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!
View from Room 808 in the Sonesta Hotel in downtown Austin.
Today’s Austin American-Statesman column by Ken Herman contained the headline: “Abbott to Texans: You’re On Your Own.”
In addition to thoroughly disapproving of Governor Abbott’s recent dictum to the state that all mitigation effort are off and everything is 100% “open” in the state of Texas now, Herman ended his column with these words:
“Abbott’s bottom line is we’re all on our own to do what we think is best. Businesses are free to open to whatever capacity they want. And customers are free to choose which businesses to patronize.
Sounds very Texan. The problem is the worst decisions of the worst among us could become a determining variable about when real normalcy returns for the rest of us. As we have seen since Day One of this life-threatening mess, we’re all still in this together.
Snide sidenote: Hey! It could have been worse. Abbott could have put ERCOT in charge!”
(*ERCOT, for the non-Texans out there, stands for The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which turned out to be ironically named when the entire system failed.)
Twenty-three million Americans are now completely vaccinated against Covid-19 and 70 million have had the first (of two) shots. I am among the seventy million who just received the first shot of the Pfizer vaccine, today, at 12:30 p.m., at an HEB grocery store in Austin, Texas.
Stephen K. Austin Sonesta Hotel, 701 S. Congress Ave., Austin, Tx.
Sonesta Hotel, formerly the Intercontinental Hotel in Austin, Texas.
We have been placing ourselves on various lists (State list, HEB, CVS, Walgreen’s) for months now. I even got a local doctor, thinking that might help (it didn’t).
I finally took to tweeting to various entities and wrote an e-mail to HEB, since the state website seemed completely unworkable. That site would ask you to select a pasword, which we did. When we’d try to check back in to see if there was any vaccine available (usually not), it would not accept our passwords, even though we knew what they were. We would then be forced to say “Forgot password.” The site would say it was going to send us an e-mail (to our e-mail boxes), an e-mail which never arrived.
I pinned my hopes on HEB, which has performed brilliantly during the pandemic for well over a year. Their Favor delivery service has been phenomenal, and far better than similar services in the Midwest. Today, I spent 20 minutes sitting in a chair waiting for my name to be called outside the pharmacy inside the HEB store at 2701 E. 7th St. in Austin, Texas. Later, I wrote to HEB, “You may have literally saved my life.”
We are slated to travel to Mexico near Easter and the thought of travel at this time is scary and travel without a vaccination is terrifying. We already had Covid-19 in October, but getting the vaccination, as many of you know, has been an arduous process.
So, I kept pestering anyone I could think of to pester, with tweets, phone calls and e-mail. After writing about this to HEB, I called one of their stores and asked to be connected to the pharmacy. I held for a “live” person for a long time, but after we spoke she said there was one spot, at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 28th (today). As she was making that appointment for me, another opened up and she said she only had 8 minutes to fill it, for my husband, who was booked on Saturday, Feb. 27th. This means that our second shots will take place on or near his birthday (March 21st).
It also means that I got the Big Bright Idea of driving downtown and getting a hotel room nearby for one night. We dined at the Roaring Fork and made it to our appointments and I have included pictures of the Stephen K. Austin Sonesta Hotel, which used to be the Intercontinental Hotel at 701 Congress Avenue (until a month ago.) I had always wanted to see the rooms in this hotel, since it is Grand Central Station during the normal SXSW Film Festival.
“Lone Star Deception” (available on Amazon) with Eric Roberts and Anthony Ray Parker.
After 3 months of fruitless search on various computers I managed to get both of us appointments for vaccinations with the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine the old-fashioned way: I called.
Believe me, we’ve been trying very hard to use the State of Texas website to sign up, and, as that turned out to be a pipe dream, we put ourselves on lists with Walgreen’s, CVS, HEB, and anywhere else we could think of, including some that would have meant driving several hours to Houston or Dallas. Nothing worked.
The way the State of Texas site works is you sign up and create a password, which we both did.
Then, you are to sign in to check on the availability of vaccine, which we tried to do, but the machine would never take our passwords (despite knowing whatthey were), so we’d say “Forgot Password” (even though we had not.) The computer would promise to send an e-mail to our mailbox, an e-mail which never arrived. And so it went.
