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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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.

BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE

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”

 

 

 

First Day of SXSW 2022 in Austin, Texas

 

Me at SXSW.

The first day of SXSW (post welcome party) is here: March 12th.

I will outline some of the difficulties Yours Truly is experiencing.

First of all, I RSVP-ed for online streamers, as one is supposed to do, and it was my (incorrect) understanding that the responses that came to my e-mail address had “confirmed” that I was to be able to stream ALL of the films that I asked for. I had a bunch of these “confirmation” things in my mailbox and moved on;  it looked like they all were green-lit.

Au contraire, my frere.

I DID get some I requested, including the films or documentaries or TV shows entitled “Spin Me Round,” “Linoleum,” “Mickey Mouse: The Story of a Mouse,” “Gabby Gifford Does Not Give In,” “Facing Nolan,” “The Cow,” and “The Cellar.” [I apparently had also been given “Bad Axe” but somehow managed to cancel it, which I did not mean to do.]

What DIDN’T I get? Well, obviously, those that are NOT streaming, but I also did not, apparently, get “Fire of Love,” “Clean,” “To Leslie,” “The Prank,” “Swimming with Sharks,” “2nd Chance,” “Belle River,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” and “Watcher.”  (Capsule write-ups on all these later).

I also got invited and then Uninvited to the “DMZ” rooftop soiree with Benjamin Bratt and Rosario Dawson, occurring tomorrow at noon.

It is a shame that I cannot get to “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” which is also taking place Sunday at noon for a roundtable with the cast, because I am old enough to remember the premiere of the original film with David Bowie. On the other hand, I’d have to brave trying to get in and out of the Convention Center with a car from Manchaca (the suburbs) and, somehow, that sounds like a not-that-great idea.

So, today, I cranked up the Apple+ TV, expecting to be able to watch “Fire of Love,” (which is about a couple who LOVED volcanoes and got killed while exploring one) and nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. What has happened to “Fire of Love?”

 It was only then that I discovered that I did NOT have “confirmation” e-mails to ALL of the films I had RSVP-ed to late in the game. It’s odd, because they all appeared to go through and the color-coding they mentioned (pink if good, black if not) did not occur, but I had no way of watching “Fire of Love” online today,  one of the few things that was supposedly going to be streaming today.

So,  I opened an e-mail from a publicist who asked if I would watch “Welcome to Browntown.” The mastermind behind this film is George A. Tramountanes, who wrote and starred as Frank in the movie. I thought it was a SXSW film, as my in box is absolutely crammed with e-mail requesting my presence at various SXSW premiers and the like.  I had not, until today, realized that I was not “in” to all of the requested streamers, which I was counting on watching at home, since I’m still healing up from surgery and standing in line for hours did not sound fun. I also failed to make the deadline (March 4) for Red Carpet requests (I blame my oncologist, who kept me in the Quad Cities too long).

But nevermind about the myriad screw-ups that have occurred. Let me recount for you what, exactly, “Welcome to Browntown” was about…sort of. And I should also mention that it is not about the Alaskan Bush People, as the Internet kept telling me.

WELCOME TO BROWN TOWN

The last line of the film is, “What kind of demented individual would want to sit through a family comedy about butt love?

Here I thought this was a SXSW offering (it’s not) and I also thought it was about BROWNSVILLE (Texas) and the migrant crisis.

So, put me on the list of “demented individuals” because I  thought I was going to see a serious film about the 2018 crisis at the Mexican border town of BROWNSVILLE that separated children from their families and the work of organizations, since then, in trying to reunite these families, since the Trump administration did a bang-up job of keeping records.” That’s sarcasm, right there, and, as one line in this film goes, “If sarcasm burns calories, I’m all set.”

