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!

Category: Health/Medicine Page 1 of 3

If someone discovers a new cure for cancer, this would be worth mentioning, and you can anticipate those kinds of stories.

Chadwick Boseman of “Black Panther” Dead at 43

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.”

Films from Wikipedia.org:

2008The Express: The Ernie Davis StoryFloyd LittleGary Fleder[64]
2012The Kill HoleLt. Samuel DrakeMischa Webley[65]
201342Jackie RobinsonBrian Helgeland[64]
2014Draft DayVontae MackIvan Reitman[66]
2014Get on UpJames BrownTate Taylor[64]
2016Gods of EgyptThothAlex Proyas[67]
2016Captain America: Civil WarT’Challa / Black PantherAnthony & Joe Russo[68]
2016Message from the KingJacob KingFabrice Du WelzAlso executive producer[69]
2017MarshallThurgood MarshallReginald HudlinAlso co-producer[70]
2018Black PantherT’Challa / Black PantherRyan Coogler[71]
2018Avengers: Infinity WarAnthony & Joe Russo[72]
2019Avengers: Endgame[73]
201921 BridgesAndre DavisBrian KirkAlso producer[74]
2020Da 5 BloodsNorman Earl “Stormin’ Norm” HollowaySpike Lee[75]
TBAMa Rainey’s Black BottomLeveeGeorge C. WolfePost-production; posthumous release[76]

 

Television
YearTitleRoleNotesRef.
2003All My ChildrenReggie PorterRecurring role[24]
2003Third WatchDavid WaferEpisode: “In Lieu of Johnson”[77]
2004Law & OrderFoster KeyesEpisode: “Can I Get a Witness?”[77]
2006CSI: NYRondoEpisode: “Heroes”[78]
2008ERDerek TaylorEpisode: “Oh, Brother”[77]
2008Cold CaseDexter CollinsEpisode: “Street Money”[77]
2008–2009Lincoln HeightsNathaniel “Nate” Ray9 episodes[79]
2009Lie to MeCabe McNeilEpisode: “Truth or Consequences”[80]
2010Persons UnknownSergeant McNair13 episodes[78]
2010The GladesMichael RichmondEpisode: “Honey”[81][82]
2011CastleChuck RussellEpisode: “Poof, You’re Dead”[78]
2011FringeMark Little / Cameron JamesEpisode: “Subject 9[83]
2011Detroit 1-8-7Tommy WestinEpisode: “Beaten/Cover Letter”[84]
2011JustifiedRalph BeemanEpisode: “For Blood or Money”[78]
2018Saturday Night LiveHimselfEpisode: “Chadwick Boseman/Cardi B[85]
2021What If…?T’Challa / Black Panther / Star-LordFinal role
Guest voice role; posthumous release
[86]

Awards and nominations

YearAwardCategoryNominated workResultRef.
2017Saturn AwardsBest Supporting ActorCaptain America: Civil WarNominated[87]
2018MTV Movie & TV AwardsBest Performance in a MovieBlack PantherWon[88]
Best HeroWon
Best Fight (Black Panther vs M’Baku)Nominated
Best On-Screen Team (with Lupita Nyong’oLetitia Wright and Danai Gurira)Nominated
2018Saturn AwardsBest ActorNominated[89]
2019Screen Actors Guild AwardsOutstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion PictureWon[90]
2019NAACP Image AwardsOutstanding Actor in a Motion PictureWon[91]
Entertainer of the YearNominated
2020Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture21 BridgesNominated[92]

This Ad Says It All

Jennifer Berliner, Heart Transplant Survivor, on Weekly Wilson on 4/30

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.

Heart Transplant/Cancer Survivor Gives Sheltering Tips on 4/30 WEEKLY WILSON Podcast

Jennifer BerlinerMy guest on my Weekly Wilson podcast on the Bold Brave Media Global Network and Tune-In radio on April 29, Thursday, at 7 p.m. (CDT) will be Jennifer Berliner (pictured below and to the left).

At 15 years old, Jennifer was treated for bone cancer (Askin’s Sarcoma) and one of the drugs used afterwards, known as “red devils,” caused heart failure 8 years after her treatment.

Therefore, at 39, Jennifer had a heart transplant.

Four months later, doctors diagnosed breast cancer and she underwent a double mastectomy. To add to this litany of woes, Jennifer’s mother died from ovarian cancer just before her 41st birthday.

Through it all, Jennifer had “kept on keeping on” and has maintained a positive attitude using techniques that she studied in college as a social work major and others she had developed to keep her attitude upbeat in trying times.

This is a live call-in format (866-451-1451) and we welcome callers (be prepared to hold for a bit) with questions. Tune in to learn more about how to “shelter in place” successfully from a woman who knows more about face masks and staying inside for months at a time than any of us knew before the pandemic.

Jennifer Berliner

Abortion Rights Under Attack in the U.S.

