Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

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

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“Wildlife:” Actor/Writer/Director Paul Dano’s First Directorial Effort

Genre: Drama

Director: Paul Dano

Writers: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, based on Richard Ford’s book

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould, Bill Camp

Length: 144 minutes

British actress Carey Mulligan (“An Education,” “Never Let Me Go,” “The Great Gatsby”) stars in Paul Dano’s directorial debut, “Wildlife,” opposite Jake Gyllenhaal. The “Hollywood Reporter” recently named her one of the 8 “Best Actresses Working Today” and she is very good in this film.

Gyllenhaal, too, is always a dependable leading man, to the point that audiences take him for granted. He was one of just 8 actors to win a Golden Globe, a SAG award, the BAFTA and a Critics’ Choice award and then not be nominated for an Academy Award for the part (“Nightcrawler” in 2014). Other notable Jake Gyllenhaal films: “Donnie Darko,” “Brokeback Mountain,” and “Southpaw.”

Carey Mulligan does a fantastic job of portraying a 1960 housewife and mother (son Joe in the film is 14), who is forced to figure out how to keep herself and her son afloat when the somewhat irresponsible father figure (Jake Gyllenhaal) suddenly decides to go off to fight fires   40 miles away from their home in Great Falls, Montana. The pay? $1 an hour. He had been working as a golf pro, but got fired for betting with the golfers. He is called and offered his job back, but doesn’t take it. The other opportunities in town are few and far-between.

THE GOOD:

ACTING

 The acting in this one is top-notch. It is shown through the eyes of the son (Joe, played by Ed Oxenbould of Australia) and he does a credible job of a son watching his parents marriage collapse (although he looks nothing like either parent). Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) is always good, and he’s good here, within the constraints of the script. Some critics feel it is Carey Mulligan’s best performance to date (although I’d vote forNever Let Me Go”). Bill Camp who plays Warren Miller, a wealthy car dealership owner (who comes on to Mulligan when Jerry leaves), is also good in his part.

ART DIRECTION & SET DIRECTION

Miles Michael and Melisa Jusufi did a great job of recreating 1960-era Great Falls, Montana. Kudos to them.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Diego Garcia gets to photograph Montana, which director Dano described as “a divine, beautiful place.” He does a fine job.

THE BAD:

The film started at 6 p.m. At 7 p.m.. I wrote in my notes, “This is really boring so far.” It is true that there was a small amount of time at the outset of the film given over to presenting Carey Mulligan with a Career Achievement award, but, still, only 44 minutes remained for something interesting to happen.

THE SCRIPT

Paul Dano—who earned praise for his work in “Let There Be Blood” and “Little Miss Sunshine”—wrote the adaptation with his partner, Zoe Kravitz (they recently had a daughter). The couple met while working on “Ruby Sparks.” The script is based on a book written by Richard Ford that Dano read in 2011. It is Dano’s first foray into directing.

The script just did not make a lot of sense at pivotal points. I have to wonder if the book would have explained things in a more comprehensible, realistic, true-to-life way. As Johnny Oleksinski of the “New York Post” put it, “Too much of the screenplay doesn’t ring true.”

In another review, Brian Tallerico said, “He keeps the audience engaged purely through the believability of their characters.” That, for me, was the problem. The things that occur seem random and unlikely and are not believable IRL. Perhaps it’s the book, or perhaps it’s the screenwriters adaptation of the book, but none of the characters’ actions really came off as “believable.” This is not the fault of the acting leads, but of the script.

Starting out as a happy sixties family, the father figure (Jake Gyllenhaal) behaves in truly incomprehensible ways when he loses his job at the local golf course. Mostly, he sits in his car and sulks. I expected him to drink heavily (and he does a bit of that later), but, at first, he is sulking by himself and then—Eureka!—the golf club calls and offers him his old job back. So, naturally, in this small rural town with barely any jobs available at all for anyone, he turns the offer down, saying he “won’t work with people like that.” (WHA-A-A-T?)

It is shortly afterwards that, without any prior discussion with his wife or young son, he announces he is leaving for the fire front and will fight fires for a pittance ($1 an hour). This causes a scene, of course, (which Mulligan and Gyllenhaal do a great job playing), but it seems utterly unlikely to occur in real life. It also takes the very competent Gyllenhaal out of the film for a large portion in the middle of this movie about a disintegrating 60s family, and that is unfortunate.

Before he leaves, Gyllenhaal makes a comment about how the snow will put out the fires, eventually, and that turns out to be a big plot moment (i.e., the snow beginning to fall.). The depiction of the forest fire at the front is also very well done, but, overall, the actions of the father are so different from what a “real life” person would do that it is difficult to relate.

As Oleksinski said “(New York Post): “Dano’s movie is, in many ways, solid and admirable, but awash in ‘duh.’ Too much of the screenplay doesn’t ring true.” The ham-handed line, “It’s a wild life, isn’t it, Son?” was also not a favorite. One I did like was this one, spoken by Mulligan to her husband as he announces he is going to be gone for months fighting fires for $1 an hour: “I’m a grown woman, Jerry. Why don’t you act like a grown man?”

Why, indeed? Maybe because the book gave us more insight into Jerry’s motivations which leave his wife and son without income for an indefinite period of time. (We see Mulligan inquiring about a job as a teacher early on, and learn that there is nothing available in this remote town.)

While Gyllenhaal is away at the fire front, even more incomprehensible actions on Mom’s part occur, with son Joe along as a spectator. From upright young matron she is dining at the home of local businessman Warren Miller (Bill Camp) and flirting with the older man, her son along as an appalled witness.

When Dad comes home, HIS actions also enter the realm of the unbelievable. (*No spoiler here).

“Wildlife” was a good effort and Dano, himself, said, in an interview, that doing “a period piece” on a limited budget was quite the challenge. There is much to admire in his directorial effort, (if not in the screenplay itself.) He referenced asking Owen Moverman (“The Messenger“) for tips as he set out to direct for the first time. Maybe ask someone else to write a more coherent script next time? Because the shots of Montana are truly beautiful and the actors certainly do everything they can with such unrealistic story arcs.

“Friedkin Uncut” in Chicago with William Friedkin on October 15, 2018

Anthony Kaufman and Francesco Zippel onstage at the North American Premiere of “Friedkin Uncut!” in Chicago at the 54th Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

William Friedkin, the Director of such 70s masterpieces as “The French Connection” (1971), “The Exorcist” (1973), “Boys in the Band” (1976), “Sorcerer” (1977) and “Cruising” (1980) was awarded a Career Achievement Award on Monday, October 15th, at the 54th Chicago International Film Festival.

Friedkin, who is now 83, was thought to be the youngest man to win the Oscar for Best Director when he won for “The French Connection” in 1971, at 36 years old. (This record is now held by Damien Chazelle, who won at 32 for “La La Land”). That proved wrong. However, William Friedkin is now the oldest surviving winner of the Best Director category for “The French Connection” in 1971.

I recently heard Friedkin speak before a showing of “The Exorcist” in Austin, Texas, and after a showing of his new, short documentary of an exorcism (“The Devil and Father Amorth”), which Friedkin filmed in Italy himself using only a GoPro camera.

