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!

Category: Interviews Page 1 of 7

Sarah Huckabee Sanders to Leave White House Post

                Sarah Huckabee Sanders

OPEN ON C-SPAN LOGO OVER CAPITOL:
ANNCR. V.O.: Earlier today former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders testified before the House Special Committee on Impeachment. Ms. Sanders was questioned by Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York about various statements she has made to the media that she later acknowledged were not true.
FADE IN: HOUSE HEARING ROOM. SFX: CAMERA SHUTTERS.
SARAH SANDERS IS IN THE WITNESS CHAIR AND IS EXTREMELY UNCOMFORTABLE.
MR. NADLER: Ms. Sanders, thank you for responding to the court order that you appear.
MS. SANDERS: Well, it was a court order.
MR. NADLER: And had you not obeyed it, you could have gone to prison. Is that why you came today?
MS. SANDERS: …yes.
MR. NADLER: Ms. Sanders, the Mueller Report quotes you as acknowledging to the Special Counsel that you lied to the White House press corps about why the president fired FBI Director Comey. Is that correct?
MS. SANDERS: Yes.
MR. NADLER: You told the White House press corps that the reason the president fired Mr. Comey was that the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in Comey. Was that a true statement?
MS. SANDERS: No.
NADLER: And what did you tell Mr. Mueller about why you had told the press corps that “the rank-and-file of the FBI had lost confidence in Comey?
SHE IS SQUIRMING.
SANDERS: I told Mr. Mueller that I had said that, quote, “in the heat of the moment.”
NADLER: And was that statement true? That you lied to the press corps in the heat of the moment?
SANDERS: Yes. It…it was in the heat of the moment. That happens. People blurt out untrue things in the heat of the moment all the time.
NADLER: Now, you told the Special Counsel something else about that untrue statement, didn’t you?
MS. SANDER: Yes. I admitted that saying that Comey had lost the support of rank-and-file members was, quote, “not founded in anything whatsoever.”
MR. NADLER: You also told the Special Counsel that when you told the White House press corps that you personally had been contacted by “countless members of the FBI,” that had been, quote, “a slip of the tongue.”
MS. SANDERS: Yes. A slip of the tongue.
MR. NADLER: And, in fact, you told my staff in a pre-interview that you had not been contacted by countless members of the FBI complaining about their lack of confidence in Director Comey.
MS. SANDERS: Yes, that had been an outright lie. And I admitted that to Special Counsel Mueller and to your staff.
MR. NADLER: In fact, you admitted that you had been contacted by exactly zero members of the FBI.
SANDERS: Yes. Not one.
NADLER: And you also told us that you felt compelled to tell the truth to the Special Counsel because your testimony to him was given under penalty of perjury?
SANDERS: Yes.
MR. NADLER: And that the reason you told the truth in that instance was that you were afraid of going to prison?
SANDERS: Yes. Very much so.
MR. NADLER: And you know the testimony you’re giving before this committee is also under penalty of perjury.
SANDERS: Yes.
MR. NADLER: And the reason you are telling us the truth right now also is that you are afraid of going to prison?
SANDERS: Yes. I am very, very afraid of going to prison.
MR. NADLER: And yet, two days after the Mueller Report came out saying that you had admitted lying repeatedly to the media, you lied to the media again?
SANDERS: Yes. I lied to George Stephanopoulos.
MR. NADLER: You told Mr. Stephanopoulos that when you lied about the reason Director Comey was fired that, quote: “It was in the heat of the moment, meaning that it wasn’t a scripted talking point. I’m sorry I wasn’t a robot like the Democratic Party.” Am I quoting you accurately?
SANDERS: Yes.
MR. NADLER: But what you told Mr. Stephanopoulos was not true, was it?
SANDERS: No.
MR. NADLER: And it was a lie because, in fact, it had been a talking point, hadn’t it?
SANDERS: Yes.
MR. NADLER: And are you admitting that only because you are under oath here, and you knew if you lied, you could go to prison?
SANDERS CONSULTS WITH HER ATTORNEY
SANDERS: Yes. That is correct.
NADLER: And why, after admitting in the Mueller Report that you had lied to the White House press corps, did you lie to Mr. Stephanopoulos?
SANDERS: I misspoke because I was freaked out and didn’t know what I was saying.
NADLER: You were freaked out?
SANDERS: Yes, I was.
NADLER: Are you freaked out now, Ms. Sanders?
HER ATTORNEY LEANS IN AND WHISPERS IN HER EAR. SHE WHISPERS BACK. THERE ARE A FEW BACK AND FORTHS. NADLER WAITS IMPATIENTLY.
SANDERS: Let me clarify. I was freaked out when I lied to Mr. Stephanopoulos. I am a little freaked out now, but not as freaked out as I was when I was on with Mr. Stephanopoulos.
HER ATTORNEY NODS
NADLER: Ms. Sanders, you swore to tell the truth to this committee.
SANDERS: Yes. And I have. To the best of my ability. Really, Mr. Chairman. I am not good at this. And that is the honest truth.
NADLER: I believe you. But you know that being freaked out is not a legal defense if you lie to the committee?
SANDERS: Yes. And that is why I am just trying so very, very hard to be truthful.
NADLER: So you don’t go to prison?
SANDLER: Yes. That is why I’m freaked out. Because I so, so do not want to go to prison. And I am doing the very best I can to be every bit as honest as I know how. (CORRECTING HERSELF) I mean, even more honest than that. I really don’t want to go to prison.
NADLER: Well then just tell us the truth.
SANDERS: Okay. The truth is I am especially scared of people who do not look like me.
NADLER: Oh, no, no, no. No. You don’t have to bare your soul. Just answer the questions truthfully.
SANDERS: Oh. So, I probably shouldn’t have said that?
NADLER: Well…what you said is very ugly and sad. But I know it was honest.
SANDERS: Thank you. I can’t tell you how much that means to me.
NADLER: Right. Let me ask you something. You’re about to leave the White House, and I imagine you are looking for a job with some public relations firm or maybe setting up your own shop. Do you intend to continue lying to the public and to the media wherever it is you land?
SANDERS CONSULTS WITH HER ATTORNEY. THIS IS A LONG ONE. FINALLY…
SANDERS: Yes. But only if there is no other way to help my clients.
NADLER: Okay. Just know that if you lie again publicly that we reserve the right to call you back.
SANDERS: I understand.
NADLER: But it would be great not to have to call you again.
SANDERS: Tell me about it.
NADLER: You may be excused.
SANDERS: Thank you. Am I still under oath?
NADLER: Actually, no.
SANDERS: Great! (TURNS UGLY) This whole hearing is a witch hunt! The ones you should be investigating are the lefty SPIES in the FBI who bugged Trump Tower!
NADLER: Oh boy. We will stand adjourned until tomorrow morning.
HE HITS THE GAVEL. AS A FOX NEWS CAMERAMAN STEPS IN WITH HIS HANDHELD CAMERA POINTED AT SARAH…
SANDERS: You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Mr. Chairman! To insinuate that I had been lying when this president is presiding over the strongest economy in the history of humankind!
SHE ADDRESSES THE FOX CAMERAMAN
SANDERS (CONT’D): You got that?
AS HE GIVES HER THE THUMBS UP…
FADE

(*The above courtesy of former Senator Al Franken’s Facebook Page).