For close to half a century, the GOP has tried to overturn Roe v. Wade and curb women’s right to reproductive freedom. This concerted effort to prevent a pregnant female from deciding not to carry a child to term does not come with adequate funding or societal help to assure that the overwhelmed potential mother would be able to care for said child, in the event that she were forced to go forward with her pregnancy. While chipping away at the social network like a demented woodpecker, the GOP has simply thrown around hot-button words (“socialism,” “abortion”) knowing that they will evoke the crazy response they want in their followers. There has been no GOP up-tick in social programs to assist, for example, women of color with several children and no supportive mate.

Says Planned Parenthood president Leana Wen, “The threat to safe, legal abortion in America is at risk like never before.” In the past 9 years over 400 state laws have been passed restricting abortion services. Eight states have only one abortion clinic left. Exploiting the explosive “wedge issue” has become one of the mainstays of the GOP talking points, along with calling anyone who believes that a woman’s reproductive decision should be hers a “Libtard” or a “liberal snowflake.” Interesting to report, there are no similar liberal perjorative names aimed at the Conservative wing of the GOP, specifically designed to denigrate their political beliefs and, in some cases, not only verbally attack them but physically attack them, as well.

As for the majority of Americans on this divisive issue,  60 per cent believe abortion should remain legal and it is conceivable that one in four women of child-bearing age might decide to have an abortion in her lifetime. Some of these women may have been victims of rape or incest. Others may have health issues that would put their own lives at risk or simply not have the economic or psychological means to support a child at that time in their lives. Still, the anti-abortion foes will paint these women as monsters. The Conservative forces will misrepresent the point(s) at which ethical doctors will perform an abortion, and will continue to use unflattering semantics and Biblical backing from evangelical sects to support their point of view, irrespective of the wishes of the women, themselves. (I remember Dr. Howard Dean, campaigning in Iowa in 2004, telling us in someone’s back yard in Muscatine, Iowa, that he had gone through the records of his home state of Vermont and there had been NO record of a late-term (after the sixth month) abortion in the state of Vermont ever.  This was in response to a question from the Iowa caucus crowd).

In some states—Mississippi, for example—they are in the ongoing process of passing a fetal heartbeat law that bans abortions as early as six weeks, despite the fact that a U.S. district court has already struck down a law in the same state banning it at 15 weeks. Even if the opponents of legalized and safe abortions do not succeed in overturning the laws, the amount of time that these moves take can have an impact. Once closed, an abortion clinic may not open back up. Says Cecile Richards, former President of Planned Parenthood (currently under budget attack from the White House), “Even if Roe is still the law of the land, whether or not pregnant people can actually access abortion is another question entirely.” To all those individuals who are reading this and “tsk tsk-ing” about abortion, in general, I would recommend that you read “Cider House Rules” by John Irving before  becoming too secure in your position. Irving’s father and grandfather were obstetricians and he charts the drop in female mortality rates that accompanied Roe v. Wade. The safe abortion center in Bettendorf, Iowa, was forced to close some time ago, a result of the Conservative right’s concerted and never-ending attacks on them. With a Republican legislature in Des Moines, the service is no longer available in an area of 350,000 people, which, for the state of Iowa, is among its 3 largest metropolitan areas.

Meanwhile, proposed legal decisions like “June Medical Services v. Gee”  and 2016’s “”Whole Roman’s Health v. Hellerstedt” continue to move forward, challenging the current status quo. The packing of the courts by Trump supporters is not a good thing (think Brett Kavanaugh) and 21 of U.S. states are classified as “hostile” or “very hostile” to abortion rights, while only 4 are “supportive” or “very supportive.” Five states currently have so-called trigger laws that would immediately ban abortion if Roe v. Wade fell. The state of Arkansas has no exceptions for rape or incest and would make performing an abortion a felony punishable by 10 years in prison.

According to the National Institute for Reproductive Health, 422 bills were introduced in 44 states and the District of Columbia, which were aimed at protecting reproductive rights in 2018. One hundred were fully enacted into law. “Public support for Roe v. Wade has never been higher that it is right now” says a former Planned Parenthood leader: “If you are one of the majority of Americans who care about access to safe and legal abortion, now is the time to make your voice heard.” Otherwise, the Conservative plan is to make it so hard to access this currently legal right that it will, in effect, cause the downfall of Roe v. Wade without having to actually legislate it out of existence. In 1976, only 3 years after Roe v. Wade went into effect, the Hyde Amendment blocked federal Medicaid dollars from going toward abortions and the Supreme Court upheld that as constitutional in 1980. In “Planned Parenthood v. Case” the court further determined in that 1992 decision that limitations could be put on abortion as long as they didn’t create “an undue burden. (A blanket right was turned into a circumstantial right.)

