatlock causes much conflict in the film. The couple see each other shortly after Oppenheimer’s second child is born.

A troubled soul who ultimately committed suicide, Jean Tatlock WAS a Communist. This bit of personal information on Oppenheimer’s affair was brought out during the 1954 kangaroo court hearings with Oppenheimer’s wife Kitty (Emily Blunt) sitting there to hear it, as Oppenheimer is interrogated by Jason Clarke (“Pet Semetary”). Still, Kitty and J. Robert stayed together.

Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey, Jr.) pretended, to Oppenheimer’s face, to be a friend. He was as two-faced as they come and set Oppenheimer up for his fall, out of vindictive animus. Strauss (who was angling to become the Secretary of Commerce) felt he had been held up to ridicule during testimony that Oppenheimer gave. One dispute was over the exporting of radioactive isotopes to Sweden. The testimony used in the screenplay showed Oppenheimer saying that radioactive isotopes were “less important than electronic devices, but more important than, let us say, vitamins.” In the screenplay the comparison became “a bottle of beer.”

Another change from reported wording seemed to be in what President Truman (portrayed by Gary Oldman) actually said after meeting with Oppenheimer in the Oval Office. In the movie, Oppenheimer tells Truman that he feels he has “blood on his hands.” This is because of how conflicted Oppenheimer is regarding the death of 220,000 Japanese civilians when the bomb was dropped. Oppenheimer is urging (somewhat naively) international cooperation on the use of nuclear weapons, with an entity like the United Nations in charge. The generals and the Army and the politicians do not see it his way.

Truman, during a visit with Oppenheimer in the Oval Office, hands him a handkerchief after his  comment about regulating nuclear weapons internationally and then, when Oppenheimer walks out of the Oval Office, tells his Undersecretary of State, Dean Acheson, “I don’t want to see that son-of-a-bitch in this office ever again.” In the movie, the script has Truman saying, “Don’t let that crybaby back in here.” The profanity is probably more accurate, because Truman was known for his salty language. (They didn’t call him “give-’em- hell-Harry” for nothing.)


Oppenheimer vacillated over his feelings of guilt over the deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the dropping of the bomb he created.

After the successful drop. The screenplay has him telling a jubilant room full of Los Alamos employees, “It’s too soon to determine the results of the bombing, but I’ll bet the Japanese didn’t like it. I just wish we had had it to use against the Germans.”

At another point in the plot, this line appears, “Nobody knows what you believe.  Do you?”

Repeated throughout the piece, however, is this refrain:  “Just because we’re building it doesn’t mean that we get to decide how it is used.”

Matt Damon’s character, General Leslie Groves, tells Oppenheimer, “We’ve given them an Ace.  It’s for them to play the hands.” Another repetition of this thought: “The fact that we built this bomb does not give us the right or responsibility to determine how it is used.” All of these lines seemed to be justifications. After all, Oppenheimer was the American Prometheus, “the man who gave the Americans the ability to destroy themselves.” As Nolan says at another point in the screenplay which he wrote, “The day will come when people will curse the name Los Alamos.”


Leslie Goranssen’s music has been singled out as one of the best scores of the year (Oscar?.)  Terms like “masterful” and “mercurial” were used. I kept noticing how many of the scenes that had subtle background music would be totally unremarkable without his musical contribution. The use of stamping feet was unique and original.


For tension, structure, sense of scale, startling sound design (very impressive when viewed in IMAX) and remarkable visuals—not to mention the superb cast of actors—this one is going to be hard to beat. Yes, it is overlong and dense and made me feel woefully inadequate to understand the quantum physics discussed, but phrases like “Power exists in the shadows” were universal and I had to agree with the remark attributed to Wernher von Braun, who said, of Oppenheimer’s poor treatment by Lewis Strauss and the bureaucracy, “In England, Oppenheimer would have been knighted.”

On a personal level, since Wehrner Von Braun of Hitler’s rocket program ultimately ended up in Iowa City, Iowa (my alma mater) for the remainder of his life after fleeing Nazi Germany, I thoroughly agree.

I  have personally met and spoken with at least five of the actors/actresses onscreen in “Oppenheimer” at various film festivals, those being Gary Oldman (in Chicago for “Soldier, Sailor, Tinker, Spy” in 2011), Kenneth Branagh (in Chicago with “Belfast” in 2021), Casey Affleck (in Chicago with “Gone, Baby, Gone” in 2007),  Emily Blunt, in Austin at SXSW for “A Quiet Place” (2018), and Jason Clarke at SXSW for the remake of “Pet Sematary” (2019).