This night, the audience was treated to the North American premiere of Francesco Zippel’s film “Friedkin Uncut,” where we heard from his actors and fellow directors, including Ellen Burstyn, Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Matthew McConaughey, Walter Hill, George Lucas, William Peterson, Philip Kaufmann, Gina Gershon, Willem Dafoe, Juno Temple, Francis Ford Coppola and many more. Dafoe and Peterson cited Friedkin’s “energy, passion, intelligence. One of the smartest people I’ll ever know, and he has balls that clank. “ Friedkin, himself, said that a filmmaker needs, “Ambition, luck and the grace of God. You have to go out and try to make your chances.” He cited Kathry Bigelow and Damien Chazelle as two of the best new filmmakers and said “The Babadook” was one of the scariest of the “new” horror releases.

Watching the uncut, uncensored William Friedkin (“Billy” to his close friends) talk about movies and movie-making onscreen was followed by the genuine article. And William Friedkin is a raconteur. He would have talked for another hour in Austin, had the showing of the 1973 film “The Exorcist” not been scheduled.

In addition to the stories of how he began in the mail room of WGN and grew up on the north side of Chicago, other directors paid tribute. George Lucas, alluding to Friedkin’s roots as a documentary filmmaker, marveled that Friedkin’s early documentary (1962) “The People vs. Paul Crump” caused the governor to commute Crump’s death sentence after seeing it. Coppola found this a powerful message and others, like Director Wes Anderson, shared that, “His films are built on something very solid.” Said one, “What ‘Star Wars’ was to science fiction, ‘The Exorcist’ was to horror.” (It was a bit of a blow to Friedkin that the phenomenal success of “Star Wars,” which was released very shortly before “The Sorcerer,” left his film in the red after the studio had spent $22 million making it.)

William Friedkin disposing of Michael Kutza’s notes.

Friedkin came out and joined retiring founder and Director of the Chicago International Film Festival, Michael Kutza, at the podium. Kutza reminisced that they had begun together 55 years ago. Kutza then began reading from the award that Friedkin was to receive, but, somehow, the award had Carey Mulligan’s name on it (she was to receive her award the next night) and that was all it took for Friedkin to riff and joke and, ultimately, throw all of Kutza’s notes on the floor.(See photo)

Friedkin worked that way when directing, also, and Gina Gershon told a story of his treatment of her while they were on-set and Friedkin was trying to evoke a certain reaction from her. She thought he didn’t like her, she said. He was just trying to provoke a certain reaction.

Friedkin, himself, told an amusing story about casting Max Von Sydow as the priest who performs the exorcism in that 1971 film. Because Von Sydow was an atheist, he kept having trouble saying the line, “The power of Christ commands you!” Said Friedkin, to laughter, “On a list of 100 things that could go wrong, Max Von Sydow blocking on a line was #100!”

Director William Friedkin and Chicago International Film Founder Michael Kutza.

Friedkin’s films illustrate his documentary origins, with their gritty realism and the premier chase sequences of “The French Connection” and “To Live and Die in L.A.” The director also commented on the continual battle between good and evil (in life and on film), mentioning Hitler and Jesus. Said his colleagues, “He’s always looking for people to put themselves out there. He’s in it. He’s passionate and he expects people to give 200% because he’s giving 200%.”

Friedkin  said, “Rehearsal is for sissies. Dummies. I’m a one-take guy. F***** bring it! I’m not looking for perfection; I’m looking for spontaneity.” He went on to say that 80 to 90% of a film’s success “is casting” and added, “My thing is to be real.”

I had gifted Friedkin with my book “It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now” in Austin. I went down after the showing of his documentary of an exorcism and gave him the book. He signed it and handed it back.”

“No…this is for you. Three of your films are in it.”

He thanked me.

This night, I joined a crowd that was much bigger, clustering around the famous man. I tried to find his wife Sherry Lansing and his son Jack, who were in Chicago with him, but they had disappeared in the mob. Many of the people were asking Friedkin if he remembered this person or that person from his Chicago days. (Philip Kaufman, director of “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” with Donald Southerland, was a classmate). I eventually had one second to ask him if he remembered receiving the book about seventies movies (“The New Hollywood”), which consisted of 50 representative films, 76 photos, and interactive trivia, and my reviews from the Quad City Times, painstakingly brought up to the pixel standards of today over a period of 8 years.

His response? “No. I don’t remember.”

Well, the man IS 83 years old, after all, but he seems as sharp as the proverbial tack. He also nearly died of a congenital heart defect way back in 1977. But he seems quite happy with his Auteur Emeritus status and shared that “acting and filmmaking are both jobs.”

Friedkin shared that his favorite films were “the great MGM musicals” and also said “They’re dead.” We learned that he has staged several operas, at the explicit urging of Zubin Mehta, and it was (now-retired) “Vanity Fair” editor Graydon Carter who urged him to film a real exorcism when he returned to Italy and to write about it for “Vanity Fair,” leading to his short documentary (which, quite frankly, is not  riveting.)

Friedkin thanked his wife Sherry Lansing, head of Paramount Pictures for many years, whom he married 26 years ago. Prior to that, Friedkin had been married three times, but none of his first 3 marriages lasted over 3 years (Jeanne Moreau, ’77-79; Lesley-Anne Down, ’82-’85; Kelly Lange, ’87-90.)

Director of the documentary “Friedkin Uncut”, Francesco Zippel said, “This film has been very important to me.  I had the chance to look back at all the films with him.  I tried to give him the chance to talk about himself and his career in a way that was closer to him. I thank William Friedkin so much for allowing me to do this.”

Of Chicago, in particular, Friedkin said, “This is the most beautiful city in the world. Chicago is not a city that brags about itself.  I got my sense of curiosity from Chicago. It is easily the best city in this country—but I do like Venice (Italy).”

Chapter 6: “Mad Dog” Mattis, the Warrior Monk Secretary of Defense


One week after the election, Trump offered 4-star Army General Jack Keane the position of Secretary of Defense. Keane turned him down (sick wife) but recommended Jim Mattis, also known as “Mad Dog” and “Chaos” and “the warrior monk.

Trump was warned by Keane before offering the job to Mattis that “Mistakes on the domestic side have a correcting mechanism. You can have a do-over. There are no do-overs in national security. When we make mistakes it has huge consequences. By our actions or lack of actions we can actually destabilize parts of the world and cause enormous problems.” Keane felt Obama had been too timid in international  policy decisions with Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense.

Keane spoke with Mattis to make sure he’d take the Secretary of Defense job, if it were offered, and the retired 4-star Marine general had another thing going for him. Obama had fired him in the Middle East in 2013 because Obama thought he was too hawkish and too eager to confront Iran militarily. Obviously, given Trump’s obsession with undoing everything and anything Obama had begun, Mattis would be a good choice to please Trump.