Julie Rikelman, Director of U.S. litigation for the Center for Reproductive Rights says, “Even if the Supreme Court never utters the words ‘Roe is now overruled,’ it can do a huge amount of harm.” Are the women of 2020 willing to go back to the days of back-street illegal abortions (one of which left a friend and former classmate of mine dead in her apartment in Iowa City, Iowa, back in 1964? I hope that the young women of the United States start paying attention to this area that DJT is also stirring up and, flying the false flag of Conservative evangelical piety, is attacking as he is attacking most other bulwarks of our Constitutional democracy.

“The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” on HBO Reveals $9 Billion-Dollar Start-Up That Didn’t

Image result for Images for Elizabeth Holmes Elizabeth Holmes

(youtube.com)

The documentary about Theranos, directed by Alex Gidney, showed March 8th, 10th and 13th at SXSW and is now streaming on HBO. It focuses on a $9 billion-dollar start-up in Silicon Valley headed by a 19-year-old Stanford drop-out, Elizabeth Holmes. Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney was responsible for “Taxi to the Dark Side” and “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Beliefs.”

“Fortune” magazine did a June, 2014, cover story on Holmes and Theranos.  Much of the talking about Holmes onscreen is done by Roger Parloff, who wrote the “Fortune” piece. The  lying by Theranos officials  led to 9 charges of wire fraud and 2 counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud against Holmes and her Chief Operating Officer (and former lover) Sonny Balwani. (Holmes had fired Balwani by that point.)

As you listen to the list of heavy hitter investors who were so impressed by a 19-year-old college drop-out that they committed millions to her idea for Theranos, you have to shake your head. The list reads like Who’s Who. Some of them even speak on camera, like Tim Draper, who appears wearing a purple tie adorned with Bit Coin symbols and says he knew Elizabeth from childhood on and was a first investor in Hotmail, Skype and Tesla. General James Mattis bought into the idea. Henry Kissinger was favorably impressed. Warren Buffett was said to have invested $100 million. Famous faces like Maria Shriver, Katie Couric, the Obamas, Serena Williams, George P. Schultz and a host of others are shown with the Golden Girl.

As one Professor at Stanford says (a female), “She aligned herself with certain powerful older men who seemed to succumb to a certain charm.” (Meow). The statement is true, however. Attired in black at all times (black turtleneck, jacket and pants) with long blonde hair and an unnerving stare (she rarely blinks) from preternaturally large blue eyes, she was referred to by her partner, Sonny,” as “the most important inventor of our time” in a reverential, deferential tone.

The concept was that the needle-phobic Elizabeth was going to make it possible for a single finger prick—like that a diabetic would use to test their blood—to take the place of drawing large vials of blood in a lab. The small drop of blood would go into a mini-vial that would, in turn, go into a machine dubbed Edison, appromixately the size of a computer modem.

Inside Edison the blood would be tested, could detect infection and dispense antibiotics. Holmes seems to have envisioned herself to be the Apple of medicine and vowed to have the access to such Edison labs within 5 miles of each person’s home in America, which was going to happen through a partnership with Walgreen’s.

Holmes also alluded to her “invention” in what Parloff referred to as “comically vague” ways, saying, “What, exactly, happens in the box is treated as a state secret.” She also said that she wanted to remain a private company (initially, the company had 700 employees in a modern building with a secret third-floor lab, where, alas, the blood testing was actually being done using more standard methods by hand.

This was because Edison didn’t really work as advertised. When asked about taking the company public, Holmes said she preferred to remain private because, “It’s allowed us to not have to talk about what we’re doing, until it’s done.”

When the testing began to be done at Walgreen’s stores, the Edison was still non-functional, so routine blood draws were done by Walgreen personnel who had to be trained by phlebotomist Serena Stewart to do those traditional blood draws, despite the Big Come-On of a relatively small drop of blood being able to work in an Edison mini-lab. Holmes successfully lobbied the state of Arizona to allow patients to order their own lab tests in HB2645 and also managed to get FDA approval for Edison to do one small test for the herpes virus, but the 200 tests advertised never really got off the ground.

And, what is more disturbing, patients who had chronic conditions and showed up for routine bloodwork at a Walgreen’s store experienced incorrect results, which then had to be double-checked using routine labs and routine lab practices. There were also challenges to the patents.

Dr. Ian Gibbon, a Cambridge PhD with “a wealth of knowledge” whose name appeared on the patents (below Elizabeth Holmes’ name) was going to have to testify in the patent case. He was so distraught that he committed suicide. His wife, Rochelle, said “He was so distraught over the patent misappropriation case that he killed himself.” Mrs. Gibbon never heard anything from Holmes or Theranos after her husband’s death, other than a request  to drop the papers involving his work off at the front desk.

As the lab equipment malfunctioned and those in the tile world of the lab watched the start-up sliding towards failure, some of them became extremely disillusioned with the paranoia and secrecy. The workers were fudging results and re-running data until they got the results they wanted. Also, the tests for such diseases as hepatitis, prostate cancer and syphilis that were not being accurately diagnosed, put those patients at risk The results were not matching up with the results of other more traditional laboratories.