Suzanne Weinert of Flatiron Pictures Is Writer/Producer/Director On the Rise

Filmmaker Suzanne Weinert, in Austin, Texas. (Picture by Connie Wilson).

Suzanne Weinert is the president of Flatiron Pictures, located in Austin (TX),which specializes in producing independent feature films throughout the Southwest. Her short “A Good Son,” which she directed, just had its World Premiere at SXSW. Thematically, it bears some resemblance to a Burt Reynolds film, “The End.” (1978) The short is playing at the Boston Film Festival April 11-16. Hopefully,  the feature of “A Good Son” (which exists) might attract the interest of Boston-based filmmakers and, ideally, a star like Alan Arkin.

Suzanne has been producing, writing and, now, directing films since she answered an ad for an intern while a student at Columbia University and ended up assisting Director Ron Howard as he helmed “The Paper” (released in 2004). After that start, while still working on her MFA in Filmmaking, Suzanne began working for Julia Roberts’ Production Company, Shoelace Productions, and rose to become Vice President of that organization.

Suzanne has worked on such films as “Conspiracy theory” (1997), “Notting Hill” (1999), “Runaway Bride” (1999) and “The Paper” (1994) and also on “Hellion” (2014) and as the writer of the 2009 film “The ExTerminators” (Heather Graham, Jennifer Coolidge and Amber Heard) which, after it ran at SXSW that year, she says, “changed my life.”

The write-up in this year’s SXSW program for her short “A Good Son” is this: “When Tommy, 75, asks his son Mike to put a Hefty bag over his head and suffocate him to death, neither believes the other will really go through with it. Until Mike’s son, Chris, 17, devises a plan that will satisfy both his father and grandfather.”

Writer/Director Suzanne Weinert of Flatiron Pictures in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

When we spoke about making movies and the theme of this particular effort, Suzanne shared these insights: “I’ve had a lot of people say to me, since they saw the short, ‘This is a conversation that’s actually going on in my house.’” She mentioned the “sandwich generation” (as the group of young people caught between caring for their own families and caring for their elderly parents is sometimes called) and asked me if I’d seen the appearance of Bea Smith’s husband on “The View.”

Bea Smith was a famous restauranteer. Several years ago Bea and her spouse sat down and talked about what to do in the event that either of them got Alzheimer’s or dementia or some other debilitating illness that would require extensive assistance. They spelled out everything each would want. Bea’s husband has done everything she asked, but when he brought another woman to their house— someone he met after Bea’s condition worsened— who has helped him  care for his ailing wife, that was controversial to many, if not to the couple themselves.

A recent news article about comedian Tim Conway, 86, shared that Conway’s wife of many years and his adult daughter were in court arguing about care for the former member of Carol Burnett’s comedy troupe, who has severe dementia and is now largely unresponsive.  Stan Lee’s death was similarly controversial and in the press a few months ago.

As Suzanne said, “They (Bea Smith & her husband) had this conversation. In America, we seem to have decided that dying is optional, so no one wants to talk about it. But the truth is, it’s going to happen to everyone and we all need to be talking about it.”

Q:  I asked Suzanne, “What is your background?”

A:   “I went to Columbia undergrad. I got a B.A. from Barnard College and then I got a Master’s degree. I started the Master’s program in Dramatic Writing and quickly realized that was not what I wanted to do, so I transferred and ended up getting an MFA in Screenwriting and Filmmaking.

While I was there, Ron Howard was looking for an intern. It was on the internship bulletin board. It said, ‘Director is seeking intern for feature film.’ I ripped off the thing and I called the number. It was Ron Howard. He was looking for an intern to work with him. So, I went down and had the interview. Kathryn Bigelow was my idol, and I remember having this conversation with Ron about Kathryn and how she’s my idol. When I was done and walked out, I thought, ‘I can’t even believe I said all these things to him.’ But he called me the next day and said, ‘I think this would be a good job for you.’ So, I was literally his intern. The Paper was a big movie. It had Michael Keaton, who had just done 2 Batmans, Glenn Close and Marisa Tomei, who had just won the Oscar for My Cousin Vinny, Randy Quaid, Robert DuVall, Jason Robards, Jason Alexander, Catherine O’Hara, Spalding Grey. The film was ‘The Paper.” (released in 2004) I was still in film school. I was in my second year. I said, ‘Oh, my gosh. I got this thing.’ It paid no money.”

Q:  What was it like working for Ron Howard?

A:  “I was so lucky to work with someone at that stage in my career who was so wonderful, so kind,  so personally generous. Ron Howard set the bar on how you should behave. I remember after just a few weeks—a teamster was coming to pick him up every morning from New Jersey. He had to come down the west side, anyway. Instead of leaving me to take public transportation at 5 o’clock in the morning, Ron would have his teamster come and pick me up first. So, I would get 15 minutes alone in the car every morning with Ron Howard.

After a while, he said to me, ‘We should pay you something.’ So, any little job along the way he would throw my way. I got to be in a scene one day, and I got paid for that. Another time I got to work with the second unit for a day as a P.A. (production assistant). Everyone took care of me. The Teamsters took care of me. I remember the last day of shooting I gave my teamster driver a pie. I’m not a cook, but I baked him a pie. For my first time on a film set, it was so magical.

Writer/Director Suzanne Weinert of Flatiron Pictures. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

But, the beauty of it was that, if Ron was there, I got to be there, which is not always the case for interns. The one thing I remember is that being a director means being able to handle 1,000 questions at one time. It was amazing. The script was written by David Koepp and Stephen Koepp who went on to become some of the biggest screenwriters of all, at the time, but this was one of their earlier works.  It was 1992. This was one of their first ones before they started doing, like Jurassic Park, Stir of Echoes and Spiderman (2002).”

After the Ron thing was done—he was going on to prep “Apollo 11”—  the chairwoman of the department knew that someone was starting a production company in New York and she thought of me. I went to the interview and I got that job.  It was Julia Roberts.

They wanted someone to read scripts and to work hard. I was really lucky. They made it really easy for me to have responsibility. And, I got to stay in New York. I was living on 16th Street. After a few months we moved the office to 19th Street. Her president of production was a guy who was so kind, so gracious. She had a process of taking a script from there to the screen. They were super welcoming—not at all the stories you hear about Hollywood. I thought, ‘I’ll stay for 2 years. I’ll get some experience, and then I’ll just go somewhere and start to write screenplays for money.’ But I was having such a good time I stayed 7 and ½ years. I stayed 4 times longer than I thought I would be there.

Q:  Other Julia Roberts stories, beyond working on “Runaway Bride,” “Conspiracy Theory” and “Notting Hill?”

A:  I love to travel. I’m a big traveler. I’ve always volunteered for Habitat for Humanity. At one point there came a time where Julia had an opportunity to go to Borneo for a while and do a thing about orangutangs. Lewis Leaky had 3 graduate students he sent to Africa. Diane Fosse and Jane Goodall and Dr.  Birute Mary Galdikas. Jane has remained this beautiful woman. Diane was unfortunately killed. The third woman is still in Borneo and runs an orangutang rescue and that’s who we stayed with.”

My habitat work, I’ve slept on church pews for a month in Alaska. I’m used to roughing it, so when Julia said, ‘Come on…do you want to go to the Borneo jungle?’ I said, ‘Sure!’ So we did that one and a few years later we did one in Mongolia. We went to Mongolia and out to the Gobi Desert for several weeks. So, the job changed, too. We just kept doing things that were personally fulfilling. To me, to go to these exotic places with these wonderful crews from Britain and elsewhere…it was so fantastic!”

Q:  After the orangutang experience, what was next?

A:  We did orangutangs in ’97 and then we came back and did a bunch more movies, and then we went to Mongolia. At that point I had been writing scripts, and I just really wanted to jumpstart my writing career. I had just sort of gotten sidetracked for 7 years having a great time. I think I was like 34, maybe. It just seemed like a good time.

I really had always had this vision that I would just sit, with a view, and write. I think it was kind of like a ‘now or never’ thing. So I left. Something happens around 33, 34, I think. You start thinking: all right. So, then I spent a whole bunch of time writing and living in New York. I wrote ExTerminators (Heather Graham, Jennifer Coolidge, Amber Heard, directed by John Inwood). It showed at SXSW, and it changed my life. I’ve filmed 12 movies in Texas recently.”

Q:  Was there ever a moment when you had to make a decision on whether to stay or whether to leave the position as Vice President of Julia Roberts’ Shoelace Productions?

A:  I just knew. Someone did a paper on a theory that every 7 years you change. You are different. You are physically different. I think that was part of it.

My short this year (“A Good Son”) screened on the first Friday, which was great for me, but a lot of my friends couldn’t see it.”) ‘A Good Son’ really is based on a true story. Tommy Ryan really is a very virile 75-year-old man. I wanted to be honest that this is a man who has lived, by his own admission, a full life. He feels satisfied. Married to the same woman for 40 years. Raised a couple of decent kids. He doesn’t want to become feeble and have the last few years of his life be a drag. I really wanted it to say, ‘Sometimes, you’re just done.

Image from Suzanne Weinert’s “A Good Son.” (SXSW Press)

I wrote the short because I wanted to have something to show to others. So, the next step, after the short makes the festival circuit (it plays in Boston April 11-16), is going to be taking the feature out. I would like to see the film made at the feature level, but no one is going to give me $30 million dollars easily. Alan Arkin would be my dream casting. Or Robert Duvall. A friend of mine directed “Get Low” and Bill Murray played in it. (Duvall was in “The Paper’”) Alan Arkin still seems very strong and virile and alive, to me. The Boston teams—the Bruins, etc.— are a big part of the short. There are all these Boston actors and Boston directors. Jon Hamm. Mark and Donny Wahlberg. Matt Damon. Ben Affleck.

Then you start to think about what Boston-based or Boston-bred actors and directors might actually want to direct a movie about a bunch of guys from Boston. That’s kind of the direction I’m taking. There’s already a network. There’s no women in it; I don’t know exactly how to get them in there, but I want the short to do well and then ask the Boston-based directors, ‘Here’s a film about your town.’” How do I reach out to the Boston directors/actors?

Q:  Which is the better route: a college film making program or starting to direct on your own when young?

A:  Columbia’s under grad at the time did not offer a film program. U.T. has a good program where you actually get to make a short. My undergrad degree is in dramatic writing—plays and things like that. I actually had to go back to film school to study that; it was a different era.

I would say now that if you got out of school and all you had was a Bachelor’s in English, you might be at a disadvantage. I learned how to work every single piece of equipment on the set and I still have a circle of closest friends who are people I trust when it comes to work, so it gave me a great start.

It helps to be in a place where film is considered a possibility. I enjoyed having that background. It gave me a great team of people who are still in play.  You need to live in a place where film is considered an option. Austin is a great town. (Suzanne winters here; spends the hot summers in Auckland, New Zealand).

The people who are still here (the industry has shrunk considerably) are willing to help the people who are just starting out. We have a film society here that is willing to help people out. Austin is a great town for this. Dallas, Houston, Atlanta—they all have a film society organized. I don’t know any other way, so, for me, graduate school was the only possible way to go. My friends kind of went a different way.

They got into advertising. They never crossed over. Once you get into advertising you stay in advertising because the money is so good and so consistent. I’ve never had to live in L.A. I can be anywhere to write. I grew up an only child in New York, but after 2009 I moved to Austin. I joined the board of the Austin Film Society in 2012, became vice president in 2014 and then President in 2016.  It’s a purely voluntary position. Everyone on the board donates their time.  I just really wanted to give back to the community while writing and producing movies through Flatiron. Every movie that I made we shot somewhere in Texas. I shot 12 movies here in Texas and I go to L.A. a couple days each month, because my manager is there and my legal team is there and a lot of the directors I work with are there. You have to go there, but you don’t have to live there.”

Q: Isn’t part of the job of a producer raising money?

A:   Yes.

Q:  How does one do that?

A:   It’s really hard and it’s gotten harder.  Extra funds seem to have dried up now. Oil is not as high, per barrel, as it used to be. People are not as willing to take a risk.

Q:  What are the best states that offer perks to aspiring filmmakers?

A:  Atlanta is pretty consistent. To the best of my knowledge, that’s in perpetuity. They’re just going to keep doing it for a long time. Louisiana. New Mexico. Oklahoma has a very good program, but it has a cap on it. Michigan tried it for a while. Indiana. Massachusetts. New York. States like Georgia have found it to be successful. New York is clued into the fact that it is really successful.

Q:  You’d like to see top notch talent attach itself to the idea of the short?

A:  Yes. Then, my production company owns the rights to about 10 different projects. My immediate goal is to get the feature of “The Good Son” done.

Q:  What’s next for Suzanne:

A:  My short is actually based on a feature script I wrote a few years ago. As I said, I’m hoping to shop that around once the short finishes its festival run. Scriptwise, a horror movie I wrote called “Ghost Passenger” is set to start pre-production this summer. And I recently set up a rom-com called “Previously Engaged” at Intrepid Pictures.  Directing wise, I’m going to shoot a pilot for an Austin-based TV series I created this fall. So 2019 is turning out to be a pretty busy year.”

Michael Cohen on “Late Night”: Were the Congressional Hearings of 2/27 the “Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players”?

 I watched (most of) the Michael Cohen testimony today on CNN. I even taped the earlier testimony, in case I wanted to go back and watch, for instance, the argument that broke out between a Democrat and a Republican about Donald J. Trump’s racist tendencies. I thought these tendencies had been fairly well established back when the state of New York targeted DJT and his father (Fred) in a sting operation that involved the duo not renting to blacks.

A black couple was told there was “no room in the inn.” Immediately afterwards, a white couple was rented an apartment. This is old news and easily checked out online. There have been plenty of other examples since then, but that would bog down this mention of today’s appearance of Michael Cohen in front of Congress and serve no purpose other than to rehash old news.

I was most put off by Republican Jim Jordan (blue shirt, yellow tie guy) who was extremely hostile and, in a particularly funny moment, tried to introduce an amendment AFTER he had already yielded his time. Then there was Congressman Matt Gaetz who threatened Cohen on Twitter, saying Michael Cohen’s wife was likely to hear about his girlfriends. (Didn’t happen). Gaetz added the rather low comment, “I wonder if she’ll be waiting for you while you’re in prison.” As Seth Meyer said on “Late Night,” “I didn’t think anyone could out-sleaze Trump on Twitter, but you did it, my friend.”

There was talk of whether Michael Cohen wanted a job in the White House.  Meyer said, “Well, that would have been a solid source of income for weeks.” I was instantly reminded of General Kelly, face buried in palm for weeks, saying, “This is the worst job I ever had.”

THINGS WE LEARNED TODAY:

1)Michael Cohen testified that Trump knew that Roger Stone was talking with Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.

2) Michael Cohen testified that Trump knew about the leaked Democratic documents from the DNC.

3)  Michael Cohen expressed contrition and (hopefully genuine) remorse and endured a great deal of unattractive, immature bashing from the Republicans in the hall.

Seth Meyer showed a picture of DJT in Vietnam for his “summit” with North Korean’s Kim Jung Un and made the comment, “Trump finally went to Vietnam, but he’s getting killed back home.” For those of you who have been living under a rock, this was a reference to the bogus bone spurs that Trump used as his excuse to avoid active military service in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

4)  Michael Cohen told the assembled Congressmen and women: “He (DJT) had no desire or intention to lead this country, only to market himself.”

Democratic National Convention, 2008, Denver: CNN Headquarters. (Photo from Connie Wilson’s book “Obama’s Odyssey.”)

Michael Cohen went on to talk about Trump’s goals when he began running for President and even shared that he was the one  responsible for setting up a website to explore a potential run, early on. According to Michael Cohen, 5)  “Donald J. Trump ran for office to market his brand and to increase his power. He would often say, ‘This campaign is going to be a great info-mercial.’

Added Seth Meyer, “like most things on infomercials, it turned out to be much crappier than it looked on TV.” 

6)  Michael Cohen spoke about the Trump Tower Meeting, specifically, Donald Trump, Jr. coming in and walking behind DJT’s desk and speaking to his father. Said Cohen, “What struck me as I look back was that DJT had frequently had told me his son Don, Jr., had the worst judgment in the world.” Meyer said, “That’s saying a lot when he claims his son is even dumber than he is, because he’s as dumb as a box of rocks.” (Ouch!)

Then came a close-up look at Paul Gosar (R, AZ), whose own siblings took out ads endorsing his opponent in 2018. A dentist from Arizona, he couldn’t get his statement out before his time expired, but he came with a giant poster that bore a picture of Cohen with the words, “Liar! Liar! Pants on fire!” What struck me was that he could simply put Trump’s face over Cohen’s and it could  become a permanent fixture of any televised appearance by Agent Orange in the future, since Trump has told well over 9,000 verifiable lies since assuming office.

Louisiana Congressman Clay Higgins (R, LA) was highlighted, saying, “I didn’t know who you were until today really.” He also likened Cohen to “many of the thousands of men I arrested” saying he doubted the sincerity of all of the criminals he had apprehended, who claimed remorse after their arrest. Higgins’ accusation was that Cohen was angling to get a TV show from his appearance this day.

7)  Cohen replied, rather calmly, “Mr. Higgins, “I’ve been on TV representing Mr. Trump since 2011.”

 As Seth Meyer said, “He looks like the kind of guy who’d say, ‘Well, I don’t have a TV set. I get all my news from a gossip-y alligator.” The writers also compared Jim Jordan’s rapid-fire staccato outburst of names of individuals who were currently accused of being less than forthcoming (Jim Comey was one) as “Like a Fox News version of ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire!'” Meyer was right; the entire outburst was like a small child on the playground.

Actually, nearly all of the Republican questioners of Michael Cohen, the sad-eyed beagle amongst them, came off that way. Their chief purpose was not to elicit information. They don’t seem to care if Trump is a petty or a major criminal, but only whether they will remain in power.

8)  It seems quite sad that they are completely indifferent as to whether or not the Chief Executive (the guy with his finger on the nuclear button) might be  a traitor (a “useful idiot”) or in bed with the Russians or maybe just a petty small-time criminal who used money from his (so-called) cancer charity to pay for a portrait of himself and cheated on his taxes every chance he got. [Constitution? What Constitution! Pshaw! Ain’t no big deal!]

As Meyer concluded, the hearings merely showed ” that Republicans are supporting Trump despite the fact that there is still so much to learn about him.”

 

Schiff on Mueller Investigation: “We’ll Take Trump to Court!”

Image result for Adam Schiff images

[Adam Schiff Image from Wikipedia]

Adam Schiff, Democratic Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, on George Stephanopoulus on February 24, 2019 had the following message for the nation about the Mueller investigation.

Q:  George Stephanopoulus:  What do you hope to learn when Michael Cohen testifies tomorrow (Feb. 27th)?

A: Well, many things. Why the false statements when he first appeared before our committee? Did his testimony go beyond what he testified to us the first time we looked into Moscow Trump Tower? Who else would have been aware of the false testimony he was giving? What other light can he shed? What else can he tell us about the Trump Tower New York meeting or any other endeavor he can shed light on.

Q:  GS – What about the Trump campaign’s finances? You’ve suggested that is the new front in your investigation.

A:  AS – This is something I’ve been concerned about for 2 years now. We weren’t really permitted to explore it when the Republicans headed the committee. We are learning the perils of ignoring the financial issues and crossing what the president called his “red line.” What we’ve learned to date about Moscow Trump Tower is chilling: As Donald Trump was campaigning for the presidency and was telling the American public that he had no dealings with Russia, he was privately negotiating with the Russians to make what may well have been the most lucrative deal of his life, even reportedly offering an inducement to Putin to make it happen. (*Note: it is reported that DJT offered Putin a penthouse apartment for assistance in helping make the deal go through.) If DJT was discussing removing sanctions against Russia, whether it is criminal or not, it is deeply compromising to our national security, so those issues have to be probed, and they include money laundering as well.

Q: GS – In regards to the Mueller investigation if the President did not collude but, if that’s not criminal, does Mueller have a responsibility to report on it or no?

A: AS – He does, in fact, have a responsibility to report  it, and, in fact, if you take the position—and I think it’s a  flawed one—that the President cannot be indicted and the only remedy for improper conduct is impeachment, then you have the necessity to report that to Congress, or essentially the President has immunity. That cannot be allowed to be the case. Bill Barr has committed in his testimony to making as much of the report public as he can. The regulations allow him to make ALL of it public, and we’re going to insist on that. And more than that, we’re going to insist on the underlying evidence because there is certain evidence that is only in the hands of the Department of Justice that we can’t get in any other way….the conduct of Roger Stone and Paul Mananfort, for instance…there’s just no way to get the evidence that was seized except going through the Department of Justice and we can’t tell the country what happened without it.

Q:  GS – If you decline to prosecute someone, then the DOJ has said the information, the underlying evidence, should not be released.

A:  AS – But, George, the Department has violated that policy repeatedly and extensively to a great extent over the last 2 years. In fact, I’ve had this conversation with Rod Rosenstein and others in the Justice Department as they turned over thousands and thousands of pages of testimony in the Clinton e-mail investigation and there was no indictment in that investigation. This was a new precedent they were setting, and they were going to have to live by this precedent whether it was a Congress controlled by the Democrats or the Republicans. So they’re going to have to abide by that. And I think, also, that, apart from the precedent they’ve already set, that the public has an intense  need to know, here, which I think overrides every other justification.

Q:  GS – You say they have to live by that precedent, but what if they refuse to live by it. What if they simply say no?

A:  AS – Well, we will obviously subpoena the report, we will bring Bob Mueller in to testify before Congress; we will take it to court, if necessary, and, in the end, I think the Department understands they’re going to have to make this public. I think Barr will ultimately understand that, as well. Barr comes into this job with 2 strikes against him. He applied for the job by demonstrating a bias against the investigation. He’s also been shown to not follow the advice of ethics lawyers—indeed, that was part of the reason he was hired. If he were to try to withhold, try to bury any part of this report, that will be his legacy, and it will be a tarnished legacy. So, I think there will be immense pressure not only on the department, but also on the Attorney General to be forthcoming.

Q:  GS – You’re talking about public pressure. Are you prepared to take the Administration to court?

A: AS – Absolutely! We are going to get to the bottom of this. We are prepared to share this information with the public and if the president is serious about all his claims of exoneration by this report, then the President should welcome this report.

Q:  GS – Do you have any evidence at all that the President colluded?

A:  AS – George, there is ample evidence of collusion, and it is very much in the public record. It’s everything from Paul Mananfort from sharing polling date—and not top-line data “this is why we think Trump is gonna’ win data”—but raw data, complicated data. We’ve seen evidence of Roger Stone in communication with WikiLeaks. We’ve seen Trump’s son having a secret meeting in Trump Tower that was presented to him as part of the Russian government’s attempt to help the Trump campaign. His acceptance of that help, his interest in getting that—all of that is evidence of collusion. Whether that will amount to a criminal conspiracy that can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, we’ll have to wait for Bob Mueller to tell us but to not see what is clearly in front of us means that you clearly don’t WANT to see what is in front of us, because it is quite abundant.

 

 

 

Will Hurd (R, TX) Speaks Out Against Trump’s Border Wall

Image result for Will Hurd pictures
Will Hurd (R,Tx)
Image from Wikipedia
Will Hurd, (R,TX) on “Face the Nation” on February 17, 2019 was asked about the looming show-down over President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to get funding for his border wall.
Q:  You have 800 miles of the border in your district?  How will the National Emergency Declaration affect your district?
Will Hurd: I’m the only Republican who represents a border town. I spent almost a decade chasing bad guys as an undercover guy (before serving in Congress). I don’t think we needed a National Emergency Declaration. This is a problem that has existed since before Ronald Reagan. What we need to be doing is using a combination of technology and other methods.
DEL RIO BORDER SECTION, EAGLE PASS
Will Hurd: “We just passed a declaration that adds new technology. I was just down in the Del Rio sector of the border in Eagle Pass, and I crossed the border into Mexico. There was unprecedented cooperation with the Mexican government. Most of the caravan members are from Central America. Nine-two percent of the people in the caravan are from Central America, especially Honduras.
Will Hurd: We need to address things like border patrol pay. There is a retention problem with border patrol agents. We need additional technology. We just passed something in Congress called the Innovative Tower Initiative, the Smart Wall, which uses technology to figure out what is going on.
Q: How does this concept of the wall and using eminent domain to take land to build Trump’s wall affect Private property in your district?
Will Hurd A; In the great state of Texas we care about a little thing called ownership of private property. Over 1,000 ranchers and farmers would be affected. The government gets to automatically take the land (using eminent domain) and the owner has to go into court to fight to make sure they are getting the bare minimum payment for their land. One. One million acres of arable land is being seized…It’s CRAZY! (with emphasis).
(Hurd sits on House Appropriations)
Will Hurd: “This national emergency declaration. You can’t spend $8 billion in the next 6 months. Can you take funds for military construction…how about in Del Rio, TX, which produces more pilots than anywhere, we’ve been working on fixing additional funds to stop the flooding that keeps us from training pilots. There is
already 654 miles of barrier.The president has already been authorize over 654 million and over 750 million by Home Security. Our government was not designed to exist by national emergency. Our government was designed for the power of the purse to reside in Congress. We shouldn’t have a president, whether Republican or Democratic, who tries to get around it. I would support something that prevents taking money out of military construction for this. They need to make sure that these people are property trained and properly armed. We’re almost in uncharted territory. This is one of the first times that there has been a disagreement It sets a dangerous precedent.
Q: You are saying that the U.S. doesn’t need this wall but will hurt national security?
Will Hurd: “If you’re taking $ away from the military, we just spent the last 4 years rebuilding the military. I don’t want to see that money being taken away from that. We went through a number of hearings and investigations for that money and that is how our government is supposed to operate. 67 billion of drugs are coming into our country and 400,000 people coming in illegally. We need to have operational security. We need manpower and technology. In some places a physical barrier makes sense; we already have 654 miles of fence or barrier.)
Will Hurd: We need a focus on technology, not just one tool (a wall).

 

“The Front Runner”

“The Front Runner,” starring Hugh Jackman and directed by Jason Reitner, was the favorite film I saw this past 54th Chicago International Film Festival. It reminded me of “The Candidate” directed by Michael Ritchie and starring Robert Redford, which I reviewed 46 years ago (1972). In fact, I still have a button that says, “All the Way with Bill McKay” from the Showcase Cinemas in Milan, a gimmick given out to those who attended the film. Reitman acknowledged, in the Q&A following the film, that “’The Candidate’ was our North Star” during shooting of this film about the 1988 presidential race of Colorado candidate Gary Hart. “The Front Runner”  also reminds of Beau Williman’s “Ides of March” with Ryan Gosling.

Hugh Jackman plays Gary Hart, the candidate, and the film follows the rise and fall of Senator Hart, who was considered the overwhelming front runner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination until the story of an extramarital relationship aboard a yacht called “Monkey Business” doomed his campaign, causing him to drop out. I was immediately reminded of how dangerous “front runner” status can be. I thought back to the Howard Dean campaign and the “sleepless summer” of 2004, which I covered for www.blogforiowa.com. [Each candidate, Hart and Dean, shot himself in his own foot, so to speak, although Dean’s “scream heard ‘round the world” was augmented by the Kerry forces, who arranged for it to be replayed constantly in a never-ending loop, discrediting that former “front runner.”]

Jason Reitman in Chicago with “The Front Runner,” closing film of the 54th Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

The movie, which runs 113 minute and opens wide November 21st, considers many aspects of the disclosure of Hart’s dalliance with a beautiful blonde (Donna Rice). Although the event happened 30 years ago, it is timely today. As Chicago International Film Festival Artistic Director Mimi Plauche said, onstage, “This is about 4 ‘P’s’: Power, Politics, Privacy and the Presidency.” She asked Director Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”) how he managed to focus the film, since it contained many topics?

His answer was, “The way in became an ensemble.  Everyone had a different point of view. A.J., the reporter for ‘The Washington Post’ (who Reitman conceded was a composite of at least two different reporters) had a certain point of view. Irene Kelly, played by Molly Ephriam, had a certain point of view. I go into every film with questions.  I came to the movie with questions. It’s kind of fun to have differing points of view.”

Asked how he came to make this film, since he was only 10 years old the year that Hart ran for President (1988), Reitman said he had heard about the race on a podcast and became fascinated with it. Plus, he said, he always looks for an ending, and this story had one.

Reitman also said, “I’ve always wanted to work with Hugh Jackman.  Ever since I saw him in “Logan,” for which I think he should have been Oscar-nominated, I’ve wanted to work with him.  Jackman is the most decent human being I’ve ever worked with on a set.  Every day, so that he could get to meet more of the cast and crew, he’d bring scratcher tickets and personally hand them to everybody.  He had a huge spiral notebook of research on Hart.”

Jason Reitman, director of “The Front Runner.”

Talking about film, in general, Reitman said, “If the theory of film Is that it is purposely messy, what is relevant?  What is important?  We were going to throw a lot at you in this film. It was not improvisation. It was controlled madness.”

Of the opening scene, [which sees Hart conceding to Walter Mondale at the 1984 convention], Reitman said, “That was a two and one-half minute shot with a lot happening. Your ears tell you where to look. Steve Morrow wired everybody, so you had lots of people talking.  Sometimes, we’d hand someone a magazine from that year and say, ‘Read this to your seat mate and explain it to him.’ That’s your dialogue.”

PHOTO BOARDING

Acknowledging the contributions of his Director of Photography, Eric Steelberg, Reitman said, “I’ve worked with Eric since we were 15. We do photo-boarding. We take stand-ins and go through every shot and frame on the actual location and shoot pictures. It’s like storyboarding, only with real people and lens directions. When we’re done, you can flip through the book of pictures and see the movie-to-be.”

To what extent were people instructed on how to behave?

“Our North Star throughout was Michael Ritchie’s ‘The Candidate’ (Robert Redford, 1972). We established real rooms where people were doing their jobs.  All the extras were assigned in advance. We gave them photos of reporters on a bus in the eighties to show them how it really was. We used real film from campaigns. We wanted it to feel as live and messy as possible. When we saw film of James Carville eating popcorn out of a coffee filter because they’d run out of paper plates, we said, ‘We’re using that.’ From a technical point of view, this is the most obsessive movie I’ve ever made.’”

WOMEN’S ISSUES

“My producing partner since ‘Up in the Air’ has been Helen Esterbrook.  We both  voice our respective points-of-view.  It was odd that people alive then didn’t remember Donna Rice at all and talked about her as though she were an object.  Even in the last few years, there’s been a shift in how we view Monica Lewinsky and that situation.  We made an early decision on how to portray Donna (Rice). Halfway through the movie you meet Donna (Sara Paxton) and she’s alone.  Sara kind of just took the weight of the whole movie on her shoulders in her scene and did it with great poise.” Reitman said that, in meeting all the real participants, he “felt oddly more responsible to Andrea Hart,” the college-aged daughter, but also remarked “I felt a responsibility to be decent to all the characters.”

It may be this decency on Reitman’s part that leaves the audience with a few alternative versions of Hart’s story involving Donna Rice. In one, Ms. Rice flew up to spend the weekend with Hart in his Washington, D.C., town house. In the other, Ms. Rice and another couple they had been out with for the evening entered his town house but departed via a back exit after about an hour. A major plot point on Hart’s part is that the reporters staking out his town house didn’t cover the back door.  The seasoned campaign manager Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons, Oscar winner for “Whiplash”) says, “It’s not ’72. It’s not even ’82,” noting how public perceptions had changed. That remark is certainly timely today.

Jason Reitman onstage during the Q&A in Chicago for “The Front Runner.”

Reitman then told a true story he had heard from Joe Trippi, the legendary campaign manager who took Howard Dean to front-runner status early in the presidential race of 2004 and who recently master-minded the Alabama campaign of Democratic Senator Doug Jones. [Jones became the first Democrat to be elected to the Senate from Alabama since 1997.] Trippi confirmed that Andrea Hart, Gary’s daughter, had to be sneaked out of their Colorado house while lying flat on the back seat of a car with a blanket concealing her presence there. To make it even more convincing, someone sat on her legs and waved at the throng of reporters.

 

THE PRESS

Noting that the primary/caucus system was established in the mid-seventies, to take the selection of a presidential candidate out of the hands of power brokers in smokey back rooms, it then became the press’ duty to report on the candidates. Reitman said, “The responsibility fell on the shoulders of journalists after the backroom broker system died.”

Asked “Has American gotten the leader it deserves?”, Reitman admitted that he’s not a fan of the current occupant of the Oval Office, saying, “It just kills me every day, but I’m a Canadian. I have an escape plan!” (Laughter).

The comment is made in the film, “Someone will dredge up something you said 15 years ago and pretend it encapsulates your entire life.” In light of the recent Kavanaugh hearings, this rang very true. We also learn that 64% of the public polled felt the stalking of Hart by the Miami Herald was irrelevant and unseemly.

Hart felt, “I care about the sanctity of the process, whether you do or do not!” He did not feel that the press had the right to report on his private life (“Should I sacrifice my privacy?”) Hart also said, “Judgment, like character, needs to be measured in the full context of a career.” And, later, “Politics is on the verge of becoming another form of sport. I’m an idealist and I want to serve my country.” One could point to JFK, Jr.’s ill-fated magazine “George,” which was published from 1995 to 2001 as embodying this idea that politicians were, in essence, becoming celebrities even all those years ago.

A different point-of-view is articulated by campaign worker Ann Devroy (Ari Graynor of “I’m Dying Up Here” on Showtime). Speaking to a female journalist, she says, “He (Hart) is a man with power and opportunity.  As our potential next president and as a journalist, you ought to care.”

THE AXE-THROWING SCENE

Asked about one particular campaign scene, where Candidate Hart ends up at a logging site and must throw an axe at a bull’s eye, Reitman said that the cast and crew had a pool on how many takes it would require for Jackman to hit the bull’s eye. The faux candidate stepped up and hit a bull’s eye with his first throw of the axe. “Then he did the wolverine pose,” said the director, adding, “It took about 8 more takes because the rest of the cast didn’t get it down.”  In the film, a spectator says, “This is a first.  He might just actually throw away his campaign.”  

Reitman acknowledged that, “You look for stories that can be a prism: public life versus private life” and this is definitely a relevant and interesting one from 30 years ago.  The real Gary Hart is now 81 and has been married to his wife, Lee (portrayed by Vera Farmiga) since 1958.

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.”

“Galveston” Premieres at SXSW with Ben Foster & Elle Fanning

 

“Galveston,” based on the novel by Nic Pizzolatto, World Premiered here last Saturday (March 10th). Although I was assigned Red Carpet duties for “Galveston” and Ben Foster, its star, was supposed to attend, along with Elle Fanning,  it would have meant missing out on an interview with the screenwriters for “A Quiet Place.”  I saw it at the end of the festival, instead, without Ben Foster or Elle Fanning.

The brief plot summary for “Galveston”: “After surviving a set-up by his criminal boss (Beau Bridges), a hitman rescues a young prostitute and flees with her to Galveston, Texas, where the two find strength in each other as dangerous pursuers and the shadows of their pasts follow close behind.”

The novel the film was based on (“Galveston”) was written by Nic Pozaletti,  novelist-turned-screenwriter who wrote 22 episodes of television’s “True Detective” series.  Directed by Melanie Laurent, she also scripted it, and it wasn’t as strong as the source material. Producer was 74-year-old Jean Doumanian, better known for producing many of Woody Allen’s best-known films, [before he sued her over “The Jade Scorpion,” when she announced that he had 2 days to find alternative financing and Allen said she had been skimming]. [Interestingly, Doumanian also had a brief, troubled tenure running “Saturday Night Live” in 1980-1981 before Lorne Michaels returned. The credits for “Galveston” read “Jean Doumanian Productions, in association with Storm Outside.” Low Spark films appears as the company that helmed this and, later, when a motel used in the production is named Emerald Shores Motel, it is noteworthy that the company mentioned is Emerald Shores LLC. It is also true that the Motel’s desk woman, Nanee Covington, is well played by C.K. McFarland.]

THE GOOD

                                                                     Ben Foster (Pinterest)

Nobody can put sheer intensity and emotion onscreen better than Ben Foster, the Fairfield, Iowa, native who has studied Transcendental Meditation since the age of 4. Foster dropped out of high school in his freshman year and flew to Los Angeles, based on the strength of an audition tape, to be cast at 16 in a TV show called “Flash Forward.” He never looked back and came to the attention of the public, in general. for his superb work in “Hostage” with Bruce Willis, playing a character named Marshall “Mars” Krupcheck, in 2005.

By that point, I was watching him portray Russell Corwin on “Six Feet Under” (2003-2005) and admiring his acting intensity.  Of this quality, he has said, “That is source, that is art, that is spirituality.  And meditation is a way to defy fear and experience that source.” It seems to have served him well. He has racked up some impressive roles in films like “The Messenger” in 2009, opposite Woody Harrelson, portraying Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, whose task it is to tell soldiers’ families that their loved one has died in combat. Before that, there was Charlie Prince in “3:10 to Yuma” in 2007 and “Alpha Dog” as Jake Magursky in 2006.

Foster, selected in surveys when very young as an actor to watch, has said, “The heat around young actors burns out.  Natural ability and magnetism only get you so far.  The rest is hard work.”

Foster’s co-star in “Galveston,” Elle Fanning, is another young actress who knows all about starting young. Fanning began working on film as the younger version of her older sister, Dakota, at the age of 3, in “Taken” and “I Am Sam.”

Only 19 now, she was just as intense as Foster in her scenes as a young girl from Orange, Georgia, trying to escape a troubled past that included sexual abuse by her stepfather that results in a child, Tiffany (played as a child by Tinsley & Anniston Price and also by Lili Bernhart as a 23-year-old). She upped her game because Foster brought out the best in her, perhaps.

The acting in this film is over-the-top good.

THE BAD

The plot , script and direction: not so much.

The overall tone and setting of gritty reality was done well, and the costume design by Lynette Meyer to portray Elle as a trashy young thing was excellent, although to dismiss her character of “Rocky” as “a prostitute” is to shortchange that character. She is more an innocent with no other way to support herself than a true professional lady of the evening.

Rocky (Raquel/Fanning) shows up in the plot when Roy Cady (Ben Foster) is sent to rob a house which, in reality, is a set-up by his evil boss (who runs a laundromat), Stan Pithco (played by a decidedly portly and greasy Beau Bridges).  When Roy manages to survive the hit, he notices a pretty girl in a red dress tied to a chair. Almost on impulse, Roy cuts her loose and takes her with him— not as a hostage, but more as an act of mercy.

The script, in fact, spells this out in dialogue between Fanning and Foster, when she asks why he is kidnapping her. He responds, “I saved you. Be clear on that.”  Later, Foster goes to the wall for the young girl and her sister/daughter (think “Chinatown”), telling the now-grown-up Tiffany, “All this time I was your friend. You weren’t abandoned.”

There is a story line that involves Cady’s incorrect assumption that he is dying of lung cancer, his drinking (“You look like hell and you smell like it, too”) and his altruistic act(s) in defense of “Rocky”, whose real name is Raquel Arceneaux (Elle Fanning). Never do we get the impression that the 40-year-old and the 19-year-old are sexually involved, (although they do have one memorable date that might have led down that path, had the path been slightly longer.)

There are storms and rain and approaching hurricanes throughout the film (think Shakespeare) and the end made very little sense, except as it evoked a literary novel. By the denouement, the entire film will leave you marveling at the acting while feeling like you really need a stiff drink to recover from the many godawful things that have just happened to the characters.

VERDICT

I enjoy watching Ben Foster work. He has the same ability that Michael Shannon has to completely dominate the screen with his  intensity. Elle Fanning also has come a long way from  previous films. She  did a stand-out job opposite Foster. Maybe his excellence brought out the best in her?

I originally selected this film for Red Carpet duties because I met Foster once before, in Chicago, when he appeared there with “The Messenger” in 2009. He is nothing if not intense, but he is also a good interview and not at all like the almost psychopathic types he occasionally inhabits onscreen. Then the opportunity for interviewing the screenwriters from “A Quiet Place” loomed, in conflict with those duties, so I finally caught the film today at its last showing, and I’ve given you Elle Fanning’s comments (above).

Perhaps Foster will mellow even more as his daughter with Laura Prepon (“The Hero”) approaches one year old this August, and his years (2014 and 2015) with Robin Wright  (Penn), 14 years his senior, fade into oblivion.

See “Galveston” for the acting, but don’t try to make too much sense of the ending, nor of the scenes with Roy’s former African-American girlfriend, Lorraine (Adepero Oduye), which could have been omitted completely without harming the plot.

This is a French person’s script and  take on life in the South (shot in Savannah, Georgia and elsewhere in Georgia with many references to Austin, where Pizzolatto was once a bartender). That could account for some of what I found unsatisfactory about the film. My roommate was a French major in college, so, one year at the Chicago Film Festival (she accompanied me), we watched nothing but films that were in French with English subtitles. Fun for her. For me? Not so much. [ If you’ve  watched many French films, you’ll know what I mean.] I think the movie might have been better served in the Director/Writer area by utilizing a more-experienced U.S. director of either gender .

 

Two Documentaries at SXSW On Professional Athletes & Retirement

Scottish bicyclist tries to qualify for the Tour de France after a 2-year ban, at age 37.

Two documentaries showing at SXSW deal with the difficulty of being an athlete and hanging it up (i.e., retiring). Those two are “Time Trial” by Finlay Pretsel of Scotland and “Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes,” directed by Robert S. Bader. Cavett is 81 now and traveled to Austin with the documentary.

Scottish director Pretsel shot  film of Scottish bicyclist David Millar’s final attempt to qualify for the Tour de France after a 2-year suspension for doping. It was shot, colorfully, from the point-of-view of the cyclist. We learn that Millar got his first road bike at 15 and, while he only wanted one win at the Tour, he has competed there 12 times.

Robert Bader, director of “Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes.

Millar won in 2003, but was later shown to have used drugs. He was banned for 2 years for using EPC. He has felt himself a cheat since that time and this is a story of redemption.

Millar’s trial is Pelleton, a tough gig and, ultimately, Millar is cut from the tour by Charlie, the team leader, and we see him shedding tears in a moment of extreme vulnerability. I, for one, felt he had the look of a haunted man, and I wondered if Lance Davenport looks this way when you meet him.

The director of the bicycling documentary said, “I feel like I’ve had this in the back of my mind for many years.  The only UK cyclist in the Tour de France—the best Scottish cyclist ever.” He did share with us that he considered the film to be capturing “this bizarre sport in a microcosm” and that the rest of the crew that Millar rode for and with was not that supportive.

At the end of the colorful documentary, Pretsel was to take questions, but he was down the hall watching “Heredity” so the bicyclist, himself, got up and said, “Oh, well, I can talk about the film.” He was 37 when they shot the documentary and is 41 now. It was very late this night; Millar had the haunted look of a man who could benefit from counseling as he said, “I’m a very twisted human being.” He added, “I wish there was a film that existed of me winning.”

When I asked what he plans to do now, at 41, his cycling career over, he said, “I hope to do things that are worth telling stories about.”

Muhammad Ali & Dick Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes

In the Dick Cavett/Muhammad Ali tapes we also see a champion—-the only fighter to ever to win the Heavyweight Championship crown three times—who is loathe to stop fighting when he should. Cassius Clay’s early history is portrayed, and then the documentary moves on to the friendship between Ali and Cavett that developed because, as Ali said, “You’re the only one who ever asks me on when I lose.”

After one particularly brutal beating, Ali’s cheeks are as round and bulbous as a chipmunk’s. He is a gracious loser, giving credit to the fighters who have bested him. He calls Cavett his “main man” and the two are shown at Ali’s training camp, where, at one point, Cavett even dons  green trunks and dances around in the ring.

There is also a notable tape where Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali are both on Cavett’s show together and they literally pick him up, physically. All-in-all, the appearances, shown together like this, are like a time capsule of the sixties and the turbulent era of the Vietnam War, which Ali opposed. When Ali converted to Islam and would not fight in Vietnam, he was stripped of his title and lost years of his fighting career, after which he was no longer “floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.” I saw him on campus at the University of Iowa when he was not allowed to fight, and the Union was jammed with students like me who had come to hear what this icon had to say.

Both films treat the difficulty of a pro athlete adjusting to hanging it up forever. However, regular human beings also have to hang up their cleats at some point, in terms of giving up their day jobs, jobs which have also defined them. The thing that helps make it more palatable for a professional bicyclist or a professional fighter has to be the tremendous paychecks some made during their heyday, not to mention the adulation of the crowds, which we see in both documentaries.

The downside is that a sport like boxing can doom those retired from it to diseases like Parkinson’s Disease, which Ali suffered from during the rest of his life. The film is a powerful argument for more stringent protection for athletes in all contact sports. The image of Ali lighting the Olympic torch, arm shaking visibly from the effects of the debilitating disease, is both touching and historic.

I’d recommend the Ali/Cavett  documentary to anyone who was alive in the sixties and remembers them, or to anyone who wants to learn what was happening in this country during that turbulent era.

Dan Rather Appears at Texas Book Festival in Support of “What Unites Us:” Says “Civil Dissent Is As American As Apple Pie.”

Veteran CBS newsman Dan Rather, a Houston native, came to the First Baptist Church in Austin at noon on Saturday (November 4, 2017) to talk about his new book “What Unites Us.”  His appearance was part of the Texas Book Festival, which is one of the largest and one of the most prestigious literary festivals in the country, featuring 250+ nationally and critically recognized adult and children’s authors, 20+ venues (including the State Capital), 80+ exhibitors and live music.

Later in the day (4:00 p.m.), Rather’s spot would be taken by Tom Hanks, talking about his new book of short stories, a compilation united by his love for collecting old typewriters.

But at noon on Saturday, November 4th, Rather sat down with an interviewer and answered questions:

The First Baptist Church in Austin hosted Dan Rather. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Q:  When did nationalism become essentially white nationalism?

A:  I think the sixties spawned this. It was a very difficult period.  I do think that, coming out of the sixties, as an “experienced skeptic,” the tragedy of President Nixon and his appealing to Southern state white racists was not a good thing. Remember: Nixon was successful. He was re-elected two times with overwhelming majorities.  He proved that you can win if you appeal to white supremacists.  We’re now paying the price of what started in the sixties.

We need to pause and take a deep breath.  Our national motto is “E Pluribus Unum”:  “Out of many, one.” We can make it work.

Q:  The slogan “make America great again.” It seems to be asking us to go back to the fifties. Is that true?

A:  There’s no going back to the 1950s and, by the way, the 1950s were not that great (laughter from crowd).  We can’t do it.  Those who try will not succeed.

Texas Book Festival.

Moderator:  “You’re literally whistling Dixie, Dan.” (laughter from audience).  There’s a perception that all this started on January 20th with President Trump’s Inauguration. Is that right?

A:  It started at least as far back as the 1970s or 1980s.  We’re realists. We recognize when we’re wrong. After 9/11 we pulled ourselves together.  Now we are at a decision point:  re-dedicate ourselves to belief in the institutions, values, drive and forward movement of the American Dream.

Q:  You have written your book in terms of 6 essays on such things as Freedom, Character, Responsibility, Science, Empathy and Exploration.  I’d like to ask you about science, in particular.

A:  We can’t move the country forward with post-truth.  There are no “alternative facts.”  I don’t care if you have a degree from Harvard or Stanford, it is ridiculous:  2 + 2 = 4. We know the difference between bullshit and brass tacks.  Water does not run uphill:  Gravity is a fact.

Q:  What makes this unique? All Presidents have sometimes dissembled?

A:  What makes this unique and not moral is these daily statements are not true. No President has ever told so many lies so brazenly and so perpetually. Also, his constant attacks on the free press are unprecedented.  It’s a post-truth where facts don’t matter, and it’s dangerous.

Moderator:  “In your empathy essay you say that we seem to have lost the power to be empathetic.

From the First Baptist Church in downtown Austin, Texas. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

A:  I don’t necessarily feel that way.  We see empathy in the American people all the time:  People are civil, wanting to help.  These are very strong values that Americans prize, and we saw it following the recent natural catastrophes.

What is unworthy of us, as Americans, is a week-long debate about the President of the United States’ words to a grieving widow. Any decent person would have called her back or sent her a note of apology. That is the real spirit of the American heart.

Q:  Let me ask you about your “Dissent” essay.

A:  Yes. Dissent is being discouraged. Civil dissent in America is as American as apple pie.

Q:  What makes our situation right now so perilous, in your view?

A:  I want to be careful about drawing a line between Watergate and the place our country finds itself in now.  Watergate was bad, but it was internal. Now, we have a foreign power intervening and interfering in our democratic process. That is an enormous difference.  Also, the media landscape is different.  It used to be that newspapers were important.  Iphones and social media did not exist.

Q:  Do you think it was better then, or better now?

Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

A:  Overall, I think it is better now to have the Internet. The Internet, when used properly, is a tremendous resource.  Today, the greatest opportunity of the Internet is to educate, but a greater burden is placed on the user.

Rather ended his remarks to a standing ovation from a  crowd of roughly 700 people and left the Church so that Tom Hanks could take his place at 4:00 p.m.

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