But on another level Mattis might not “fit” because although he was very experienced in the Middle East and an experienced combat veteran, according to Keane: “What’s not obvious is how thoughtful he is and how deliberate he is. He thinks things through. He spends time thinking through the problem.” Essentially, Mattis had devoted his life to the military and had a library of over 7,000 books. His reading habit had given him the nickname “The Warrior Monk.” (*Does this sound like a good fit for Trump?)

Mattis was 66, while Keane was 73. Mattis had written a huge paper on Iran and differed with the previous administration on how best to deal with Iran. He was fearful that Israel would attack Iran and we would be dragged into military conflict in support of Israel.

Mattis to Trump:  “We need to change what we are doing. It can’t be a war of attrition. It must be a war of annihilation.” Bannon began calling Mattis “the moral center of gravity of the administration,” although he thought he was too liberal on social policies and a globalist at heart. Bannon began setting up photo ops like those the British P.M. used, where it would show a dignitary coming in or out of #10 Downing Street. The visit of Mattis to the White House to discuss naming him Secretary of Defense would be a great way for Bannon, who came from the world of Breitbart, to manipulate publicity about the administration.

Mattis had taken the Marines into Afghanistan after 911. Mattis worried about the Obama administration’s failure to deter Iran and wrote a thick position paper on what should be done, but it was shredded when he was let go (retired early). Now, with Trump promoting him to Secretary of Defense, everyone wanted a copy of his old notes on dealing with Iran.

One reason Mattis was so hot to face off with Iran was the terrorist bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983 which killed 220 Marines. This was one of the largest single-day death tolls in the history of the Marine Corps. Another 21 died, making it the largest terrorist attack against the U.S. prior to 9/11.

The Donilon Memo was an answer to Mattis and directed that under no circumstances would Mattis take any action against Iran for mining international waters, unless the mine was effectively dropped in the path of a U.S. warship and presented an imminent danger to the ship. Mattis rescinded the Donilon memo the moment he became Secretary of Defense. He continued to talk about how the war plan for Iran was insufficient because it had no joint-force characteristics but depended almost solely on air power. He devised “Strike Option Five,” which was: 1) first against small Iranian boats (2) then against ballistic missiles (3) then against weapons systems and (4) an invasion. Strike Option Five was the plan for destroying the Iranian nuclear program. Mattis had also written a memo to the Chief of Naval Operations that said “the Navy is completely unprepared for conflict in the Persian Gulf.”

When Leon Panetta (Secretary of Defense under Obama) told Mattis that his plan put him at odds with the Obama administration, he said, “I get paid to give my best military advice. They make the policy decisions. I’m not going to change what I think to placate them. If I don’t have their confidence, then I go.”

And go he did, 5 months early, in March of 2013. His draft of strategies focused on confronting and not tolerating Iran’s destabilizing actions through Hezbollah, the Quds Force operations, and their actions in Iraq to undermine the U.S. Did Mattis’ appointment as Secretary of Defense in a hawkish Trump presidency mean a likely military conflict with Iran? (Pray the answer is no!)

Trump was impressed with Rex Tillerson and named him Secretary of State, considered another thumbing of his nose at the Washington political world.

Austin Revolution Film Festival, Sept. 17-22, Continues

The third day of the Austin Revolution Film Festival saw participants journeying to a high school to speak to one of the founder’s  classes and then on to Austin’s Salt Lick for Barbecue. Since I’ve been to Salt Lick, I was not among the tourists, but I spent the past two evenings watching shorts and a few feature length offerings culled from among 10,000 entries, we were told.

My script (THE COLOR OF EVIL), based on the first book in a novel trilogy I wrote, which has won 36 competitions as a screenplay, was a Finalist until September 12, 10 days from the end of this festival, when I received a short “Dear Con” letter telling me it wasn’t in the running any more. I’d have been upset if I had paid $500 x 2 per airplane ticket (the one-way fare from Chicago), or, worse, from Australia (a 17-hour flight). Not to mention the cost of a hotel room. Why tell people they are losers 10 days before the end of the festival? (Weird. Not the way it’s done in Vancouver, Chicago or San Antonio, but nevermind about that.) There was a mixer on September 12th. I went.  It was immediately after the mixer that I received my Kiss-of-Death e-mail, so I’m wondering, “Was it something I said?” (lol)

The Austin Revolution Film Festival

The first night (Tuesday, Sept. 18) began with thanks for the sponsors, including Uncle Billy’s Brewery and George Dog Music. The “prize” from this film festival is a gigantic belt buckle. (Does anyone actually wear it? No idea. Made me think of that ad that is currently running with the young    cowboy who keeps showing up with a bigger and bigger belt buckle.)

This was the 7th annual Austin Revolution Film Festival, not to be confused with the “regular” Austin Film Festival, which runs from October 25-November 2, or SXSW, which takes place in March. Organizers of this film festival are James Christopher, who shared that it is 13th year of film-making and his 15th feature film (“A Chance of Snow”) would close out the evening, and Lisa Belcher of JumpRock Pictures IShort: “Guest of Honor”). Christopher shared that the event grew out of neighboring filmmakers in the area wanting to join in a chance to show the films they had made and described it as a chance to provide networking, to help other filmmakers to build teams and a support system. One young man I met (Henry Young) had journeyed all the way from Australia to show his short, “Animal.”

THE BLACK MARKET CLUB

First short:  a van is shown crashing off a bridge. The van crashes over and over and over. The group in the van are apparently members of a rock band that has just played a gig. There was a guy with a weird mustache, shown in close-up and a song with the lyric “Falling like so many times before.” Interesting depiction of the van crashing although one member of the rock band who was about to die was incongruously seen smiling a bit.

REMEMBER ME

  • The next short focused on people who had suffered traumatic brain injuries and, therefore, were having trouble remembering things, much like Alzheimer’s sufferers. There is a support group for these troubled souls. A handsome young man meets a pretty young girl named Claire there and they both write things on their arms to try to help them remember things. The young man in this Avery Merrifeld-directed short didn’t have any trouble immediately asking the young girl to join him for coffee after the meetings, however, and those scenes, with a blonde waitress wearing a CoffeeShark shirt led to scenes at an ice skating rink (the girl’s passion). The skaters were quite good and the picture of me [and the woman who played the blonde waitress at the coffee shop, above, with me.] The problem with this piece, for me, is that I spent 20 years working with head injury patients. I know that the cast and crew did visit a head injury clinic, but my small Sylvan Learning Center (#3301) in Bettendorf, Iowa, became the “go to” facility for traumatic brain injury patients in the IA/IL Quad Cities and never did I see one write things on his or her arm. Our most extreme case was a young man who cardiac arrested in the parking lot of St. Ambrose University when he was entering to take classes to become an engineer. The cerebral anoxyia (lack of oxygen to the brain) he suffered wiped out his ability to read, write and/or do numbers. We worked with him for years and were able to restore the number knowledge faster than the reading, which never progressed beyond the 7th grade level. All higher level thinking skills were wiped out and his dream of becoming an engineer along with it. When he woke up in the hospital (after some Good Samaritan passersby performed CPR in the parking lot and saved his life) he did not remember his fiance (that engagement soon faltered), but he did remember things from when he was a child. He eventually was moved to a treatment facility in St. Louis, but, as they say, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” and A LOT of knowledge is a much more dangerous thing.