Finally, lab associate Erika Cheung decided, “Enough is enough” and went in to talk to COO Sonny Balwani. She was basically told “Just sit down and do your job.” She quit, got another job, moved and was very distressed when she was served papers that threatened her if she spoke about her time at Theranos. Since she had little money, her only recourse, ultimately, was to write a letter to the supervisory group that had control over the Theranos labs. That group was CMS. CMS then did a surprise inspection and withdrew the Theranos lab’s permit to do tests.

Another disillusioned former employee was George P. Shultz’s grandson, who had joined Holmes and was working in the laboratory. He quit and began talking to a “Wall Street Journal” reporter, John Carreyrou, who had received a tip that the Theranos Edison project was faltering.

The 94-year-old George Schultz, who served 3 presidents in 4 Cabinet posts, including Secretary of State, was a fervent admirer of Holmes and, initially, when his grandson expressed skepticism, had said, “They can’t tell me you’re stupid, but I think you’re wrong.”

By the end of the younger Schultz’s time, George Schultz commends his grandson for his attempt at transparency and relates an almost comic scene when a hard-nosed lawyer (once in charge of hushing up Harvey Weinstein’s women) tried so hard to lean on his grandson that Schultz separated the attorney from his grandson, sending them to different rooms in his house and acting as intermediary. George P. Schultz said he was afraid that his wife would hit the attorney with the fireplace poker, as he was acting “like an animal” towards their grandson.

The younger Schultz said he had incurred $300,000 to $400,000 in lawyer fees. The mounting bills had his parents thinking about selling their house to pay it. But, as Theranos secrets and lies unraveled further and the truth was revealed, the pressure on young Schultz waned as the house of Theranos cards came tumbling down.

I wondered, “What has happened to Elizabeth Holmes since this documentary was made?”

The Internet says she settled with the SEC, was handed a $500,000 fine, and there is a condition that she cannot be the officer of a public company for 10 years. Now living in the San Francisco Bay area in a luxury apartment, she is engaged to her 8-years-younger fiancé, Billy Evan (heir to a hotel fortune), according to “Vanity Fair,” and may be shopping for more investor cash. She and Sonny face some additional court appearance, supposedly in April.

 

One quote that particularly struck me, because it could have been spoken by any number of convincing liars was this one from Roger Parloff, who watched with amazement as Elizabeth Holmes, rather than going on the defensive against the expose article that the “Wall Street Journal” ran detailing how the scam worked, went off to a Board of Fellows Honorary Ceremony with the Harvard Medical School. Said Parloff, “This was real lunacy.  What was coming out of her mouth (on television) was not adding up to reality as you and I know it…She was a zealot, blind to the reality of what was happening.”

The question at documentary’s end remains this: Did Elizabeth Holmes lie intentionally, with cold, calculating intent, or was she just trying to ‘fake it till she made it?’”

Image result for Images for Elizabeth Holmes

“Shrill,” New Aidy Bryant Series on Hulu, Out March 15th

Aidy Bryant, Chicago’s Columbia College graduate and “Saturday Night Live” cast member, is the star of Hulu’s new series “Shrill,” released March 15th, produced by Elizabeth Banks. (SXSW Photo).

Aidy Bryant’s new Hulu series “Shrill” drops today (March 15th). To promote it, Chicago’s Columbia College alumnus Aidy Bryant, her producer Elizabeth Banks (“30 Rock,” “The Hunger Games”), author Lindy West (“Notes from a Loud Woman”), writer Ally Rushfield, and co-star Lolly Adefope were in Austin at a SXSW screening of the first two episodes of “Shrill.”

There are few comedy frontiers left for writers. Jokes about ethnic groups are out and, (other than President Trump), making fun of the handicapped is verboten. Midgets, once comic fodder, are now “Little People.”

But fat people and old people are still fair game.

With Ms. Bryant as the lead, this serio-comic series focuses on how overweight people cope with the constant barrage of negative remarks and actions they are subjected to in real life. But it’s not played solely for laughs.The “Shrill” material is both funny and touching.

It helps that the main character’s Annie’s mother is played by comic pro Julia Sweeney (after 18 years away from performing) and that her sickly father is played by Daniel Stern, who has been acting since the age of 17 (45 years). [Stern first earned kudos as Cyril in “Breaking Away” (1979) and in Barry Levinson’s“Diner” (1982)].

Elizabeth Banks (“30 Rock,” “The Hunger Games”) directs a remark to the author of the “Shrill” source material, Lindy West.(Photo by Connie Wilson).

Special praise should go to Annie’s (Aidy Bryant’s) best friend, played by Lolly Adefope, who was great in the two episodes we saw. Aidy, herself, brings a vulnerability and poignancy to the role that reminds of Melissa McCarthy in her Oscar-nominated turn this year in “Can You Ever Forgive Me.” Annie (Aidy) has the likeability to make you want to root for her; her visual reactions to indignities like her boyfriend asking her to sneak out of his apartment the back way to avoid meeting his roommate brothers: heartbreaking, but all too human.