It’s probably a good thing that I was reading Mel Brooks’ autobiography “All About Me” in the car on the way here from Illinois, because he has entire chapters about not letting censors stop things like the farting scene in “Blazing Saddles” or anything else that seems wildly inappropriate that we all laughed at, then and now. Most of Mel Brooks’ work was pushing the envelope and defying the censors, who constantly told him to take stuff out. (He’d agree wholeheartedly and then tear up the list he pretended to be making. Mel had a lawyer who got him final cut rights, and he thanks him in the book.)

So, in the spirit of Mel Brooks, let me try to review (or at least recount) what “Welcome to Browntown” was about, starting with this trailer.

No, it was NOT about the Alaskan Bush People, but I laughed when I googled to get an image and that came up, instead of this comedy that is about a married couple (21 years) with a father (Frank) who is a writer—or wants to be. He’s prepping for a competition (Pitchfest) to try to gain publication of his work (“16th time is a charm!”)

But, in the meantime, not unlike Yours Truly, he has a blog that he writes anonymously out of the sheer love of writing and because there is something within born writers that won’t let us quit. His blog is not particularly well-followed at the outset of the film (I can relate) and he has just learned that the woman who is going to be picking the final winner of Pitchfest is a woman named Molly Young, with whom Frank has some past history that doesn’t sound all good.

Frank has not made it big (while Molly Young has) and Frank, instead, works at a university and has a lovely blonde wife (Kendra McDermott as Laura Tsigas), a teen-aged son (Manoli P. Tramountanos as Teddy), a 7-year-old son (Gabriel Conrad as Buzzy), a teen-aged daughter (Eleanor Tramountanos as Annie), and all of the things that suburban life entails.

Frequently the main character (Frank ) says that a writer told him, years ago, that, as a writer, you could have a great career or a great family, but not both. The log line for the film puts the main theme this way: “Frank Tsigas is a middle-aged family man who can only see his life’s shortcomings.  To distract him, his soft-spoken wife Laura (Kendra McDermott) offers a unique anniversary gift: she bets her ass that he can’t lose 50 pounds in three months—-literally.” The REAL “Frank” is a Seattle-based filmmaker who has actually sacrificed his real-life job to enter the world of indie filmmaking, specializing in outrageous comedies and horror films, says the mini-biography, which I would urge you to read. George has a lot riding on this effort, and, for a first film, it is remarkably sophisticated—well, except for the main theme. (Ahem).

Now, to set up how and why I ended up watching this, FIRST I thought it was part of SXSW and all of my “requested” online things for today seem to have either not been granted at all, or are scheduled later in this week of activity (March 11-20). It’s been a real shit-show of a year, since Pearl Harbor Day—not because the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor that day (although they did) but because I was diagnosed with cancer that day and have been undergoing treatments and surgery ever since, so the fact that I sound like I’m taking the easy way out on  reviewing in Austin (streaming something, today, from my winter home in the suburbs of Manchaca, which we just reached, to find out that our fence fell down, all our plants died, and our garage door openers nor TV sets no longer worked)  should take that into consideration.

Secondly, there definitely IS a film about the border crisis, which I thought (erroneously) was set in Brownsville. I thought this was it. I only found out that the true title is “Split at the Root” (no mention of Brown anything in the title) after I began watching.

Split at the Root” chronicles the tragedy of families separated at the border during the past administration. Yeni Gonzalez, a mother seeking asylum for herself and her children, is reunited after months in detention.  The family was separated under the 2018 Zero Tolerance Policy of the Trump Administration. They were reunited by rapid response groups, Immigrant Families Together. (Photo by Emily Kinsky)

Third, I had no other options today without driving into downtown Austin from Manchaca (half an hour, at least) on a day when the downtown area will have been cordoned off for the festival, except to watch Iowa try to take down Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament at noon, which happened in an incredible fashion on a three-point shot by Bohannon that will be replayed for the entire rest of the tournament. [GO HAWKS!]

But back to WELCOME TO BROWNTOWN, not to be confused with the Alaskan Bush people film, nor the SXSW offering about the border crisis, which is entitled “Split at the Root” (and never mentions Brownsville in its title at all). I think, by the way, that this film might be available on YouTube, but one never knows, so let me share some of the bon mots with you.