Networking.

APPLE SEED

This one was one of the more ridiculous premises, with a man who has the misfortune to have a bird leave its droppings in his eye causing him to turn into  a tree (think Groot).  Patrick Griney wrote and directed. The kudos really belong to the make-up people who had to make a tree take root in the lead’s ear realistically and, ultimately, take over  a human male’s body. The audience seemed to like it.

REX

This was one of my favorite shorts, dealing, as it did, with an old man’s encroaching dementia.  Andy Kasteler wrote and directed and  the actor did a good job of railing against his boss’s directives. The boss turns out to be his son, and the old man is white-washing trees. But, in reality, at one point he has painted a telephone pole (dementia evidence). I am not knowledgeable enough about why he was whitewashing trees to tell you what that had to do with anything [and I’m from farm country]. (Apparently it is something that is done to a grove to prepare the trees for winter?) All I know is that the main actor, who had a last name of Fyre, did a great job, and I wondered if the line “Everything about him was old except his eyes. They were the same color as the sea” was from “The Old Man and the Sea.” An anguished examination of the horror(s) of growing old, seen from the vantage point of both the elderly man and his young son.

DEATH (*& DISCO FRIES)

Denis Culo, New York City filmmaker and director/star of “Death” (& Disco Fries).

Dennis Cahlo of New York City wrote, directed and stars in this humorous examination of one man’s regrets as he learns he has only a short time to live. It’s played for laughs, as he answers the phone and is told by his old gym teacher that he is dead. Dennis is asked by old coach O’Halloran if he has any regrets and Dennis admits he’d like to eat disco fries, despite the fact that he has been a vegan all his life. The problem with disco fries? Nobody I talked to knew what they were. I’m from the Midwest, so maybe it’s an Eastern thing, but I literally asked people from all areas of the country if they’d ever heard the term “disco fries.” Nobody had. What are they? Apparently it’s a truly disgusting looking french fry dish where some sort of gravy is poured over the fries. (Ugh) It would have been more universal if Dennis had gone with a hot fudge sundae or even a steak, as disco fries were less-than-universal, (in my own admittedly limited experience).  They looked absolutely horrible. That didn’t change the sweet message about asking Veronica (Kate Vincent) to dance with him at the Prom. I liked it very much, but I hated the font used for this short and for the feature film that followed. It was a Gothic font that made it very difficult to even read the title of “A Chance of Snow” when  (also) used there. Dennis also has a podcast and we may chat about movies on it.

CLEMENTINE

Clementine appears and tells us how happy she is with her life and especially with her wonderful husband Jerry. (“My life is a dream”). With music by Matt Kidd and direction by Ross Wooten, Allen G. Hale gets the opportunity to play four different roles, a tour de force (think Peter Sellers in “Dr. Strangelove” or “How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb”…what? You haven’t seen it? Check it out!) Hale is Jerry, her wonderful, if boring, husband. He is Francine, Clementine’s best girlfriend (and a terrible girl he makes with the blonde wig!) He is Lonnie the mailman. He is Alfonse the yoga instructor.  He is Aunt Pearl. By the end of the piece, we learn that Clementine is crazy (“Her brain is disappearing”) and Jerry feels it necessary to provide her with a host of friends and acquaintances as she becomes loopier and loopier. A weird concept, but Alan had fun with it and so did we.

There was a picture of a hand putting a needle on a record and Santa entered a living room where two children were present. [Not sure this was really a complete short in and of itself, as it was immediately followed by the feature film.]

A CHANCE OF SNOW

Film goers taking their seats at the Alamo Drafthouse Mueller.

“A Chance of Snow” poster.

This feature film was put together by one of the festival organizers, James Christopher. The plot featured a blonde young man (Tyler) who has a new girlfriend now that he has left home for college. The new blonde girlfriend’s name is Holly. (She is gorgeous, but she was also in Arizona when the film screened.) Supposedly, Tyler’s family is really BIG on Christmas, and he went with a different girl named Noelle all of high school, but they broke up when he left for college and she failed to follow him there. There was a sister named Faith, with a boyfriend in “a third world country” that is never named (Iraq? Afghanistan?).  It takes about 2 minutes to realize that the boy should have stayed with his original girl friend and/or will somehow end up with her when all is said and done. Some of the dialogue was…odd. [“That really ain’t no fun for no one.” “At least you didn’t lift your leg.” “I don’t know what Yankees like to do.”] The best part of the film was Alejandro Patino’s (also a Producer) depiction of Noelle’s Hispanic father. He doesn’t really like Tyler and speaks Spanish to his daughter telling her so, but Tyler (and Holly), who are present, don’t speak Spanish, so the father has a chance to insult the boyfriend pretty thoroughly while Tyler remains clueless. One wonders why either girl would fall for him. His special Santa suit, worn at the end of the film, is the pits and I asked several people about the tag on is left sleeve that says OPPO (Nobody had any answer for me; maybe the rental place?).  Andy Bertelson’s  very country song by the Texas Renegade  worked in the idea  “All I need is a chance of snow and a chance you will love me.” Setting was Winter’s Hope, Texas. The black delivery guy has about 2 minutes of screen time; his delivery (pun intended) was priceless. Moral of the story: “You don’t know what you’re missing till it’s gone.”

On the second night, (September 19, Wednesday) the slate of shorts led off with Lisa Belcher’s short film:

GUEST OF HONOR

Lisa Belcher of JumpRock Films, one of the organizers of the Austin Revolution Film Festival.

The gallery filling up for the first night (4 hours) of films at the Alamo Drafthouse Mueller in Austin, TX.

Lisa Belcher, who is one of the guiding lights of the Austin Revolution Film Festival also co-wrote, acted and directed this short, which was quite good. Her co-star, Lukas Hassel, also earned a writer credit. Lisa appears, looking very sad, and we know something has happened to her son because she is boxing up his school trophies and mementos. (Lisa’s real-life son, who is taller than his mom, is used in the photos.) As the plot thickens, Belcher conveys the preoccupied sadness of a grieving mother quite well, and we learn that there is some sort of a celebration planned, with caterers coming. (The sets were lavish and  appropriate). At first, I thought the caterers might have been summoned for a post-funeral dinner, but it turns out that the couple is going to have a 21st wedding anniversary celebration, because their son, who recently was killed by a drunk driver, wanted so much to throw a big party for the couple’s twentieth anniversary (the year prior), before his tragic death. The father is shown at one point conferring with a slim young black girl in the street, who ultimately gets in his car with him, and I’m sure I wasn’t the first to think he was soliciting a hooker. But, no. The young girl has received the heart of the heroine’s dead son, and shows up at the party.  This one seemed very professionally done and the sound, in fact, was done in Los Angeles, if I remember the credits correctly. Lisa Belcher and her producing partner Christian Olteanu are an Austin force to be reckoned with.

LEARNING THE ROPES

Alyssia Rivera (“Noelle”) from “A Chance of Snow.”