The opening episode cuts right to the chase. Aidy becomes pregnant by her sometimes boyfriend. She has been using the Morning After pill, but the pharmacist failed to tell her that the pill would be ineffective if the woman weighed more than 175 pounds. (“Oh, yeah…that guy,” says a co-worker at the pharmacy. “He’s very bad at his job.”)

The write-up in the SXSW program says: “From Executive Producer Lorne Michaels and Elizabeth Banks comes Shrill, a comedy series starring Aidy Bryant (Saturday Night Live) as Annie, a fat young woman who wants to change her life—but not her body.  Annie is trying to start her career as a journalist while juggling bad boyfriends, a sick parent, and a perfectionist boss.”

(L to R) Janelle Riley, Editor of “Variety;” Aidy Bryant (“Saturday Night Live”); Writer Ally Brushfield; Producer Elizabeth Banks, and author Lindy West at the Q&A following “Shrill.”

Following the screening of Episodes #1 and #2 from “Shrill,” Janelle Riley, editor of “Variety,” moderated a panel consisting of the author of the source material, Lindy West, whose book of essays “Notes from a Loud Woman” served as the inspiration for the series;Elizabeth Banks, actress and producer, was onstage with writer Ally Rushfield and Aidy. The first question was, “What was your first job?”

The author responsible for the concept (Lindy West) admitted that she had not had much of a goal in life of becoming a writer. “I wasn’t one of those who wanted to be a writer. My first real writing job was for “Where” magazine in Seattle.” She described the task of trying to make the Space Needle fascinating in every issue as difficult.

Aidy Bryant, who married her boyfriend of ten years on April 28, 2018 (she met him when they both were part of Annoyance Theater in Chicago), described her first job as “musical improvisation in Indiana and Ohio, which nobody wanted to hear.”

The writer in the group, Alexandra (Allie) Rushfield said her first job was, “A video store, because I’m middle aged.” She also admitted to a stint with the Groundlings Comedy troupe.

Elizabeth Banks, known to audiences for her role as Effie Trinkett in “The Hunger Games” and for her continuing role as Alec Baldwin’s girlfriend on “Thirty Rock,” has a production company with her husband, Max Handelman. Her first-job answer was, “I was a latch-key kid and my first job was when I  played Pontius Pilate in ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar.’” She then regaled us with a few bars from her big musical number.

Elizabeth Banks (L) and Lindy West (“Notes from A Loud Woman”) during the Q&A after the new Hulu series “Shrill.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Moderator Janelle Riley, mentioning that “Notes from a Loud Woman” was “a great collection of essays,” wanted to know how or when they were envisioned as a series. Elizabeth Banks answered that it was “pretty quickly after the book came out and there were a lot of option meetings.” We were told  that Aidy was actually the first person considered for the role.

Aidy (Bryant) said, “It was the first time I ever saw myself in a piece solo. They let me be involved in the writing and producing, which was huge for me.”

The big question many of us had was this: How much personal experience did you bring to the character?

The cast  noted that they were initially referring to the main character as “Lindy” (the author’s name) but changed the character’s name to Annie, since it is not a bio-pic. One noted that the series was “the child of many mothers.”

The cast members railed against Twitter (“Please all quit Twitter and put it out of business and make the world a better place.”) where random strangers gather to hurl insults. “What a joy to be called a fat disgusting pig constantly,” said Aidy Bryant. She shared that an incident in the first episode actually happened to her.  A thin, beautiful trainer grabs her wrist and comments on what a small frame she has, saying, “There’s a thin person inside of you trying to get out.”

In the episode, Aidy laughs and responds, “Well, let’s hope she’s okay in there.”

She also shared that, when she has played Sarah Huckabee Sanders in skits on “Saturday Night Live” half of the viewers who sent messages called her “a fat, disgusting pig” and half said, “Aidy shouldn’t be playing this strong, independent woman.”

All agreed: “People are not used to seeing fat people do anything on camera.” (One possible exception to this might be the character on “This Is Us,” Kate Pearson, played by Chrissy Metz). Elizabeth Banks said, “I think this is very revolutionary.  I think our entire cast and crew wanted to empower women and get rid of the people who are always telling you you aren’t good enough.”

Lindy West, the author, said, “You never see fat people doing anything except being fat.  The world intrudes on you and tells you constantly that you aren’t living up to its standards. Society reminds us all day, every day, that if you’re a fat woman, there’s something wrong with you.”

One aspect that the second episode touched on was the “very complicated relationship with your mother and her body. That represents a lot of love and pain for many women.” I can certainly attest to this.