I had a lot of faith in HEB, given the national publicity that came about when they were so on the ball about the impending pandemic that they actually sent observers to China and worked out a system for their stores to work smoothly during this bad time. And they did. The grocery delivery was wonderful, unlike the Midwest, and even after the catastrophic power failures and water outages, most stores were up and running by yesterday with a full complement of food. (We went to one in Kyle).
Today, the HEB website showed 64 doses of the vaccine were available near us, but, when I tried to sign on and get an appointment, it would say, “No appointment times available.”
“Lone Star Deception,” Eric Roberts, Anthony Parker.
I finally made a phone call to HEB, even though it meant holding for a very long time to get to a “live” person.
Within 10 minutes my husband had been assigned a time on Saturday at noon, and during the booking of his spot, I got one at 12:30 on Sunday, this coming weekend (2/27 and 2/28). Then, since the store is in downtown Austin, I got fancy and booked us a hotel room and dinner at the hotel on the corner in downtown Austin where I have spent many SXSW runs drifting through, waiting, or interviewing film folk. The rate was reasonable ($150) and the Roaring Fork within the hotel is my very favorite downtown Austin restaurant—so far. [The hotel changed hands about one month ago, and is now a Sonesta Hotel, which is probably why I think of it under a completely different name. I would have sworn it was called the Intercontinental, but I may be thinking of Chicago.]
Now, news of what may well be my last podcast, this coming Thursday, Feb. 25, from 7 to 8 p.m.
In keeping with the spirit, I’ve booked the Writer/Director of “100 Days to Live.” Ravin Gandhi is a first-time feature film director who is really the CEO of GMM Nonstick Coating in Chicago.
It was on his bucket list to make a film, and that film is currently streaming on your TV set. I interviewed its female lead on February 4th.
Eric Roberts & Anthony Ray Parker.
I noted, in going back through the 45 or so interviews I’ve done on my podcast, that 8 of them have been with Directors or Producers or Stars. Of that number, five were first-time directors of a feature film. Those, going back to the beginning, were Ed Dezevallos of “Lone Star Deception,” Jonathan Baker of “Inconceivable,” Gretl Claggett of “Stormchaser,” Chelsea Christer of “Bleeding Audio,” Ryan Bliss of “Alice Fades Away” and, now, Ravin Gandhi of “100 Days to Live.” Also among my podcasts I spoke with Heidi Johannesmeier (of “100 Days to Live”) and Sergio Rizzuto of “Hard Kill” (2nd lead opposite Bruce Willis) and THE Eric Roberts, who had a leading role in “Lone Star Deception.”
I’ve written up 20 questions for Ravin and if, for some reason, he does not join me on what may well be my last show, I’ll tell you what I learned from the Writers/Directors/Producers and Stars of the other films I’ve both reviewed (on Weekly Wilson and The Movie Blog) and on the air.
Join us “live” at 7 p.m. (CDT) on Thursday, February 25th. If you have a question, the call-in number is 866-451-1451.
“76 Days” is a 93-minute documentary about the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan, China, a film directed and written by Hao Wu, Weixi Chen (the cinematographer) and an individual who chose to remain anonymous. One wonders how the team managed to record this battle within a Chinese hospital and whether the anonymity is because the Chinese government might disapprove of the telling of this story.
The film is shot within the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital, beginning on January 23, 2020, in that city of eleven million people. The 76 days will end on April 8th and air raid sirens will mourn the dead in the city on April 4th.
The documentary opens with a dramatic scene of sick people trying to crowd into the hospital from the cold, despite the institution’s 45 stated maximum occupancy for patients. This siege will not end until April 8th, the lockdown that the city endured.
The patients seem to be primarily elderly, although one young girl, a hospital employee, is seen wailing throughout the opening scenes. She keeps saying “I want to say good-bye. I’ll never see my papa again.” We track the mourning family member outside, where she once again pleads for one last glimpse of her deceased loved one, who is being taken away in a hearse.
We see Dr. Wang exhorting his colleagues to “unite as a collective whole and win the battle to protect Wuhan.” One volunteer explains that he had “a hero’s dream to go support Wuhan.”
Trang Dingyuan came from Shanghai to help. The first supporters (volunteers) arrived from Sichuan, but others drove all the way from Shanghai to help staff the hospital in Wuhan. It is an 8 hour and 47 minute drive from Shanghai to Wuhan. The universality of what New York later experienced is experienced, but with more PPE amongst the employees.
Mostly, the film is a testimony to the chaos that the epidemic has caused, with no hospital beds and resuscitation failing on several patients as the cameras record the desperate struggle.
Some humorous relief is provided by an elderly man, referred to as “Grandpa.” Grandpa, who has dementia, will not stay in his room and continues to wander the hospital corridors, usually while muttering things like “I’m already one foot in the grave.” He cannot read and there is a heated phone discussion with his son about how long he has been an upstanding member of the Communist party. [His son seems to think he should set a better example as a proud Communist, but, instead, Grandpa is mostly crying in his room—when he’s not out wandering around and causing problems.] Even when the hospital is trying to release him back into the world, Grandpa starts wandering in the wrong direction, back into the hospital. The staff applauds when Grandpa is finally released upon the world.
In the midst of all this death, a young woman in childbirth (whose water broke 2 days earlier) must be delivered by Caesarean section. She had Covid-19, which she has passed on to her newborn daughter. We follow that drama through to the end as the child—a chubby female with a full head of hair whom the staff nicknames “the hungry penguin”— is whisked away to another area of the hospital and an incubator.
A box of cell phones collected from the dead and dying is introduced early in the documentary. It is at the end of the documentary that Yang Li, head ICU nurse, draws the unenviable duty of sorting through the abandoned phones and calling the next of kin to tell them to come pick up their dead relatives’ belongings. Usually,Yang Li seeks to return a phone to the relatives. One deceased woman’s bracelet is retrieved for her daughter, despite the fact that it is against regulations and the deceased, Grandma Luo Jinsong, had swollen arms at the time of her death, causing difficulty in retrieving the jewelry.
When she completes the task of returning the bracelet and the phone to a young girl who is sobbing, Yang Li expresses her condolences. She turns from the camera and appears broken, numb. It reminds of the line from earlier in the film, “How could it have come to this?”
The beleaguered hospital employees work tirelessly to try to save their patients and to preserve order within the hospital. I was surprised to hear patients being asked if they had “vomiting or diarrhea,” since neither of these symptoms received much air play on American television. I was also surprised to learn that ICU is emblazoned above the doors to the Chinese facility, much like Intensive Care Unit appears above these areas in American hospitals. I assumed that all signs would be in the language of the country. There was also a much better degree of PPE in this Chinese hospital than during the early days of the pandemic in the U.S. and most of the doctors and nurses appear as masked and fully covered workers.
Writer/Director Hao Wu helmed “All in My Family” in 2019 and “People’s Republic of Desire” in 2018. His documentary about underground Chinese churches (2006) earned him a detention from the Chinese government. “76 Days” has had 3 wins on the film festival circuit: Best Documentary at AFI Fest, Grand Prize and Social Impact Award for Heartland International Film Festival, and 3 additional nominations, including at the 43rd Denver Film Festival. After premiering at Toronto, it will release on December 4th.
Now playing the 43rd Denver Film Festival, “Meat the Future” is a Liz Marshall documentary that explains the brainchild of cardiac surgeon Uma Valeti, who has formed Memphis Meats to bring meat grown in laboratories to market.
Dr. Valeti actually was a trained cardiac surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, but he had been haunted for years by the idea that, in order to eat meat, animals must be grown to adulthood and then slaughtered. Not only did the idea that “in the midst of life, we are in death” affect him as a child, he also became aware of the growing demand for meat that cannot be met by standard methods.
In the course of this film, we meet Ira Van Eelen, whose father in Amsterdam may have been the Godfather of Clean Meat, starting experiments with growing meat in a lab as far back as 2010. Dr. Valeti took the idea and has made it a reality—if an expensive reality—making it possible to cultivate meat that tastes like meat, from the cells of chickens and ducks and beef cattle, in a cultured lab setting over the course of 4 weeks, whereas it takes from 14 to 24 months to raise an animal from birth to slaughter.
In order to feed humans, pigs and cows and other living mammals are slaughtered. It’s a reality that has driven many to become vegetarians. Even Dr. Valeti admits having tried vegetarianism for a while. The success of things like tofu burgers, however, has not been nearly as close to “the real thing” as the cultured meats that Valeti’s Memphis Meats has been able to produce.
Early news articles (April, 2016) showed a pound of what appeared to be ground beef with the label $18,000 – 1 lb. of ground beef from Memphis Meats. The three original investors put $3.1 million together but, since their successes, investors like Bill Gates and Richard Branson, along with David McLennan, the CEO of Cargill, have come onboard to underwrite the group’s efforts. Draper Fisher Jurveston, an investment firm for those looking to underwrite promising technologies, reports that the group now has “more money coming at them than they want to take” and mentioned a figure of $4 billion.
What are the “good” and the “bad” things about “clean meat”? (“clean meat,” as a term,has tested more positively than “cultured meat” in P.R. studies).
Animals are a big part of the carbon footprint problem and, with this technology, the need to raise so many animals on feed lots, is bypassed, thereby decreasing the carbon footprint of the industries that are now producing our meat. The film mentions a timeline of 20 to 30 years by which time animals would not need to be raised for meat. This is, as the film put it, ‘a huge paradigm shift.”
Supply – The documentary posits the belief that, despite all the efforts that currently exist to feed the world’s people, we need to step up production. Comparing 4 weeks of preparation time (clean meat) to 14 to 24 months (real meat) is educational.
No more slaughtering living creatures for our beef, pork, poultry or fish.
As you can imagine, meat producers are not at all sure that this idea is a “good” thing for them, their industry, or the public They maintain that the government must learn how to regulate cell-based meats. Both Sonny Perdue (Secretary of Agriculture) and Dr. Scott Gottlieb of “Face the Nation” appearances talk about “clean meat.”
The Good Food Institute says we need the equivalent of a Manhattan Project to move the initiative forward. Why do I get the feeling that, just like the electric car, the “old way” meat people will kill the idea of cultured cells becoming edible meat, just as the fossil fuel industry killed the electric car?
Expense – currently, it is prohibitively expensive to create “clean meat” with figures of $1700 per pound mentioned. The use of markets and technology to solve problems cannot be supported enthusiastically enough, but I do wonder if this Bold Brave Idea might end up like the hydrogen car. (Remember that one?)
Greek director Christos Nikou has crafted a film about a pandemic that causes amnesia and a bureau, the Disturbed Memory Department for Amnesiacs, that works to re-educate those so affected.
It opens with the main character, Aris (Aris Servetalis) knocking his head against a wall and, shortly thereafter, he is on a bus but has no idea where he is going.
Many others are affected. Apples enter the plot as being good for the memory, according to a local grocer, while Aris hungrily wolfs them down onscreen.
During the course of the re-education of Aris, the Bureau sets him up with housing, walking around money, and a set of instructions as to what he is supposed to do. The Learning How to Live New Identity Program will have us watching Aris bicycle, solicit a lap dance, attend a costume party, go to a movie, take Polaroids of all new experiences and do the Twist, a dance made popular in the U.S. in 1960 by Chubby Checker. [Why would a song that is 70 years old be playing at the disco? No idea. Maybe that is considered “cutting edge” in this film’s country of origin.]
I’m a big fan of plots that have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
This plot has a beginning and a long middle. It has no end.
It won a Slovene Film Festival award for Best Sound and has nominations in several other Feature Film competitions, including both the 56th Chicago International Film Festival and the 43rd Denver International Film Festival.
One of the things I found most off-putting about the film is the fact that Alzheimers Disease is basically rampant in this country now. It’s truly not a “funny” thing to lose all sense of identity and not know where you are going or who you are.
I did not like this film for that and other reasons that have nothing to do with the argument that it posits amnesia as a cure and not a disease.
Losing your mind is not funny and too many people I have personally known, including my father, have experienced it, so no recommendation from me for this one.
Chadwick Boseman at the premiere of “Marshall” in October, 2017. (Photo by Connie Wilson)
The news that Chadwick Boseman was dead at 43, which came to us on Friday, August 28th, was very sad news, indeed. Boseman had been battling colon cancer for 4 years. He was married to Taylor Simone Ledward.
This young actor from Anderson, South Carolina, was a great one. He was the son of Carolyn and LeRoy Boseman, African American immigrants from Sierra Leone and Nigeria. His portrayal of Jackie Robinson in the film “42” with Harrison Ford cemented him as a leading man in 2013, but Chadwick had been acting as far back as 2003, when he portrayed a character named Reggie Montgomery on “All My Children.”
Ironically, when he expressed reservations about the racial stereotypes inherent in the Reggie Montgomery character, he was replaced by his co-star in “Black Panther,” Michael B. Jordan.
All the way back to his high school days, Chadwick had been interested in directing and only began acting so he could learn how to interact with his cast. In his junior year of high school, in fact, he wrote a play entitled “Crossroads” following the death of a classmate.
After graduating from T.L. Hanna High School in 1995, Chadwick went on to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., where one of his instructors was Phylicia Rashad. Chadwick and some fellow students had been accepted to attend the Oxford Mid-Summer Program at the British Drama Academy in London. Rashad approached Denzel Washington to help fund the students’ trip there.
Boseman also attended the New York City Digital Film Directing Academy in New York City and did some teaching in the city while living in Brooklyn, but eventually moved to Los Angeles in 2008.
By 2013, he was acting in the movies that he would define with his talent, as with his portrayal of King T’Challa in “Black Panther.”
Sterling K. Brown (October, 2017, Chicago International Film Festival.) [Photo by Connie Wilson]
I met Chadwick Boseman in Chicago in 2017 when he and other actors, such as Sterling K. Brown, appeared in support of “Marshall,” a film in which Boseman played the title role. He was kind and articulate in answering our questions and the cast was like a “Who’s Who” of current Black stars. He was luminous and had a real presence.
Boseman was a gracious and cordial “movie star,” as were the others present in October, 2017 at the Chicago International Film Festival that year. His very presence was impressive, especially since we now know that all the while he was making films like “Marshall,” the “Avengers” series, and “Black Panther” he was fighting this disease. Privately, Boseman was already battling the colon cancer that would ultimately take his life. He had been diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer, which increased to Stage IV cancer. He had surgeries and had endured radiation and surgeries all during the years when he was portraying characters like the King of Wakanda, T’Challa, in “Black Panther,” the “Avengers” series of movies, Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall” and a character in “Da 5 Bloods,” the 2020 Spike Lee film.
This disease claimed my own father many years ago, metastasizing from the colon to his liver and other organs, eventually even invading his brain. It is my fervent hope that this tragic loss will cause others to have frequent colonoscopies to find and cure the colon cancer that, if caught in time, is survivable.
If not caught in time, it can claim the life of even such a specimen as Chadwick Boseman. General recommendations are to have such tests beginning at age 50, but obviously that is not always soon enough if there is a family history.
Once that family history exists, the general recommendation is to have colonscopies every three years, rather than the normal every five years. Katie Couric’s husband died young from colon cancer, and she would echo my hope that this unnecessary death of such a talented young man might spur all of us to be vigilant.
Chadwick Boseman (Photo by Connie Wilson).
Chadwick Boseman’s words to a graduating class: “Purpose is why you are here on the planet at this particular time in history. The struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.”
Weekly Wilson of 4/30 with heart transplant survivor Jennifer Berliner brought in a record number of phone call questions.
There were 5 callers, [although one left line before we could get past the commercial to take the question].
One was from Colorado. I don’t know anyone in Colorado. One was from area code 301. (What state is that?)
Jennifer was the great guest I knew she’d be and we covered her cancer experiences (at age 15), her heart transplant, and the diabetes she currently fights. We also covered the costs associated with having a heart transplant, which Jennifer told me is her most popular YouTube video.
I jotted down just a few of the figures, with $640,000 for her hospitalization, $70,000 for the heart surgeon, $200,000 for the anaesthesiologist, and $80,000 for the cost of removing the donor’s heart and transferring it for transplant. She also mentioned the $35,000 a year that it costs for anti-rejection drugs and a total figure of $1.2 million. One of our callers wanted to know her out-of-pocket costs and we got figures that were in the $14,000 range for the first year.
The hour went by quickly, and I directed callers to Jennifer’s blog (www.anewheartrocks.com) and told them that it would be relatively easy to find the show when it is archived and goes up on my Weekly Wilson blog. (www.WeeklyWilson.com).
Next week’s guest is Dan Decker, AFI graduate, founder of the Chicago Screenwriting School, and author of the books Anatomy of a Screenplay: Writing the American Screenplay from Character Structure to Convergence and The Prime: The Dark Side of Light. Dan also holds dual Italian/United States citizenship and his brother is also an author.