Eric Goodman and America’s Academy of Pro Wrestling. Two words: “The Wrestler,” Mickey Rourke (should have won the Oscar, but Sean Penn beat him with “Milk”), directed by Darren Aronofsky, 2008). Why are all the people in this world so screwed up? Beats me, but it was a great film in 2008 and this short re-visited that real world with “Meatball,” an overweight wrestler who loves the sport, et. al.

PRENATAL

This one opens with a young girl climbing a mountain and collapsing after mumbling something about “angels come to me when I close my eyes.” As the plot thickens, her sister sells her baby to a con man from the Guiding Light Evangelical Mission, one of the sisters manages to get shot, and there is talk of the father being an alien. Real Rain Productions took off on this, with Bears Fone writing and directing. Ambiguous ending. Part of the time we’re wrapping our minds around an alien pregnancy (remember Hallie Berry’s short-lived series?) and part of the time we’re dealing with GNL Pharmaceutical Company which may profit from an alien baby, and the rest of the time we’re wondering if the sister who gets shot is going to live and, all-in-all,  lots to deal with here for a short.

LEECHERS

Not sure if the name of this was “leechers” but “leechers” are people who touch someone as they are dying and absorb their entire lives.  One word: “Fallen,” 1998, Elias Koteas as Edgar Reese, a convicted killer who touches Denzel at the moment of death and passes bad stuff on. [Not a totally new idea, in other words, but are there any new ones left?] In this particular treatment, we have a sister who wants to stop her brother from going on as a bad guy serial killer. [Do sisters usually shoot their brothers to save total strangers? Wrong question, probably.] He says he’s NOT a serial killer because “they were all still alive in my head.” Rushton Williams, Kelsey Pribelai, Timothy McKinny, J.T. Campos, “Cold Summer” productions, Linus Lau music and Kory Hill sound mixing. The young boy who started out as the younger brother was quite good, but did not look like he’d grow up to look like  the adult star of the piece. However, stranger things have happened…right?

JESSIE’S GIRL

Tracy Ely—who is about to be married—from “A Chance of Snow.”

This short was the perfect example of what, in psychology, is known as “a double approach avoidance” response. The textbook example of that was marriage and a wedding. As the wedding grows closer, the bride (and groom) become both more apprehensive and more excited. In this case, the bride has some pretty severe doubts about her intended. At one point she is holed up in the bathroom having an anxiety attack and her mother-in-law, Linda, is trying to lure her out.  The best line in the short, with great delivery, is: “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM THE DOOR, LINDA!” as the mother of the groom is pestering the bride-to-be to come out and rejoin the guests at her bridal shower. Unfortunately, her intended shows up and insists on singing  the song he wrote for her (“I hate that effing song!”) Best line that was written, rather than spoken: “No goldfish were harmed in the making of this film.” Nice surprise ending that probably wasn’t that big a surprise once you thought about the characters of Jesse and Ashley. Cassidy Freeman, Brady Johnson, Caitlin Norton. (Great hair throughout!)

Tracey Ely of “A Chance of Snow” (Faith).

ONE ACT PLAY

This 73-minute gem from Landry Gideon and company of Triadatx Media  proves that even a topic that sounds like it might be boring can surprise you. In this case, Landry and his crew tracked the progress of various thespians (actors) in drama classes throughout Texas as they move through the various competitions to be named the Number One troupe in the state, based on the one act play they present.

Landry Gideon (best name ever) pictured with his D.P. , I hope, on the right. If that is his D.P. his name is in the article (Andrew Miller) and he went to Cedar Rapids (IA) Washington High School. Apologies to all names I failed to scribble down in the dark fast enough. Landry is a sound expert who works on other people’s films’ sound and his wife, who is expecting, is just about to add to their family in the new house in Pfluegerville.

The schools were Salada High School, Rogers High School, Hempstead High School, Randall High School, Barbers Hill High School and their various drama teachers and students. It’s a bit like “Glee” on television, where the tension rises as the competition nears and the stakes get higher and the students proceed from Zone to Area to Regionals to winnowing down to eight and making it to State. Andrew Miller, Director of Photography, shot literally loads of film, as he told me;  the editing was great, as was the sound. Will Patterson was brought in to provide the heart-pounding music that propelled the tension, and the choice of Rogers High School to present “Kholstomer: The Story of a Horse” (a German play, translated) means that a field trip to a horse farm is included and the students have to pretend to be horses onstage. (Always interesting). Solado High School chose a war story (“Boys of Winter”), and the director commented that she likes war stories because the students’ grandfathers had often been in VietNam, (which means my generation.) “Black Angel” segments looked very interesting (Hampstead High School) and only “MidSummer Night’s Dream” seemed as though it was a weak choice (Remember on “American Idol” when the judges would talk about how important the right song would be? Well, it applies here.)

The expressions used by the directors reminded me of the University of Iowa’s head coach for many years, Texas native Hayden Fry, who used the term “high porch picnic” (no idea what that means; I’m from Iowa, but I think I was told it had to do with snakes and flooding the last time I asked) and, in this case, one of the coaches says, “I want to beat you up and then beat your sister.” (Surely a Texas idiom?)

I was active in drama in high school in the state of Iowa, and, in fact, one of the founders of my high school’s Thespians troupe, and I can tell you that it is nothing like this. As one individual says, “If it wasn’t for the one-act play, there are thousands of kids in Texas who would not be exposed to theater.”

As for me, I was amazed that that many able-bodied macho boys took part. (It is not that way in all high schools, for sure.) Another great line: “There’s douchebags sitting in the front row.” And “Judges are weird.”

The young girl who declares this to be “the largest interscholastic competition in the world” (and then wonders whether it is just in Texas or the U.S.) was precious. This one should apply for the Chicago International Film Festival, where it would stand a very good chance of admission. A great flick!

 

 

 

 

“FEAR:” Chapter One

Image result for google image of steve bannon

                     Steve Bannon, The Man Behind the Throne

In Chapter One, Bob Woodward concentrates on Steve Bannon. He traces Bannon’s meeting with Trump back to August of 2010, when David Bossie, longtme House Republican investigator and conservative activist wanted to put Bannon, then 57, together with the Trumpster.

The chapter conveys Bannon’s linguistic style as very casual (“Dude” is one of the terms he uses repeatedly when speaking to Bossie). Bossie asks Bannon to come with him to New York to meet Donald Trump.:

“What about?” says Bannon.

“He’s thinking of running for president,” Bossie answers.

“Of what country?” Bannon responds.

It is casual insouciance like that exchange that gives us our first glimpse of the evil genie behind the throne, the Breitbach editor turned kingmaker. Bannon responds, “I don’t have time to jerk off, dude.” [Again, the casual insouciance].

Image result for google image of David Bossie

David Bossie (“Politico” image).

Finally, the meeting does take place, and Bannon and Bossie inform Trump that his plan to potentially run against Obama in 2012 has some problems. For one thing, his record shows him to have bankrolled those who might be considered liberal, and to have underwritten causes for candidates who are pro abortion, while, they tell him, he must be “pro life.” They suggest that he become a “Populist” president, but Trump never seems to be able to repeat the word “Populist” correctly, repeatedly calling it “Popularist.”