I had a mother who harped about my weight gain after I gave birth to my son. She never missed an opportunity to insert a diet or recipe reminder in her letters. Then, after I fasted for two full months on liquid protein and lost 72 pounds, and showed up at home at exactly the same weight I had been when I graduated from high school, she never made a single positive comment. I have a good friend (and former college roommate, Pam) who has told me how uncomfortable it was for her to be around and hear her mother say things like, “Why can’t you be thin like Pam?” or, on other occasions, “Why can’t you be thin like your sister?” My mother, like Lindy West’s, is of Norwegian (and Dutch) heritage. Is that a clue?

Said writer Allie Rushfield, “The deal in the writing room is that we would find the universal themes…that period in one’s late teens and early twenties when it’s all about appearance.” Aidy, the series lead, said, “I remembered how much I hated my own guts then. I felt sad for myself—for all the time I wasted when I was sold the bill of goods about how I was worthless unless I was thin.”

Added the writers (Alexandra Rushfield, Lindy West, Aidy Bryant): “I feel like the entire world is shifting, too.”

Let’s hope so. In the meantime, I ordered up Hulu for my husband’s March 21st birthday, primarily because of this series—[although, let’s face it, I’ve not been able to see Elisabeth Moss’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” either, and obviously that is required viewing in the age of Trump].

So, how much did I like “Shrill”? At least $72 worth, minimum, and that’s probably on the low side (depending on whether you opt out of the commercials or not).

I also want to thank the publicist who got me in and let me sit in the Reserved seating area. Thank you very much. I never did gain admission to “NOS4A2,” despite writing repeatedly and once interviewing Joe Hill. That’s all I’m going to be writing about that other new series for a loooong time.

 

“Sunset Over Mulholland Drive” @ SXSW Proves You’re Never Too Old to Be Creative

“Sunset Over Mulholland Drive” is a behind-the-scenes look into the Motion Picture and Television Relief Fund’s Hollywood retirement home and grounds. The piece was a German entry into the documentary spotlight at SXSW, directed by Uli Gaulke with writing assistance from Marc Pitzke. It was produced by Helge Albers. When I failed to gain entrance to “Us” (Express passes at SXSW went in 9 seconds!) this 97-minute documentary having its North American Premiere here was Plan B.

A look at the retirement community that is home to many of Hollywood’s former leading men and women sounded like it would be right up my alley. Director Gaulke admitted, in the Q&A after the film, that he was thinking about himself when he decided to make the film after he read an article about the motion picture retirement community in California. And now the documentary has had its North American premiere at SXSW. He had hit a bad patch, endured a divorce, and he was hitting mid-life.

The odd thing about the entire project is that it was made by Germans. (What’s up with that?) Uli read the article, contacted the home and, roughly 4 years and 70 to 80 hours of material later, after shooting for a year with 6 people traveling between Berlin and Hollywood,  it premiered here at SXSW. The film inspired the director who said, “They were very open to telling me their stories.  Then I found Jerry (Selby Kaufman), my favorite…They were not only thinking of their own past, but the most important part was to follow them and to see that they can be creative when they are old.”

[Whew! THAT was a load off my mind!]

(L to R) Producer Helge Albers and Director Uli Gaulke of “Sunset Over Mulholland Drive” at the North American Premiere in Austin, Texas at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

The Q&A after the film was delightful because, besides speaking excellent English, Uli would punctuate his remarks at key points with a “Ya?” that was reminiscent  of “Fargo.”

Uli said, “I always learn something. For me, personally, in my mid forties and fifties, I was glad to learn that life becomes a little more interesting, but that it is a continuation and that stamina is the key.” He added, “The challenge was getting them (the residents) to be working together and that was where the UCLA scriptwriting class helped.”

This reference was to a creative writing class that asked the residents to think of Ilsa and Rick from “Casablanca” and what they might be like if they met again twenty years in the future. This brought out a veritable plethora of ideas from the creative community. We also see the residents shooting a short film directed by Jerry (a former director) that is called “Santa for All Seasons,” where Santa’s close friends and wife and co-workers talk about him frankly.

One of my very favorite anecdotes in the film was provided by Joe Rosen, who became an apprentice film editor in 1957. He had a meeting with then-studio head Jack Warner and, during the course of their conversation, the subject turned to which actor should play a serious part then up for casting. Although Jason Robards was available, Jack Warner wanted to cast Troy Donahue, instead, causing Joe to say, “You have to be incompetent to make a statement like that!”

Joe Rosen was subsequently banned from the studio grounds.

(R) Director Uli Gaulke of Berlin, Germany, at the North American Premiere of “Sunset Over Mulholland Drive” at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

We hear Wright King, now 94, telling us that he had wanted to be an actor since the age of 6 and that he once looked at Vivian Leigh onscreen in “Gone with the Wind” and said, “Some day I’m gonna’ kiss her onscreen.” And he did, in “On the Waterfront,” which we see in a brief film clip.