The screener for this film comes to a mature adult reviewer (married 54 years), with an open mind. I’ve been reviewing nonstop since 1970 and am the author of a book entitled “Laughing Through Life.” (Check it out at ConnieCWilson.com).

I truly did appreciate the wit and humor that George A. Tramountanos  put into this film, including some choice lines I’ll share with you in a moment. His Pitchfest satire is spot-on and hilarious. The winner turns out to be Delilah Moonraven, who has written “S Is for Suicide.” In prepping for his presentation, Frank says, “16th time is the charm!”(Ha!) The gentleman who wants to combine unicorns and war for tween-aged girls and the cynical line, “Maybe they can have a blind 3-legged dog, too!” amused me mightily.

George has also inserted some words of wisdom to live by such as: “Success is being able to enjoy what you have.” Or,”Life doesn’t turn out the way we planned…We just need to celebrate each moment in life as it happens.” There’s certainly a refreshing quality embodied in these words of wisdom, but the contrast between those homilies and the main theme is jarring. I think that’s a fair remark; don’t take it as a criticism, necessarily.

Back to the plot. It is  about this long-time married couple (Frank and Laura) having anal sex. She will, if he will—lose 50 lbs, that is (in 3 months’ time). He does manage to lose that unattractive flab and she sheds her previous pet nickname (“Titmouse”) and is taken under the wing of her sister, who is 40 and single and trying to give her some practical tips on what will happen now that Frank has lost 50 lbs. (“You may want to prepare to have your booty plundered.”) While lines like, “I’m looking forward to playing Lewis & Clark with her asshole” are perhaps not as great as those coined by  the writing  team of Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Woody Allen and Neil Simon (all, at one time, working with Brooks on various projects), there are some clever lines.  “Your bedroom instincts are a little PG….blowies on demand,” might (or might not) be one of the clever ones, but George has plenty of comedy lines.

I loved his small son’s (Gabriel Conrad as Buzzy) line, “Don’t tase me, bro’” as I once did an entire piece for Associated Content on the origin of that phrase (how, why and when). Little Gabriel is good in the film and his acting reel follows the trailer, so watch it. Everyone turns in an acceptable performance.

Celebrating their 21st anniversary as a married couple, Frank gets to use the line, “Our 21st may have been platinum, but our next one is looking all brown.” Crude expressions like “the vein train to anal town” and “dance the chocolate cha cha” were not so much witty as offensive. (Sorry, not every line is a keeper.) The entire premise apparently did not make it into the SXSW pantheon of films (despite my confusion) but the movie did have Brooks-ian chutzpah as well as 12 wins and 9 nominations at a variety of other film festivals. Plus, we have now answered the musical question, “What kind of demented individual would want to sit through a family comedy about butt love?”

I’m not saying I knew what I was getting into when I asked for this screener link, but I laughed, I cried, I googled “Browntown.”  I tried to buy a copy of “The Misogyny of Hemingway” and I would remind you that this film will amuse a certain audience to the max.

I’m completely confident that Mel Brooks would have laughed out loud at different points.  Remember, as Frank says in one of his “anonymous” posts, “carpe freakin’ diem.”

Among the 4-letter words in play in the script Frank lists “diet,” “life” and “shit;” we can also add “joke.”

Don’t judge Frank on this one low-brow outing. He gave it his all and there are some truly funny lines and concepts in there, the performances by the leads are good, and we can’t accuse the filmmakers of not swinging for the fences with this one. I hope that George A. Tramountanos is given a bigger budget and additional movies to prove his comic mettle, because Adam McKay, Will Farrell, and Judd Apatow can use the creative company.

“Being the Ricardos” on Amazon Explores Lucille Ball’s Storied Career

“Being the Ricardos” was scripted and directed by wunderkind Aaron Sorkin. It won screenplay awards and acting kudos from SAG for its leads: Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz. Beyond those top-notch talents, you have J.K. Simmons as William Frawley, Tony Hale as Jess Oppenheimer, and Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance. The Screen Actor Guild awards are considered a good indicator of Oscar nominations and have achieved even more prominence since the demise of the Golden Globes.

Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., are listed as Executive Producers and Lucie Arnaz’s reaction to the film was as follows:

Lucie Arnaz released a video on her YouTube Channel on 17 October 2021, in which she called the movie “freaking amazing.” She complimented Aaron Sorkin for making a great movie that really captured the time period and had wonderful casting. She also said that Nicole Kidman “became my mother’s soul.” Little Lucie said that Javier Bardem didn’t look like her dad but, “he has everything that dad had. He has Dad’s wit, his charm, his dimples, his musicality.”

Besides A Few Good Men (1992), Sorkin wrote The American President (1995) and Malice (1993), as well as cooperating on Enemy of the State (1998), The Rock (1996) and Excess Baggage (1997). He was invited by Steven Spielberg to “polish” the script of Schindler’s List (1993). Sorkin’s TV credits include the Golden Globe-nominated The West Wing (1999) and Sports Night (1998).As of 2021, has written three films that were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar: A Few Good Men (1992), The Social Network (2010), Moneyball (2011), and The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020). His screenplays are often noted for the long speeches the actors must master, and he has done uncredited rewrites on some other major Hollywood pictures.

Despite his list of acclaimed scripts, Sorkin has only directed three films: 2017’s “Molly’s Game;” 2020’s “The Trial of the Chicago Seven;” and 2021’s “Being the Ricardos.” It looks like he is finally coming into his own with this behind-the-scenes look at the tumultuous marriage/love story/career of Lucille Ball. I had read much of the source material, which explored her desire for a home and family, which was in conflict with the womanizing reputation of Desi Arnaz, whom she met when he was only 22. A Cuban singer and bandleader, the chemistry between them was undeniable but Desi’s free-spirited high-rolling life proved to be too much for the woman who was the first actress to portray a pregnant woman on television, as she gave birth to Desi while also filming the popular television series “I Love Lucy,” watched by as many as 60 million viewers weekly.

It is while they are dating that Desi—whose father was once Mayor of Cuba’s second-largest city—tells her that she “has a way with kinetic comedy,” meaning that Lucy—like Chevy Chase later on “Saturday Night Live”—had a genius for pratfalls and physical comedy. The script explores Lucille Ball’s journey through the studio system, ultimately being cut  by studios even though she had just had a successful appearance opposite Henry Fonda in 1942’s “The Big Street.” Lucy’s path through radio (“My Favorite Husband” radio show in 1948), which was ultimately turned into the TV show “I Love Lucy” in 1953, showcases the redhead (who was not a redhead for her entire career) as a smart, savvy woman who understood physical comedy and went to the wall to insist that her on-air television husband would be played by her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz.

Desi, at the time, was leading a band that played at Ciro’s night club and singing such songs as “Babaloo” and  “Cuban Pete.” His free-wheeling lifestyle was out-of-synch with what Lucy wanted for her children. At the end of her life, Lucille Ball was married to Gary Morton. Her tumultuous marriage to Desi lasted for 20 years (with a nearly-filed divorce affidavit only 2 years in), while her marriage to Morton lasted for 28 years, until her death in 1989 at the age of 77 from a ruptured aneurysm.  On March 3, 1960, a day after Desi’s 43rd birthday (and one day after the filming the final episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour), Ball filed papers in Santa Monica Superior Court, claiming married life with Desi was “a nightmare” and nothing at all as it appeared on I Love Lucy. On May 4, 1960, the couple divorced; however, until his death in 1986, Arnaz and Ball remained friends and often spoke very fondly of each other.

Much of the drama of this version of Lucille Ball’s life hinges on how Arnaz skillfully defused accusations against Ball that she was a Communist. One interesting bit of trivia: Ball was being considered for the lead female role as the mother in “The Manchurian Candidate,” but director John Frankenheimer insisted on Angela Lansbury for the pivotal role of Laurence Harvey’s scheming power-mad mother.

The film treatment by Sorkin, with music by Daniel Pemberton and music supervisor Mary Ramos features Javier Bardem doing his own singing and conga drum playing as Arnaz. The film is playing on Amazon Prime.

 

Four New Films: “Licorice Pizza,” “West Side Story,” “Nightmare Alley,” “Spencer”

Last movie I saw was “Licorice Pizza.” I enjoyed it immensely, primarily for the portrayal of Jon Peters by Bradley Cooper, who is having a banner year in starring roles, most notably as the lead as well in “Nightmare Alley,” which is also playing at theaters.

I was also there when the remake of “West Side Story” hit screens—four of us, making 8 in the theater, total. I thoroughly enjoyed WSS. Ansel Elgort can really sing! He was far better than the original lead, who was from Avoca, Iowa, and even said himself that he didn’t know enough about New York City to be an effective lead. The lead actress, who followed Natalie Wood’s dubbed version, was outstanding and should be nominated for Best Actress.

As for the leader of the Jets, I preferred George Chakiris in the 1961 version, but the dancing and the singing in the new film is superior and the two leads were great. We came home and watched the original, just to remind ourselves how it differed.

Primarily, Tony was not so blatantly described as an ex-convict in the original film, Rita Moreno has a new role as the widow of the candy store owner; the new Anita was far thicker through the waist than the young Rita Moreno, but she could really dance.

Still, the film was great, especially on the IMAX screen.

We enjoyed “Nightmare Alley,” Guillermo del Toro’s new offering, and Bradley Cooper should be nominated for Best Actor. The cast is outstanding: Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara, Clifton Collins, Jr., Tim Blake Nelson, Richard Jenkins, David Straithairn, Mary Steenburgen, Ron Perlman and others. This film is not as impressive as “The Shape of Water” but it definitely is one of the best films of the year.

I met Guillermo (del Toro), with Ron Perlman in tow, in Chicago the year of “The Shape of Water” and, somehow, ended up at an after-party with the two of them. On the Red Carpet I had gifted Guillermo with a copy of my book “It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now.” He immediately stopped and began reading it. Handlers had to come and convince him to move down the row of interviewers. Just as the handler moved in on Guillermo, he happened to glance down at his feet and said, “Oh, no. Fat man with shoe untied. This is very bad.”

I was surprised to see Sally Hawkins, the star of “The Shape of Water,” portraying Kristin Stewart’s handmaid in “Spencer.” The only film I’ve mentioned (above) that I did not enjoy of the four new ones mentioned was “Spencer.” While Kristin looked good in the many outfits, nothing really happens in the film and I found it incredibly boring.

All the others were very enjoyable, although some of you won’t like “Licorice Pizza.” Watch it if for no other reason than to see Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son, Cooper, portray the male lead. And, of course, the craziness of Jon Peters, which you can read about for yourself. (And, yes, Jon Peters is still alive!)

 

“Merry Christmas! You Have Cancer!”

Craig, Stacey, Connie,
Wrigley the dog, Elise and Ava

My apologies to those of you who have checked my blog routinely and have found nothing new.

I learned I have cancer (via biopsy) on December 10th. Quite frankly, it has thrown me for a loop. I was advised to cancel my hostessing of close to 20 people at my house, but I went ahead, anyway, and surgery is imminent.

My sister-in-law thanked my husband for his efforts in hosting the Dec. 24th and Dec. 25th event, which went on until 3 a.m. one night and 2 a.m. the other.

News flash: I did all the planning, purchasing, and cooking. The health risks, for me, were considerable because of Covid. My surgeon suggested that I not do it. [Next time, maybe mention me, as well?]

I have seen quite a few of the movies out now and will return tomorrow with comments about: “West Side Story;” “Licorice Pizza;” “C’mon, C’mon;” and others.

Again, my apologies to faithful readers. Oh! And good wishes in the health category are always appreciated. Those were also in short supply.

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