At that point in time, Bannon found Trump to be “engaged and quick. He was in great physical shape.  His presence was bigger than the man, and took over the room, a command presence. He had something.” Bannon felt that Trump was: “Archie Bunker, but a really focused Archie Bunker.” (Just what we all hoped for: Archie Bunker for President!) It is interesting to note how Omarosa talks about Trump’s physical and mental deterioration in her book “Unhinged”, based on having known and worked with the man for 15 years. It would be hard to imagine anyone today saying that Donald J. Trump was either “engaged” or “quick” and he is definitely not “in great physical shape.”

They reveal, to Trump’s amazement, that there are voting records that show he has only voted once in a primary in his entire life. (For Rudy Giuiliani, in 1989). Trump seems woefully ignorant of the most basic political facts and realities, but he keeps repeating that “that can be fixed.” The two old pols tell him to run in 3 states as though he were running for Governor. The three states are Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the first 3 caucus or primary states. They instruct him to start contributing $2,400 (the maximum allowed by law) to Republican candidates in a handful of battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida. They suggest he produce a policy book. (“You ought to do a book about what you think about America and these policies.”).

Later, leaving the meeting, the two men discuss the potential candidate. Bossie asks: “What about the policy book?”

Bannon responds:  “He’ll never do a policy book.  Give me a f****** break.  First off, nobody will buy it.  It was a waste of time except for the fact that it was insanely entertaining.”

And that (plus perhaps the Correspondents’ dinner roasting of Trump by Seth Meyer and Obama?) gave birth to the perfect storm of 2016 and Donald J. Trump’s candidacy.

Spike Lee Is Back With A Vengeance In BlacKkKlansman

Spike Lee’s new film “BlacKkKlansman,” winner of the Cannes Grand Prix award in May, is based on the early 1970s true story of Ron Stallworth, who was the first African-American hired by the Colorado Springs Police Force. Ron is played by Denzel Washington’s son, John David Washington, a new face to contend with for future roles, but previously better known as the subject of father Denzel’s television comments on his son’s football playing prowess. (John David—his full name, as he has no middle name—was drafted by the St. Louis Rams after graduating from Morehouse College in 2006 and played for the Hamburg Sea Devils as a running back in ’06 and ’07.)

Lee said of John David’s casting (“Time” August 20th cover story by Rembert Browne), “I told him, ‘I knew you before you were born.’ I didn’t have him audition or read. Even before I sent him the script, I knew brother man could do it.” And so, a star is born. IMDB even awarded John David Washington the STARmeter award in Cannes on May 9th, 2018. Expect to see a lot more of him in the future, (even if we’ve seen almost nothing of him in the past).

The improbable story that Spike Lee’s terrific cast brings to life is the story of black police officer Ron Stallworth’s infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan. It is based on Stallworth’s book “Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime,” which shows up now on Amazon with the movie’s poster as a cover, but was out as a hard cover book in June with the close-up of a single eye, peeking out through a KKK hood eye hole.

This film is a direct commentary on the subject of bigotry and racial prejudice in America, and Lee doesn’t mess around. He never has in dealing with racism, violence and inequality in America. Real news clips are used depicting Donald J. Trump speaking, as well as footage of the Charlottesville murder one year ago of 32-year-old white protester Heather Heyer, run down by a car driven by a racist demonstrater. Real film of the event ends Lee’s film, used with permission of Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro. Lee told (“Time”) “I consider her a martyr.”

That event in Charlottesville one year ago also prompted Spike Lee to say, “That is nothing more than home-grown, apple pie, red-white-and-blue terrorism,” in a telephone interview with the New York Times.

The film is certain to make the list of Best Films of the Year and deservedly so. It is Spike Lee’s best non-documentary film in years, and perhaps the strongest commentary on this incendiary topic since “Do the Right Thing” won him an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay in 1989. Spike Lee has been telling America to “wake up” for 30 years and this latest film underscores the need with current film inserts and newsreel and other footage.

FILM REFERENCES:

The film opens with the famous scene from “Gone With the Wind” depicting Scarlett O’Hara is wandering amidst the dead, dying and wounded lying on the ground in Atlanta. It uses footage of 1915’s “Birth of A Nation” to show Klansmen celebrating the abhorrent behavior laid out for us in grim detail by none other than Harry Belafonte in a cross-cut scene with the Klan shouting “White Power!” while the African American group meeting across town shouts “Black Power!” The 70s were, indeed, a time when unrest, bred in the sixties, made it appear that race warfare was going to be our next Civil War. If it wasn’t Stokely Carmichael (using the name Kwame Ture in a speech that he gives onscreen) it was SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) or the SLA (Symbionese Liberation Army) that worried white Americans.

As Alec Baldwin’s character of Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard says in the first few moments of the film, playing a White Supremacist narrator of a propaganda film, “We had a great way of life, until Martin Luther King.” He goes on to refer to the “monkeys, rapists, murderous super-predators and blood-sucking Jews” who have, in his opinion, ruined the country, calling it an international Jewish conspiracy. The “N” word is thrown around quite liberally in the film, as well as many other demeaning names for African American citizens. It is not till film’s end that Ron Stallworth’s character (John David Washington) has the chance to respond in kind to the Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke (Topher Grace) during a phone conversation. One small criticism I might make is that the scenes showing the great amusement of Stallworth’s fellow officers during these conversations are over-done at times.

It is a telephone conversation that sets the entire investigation in motion, as Ron Stallworth notices ads in the newspaper for Klansmen and responds by phone, posing as a loyal White Supremacist. Ultimately, he becomes a card-carrying member of the KKK—a completely unlikely scenario—but the investigation could not have gone forward without the in-person substitution of fellow officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver of “Star Wars”) for Stallworth’s phone persona.

THE CAST

The cast was terrific throughout. The casting by Kim Coleman was right on the money, with many recognizable faces in the crowd. If John David Washington was an unknown before this film, it is a certainty that he will not be after this film. If you listen closely, you can hear some of Denzel’s cadence in his vocal delivery of lines, but he is clearly a talent in his own right, hitting the right notes throughout.

Contributing to the excellent ensemble, besides Washington and Driver, are Robert John Burke as Chief Bridges. I recognized him immediately from “Rescue Me” where he was Dennis Leary’s “sponsor” at AA meetings. (Bridges was also in “RoboCop”). Laura Harrier, who plays the love interest Patrice, is a more recent arrival, from “Spiderman: HomecEggoloming” in 2017. Ryan Eggold as Walter Breachway, is a face you’ll know from “The Black List,” where he was the evil husband of the female lead. (Eggold has a new medical drama starting on TV this fall and had a short-lived show that focused on his character from “The Black List.”) Eggold is the Klansman who eagerly accepts Driver as the real deal and wants to make him head of the group! Michael Joseph Buscemi plays Jimmy Creek, one of the police investigators, and, while he is not Steve Buscemi’s son, he is related (nephew?). Brian Tarantino plays Officer Clay Mulaney and Nicholas Turturro, not much in evidence since 1993’s “NYPD Blue,” is a familiar face. The dim-witted Ivanhoe is Paul Walter Hauser, most recently playing a thug in “I, Tonya” (2017). Two faces I did not recognize were Jasper Paskkonen as Felix Kendrickson, the craziest of the Klansmen, and his wife, Connie (Ashlie Atkinson), who worked with Lee in 2006’s “Inside Man.” Arthur J. Nascarella as Officer Wheaton is from “The Sopranos.” All were excellent.

THE MUSIC
Lee has worked with the same music person many times and Terence Blanchard put together a terrific score, complete with seventies hits like “It’s Too Late to Turn Back Now” and “Oh Happy Day.” The soundtrack will be terrific. We are also treated to some dancing scenes to lighten the mood, which has comic moments amongst this dead serious topic.

THE CINEMATOGRAPHY

Chayse Irvin is responsible for many of the trademark Spike Lee camera shots, most notably the double dolly shot, where the actors seem to be floating towards the camera (both actors and cameras are placed on dollies on tracks). The grainy high contrast footage, saturated colors, evocative end credits and the “wake up” call to his audience are also typical Spike Lee touches. In this film, the close-up shots of faces in the crowd at Stokely Carmichael’s (Corey Hawkins of “Straight Outta’ Compton) speech are an added plus. In order to be able to both shoot the crowd scene (which Officer Stallworth is monitoring from inside) and to focus on the faces of individuals in the crowd (Washington and Patrice, for example), a separate camera had to be set up in a side room and the actors had to be pulled aside to shoot them in close-up to integrate the close-ups into the crowd scene.

THE POLITICS OF Blackkklansman

In a line from the film, heard during Stokely Carmichael’s speech, he tells the black crowd: “We must unite and organize to fight our oppressor. We are being shot down in the streets by white racist cops.” He goes on to add, “If I am not for myself, who will be? If not now, when? and if not you, who?” Powerful stuff on the heels of so many recent shootings. As a student at Berkeley who remembers the protests of the Vietnam War led by Mario Savio (they were locking him up then; now there’s a statue of him on campus!) and lived through the violence of the sixties, the parallels are much more than theoretical. “Wake up!” is, indeed, a call to all right-thinking U.S. citizens when the KKK is quoted as feeling that, “We’re cleaning this country of a backwards race of chimpanzees. First the N—– and then the K—- (Jews).” Is Spike Lee going too far, when, just today, Omarosa’s book is touting the racist epithet’s popularity as used by the man who once was the star of “The Apprentice” and is now President of the United States?

Another telling line that clearly shows the parallels between these two diametrically opposed groups and times is: “We’re a family and, right or wrong, we stick together.” While that line is spoken by a police officer, the comment immediately follows, “That reminds me of another group.”

I went to hear Spike Lee speak years ago in person in Rock Island, Illinois. The author of the “Time” cover story acknowledged that Lee has a reputation for being controversial, “brash, contrarian and intellectually intimidating,”— a guy who is prickly and wonders “when black people, liberals and Americans in general will stop falling for ‘the okey-doke.'” Some have characterized Lee as “indignant.” He was all of those things that night, causing me to ditch my carefully thought-out-in advance question and remain silent. He is said not to suffer fools gladly and to be impatient. He reminds us all of things we would rather forget, like how Muhammad Ali’s status changed from the sixties, when he was characterized as a draft-dodger and thrown in jail, to Ali’s final years, when he was hailed as an American and global icon.

By “the okey-doke” Lee means the skullduggery, shenanigans, the subterfuge and bamboozling that white America uses to stay in control. It is what one of the O.J. documentaries portrayed as being how O.J. became more involved with the white community than with the black community, after he achieved football and movie stardom. As writer Rembert Browne put it in the “Time” cover story: “Lee makes movies to reopen wounds that white America would like to pretend have healed. He’s a provocateur who clearly knows what his role is: to say difficult things about both the history and the present state of race in America.”

MISCELLANEOUS:Jordan Peele Picture Jordan Peele

Spike Lee inherited this project after “Get Out” director Jordan Peele (who remains as a Producer) found himself too busy to follow up on making it. Lee was exactly the right person for the film. Jason Blum of Blumhouse Pictures (who I recently spoke with at the conclusion of a panel on horror movies at SXSW entitled “The Bleeding Edge”) is also one of the producers.

OSCAR TIME FOR LEE?

Spike Lee has made 35 films since 1983 and is 61 years old. He has also taught film in New York (Tisch Center) and been its artistic director for 16 years. He has had celebrated feuds with others, including one with Clint Eastwood when he criticized Eastwood’s two war films (“Letter from Iwo Jima” and “Flags of Our Fathers.”) Eastwood said that Spike should “shut his face.”

While that feud has been resolved, Spike Lee is still stereotyped as “an angry black man.” Given the fact that the grim story Harry Belafonte relates in the film is true and the lynching of Chicagoan Emmett Till in 1955 for supposedly whistling at a white woman happened 63 years ago (and the men who committed the act were acquitted), can we really blame Director Spike Lee for speaking out at this time in history. Or should we all just wake up

Don’t miss this movie. It’s bound to garner awards at award season…maybe even the biggest of them all.

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

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

Windy City Film Festival

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

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

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

THE SHORTS

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

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

SHORT #1:  RUNNER (Grade: “A”)

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

SHORT #2:  TEN MORE (Grade: “A”)

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

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

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

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

SHORT #3:  SPACEMAN (Grade “B+)

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

SHORT #4:  STEP ONE (Grade: “B”)

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

SHORT #5:  CHEESE SHOP (Grade: “B”)

The director of “Cheese Shop”

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

SHORT #6:  BLAKOREA (Grade “B-“)

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

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

Mickey’s Pets star is fourth from the right.

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

SHORT #8:  COME TO LIFE (Grade:  “C”)

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

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

Director William Friedkin Screens “The Devil & Father Amorth” in Austin, Texas

William Friedkin came to town (Austin, TX) to show his 70 minute documentary, “The Devil and Father Amorth.” (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Acclaimed Director William Friedkin came to the South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, May 12th, at 7 p.m. with his 70 minute documentary “The Devil & Father Amorth.” It screened to a packed house that came as much for the Q&A that followed as for the dry examination of the Vatican’s exorcist, whom Friedkin described as “the most spiritual man I ever met.”

The film, shot in 2016, was the first time an actual exorcism was allowed to be filmed, but the permission came with restrictions: only Friedkin could be present. No cameramen. No lights. And little action, as it turned out, except for the exorcism of a 31-year-old Italian architect named Gabriela Amorth, who had been unsuccessfully treated 8 times previously.  The actual exorcism, on May 1, 2016, was filmed by Friedkin using a small handheld camera and what he termed a GoPro, which, he said, is often used with drones. He certainly has experience in actually shooting scenes himself, as he proved during the shooting of “The French Connection” when he wrapped himself in a mattress in the back seat of a car driven at 90 mph and shot on the fly through the streets of New York City, (with no formal permissions to do so).

 Amorth was 91 at the time of the filming and Friedkin said he did not set out to film an exorcism. “I had no intention of making this film. I was in Lucca, the birthplace and home of Puccini, getting the Puccini prize for filming his operas. I was just there for 8 days in Lucca and I learned that the Leaning Tower of Pisa was only 30 miles away. From there, you could get a direct flight to the Rome airport, a one-hour flight.” Friedkin said he sent an e-mail asking if it would be possible to meet with Father Amorth, the world’s most famous exorcist, and he received the tentative yes, with conditions. Graydon Carter of “Vanity Fair” magazine (the recently retired publisher) urged Friedkin to go to Rome and interview Amorth and write an article for the magazine.

Friedkin at the South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse on Saturday, May 12th, with “The Devil and Father Amorth.” (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Friedkin did, in fact, write a 6,500 word article for “Vanity Fair” and shot the film we saw this night, which was far from the fiction of “The Exorcist.” He stressed that the Vatican has a very “hush hush” policy about exorcisms, so there really is no way to find out the truth of whether they work or not. But, after observing the 9th such attempt to rid the pretty architect of her demon, this film, dedicated to William Peter Blatty, who died in 2017, was the result. Asked if he thought Blatty would like the film, Friedkin said, “I think he would love it, which is why I dedicated it to him,” but he also noted that Blatty thought Amorth was a charlatan.

With 62 million people in Italy, 500,000 of whom ask for an exorcism to be performed annually, Blatty is not as quick to throw out the idea of an exorcism being ineffectual. Far from being an agnostic, as Wikipedia says he once was, Friedkin professed to believe in Jesus and said, “Who is anybody to say there’s no God?  We don’t know.  There are so many myths in the Bible, but there are billions of people who believed Jesus Christ was the son of God, because emotion trumps logic every time.” Friedkin went on to cite non-believers like Christopher Hitchins, who spoke out against the canonization of Mother Theresa, but, asked if he would banish religion and replace it with rational thinking if he could, he repeated,“Emotion trumps reason every time.  It’s why you have religion.  You cannot banish religion.”

During the Q&A, in addition to sharing that Father Amorth was an avid critic of the Vatican, but never experienced blowback from the Holy See because he was so popular, he was asked about the state of filmmaking today.

Said Friedkin, “They’re not for me,” of today’s movies, calling them spandex movies.  “There’s never any real danger or real suspense. It’s opium for the eyes.  There’s very little being done that I like.” He did, however, cite “A Quiet Place” as one of the few movies he’s seen that he liked very much.

William Friedkin at the Alamo Drafthouse, Austin, Texas,on May 12, 2018. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

When asked if anything weird or supernatural occurred during the filming of the 1972 classic “The Exorcist” Friedkin recalled how he received a phone call at about 4 a.m. from his D.P. (production manager) saying, “Don’t come to work tomorrow. The set burned to the ground about 2 hours ago.” Friedkin said that insurance did pay for the catastrophe and that some theorized that a pigeon (there were birds flying about in the area and on the set) may have flown into a light box, but, he noted, “there was a watchman sitting outside” and he thought the entire set burning down was unusual.  “I did not make the film as a doubting Thomas,” he said.  “I made the film as a believer.”

The chatty Friedkin (whom the interviewer/moderator referred to as “Billy,” which struck me as odd, since the man is 82) probably would have stayed and talked to us for hours, or so it seemed, but the staff needed to clear the hall for the influx of theater-goers coming to see the original “The Exorcist” on the big screen.

Meeting William Friedkin in person (and giving him a copy of “It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now was a real thrill for me. The man has made 15 films in 53 years and given us such classics as “The French Connection” (he was the youngest director to win Best Director at age 32 and the film also won as Best Picture), “The Exorcist,” “Sorcerer” and many, many more. I hope he continues to thrive in life.

The film ended with film of the funeral of the subject of the film, 92-year-old Father Amorth, who caught pneumonia and died very shortly after this documentary was made. The testimony of various psychiatrists and psychologists and the news that the very condition of being possessed is now termed ‘disassociative personality disorder- demonic possession’ was mentioned several times. Said Friedkin, “After I filmed it, it occurred to me that I should take it to 2 or 3 of the best brain surgeons in the world and let them debunk it.  The psychiatrists now recognize demonic possession, although they’ve removed a few disorders from the books, like homosexuality and narcissism.” He noted, with a nod to the current political climate, “I guess they feel that everybody from the top on down in this country has that.”

One thing that came out of the evening was that Blatty’s book was sheer fiction, because Blatty couldn’t find any way to break the church’s policy on letting anyone witness an exorcism and the only two reported ones in this country occurred in the 1922 in Early, Iowa, and in 1949 in College City, Maryland, which is the one that “The Exorcist” was based on. Said Friedkin, “The church does not really want people to know that there are people out there who have gone through it (an exorcism) and it has not been successful.” He described his own emotional experience while witnessing Gabriela’s exorcism as “terrifying” saying, “The fits come and go, like epileptic fits.” He also shared the fact that John Paul II was an exorcist in Poland before he became Pope and passed on 2 cases to Father Anorth when he ascended to the top position in the church hierarchy. And, said Friedkin, his life was threatened for the only time in his 82 years when Gabriela’s boyfriend demanded all the film he had shot of the exorcism back and Friedkin refused, causing her boyfriend, a member of the sinister Pyramid Cult, to threaten to kill him and all of his family. (Friedkin did not return the film.)

As a parting thought, Friedkin said, ‘There is a far deeper dimension to the Universe.  If there are demons there must be angels.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee Experiencing Elder Abuse ?

(Guest Post from Zayin Allen)

Stan Lee by Gage Skidmore 3.jpg

Stan Lee of Marvel Comics in 2014
(Image from Wikipedia)

The sentiments across the internet have been nice and concern has been expressed, but everyone can chill. Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee doesn’t need a hero after reports surfaced last month that he had been a victim of elder abuse.

“Hi, this is Stan Lee, and I’m calling on behalf of myself and my friend Keya Morgan. Now you people have been publishing the most hateful, harmful material about me and about my friend Keya and some others,” the 95-year-old icon said in a video released by TMZ.

Lee continued, “Material which is totally incorrect, totally based on slander, totally the type of thing that I’m going to sue your ass off [for] when I get a chance.”

The Hollywood Reporter published a story saying that no one around Lee was really caring for him after his wife’s untimely death last year. The story was authenticated by ex-attorney Tom Lallas, exposing abusive behavior linked to Lee’s daughter, J.C. Lee, in detail, and accusing others within Lee’s circle of  “bad intentions.”

Following the article’s publication, celebrities have reached out in hopes of helping Lee out of what they believed to be an abusive situation. (*The comment I read said that the director of “Clerks,” Kevin Smith had told Stan Lee he could come live with him. – C.W.)

Having just seen “Black Panther,” old Stan (Dec. 28, 1922) looked okay in the scene that depicted him gambling in a casino, but that is hardly definitive proof that all is well on the home front for the 96-year-old comic book icon.

It is good to know that fans all over the world have Lee’s best interest at heart, but it’s a shame if information is being misrepresented or misconstrued.

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