There is the charming older couple (married 62 years), Joel and Deborah Rogosin. Deborah is legally blind and Joel is obviously devoted to her, but he talks non-stop and she largely ignores him. One of the most touching moments in the film is when Joel sings “Always” to his bride: “Days may not be fair always. But I’ll be loving you always. Not for just an hour. Not for just a day. Not for just a year, but always.”

Joel finishes up that lovely serenade by saying, “I forget.  Did you use the word ‘obey’ in our marriage ceremony?”  Deborah responds that she most certainly did not, and Joel says, “Well, that accounts for it!” A gifted writer, Joel and Deborah have been working on a book together for most of their 62 years of marriage, entitled “How to Stay Married Without Killing Each Other.” They bicker over the title and the contents of each chapter. At one point, as they remember a long-ago romantic dance in the rain when they were young, Joel writes: “I wish that special glistening rain would fall and make us young and beautiful again.”

The entire documentary was delightful and charming. In retrospect, I’m glad I saw it instead of “Us,” (which opens wide soon.)

I highly recommend this stroll down memory lane in “Sunset Over Mulholland Drive.”

“For Sama,” Named Best Feature Documentary at SXSW: Behind the Scenes of the Siege in Syria

 

 

https://images.sxsw.com/OmkWk_NPatsx2ymZWMOMnGzSbME=/878x0:4955x2912/images.sxsw.com/57/e1a26cc7-d574-4707-8f13-52848b9384e8/under-a-falling-sky-142452 Photo of Waad al-Kateab, documenting the violence in Aleppo, Syria (SXSW Press Still)

“For Sama,” Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts’ searing documentary about the Syrian crisis, was named Best Documentary Feature at SXSW on March 12th. Said the judges, “This extraordinary and harrowing documentary captures an epic personal story of a mother’s love for her daughter and a wife’s love for her husband through the lens of the bloody and brutal siege of Aleppo.”

Waad al-Kateab stayed in Aleppo, where she had been a student in the fourth year of an economics degree at the university. When the rebellion against Assad’s corrupt regime broke out—much of it initially fomented by university rebels—the protesters were hopeful. Waad al-Kateab, a photo-journalist who continued filming for the duration, said, “To try to live a normal life in this place is to stand against the regime.”

Waad al-Kateab’s husband, Dr. Hamza el-Koteab, was one of only 32 physicians who chose to stay in the besieged city to care for the remaining residents; it is clear Aleppo’s remaining residents feel abandoned by the world. “We’re crying out to the world: Help us! ..But no one does anything to stop the regime.”

During the time that Waad al-Kateab spent in Aleppo  across a 5-year span and during 6 months of constant bombing, she and Hamza fell in love, got married, and had their first child, Sama. The film is entitled “For Sama,” their daughter, because Waad wanted to let her daughter know what they were fighting for in staying behind long after others had fled. As Waad says, “Our new life with you felt so fragile…as fragile as our life in Aleppo.”

The family eventually ends up actually living in the hospital, but the hospital is constantly being bombed by the Assad regime with Russian air support. At one point,  8 of 9 hospitals in East Aleppo have been destroyed; Hamza’s is the only one left, seeing 300 patients a day. Waad al-Kateab and Hamza had one hospital bombed while they were out of the facility, which killed 53 people, including the doctor who delivered Waad’s daughter.

There are many heart-rending scenes of adults and children being brought to the make-shift hospital only to die there or be declared DOA. There are dead bodies literally everywhere within the hospital;  one of the most ghastly scenes is of the victims of a mass execution, all of whom were civilians but showed signs of torture and had been shot in the head. Their bodies—at least 30 corpses— laid out in the street as a warning. The burial pit that forms their mass grave instantly summons memories of Nazi Germany. The scenes of the hospital being bombed evoke the “Sixty Minutes” segment that visited Aleppo hospitals  while they were under fire. One heart-warming but tragic moment is of the emergency C-section of a 9-months pregnant woman. Her child is saved, with difficulty; the mother is beyond help.

Ultimately, after 6 months under siege (December, 2016) the United Nations calls Dr. Hamza, who has become a voice for the Syrian people and whose face has become known to the world saying, “If you surrender, they will spare your lives.” The couple faces a harrowing decision regarding their small daughter. The  thought is this: She has a better chance of making it if they (the authorities) don’t know that you are her parents.

Waad al-Kateab cannot leave her daughter behind, however. The couple and their neighbors, who have three children, attempt the perilous journey out of Aleppo and into exile. As they drive, sharp shooters shoot at the ambulance. Waad says, “The silence makes you feel the city is dead.” Each check-point is dangerous. Will they all make it out alive?

The bombed ruins of a once-beautiful city confirm the diagnosis that the city, along with many of its inhabitants, is dead. Waad’s husband, Dr. Hamza says that in 20 days they saw 6,000 patients and performed 890 operations.