It seems fitting to end the review of this extraordinary film with the quotation from the Bhagavad Gita that Oppenheimer repeats, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Three-Day Birthday Extravaganza in Chicago

Just returned from a long weekend in Chicago celebrating a birthday and attending various events.

First, there was the Cubs/Cardinals baseball game, covered in a previous entry.

Next, there was a luxurious dinner atop the Hancock Building, in the Signature Room.

The view from the 95th floor is, of course, spectacular, but this particular night the rain we had just experienced (and, possibly, smoke from fires somewhere?) meant that the view was not as clear as one would have liked.

Still, the food and service were excellent and, even though we went early (5:30 p.m.) we didn’t miss out on any sunsets or fantastic views, because of the weather. It was really odd, because, on television, Wrigley Field as having a rain delay, but where we were in the South Loop it was sunny. Go figure.

After the dinner and dessert, we went home and had a birthday pie (chocolate, of course). We had tried to buy a white cake at the Jewel store, but our choices were a chocolate cake with Elmo on it or one that said, “Happy Sixth Birthday.” I’m not

averse to shaving some time off my age, but that might be pushing it!

On Sunday—which was the real birthday date—we went to see the play based on “Tommy: The Rock Opera.” It was at the Goodman Theater and it was spectacular. The New York Times had raved on about this show, saying, “Why is there nothing like this in New York City?” The innovative use of special effects was truly unique and all of the cast had terrific voices. The entire place was sold out and they received a standing ovation.

Afterwards, we had an early dinner at Petterino’s, which is attached to the Goodman Theater.

I want to thank my close family and friends for the kind birthday greetings. I thoroughly enjoyed the three-day extravaganza.

Granddaughter Ava.

“Relative” Shows at Alamo Drafthouse in Wrigleyville for Final Time on May 22nd, 2023

Writer/Director Michael Glover Smith of “Relative.”

Chicago filmmaker Michael Glover Smith, (awarded the Gene Siskel Film Center’s Star Filmmaker Award in 2017), has written and directed four feature films since 2015. The newest film, “Relative,” was screened at Wrigleyville’s new Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on May 22nd for what may be the last time. However, negotiations are underway for a streaming deal that could take place as soon as this summer.

The film will be a good one for serious film buffs to stream. It is well-acted, thoughtful and the music (Cait Rappel) and editing (Eric Marsh) add to the overall excellent product. The cinematographer was Olivia Aqualina.

I drove out to a local college where Smith teaches film history and aesthetics when his last film, “Mercury in Retrograde” screened. It, too, was very good. Way back in 2022 I promised to try to attend a screening of “Relative” before it ended its run. Ill health and treatments for same delayed that trip until Monday night.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film, not only because Smith is a talented writer/director who knows how to put a film together, but because the characters were much more relatable, to me, than the majority of films dealing with millennials and Generation X that I recently took in at SXSW. Sure, the obligatory same sex relationship was included (de rigeur these days) and there aren’t a lot of plot twists and surprises, but the cast is beyond excellent and, as another famous filmmaker once said, “The cast is everything. You get that right, and your film will be successful.”

Writer/Director Smith told the audience in the Q&A following the film, “I wanted to stretch myself as a writer in depicting a family. I wanted to depict older characters. My first three scripts were about younger people.”

He went on to say that this was the largest cast he had assembled, his biggest ensemble. “To me, the cast was everything. They had that chemistry. They found it instantly. It was the best experience I’ve ever had.” The film was also well-received during its run and, on its opening night, was the 23rd highest-grossing film nationwide.

When asked about preparation amongst the cast for the film, zoom calls between characters were mentioned, and Clare Cooney said, “I’m allergic to preparation.” The consensus seemed to be that if you do something too many times, spontaneity goes away.

As far as instructing his actors, Smith said, “I really like giving the actors a whole lot of freedom.” This echoes directors such as Brian DePalma, who told RogerEbert.com’s Matt Seitz, “But you have to be very patient and loving with your actors, because they’re putting everything on the line, and you have to try to get everything out of the way to not hurt their performances or distract them.”


Clare Cooney in Chicago on May 22, 2023.


The cast that Smith assembled was, indeed, very, very good. “Twin Peaks” alumnus Wendy Robie (who played Nadine Hurley, eye-patch and all) portrays sixty-something matriarch Karen Frank, and Steppenwolf theater actor Francis Guinan plays her husband, David Frank. They are the parents to four offspring, who are gathering to celebrate the graduation of the tag-along child, Benjy (Cameron Scott Roberts of “The Walking Dead,” “Chicago Fire,” and “Ben Is Back.”) Benji—the “happy accident”—was eight when his older siblings were all away at college. In my own nuclear family unit, my son was a freshman in college when his sister was born, 19 years later.  I can relate to the “surprise” element of family formation. (Our family motto: “Every 20 years, whether you need to or not.”)

The Franks’ oldest son Rod (Keith D. Gallagher) is an unemployed 34-year-old who moved into his parents’ basement after his wife Sarah (Heather Chrisler), a webcam performer at a sex site, divorced him and took custody of their young son. Rod is also a veteran who suffers from PTSD, although younger brother Benjy doubts that Rod’s psychic pain is for real. Rod shares with Benjy that having his father refer to him as “a fungus” at one point is very demoralizing; the father/son bond certainly seems strained to the point of incivility—especially when it comes out during the gathering that the parents might sell the house, which makes Rod wonder, “What about me?”

Tensions mount at the graduation party for Benji, which only amplifies Rod’s feelings of failure and David’s resentment of him for living in his parents’ basement and delaying their mother’s retirement.

Daughter Evonne (Clare Cooney) comes into town from Madison, Wisconsin with her girlfriend Lucia (Melissa DuPrey), a Black woman, and their mixed-race daughter Emma (Arielle Gonzalez). Clare Cooney, who portrays Evonne, flew in all the way from Cannes to join the other 7 cast members, where she was participating in the Cannes Film Festival.  I only hope that Cooney’s excellent short “Runner” was part of that Cannes’ offerings. It was one of the most impressive shorts at the Windy City Film Festival in Chicago the year my own script was in a different category. Clare Cooney—who both acts, writes, directs, and, in this case, produces and casts—is a very talented filmmaker.

Another sister, Norma (Emily Lape), has driven in from Bettendorf, Iowa (where I had a business from 1985 to 2003). Smith told us during the Q&A that Norma represents the “normal” family member, hence her name. Norma talks openly to her parents about her perception that the family is disintegrating. The line that applies here is William Butler Yeats’ “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” Or, as Smith has re-phrased that, “The more things change, the more they stay the same. Only, they don’t.“ (“I used to think that things would always be like that.”)

All of the film’s actors are terrific. The characters, as written, are multi-faceted and complex. For a film fan older than 30, it was nice to see Mom and Dad portrayed so well and to see the interactions of the four siblings. Writer/Director Smith shared that he considered Benjy, who is graduating and going on to a career as a cartographer for Google, to be “a selfish little prick.” I thought Benjy was rather harsh in his early judgment of his older brother, Rod, and certainly his desire to pick up a cute blonde girl from Iceland  (rather than attend his own graduation celebration) was selfish. But Benjy seemed as though he might join Norma in the “normal” category with the passing of time.

The film had many worthwhile observations:  the sadness of the “empty nest;” it’s hard to go home/ it’s hard to leave home,” nothing stays the same; death, as a sub-text. Mom Karen’s explanation of why she married David, rather than another suitor, was spot-on (says the woman married 55 years).  Karen explains that fierce loyalty beats all hell out of madly in love. Karen, the matriarch, talks about marital success as “just keep putting one foot in front of the other.” These observations spoke to me, because I’m not a Millennial. I’ve lived those truths. I enjoyed having an “adult film” that showed thought and did so with wit, as when the couple talks about their now adult children and comments that they haven’t done such a bad job. (“At least none of them became a Republican.”)


So, yes, I thoroughly enjoyed the film.  I would have found my way to the director and told him so, personally, but my 4-hour parking garage time stamp was about to run out and I was looking at a $19 surcharge if I ran over. When you drive 3 and ½ hours (from the Quad Cities) and wait for 2 years (through some ill health) to make it to (potentially) the film’s last theatrical showing out of 45, you want to provide feedback that shows that you, too, are pondering all the ideas that have been so well depicted. And if this means displaying your own ignorance, so be it. [After all, I’ve only been at  reviewing for 53 years, so don’t pay my very minor criticism any attention.]

At one point, the character known as Hekla (which means volcano in Icelandic) is asked to insert a monologue from “The Importance of Being Earnest.” She does so. Why? I’m sure there was a reason for including this, but, to me, it just looked like padding. I didn’t “get” its significance. I would have asked about this from the audience after the showing, but the actress who portrayed Hekla was going on about her delivery (“I was scared about that monologue”) and time ran out. Plus, I had to finish my $9 Diet Coke and settle the Alamo Drafthouse bill.

The other point—-coming from a woman who has been reviewing film since 1970—(author of “It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now”) is this: I take issue with Writer/Director Smith’s statement regarding characterization versus plot. His exact words: “As a filmmaker, I’m all about character. I don’t give a f*** about story.”

I may be all wrong about this  (feel free to disagree), but I have written and published extensively, and I know how difficult writing is. I definitely agree that characterization is very, very important, but so is something happening (i.e., plot). I think the people who mentioned that they expected Norma to have a car accident on her way home were just waiting for that “something” to happen. If all films eliminate the “something happening,” fickle and disappointed filmgoers will leave the theater griping that “nothing happened.” (Please do not throw brickbats at the messenger who has articulated what other filmgoers told the director in previous Q&As).

I agree that a lot is shown happening as a “lead-up” to something climactic. Call me silly, but I expected that to be the matriarch (Wendy Robie) telling the kids that either she or her spouse had cancer and only “x” months to live. {That is probably because I now know how much drama that particular pronouncement will provide, having lived that particular story line since Pearl Harbor Day, 2021.} (*Note to self: Never have a mammogram on Pearl Harbor Day!)

If the “C” word wasn’t going to be the coup de grace for the film’s dramatic moment, what else might have sufficed?  There are other menu options: given the recent tenor of the times, we could have a “Crying Game” transgender surprise involving the young couple (Benjy and Hekla). Too bold? We could find out that Dad David and Mom Karen are not on the same page about selling the house (which seemed to be the case). Something more dramatic could have been portrayed at the party between the lesbian couple who are contemplating breaking up. They seem preternaturally calm about it all.  There are any number of dramatic possibilities; none were selected. The porch scene with the cigarillos might as well have been the “finale,” then, if Norma was just going to drive back to Bettendorf to continue being norma(l).

I know. Some of these suggestions are too “out there;” some are too ordinary. It’s my obsession with plot and character AND story, my downfall since age twelve.

I look forward to more films from Michael Glover Smith.  I hope he will at least consider upping the plot game, not for his own preference(s), but for that of more average movie buffs who DO want to see “something happen,” but also want to have a deep dive into character. I suspect that films that “don’t give a f*** about plot” might have difficulty finding financing, but, then again, making four films in just 8 years (and during a pandemic) is remarkable. And, with 8 nominations and 5 wins at film festivals, so is this film.



The Top Five on “The Voice” on Dec. 5, 2022

SAVED | Omar Jose Cardona (Team Legend)

ELIMINATED | Justin Aaron (Team Gwen), Parijita Bastola (Team Legend), Kim Cruse (Team Legend)

Another blog asked readers to vote on who SHOULD have been eliminated, with these results:

  • Brayden Lape  28.9%


  • Bryce Leatherwood  17.53%


  • Parijita Bastola  11.53%


  • Kim Cruse  10.03%


  • Justin Aaron  9.64%


  • bodie  8.69%


  • Omar Jose Cardona  8.3%


  • Morgan Myles

In years of yore, I used to be a faithful devotee of “American Idol” during the Simon Cowell years.

I’ve not been a faithful watcher of any talent show since, but I did catch the last few shows of “The Voice” and was truly impressed with the singing of the two African American contestants, in particular. The best of the lot was Kim Cruse, who was a large woman with an even larger voice. She was spectacular  on the program where she covered “Summertime” and “All By Myself” was just as good. Yet she was eliminated, which has to be chalked up to teeny-boppers voting for “cute” boys.

The second contestant who deserved to go forward was Justin Aaron, a former teacher’s aide, who delivered every single time he sang and was nearly as amazing as Kim Cruse.

After that, I would have placed Omar Jose Cardona (Team Legend) and Morgan Myles (Camilla Caballo’s team) in the final five.

Brayden Lange, the high school kid who hadn’t done much singing prior to this show, was not that good. He was that cute, but his singing was not that good. The weird guy with the white hair or wig, whom Blake Shelton seemed fond of, Bodie, was not that good, either.

The Final Five should be Kim Cruse, Justin Aaron, Omar Jose Cardona, Morgan Myles and probably Bryce Leatherwood. Leatherwood wasn’t, technically, as good a singer as Pariita Bastola (he was often flat), but the C&W group must be served and the country singer in the cowboy hat filled that bill.

I was embarrassed by the final five as chosen by teenagers nationwide. Eliminating both Kim Cruse and Justin Aaron was a grave miscarriage of justice. It reminded me of the presidential election of 2016 when the wrong candidate won under mysterious circumstances.

Steve James’ “A Compassionate Spy” Opens 58th Chicago International Film Festival on October 12th, 2022

A Compassionate Spy

101 min | Documentary

The incredible story of Manhattan Project scientist Ted Hall, who shared classified nuclear secrets with Russia.

Director:  Steve James

Producers:  Steve James/David Lindorff/Mark Mitten

Cinematographer:  Tom Bergmann

“A Compassionate Spy” opened the 58th Chicago International Film Festival at the Music Box Theater on Wednesday, October 12th. The 101 minute documentary from Kartemquin, a Chicago-based company, was written and directed by Steve James, while the cinematography was by Tom Bergmann.

The synopsis calls it “the incredible story of Manhattan Project scientist Ted Hall, who shared classified nuclear secrets with Russia.” They should add, “And got away with it.”

The sober discussion on the actions of wunderkind Ted Hall—recruited out of Harvard to work on the Los Alamos nuclear bomb project at age 18—was well done, but not the quality of the wonderful Kartemquin documentaries that have gone before.

The last Kartemquin documentary I watched was “All the Queen’s Horses” (2017) by Kelly Richmond Pope. That is not a Steve James documentary, but it was terrific and riveting.

Steve James made his bones way back in 1994 with “Hoop Dreams.” His documentary “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” (2016) was fantastic (and Oscar-nominated). The documentary “Life Itself” about the life and career of Roger Ebert (2014) was also great. He has spent 37 years writing and directing documentaries for Kartemquin (headquartered in Chicago) and has twice been Oscar nominated.

Those were all extremely interesting documentaries that never lagged.

This one?

Not so much.

More later.

Why You Need to Pay Attention to Many News Sources

Nicole Carroll, the Editor-in-Chief of “USA Today” was on CNN this morning at 11:28 E.T., talking about the “Austin American Statesman’s” release of the Uvalde videocam footage of the school shooting in that city. “We are thankful for journalists for not stopping, but asking the tough questions that needed to be asked.” The Editor-in-Chief, Ms. Carroll, bemoaned the fact that authorities were misleading the public with press releases and, in particular, that the information coming out of Uvalde, Texas, after the slaughter of students and teachers in their school were erroneous and delayed. Her  defense of the release of the video was that the Austin “American Statesman” newspaper felt that the public had a right to know the truth so that what happened in Uvalde would not be repeated.

In similar fashion, an earlier CNN story this morning (Sunday, July 17) went into a fair amount of detail about how a local reporter in Indianapolis was able to document the truth of the ten-year-old rape victim who had to travel to another state, from Ohio, to secure an abortion after she was raped (twice) and became pregnant by an illegal alien. At first, various sources such as Fox News flat out called the news false, making no effort to get to the bottom of the truth. It took a local reporter to notice on the court docket that an arraignment was going to happen in court that day of a male charged with rape of a female under 13. She went to the courthouse and learned that the story was absolutely true and the remarks of commentators like Tucker Carlson were based on nothing.

“The Boston Globe” and the “New York Times” are reporting that only 1 in 4 people who are Democrats want Biden to run again and only about half want to see Trump on a ticket again. (Next was DeSantis with 25%). Young voters have lost trust in it all and want nothing to do with the geriatric candidates they are being offered, according to 585 of those interviewed for a “New York Times” article. Only 3 in 10 (Biden) or 4 in 10 (Trump) want to see either of those men run for President again. The duo was considered too old the first time, so running them for a second time is not considered a good idea by the rank and file.

The stories in my first two paragraphs underline why a robust local media is a necessity. Without the enterprising news reporter who followed the 10-year-old rape story to its source, the public would not know the truth. Without the January 6th Commission hearings, the American public would not know the truth about who did what to cause the insurrection on January 6, 2021.

One GOP stalwart, speaking with me, tried to dismiss the January 6th Commission as “a joke,” admitting that he has not listened to the testimony of ALL REPUBLICAN INSIDERS on what really happened that cold January day after the 2020 election. He simply took one network’s directions on faith, without attempting to inform himself by exposure to all points of view, which is my journalism-based goal. (I tape 3 different main news channels and watch the fringe ones late at night for their viewpoint.)

Trump/Cheney/McCarthy: Three on a Match

The complaint he voiced to me was that all the panel members were “hand-picked.” He has missed the fact that every single person testifying was a GOP insider and the only reason that there aren’t more Republican members of the Commission (aside from Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger) asking the questions is that Nancy Pelosi warned GOP leader McCarthy that they could not be Republican lawmakers who might be implicated in the coup d’etat:  Mo Brooks (R, Alabama) was involved, as were Mark Meadows and Rudy Giuiliani, Andy Biggs, Louis Gohmer, Jim Jordan, Scott Perry, Margie Taylor Greene, Brian Babbitt, Matt Gaetz, Paul Goser, Andy Harris, and Jody Heiss. All were involved in pushing for the role of the VP in illegally not certifying the electoral votes (“the Eastman Theory”). Quite obviously, a sitting VP does not have the power to simply throw out the vote of the people, as presented by their official electors. If this were a solid principle, why couldn’t Al Gore have declared himself the “winner” after Florida and the hanging chads in 2000? Obviously, the VP’s role on January 6th was ceremonial, as former Vice President  Dan Quayle advised Pence, and the entire 38-page Eastman coup d’etat document was partisan, flawed, and illegal, constituting sedition if not treason, in trying to overthrow the duly elected government of the United States by hampering the peaceful transition of power.

When McCarthy learned that he could not appoint Trump loyalists (and probable conspirators) like Jim Jordan, he refused to appoint any other Republicans, so the relatively small number of GOP representatives asking the questions is because of McCarthy’s decision not to cooperate.  McCarthy is also responsibl for, first, loudly denouncing January 6th and then scurrying off to Mar-A-Lago to kiss the DJT ring.

Sticking one’s head in the sand and denying that something really happened does not cause it to disappear as an issue, but that seems to be the current GOP strategy for the January 6th Commission, just as it was for the legal outcome of the 2020 presidential election.  The panel has been hearing testimony from high-ranking GOP stalwarts who helped elect DJT and served him in office for 4 years, such as Mr. Cippolone, his Chief Counsel. Fox News won’t cover it, because they know how damaging it is to their appointed dictator-to-be, DJT.

There are several good documentaries about the importance of the local media and investigative reporters in fighting back against Fascism in all its form, one of which, that centered on Storm Lake, Iowa, I reported on for this blog. Storm Lake documentary – Weekly Wilson – Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson) A second one, “Writing with Fire,” detailed how Indian women are making valiant efforts to report on news in that country and are making news, themselves, for their efforts. (This documentary was Oscar-nominated.)

Liz Cheney within the Capitol (Photo courtesy of the Denver Post).

Finally, the commentator spoke sadly about the vast number of Americans who will only watch news from a channel that confirms their biases. This is a mistake, and one I do my best to overcome. I routinely watched OAN in the early morning hours, until cable refused to carry it any more because of the blatant mistruths it was spreading. I tune in Fox News on occasion. I tape “Meet the Press,” “Face the Nation,” and “George Stephanopoulus” and “Fahreed Zakaria” (whose program seems to be airing earlier than it used to. I subscribe to the “Austin American-Statesman,” the “Chicago Tribune,” the “Quad City Times,” a Seattle newspaper, and the “New York Times” (which has, by far, the best and most-detailed Ukraine coverage.)

Make an effort. Try to get your news from a variety of sources, even if you don’t agree with the point-of-view of some of your sources. I was a journalism major in college and the recipient of that year’s Ferner-Hearst Journalism Scholarship. I care that truth comes out, and I hope you do, too.

Neighbors, Father’s Day & Musings

Today is Saturday, June 18th. The Big Event for me, today, was getting my hair done. It was difficult getting an appointment and then it was early, for me. I feared I would fall asleep during it. When asked what the rest of my day looked like, I described a busy day of napping. (ha!)

Our neighbors across the street, Mary and Victor Hernandez, pulled out in a cloud of dust and their house is marked “SOLD.” I did not even know that they were leaving! Their daughter was a saxophone player and started our daughter on lessons, and also babysat for us, on occasion. The most notable was on our anniversary (March 30) when we contracted with her to babysit for my 2 nieces, as the parents were in Hawaii. The older of the nieces refused to do anything that was asked of her. For instance, her childish response to the news it was time to brush her teeth caused her to say, “We don’t brush our teeth at my house.” I remember vividly being called to come home early from our anniversary dinner at what was then Charles Michel’s restaurant at the top of the Black Hawk Hotel. I think it was just about time for the bananas flambe when the call came in that, even after our teen-aged babysitter called her father to come across the street and try to restore order, one of her charges refused to do as requested, so could we come home?

We could and we did. No children were harmed in the follow-up to our journey home, but it was an interesting night, full of lots of histrionics, things tossed or thrown and adults restraining themselves. I think my comment was, “We don’t behave this way at my house.”

We did not run into either bedroom every thirty seconds. We gave the child a little bit of time to settle down before going back in to make sure all was well. This method worked like a charm for own two kids; it worked like a charm this night. We barely peeked in, not wanting to cause further screaming outbursts, but one of us did make sure a blanket covered the older child in the chilly bedroom. No children were harmed during the calming of the maelstrom and no corporal punishment was administered.

We were never asked to babysit again.

So, we are getting new neighbors across the street.  I am sorry that I did not get the opportunity to say “good bye” to Mary and Victor. They had two musically gifted children, and I think at least one of them is now a band director.

I wish them well.

I am now slow cooking the boneless pork roast I had said I was making for Father’s Day. That was before I remembered that I had frozen the meat.

We ended up dining at the Captain’s Table, and the pictures here are taken on the veranda there, which was very pleasant. The hubby got a brand new Super Box for our TV, an Amazon gift certificate, a small Super Dad trophy, 3 cards, and a gigantic bottle of Seagram’s 7. What more could you ask for?

Biden & Trump Speak About Putin

Courtesy of the “New York Times,” here’s a Pop Quiz.


There are two sets of quotes below about the murderous thug who’s the president of Russia. You have to figure out which things Trump has said and which Joe Biden has said.

Set A
Putin is “a butcher” for the relentless shelling of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine that Russian forces have demolished.

“I think he is a war criminal.”

Putin is “a murderous dictator, a pure thug who is waging an immoral war against the people of Ukraine.”

“Putin has committed an assault on the very principles that uphold global peace. But now the entire world sees clearly what Putin and his Kremlin allies are really all about. It was always about naked aggression, about Putin’s desire for empire by any means necessary — by bullying Russia’s neighbors through coercion and corruption, by changing borders by force, and, ultimately, by choosing a war without a cause.”

Set B
“Putin contacted me and was so nice. He could not have been nicer. He was so nice and so everything. But you have to give him credit that what he’s doing for that country in terms of their world prestige is very strong. So smart.”

“Putin is a tough cookie who loves his country. The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.”

“I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius.’ Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine, of Ukraine, Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful.”

“So Putin is now saying, ‘It’s independent,’ a large section of Ukraine. I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s going to go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s the strongest peace force. We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. Here’s a guy who’s very savvy. I know him very well. Very, very well.”

2022 Oscars Feature Meltdown by Will Smith As He Wins the Oscar for Best Actor

On the heels of the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony, during which Will Smith was given the Oscar for Best Actor only minutes after he bitch-slapped presenter Chris Rock for making a fairly innocuous joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved bald head (something about how he was “looking forward to G.I. Jane 2”), we got these teary comments from the “King Richard” actor after his win:

“I got to protect Aunjanue Ellis (his co-star in “King Richard) and the 2 actresses who played Venus and Serena in “King Richard.” I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you gotta’ be able to talk about abuse, you gotta’ be able to have people talk crazy about you. You gotta’ be able to have people disrespect you, and you gotta’ smile and pretend like that’s okay.

He diverged at that point to tell the audience about Denzel Washington’s cautionary remark to him that, “At  your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”

Will Smith seemed to be mentally teetering on the edge of a melt-down.  I couldn’t help but think of his mid-life “bucket list” that had him bungee jumping off bridges, etc. He seemed to really be in precarious mental health. The network actually covered his weeping face for a few “live” moments. I had originally been glad that he was (finally) going to win, since his wife (Jada Pinkett Smith) made such a fuss about his failure to win for “Concussion” and “Happyness” and other films in the past. Apparently, whining does pay off.

Smith continued:  “It’s like I want to be a vessel for love. I want to say thank you to Venus and Serena. I want to be an ambassador for love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy, to all my fellow nominees. This is a beautiful moment and I’m not crying for winning an award. It’s not about winning an award for me. It’s about being able to shine a light on all of the people associated with “King Richard.”

Smith then proceeded to list all those involved with the “King Richard” project.

Will Smith

Smith concluded:  “Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father (in “King Richard”) just like they said. Love will make you do crazy things.”

Yes, Will, you looked crazy. Slapping Chris Rock for doing his job and telling a very mild joke was way out of line. I hope the apology (boldfaced, above) is good enough.  Better than nothing, I guess. I have watched every Academy Awards since 1955 and this was one of the things we’ll be talking about for years. What are some others? The streaker the year David Niven was handing out an award. The Sacheen LittleFeather year, when she turned down the Oscar for Brando. The Vanessa Redgrave year when she spoke up for Palestinians and was soundly denounced for “being too political.” I might add that someone said that, while David Niven defused the streaker situation with a witty remark, it took Sean “Puffy” Combs (he of the arrest with Jennifer Lopez many moons ago) to pour oil on these troubled waters, although I did think that Chris Rock held it together well. (Who would have thought that Puffy would be the calm one? Yikes!)

I hope that, in the future, audience members are made to go through metal detectors to make sure nobody is armed. I hope that Will Smith’s marriage to Jada Pinkett Smith really is sound, because there have always been rumors about an “open” marriage, (whether true or false), and your outburst at the Academy Awards didn’t help squelch any of those remarks.

I tried to summon “Coda” to watch on my Apple + TV set in the afternoon of the Oscars, when “Coda” seemed to be “peaking” in the hours before the awards. I must admit that I had not been able to see “Coda” or “Drive My Car.” There’s something about being diagnosed with cancer in the middle of the awards season that will cause you to pay more attention to surgery and doctor visits, rather than going to the movies. The two I missed were “Coda” and “Drive My Car.”

After hearing some extremely positive feedback from people whose opinions I respect, I made a valiant effort to see “Coda” in the early afternoon, but my tekkie skills were not up to the task, and so I stuck with “The Power of the Dog,” the early leader with 12 nominations. (As it turned out, it was a lot like the year “The Turning Point” didn’t win anything, despite being nominated for everything!)

As the awards wound down, my daughter and I were doing very well, with the same number of “correct” responses. We tied because I selected Kenneth Branagh for the Original Screenplay, while she took “Up in the Air.” And then we evened out again with the Adapted Screenplay, where she took “Coda” and I took “The Power of the Dog” (which was my undoing in total picks.)

Still, 16 and 17 right of those announced on the air seems pretty decent. There were very few “upsets.”


Kenneth Branagh in Chicago for “Belfast.”

The Big News of the night was the slap fest between Will Smith and Chris Rock. I couldn’t help but think of some of Ricky Gervais’ remarks when hosting shows of this kind, or of Don Rickles’ long career as an insult comic. I thought: “There’s something going on here on Will Smith’s part.” His kids seem—strange, and his marriage to Jada Pinkett Smith is…different. Her green dress was truly lovely, but there is something going on  that we will all need to figure out. (And that means Will Smith, himself.)

To me, telling the public that you want to spread “love” and  to “be an ambassador for love, care and concern” does not jibe with rushing to the stage and striking the comic doing his job, which was to make jokes. Chris Rock’s joke was not that harsh. So much for “being a river to my people.” [The memo apparently did not reach Chris Rock that he was “on the river” of good will for Will Smith’s people.]

I truly loved watching Amy Schumer throughout the night and highly recommend her new series “Love and Beth.” At the outset of the evening she pointed out that the movie entitled “King Richard” took years to make and focused on the FATHER of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, NOT on the talented daughters. She also was dangled above the stage in a Spiderman suit, shooting silly string, and when she came back—late in the ceremony—she asked, naively, if she had missed anything.  She also sat down opposite Jesse Plemons, pulling Jesse’s wife Kirsten Dunst out of her chair, and began chatting with Jesse, who told her that the woman she had just banished from the table was not a “seat filler” but his wife.

Amy Schumer

Amy’s response, “You’re married to that seat filler? How weird.”

Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall did a credible job. and Wanda’s tour of the Hollywood Movie Museum was cute, but Amy was her comic gem self.

If you want my unvarnished opinion on which movie represented the biggest accomplishment for the director, it would probably be “Dune,” which took home 6 Oscars. Besides that film, my three “favorites” for the year were “Dune,” “West Side Story” and “No Time to Die.” I also liked “Nightmare Alley” and “Last Night in Soho” and found Bradley Cooper’s bit in “Licorice Pizza” worth the price of admission.

Will Smith’s teary acceptance speech to the audience ended this way:

“To my mother, a lot of this moment is really complicated for me (he mentioned her knitting crew, with whom she was watching)…um…being able to love and care for my mother and my family and my wife. Thank you for this honor. Thank you on behalf of Richard and  thank you Academy for inviting me back.”

That last part remains to be seen.

Here were the Oscar winners:

Best Picture:  “Coda”

Best Director:  Jane Campion for “The Power of the Dog”

Best Lead Actor:  Will Smith for “King Richard”

Best Lead Actress:  Jessica Chastain for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”

Best Supporting Actor:  Troy Kotsur for “Coda”

Best Supporting Actress: Ariana DeBose for “West Side Story”

Best Film Editing:  “Dune”

Best Adapted Screenplay:  “Coda”

Best Screenplay:  “Belfast”

Best Cinematography:  “Dune”

Best Animated Feature:  “Encanto”

Best MakeUp and Hairstyling:  “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”

Best Costume Design:  “Cruella”

Best International Film:  “Drive My Car”

Best Original Song:  “No Time to Die” (Billie Eilish)

Best Documentary:  “Summer of Soul”

Best Visual Effects:  “Dune”

Best Production Design:  “Dune”

Best Sound:  “Dune”

Documentary Short Subject:  “The Queen of Basketball”

Live Action Short: “The Long Goodbye”

Best Score:  Hans Zimmer for “Dune”




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