This is a must-see story of survival under siege from directors Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts which had its World Premiere (financing by the UK) at SXSW. Hopefully, it will air soon on PBS.

Has James P. Allison Found the Cure for Cancer? The Nobel Prize Committee Awards University of Texas Researcher the 2018 Prize for Medicine

James P. Allison

James P. Allison

     [Nobel Media Phot0]

James P. Allison of Alice, Texas, was inspired to try to develop a cure for cancer when he was eleven years old in 1959. That year, Jim’s mother died of lymphoma. As the years went by, one brother died of prostate cancer and one developed metastatic melanoma. Jim, himself, has faced down cancer three times, so far, in his seventy-one years.

BACKGROUND

Said Jim of his life’s work and ambition:  “If you’re gonna’ do these things, you oughta’ at least do things that help people.” He thought back to his own childhood and reminisced, “They thought I was a troublemaker. I just knew I was right…If you disagree with someone or something, you just have to stand your ground.” When he finally found a way to put his discovery into drug form, it took many years spent overcoming “all kinds of things that stood in the way.”

Young Jim’s father traveled frequently, so he often spent time with another family that had a son about his own age after his mother’s death and, always, he played the harmonica and relied on music to release some of the pain and the pressure in his life. His friendship with Willie Nelson is illustrated, with an appearance onstage at Austin City alongside his musical idol.

After graduating from high school at the tender age of 16 in 1965, Jim went on to become a researcher in the field of immunology—using the body’s own defense system to cure cancer tumors. It was for his discovery of a drug dubbed Ipilimumab or Ipi (known commercially as Yervoy) that he was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Stockholm for medicine or physiology.

BREAKTHROUGH, THE DOCUMENTARY

Director Bill Haney, winner of a Silver Hugo, the Gabriel Prize, short-listed for an Oscar, and winner of accolades from Marine Conservation, Genesis, Amnesty International and Earthwatch weaves an engrossing tale around Allison’s achievements, narrated by Hollywood’s Woody Harrelson. He inserts scenes of James Harrelson with his wife and son alongside the expert testimony of some of the other leading researchers in the field, including the University of Chicago’s Jeffrey Bluestone, whose own discovery challenged Ipi in the field at the time.

Another effective visual method for the audience was to find the dramatic patient—the one whose participation in the clinical trials for Ipi saved her life. That patient was Sharon Belvin, who was diagnosed with terminal melanoma at the age of 22. With metastatic melanoma, she was told she would not live more than 7 months. As we see in the film, Sharon has not only lived decades beyond her original diagnosis, she has been completely tumor-free since receiving Ipi, is married, and has two children.

We even get to have a happy ending of James Allison “getting the girl,” in this case, prominent fellow researcher Dr. Padmanee Sharma, whom he married after his marriage to wife Malinda fell victim to his work.

THE STORY

Jim struggles throughout to make it clear that Ipi is NOT an anti-cancer drug. It all started with the belief that the immune system played an important role in responding to cancer and that the T cells of the immune system needed to be studied. “I really wanted to understand T cells and the immune system,” James Allison says. Tyler Jacks, a fellow scientist, tells us: “Jim doesn’t care that he is not following convention. He’s an iconoclast. They are always thinking beyond the work. They’re creative people.” Jim felt that tumors caused T-cell receptors to turn off the immune system, but if you inserted an antibody, then the T-cells would be free to attack the tumor. His experiments with mice were amazing as the mice that had received the antibodies just before Christmas became tumor-free.

But now the real work began.

OBSTACLES TO OVERCOME

Jim spent ten years trying to get his discovery of the antibody that would turn the immune system into a fighting force against tumors made into a drug for cancer patients like Sharon Belvin. He had written his first paper (“Enhancement of Anti Tumor Immunology by CTLA-4”) in 1996, but things went South fast.

Interferon 2 was in the news then, but it took “two years and nobody would listen.” This is the period of time when Jim’s brother, Mike, was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer in his fifties. Two of Jim’s uncles had also died of cancer. Jim’s urgency escalated. But clinical trials take deep pockets; no big pharma firms wanted to shell out for them. If a drug is deemed safe in Phase 1, it goes on to Phases 2 and 3. As one fellow researcher said on camera, “Mainstream medicine was ignoring the immunology crowd. And pharmaceutical companies don’t know if something is promising or deadly.”

James’ P. Allison’s drug, known commercially as Yervoy, became the first to extend the survival of patients with late-stage melanoma. Follow-up studies show 20 percent of those treated live for at least three years with many living beyond 10 years— unprecedented results. Additional research has extended this approach to new immune regulatory targets with drugs approved to treat certain types and stages of melanoma, lung, kidney, bladder, gastric, liver, cervical, colo-rectal cancer, and head and neck cancers as well as Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The documentary premiered at SXSW on March 9th. If you have a close friend or loved one affected by cancer (and who doesn’t?) you should see this one.

Page 1 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén