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!
Connie has been reviewing film uninterruptedly since 1970 (47 years) and routinely covers the Chicago International Film Festival (14 years), SXSW, the Austin Film Festival, and others, sharing detailed looks in advance at upcoming entertainment. She has taught a class on film and is the author of the book “Training the Teacher As A Champion; From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now, published by the Merry Blacksmith Press of Rhode Island.
The name Del Close is not one most of us associate with the pre-eminent comedians of the past twenty-five years, but we should.
In the documentary “For Madmen Only” from Heather Ross, narrated by Michaela Watkins we learn about this guru of comedy who helped discover and ultimately shape such talents as Bill Murray and Chris Farley.
The number of talking heads who pay homage to Del Close as their teacher is lengthy. Here is a quick look at who you will find in this documentary talking about Del Close: Robin Williams, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Patton Oswalt, Mike Myers, Will Farrell, Chris Farley, Steven Colbert, Jon Favreau, George Wendt, director Adam McKay, Ike Barinholtz, John Belushi, Harold Ramis, Dave Thomas, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Catharine O’Hara, Jason Sudeikis, Rachel Dratch, Howard Hesseman, Tim Meadows, Mike Nichols, Elaine May and “Better Call Saul’s” Bob Odenkirk.
The early performances onstage by famous comics is legendary.
Who was Del Close? And what, exactly, did he do to help that impressive list of comics get their start?
Amy Pohler in “For Madmen Only.”
John Belushi in “For Madmen Only.”
In 1960 Close moved to Chicago, his home base for much of the rest of his life, to perform and direct at Second City, but was fired due to substance abuse. He spent the latter half of the 1960s in San Francisco where he was the house director of improv ensemble The Committee. He toured with the Merry Pranksters, and created light shows for Grateful Dead shows. In 1972 he returned to Chicago and to Second City. He also directed and performed for Second City’s troupe in Toronto, in 1977. Prior to those Chicago years with Second City, Close had, at age 23, become a member of the Compass Players in St. Louis.
Del Close was certifiable. He ran away from home at the age of 17 and joined the circus, working as a fire-eater and being shot from a cannon. He spent time in mental hospitals and was checked out to do his show in Chicago and then checked back in to the Cook County Hospital Psych Ward. He had had a complete breakdown while supervising the Great White North in Toronto in 1976, a Second City outpost.
From a troubled childhood that saw Del’s alcoholic neglectful father commit suicide came a highly intelligent and highly creative comic genius who was devoted to promoting improvisation as an entirely separate art form, which he called “Harold.” He also supervised a magazine for D.C. Comics called “The Wasteland,” although he admits, “Most of our readership didn’t quite get it.”
This documentary written by Alan Samuel Golman and Heather Ross describes Close as “a living legend in comedy.” Bill Murray organized a deathbed party for the inveterate smoker, who refused to quit even when emphysema was killing him.
Jason Sudeikis of “Ted Lasso” on “For Madmen Only.”
The Del stories involving pot, alcohol and psychedelics never quit, starting with groups like the Merry Pranksters and continuing on until his death. Close died on March 4, 1999, at the Illinois Masonic Hospital (now the Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center) in Chicago, five days before his 65th birthday. An early birthday party was held for him by Bill Murray, who summoned many of Del’s former students to his bedside, a party which is on film in the documentary.
Close bequeathed his skull to Chicago’s Goodman Theatre to be used in its productions of Hamlet, and specified that he be duly credited in the program as portraying Yorick. Charna Halpern, Close’s long-time professional partner and the executor of his will, donated a skull—purportedly Close’s—to the Goodman in a high-profile televised ceremony on July 1, 1999.
A front-page article in the Chicago Tribune in July 2006 questioned the authenticity of the skull, citing the presence of teeth (Close had no teeth at the time of his death) and autopsy marks (Close was not autopsied), among other problems.
Halpern stood by her story at the time, but admitted in a The New Yorker interview three months later that she had purchased the skull from a local medical supply company. Halpern is shown onscreen bemoaning the fact that the public learned that this was not, in truth, Del Close’s real skull.
This film is a tribute to the creative comic who lived and taught this credo: “You have a light within you. Burn it out.”
“For Madmen Only” premiered on July 27th and is available on Apple TV and Altovid
Night Shymalan has always investigated original concepts, ideas that are out-of-the-box, even in his iconic 1999 film “The Sixth Sense.” He has had his share of hits or misses, scoring with “Split” in 2016 and less so with “Glass,” television’s “Wayward Pines,” “Signs,” “The Village,” and “Lady in the Water.”
We’ve gotten spoiled by some of Shymalan’s “twist” endings. It’s unfair to hold the writer/director to “Sixth Sense” exacting standards every time out. Shymalan largely funds his own films himself; it looks like a lot of Bollywood talent was employed on “Old,” which was shot in the Dominican Republic.
A family is embarking on what may be their last trip as a unit. Parents Guy (Gail Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) have taken their 6-year-old son Trent and their 11-year-old daughter Maddox on vacation.
Mom and Dad are having some difficulties in their personal relationship. Each has a health issue (Gail Garcia Bernal’s health issue is a blood-clotting problem. His wife, Prisca’s, ailment is a tumor.) As the plot progresses we will learn that most of the tourists at the resort have a health issue of one sort or another.
Prisca thinks she wants out of the marriage and has been unfaithful, but she wants to protect their 6 year-old son Trent and their 11-year-old daughter Maddox from this unhappy personal news and give them one last happy family outing.We get to see three different sets of actors portray the children, gradually aging them as the beach does its thing. It is unclear why Mom and Dad barely age and one of the film’s flaws.
When the family reaches the resort, they are met by Madrid, carrying a tray of drinks. The actress is Francesca Eastwood, the 28-year-old daughter of Clint Eastwood and actress Frances Fisher, offering them a drink based on their preferences. Later. the managing director of the resort suggests that the family can be transported to a hidden secret beach. They board a van (driven by none other than Director Shymalan, who usually appears briefly in his films, a la Hitchcock) and are dropped off at the remote beach with the understanding that they will be picked back up at 5 p.m.
That last bit of housekeeping turns out to be bogus. If they try to leave the beach they pass out from mysterious and painful headaches and wind up unconscious on the beach. One tourist, who attempts to swim out, doesn’t make it. (Famous last words: “Don’t worry. I was on the swim team.”) One who tries to climb the forbidding-looking cliffs that surround the beach falls to her death.
Getting off the beach is a bitch, but if they stay, they are going to die there as they quickly age 2 years an hour. If you’re there 24 hours, you’ll age 48 years. That will quickly kill off the elderly woman (Agnes) with the dog, Dr. Charles’ mother. It also takes its toll on any health concerns, like Prisca’s slow-going tumor that is suddenly catapulted into hyper-drive. Having time telescope so rapidly brings the parents back to their senses and makes them realize what they have in their marriage, but it’s too little, too late.
The premise of a mysterious beach that can cause the body to age 2 years in one hour is intriguing. Especially in the wake of this pandemic year, an event that has not happened for one hundred years and one which has touched so many of us on a deeply personal level, this is something we can relate to. As we have watched an insidious killer take our friends and loved ones, the theme of mortality and time changing all things dramatically has become poignantly relevant to one in three Americans who have lost close friends or loved ones. The idea of time flying by and robbing us of our looks, our health, and, ultimately, our very lives, is something that any human being can relate to even in normal times—but even more so in a plague year.
The premise is interesting and worthwhile. It has been adapted from the graphic novel “Sandcastle” by Pierre Oscar-Levy/Frederick Peeters. The dialogue in the adaptation for the screen by Shymalan does not really flow well. There is a lot of information introduced by having the young son of parents Prisca (Vicky Krieps of “The Phantom Thread”) and Guy (Gabriel Barcia Bernal of “Mozart in the Jungle”) ask everyone who they are and what they do. This technique does not yield the smoothest flow of information or dialogue. It’s even klutzier than a voice-over would have been.
One of the problems with the film is the pace of the plot. It moves too quickly over momentous events with no time to build up any interest in whatever character has just bitten the dust. There are dead bodies turning up floating in the water, attacks by a paranoid schizophrenic tourist on the beach, and the group doesn’t wait around to act. Example: letting the doctor on the beach operate with a pocket knife roughly five minutes after a tumor’s acceleration in size causes Prisca to pass out. That seemed a tad speedy. There was talk of whether the group had any alcohol to use as an antiseptic. If the answer was yes, we never saw the antiseptic materialize before Dr. Charles (Rufus Sewell, who playedthe Fuhrer John Smith in “The Man in Castle the High Castle”) was plunging what looked like an old pocketknife into Prisca’s mid-section.
Another ridiculous plot point has one family’s young daughter mature from six to adolescence, become pregnant by Guy’s son (who has also accelerated from the age of six) without even a compulsory sex scene, and—voila!—she delivers a baby on the beach, all in record time.
I turned to my husband and said, “You wouldn’t want to doze off on this beach with this group around. They’d be throwing dirt in your face in your grave before you nodded off.”
The inclusion of an instantaneous pregnancy and childbirth and the impromptu operation-on-the-tumor did not enhance the film or buttress its believability. Far from it. Both could well have been omitted, as could some of the many tourists.
For instance, the big Black character, a rapper known as Mid-sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre), never really was necessary, other than to be the object of a random attack by Rufus Sewell playing Charles, the dotty doctor.
I just watched Rufus Sewell portray Nazi Fuhrer John Smith in the final season of “The Man in the High Castle.” Watching him randomly puncture people with sharp objects was quite the change of pace. (We later learn in the film that, while he is a cardiac thoracic surgeon, he is suffering from mental health issues).Charles has a much-younger hot wife (Abbey Lee of “Mad Max Fury Road” and “Lovecraft Country”) and Chrystal displays her toned bikini body alongside Charles’ elderly mother, Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant), before Agnes shuffles off this mortal coil. Chrystal’s demise in a cave was like something out of a third-rate horror movie. Chrystal didn’t really offer much to the film other than her beach body.
While there were some crafty shots that concealed the reaction of the parents to their children’s sudden aging until the final moment, there were so many blurry unframed shots from Cinematographer Michael Gioulakis that I thought the cliffs were making me dizzy, too. One critic praised the blurry focus. I was not a fan. The cinematography and music were unremarkable, but the beach—which gave the director fits—was spectacular.
There is a song called “Remain,” composed by Saleka Night Shymalan, that was tuneless and forgettable.
Overall, I was not impressed with the film as a whole, but I always find M. Night Shymalan’s hits or misses interesting and original.
Proudfoot attended film school at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts and, in partnership with the New York Times, Breakwater Films has helmed “The Queen of Basketball,” the story of Lusia “Lucy” Harris Stewart. Skillfully interweaving film footage with Lucy’s own observations and with charming background music, this is a very well-done and insightful short documentary.
As Proudfoot says of his documentary, “The visual legacy of Lusia “Lucy” Harris, as told from memory in her own voice, painted a portrait of one of the most important American athletes of the 20th century.”
Ben and his team digitized nearly 10,000 film negatives and 16,000 feet of film that had lain in the college vaults for 50 years to produce this 22 and ½ minute documentary. The film had its World Premiere at 2021’s New York Tribeca Film Festival. It won Best Documentary Short at the 2021 Palm Springs Film Festival, which is an Oscar-qualifying film festival.
Told in her own words, Lusia “Lucy” Harris, #45, from Cleveland, Mississippi, is living testimony to the inequities in women’s versus men’s sports that Title IX started to address in 1972. Lucy, at 6’ 3”, was a gifted athlete who led Delta State and Memphis State to three consecutive national titles with the AIAW (Association for Inter-collegiate Athletics for Women). Lucy was also on the women’s U.S. Olympic team the very first year that women’s basketball was admitted to the Olympics, snagging the silver medal and scoring the first-ever basket for women at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Lucy, the 1976 Amateur Athlete of the Year, was the first woman inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Coached by Margaret Wade of Mississippi’s Delta State, the Lady Statesmen played to a packed 4,500-seat fieldhouse for the women’s basketball games, double the men’s following. They also flew to their games, while the men took the bus. The biggest rivalry, documented in Proudfoot’s film, was Immaculata College, which had been the two-time national champion before Delta State beat them 90 to 81.
And yet nobody today knows Lucy’s name.
As Lucy muses in the documentary, “If I’d been a man, there would have been options for me to go further” (after graduating from college). There were none. Instead, Lucy married her high school boyfriend, George, and turned down a try-out offer from the NBA’s Utah Jazz.
Instead, Lucy had five children, endured mental problems (including a nervous breakdown) after her playing days were over, and worked at her old high school (Amanda Elzy Panthers) as head coach.
This short documentary comes at the perfect time in history, when women are demanding equity in pay and opportunity. In much of the world, that seems to be happening, but in a world with Honor Killings and young girls like Malala mortally wounded merely for wanting to acquire a good education, a film like this is more than timely. It is necessary.
My apologies to all who thought—as I did—that Weekly in the title Weekly Wilson meant that I would not go more than a week without posting.
I have excuses.
Mostly, the excuses involve my always-rocky relationship with computers.
The hinge on my laptop somehow came undone. So, no laptop to write my post on and most of the graphics I’d need are within said laptop. Computer Revolutions scavenged a new top from an old computer and ordered and installed a new hinge. They did this between Friday and Tuesday, but I still was without a computer recently.
In the meantime, I tried to go downstairs and use my desk top.
Can’t make it type even a letter to the sister for her birthday. Not sure why. Could be “updates.” Could be that I owe money for something that I don’t know about. After all, we were gone from November through May, so various “updates” had to be installed.
Now that I’m (more-or-less) back, I’d like to recommend some viewing, including “Start Up,” which features Martin Freeman and Ron Perlman in a tale from Miami about the Internet, which also features Academy-Award winning actress Mira Sorvino, whom you seldom see onscreen. (Her career a Harvey Weinstein casualty, I believe).
We started watching “The Ice Road” last night, the #1 rental on Netflix with Liam Neeson. When we got to the point where both trucks were on their sides, I asked how they were going to get them both upright again. Still don’t know, as the film quit loading/running.
Last, but not least, Sally Hawkins (the deaf mute girl in “The Shape of Water”) and “Terry” (from “Ray Donovan,” as portrayed by Eddie Marsan) appeared on my late-night television viewing in “Happy-Go-Lucky” and I heartily recommend this film if you are in the market for an upbeat film (from 2008) that has a lot to say about optimism in the face of life’s normal setbacks. (Preview above).
Cruella De Vil, the big budget Disney picture starring Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, debuted on May 28th and screams “Sequel” from the moment the last scene fades. Director Craig Gillespie has pulled out all the fashion stops on this one, and it shows.
In the last 23 hours, the Hollywood Reporter has confirmed those sequel suspicions, with these remarks:
“We are very pleased with Cruella’s box office success, in conjunction with its strong Disney+ Premier Access performance to date,” a Disney spokesperson said in a statement. “The film has been incredibly well received by audiences around the world, with a 97% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes, in addition to A’s in every demographic from CinemaScore on opening weekend, ranking it among the most popular of our live-action re-imaginings. We look forward to a long run as audiences continue to enjoy this fantastic film.”
Everything I had read about the performances (Top Notch), the soundtrack (great), and the costuming (exceptionally great) was confirmed. There is even an acceptable backstory for how Cruella got so cruel, crafted by Dana Fox, Tony McNamara, Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marsel and Steve Zissin. My remark to my companion, as we left the theater, was that it was obvious there would be a sequel that would pick up where this film left off. And I was right.
Cruella is a 2021 American crime comedy film based on the character Cruella de Vil from Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians and Walt Disney‘s 1961 animated film adaptation.
Unlike other films that have spun off from animated beginnings, this one seems to have more interest in developing sympathy for the devil that Cruella becomes (one of the many soundtrack choices from the Rolling Stones that isheard throughout the action). Audiences didn’t prefer the film versions of Disney offerings like “The Lion King” to the Disney animated pictures, but this one may be the exception to that rule. That song, by the way (“Sympathy forthe Devil) released on November 1st, 1968, is but one of the many 70s punk songs like “These Boots Are Made for Walkin,’” “Time of the Season,” “Whole Lotta’ Love,” “Should I Stay Or Should I Go,” and on and on. The music is a large part of the success of the film.
COSTUMING & SETS
So are the fashions and with a $200 million budget, you see some over-the-top fashions. “Screen Rant” reports that the film is far pricier than most Disney re-imagined fare. Cruella’s production budget is reportedly $200 million, making it a very expensive endeavor. That price tag is higher than other Disney live-action re-imaginings like Aladdin ($183 million), Beauty and the Beast ($160 million), and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil ($185 million). Cruella’s budget is more in line with what one would expect from a tentpole comic book adaptation. Disney’s upcoming Black Widow also cost around $200 million to make.”
So, we have established that the soundtrack and costuming and make-up will scream “Oscar” in March.
What about the acting?
ACTING: Competent, as one would expect from the two Emmas (Stone and Thompson). Also doing good work are the supporting players, namely Joel Fry as Jasper and Paul Walter Hauser as Horace, with a stylish turn from John McRea as Artie and Billie Gadson as the 5-year-old Estella/Cruella. Mark Strong also has a pivotal role as John the valet, a role that reminds of something Stanley Tucci would play.
Set in 1970s London amidst the emergence of the punk rock movement, Cruella traces the trajectory of Estella (Stone), and the tragedies and ecstasies that mark her formative years. Her mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham) plays a seminal role in shaping her worldview. Despite being a loving and nurturing presence, Catherine often encourages Estella to “fit in” in order to stay out of trouble. Estella is viewed as somewhat different for her beautiful, black-and-white ombré hair and her rebellious nature. As Estella defends herself in talking about the mother/daughter relationship, “It wasn’t her I was challenging; it was the world.”
As the film progresses, our heroine (Emma Stone) declares, “I want to make art, and I want to make trouble.” At first, she is constrained by her loving mother (Emily Beecham) from realizing her full potential in either field. The pair then begin a journey to London, where Estella hopes to become a fashion designer.
Derailed along the way by circumstances beyond their control (“Happy accidents can change the whole course of your life…Happy may not be the right word.”), Estella ends up living and working in an abandoned building, alongside a couple of childhood grifters straight out of a Dickens novel, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser).
One of the fast friends, Jasper (Joel Fry) submits an application for Estella to work at the Liberty House Fashion Firm that she so admires. That opens the door to frustration, followed by eventual fame and fortune when the Baroness (Emma Thompson)—THE arbiter of fashion in the swinging 70s scene— sees Estella’s potential and hires her to be her assistant, ripping off her originality and vision at every turn while lording it over the rest of society.
Using fantastic settings like the Tower of London (yes, THAT Tower of London) doesn’t hurt the film at all. Gorgeous mansions and even more gorgeous gowns are a treat for the eye.
As the plot thickens, Estella realizes, “I’m not sweet Estella, try as I might. I’m Cruella. Born bad and a little bit mad.” She adds, “People do need a villain to believe in, so I’m happy to fit the bill.”
We’ll be seeing a lot more of Cruella in future films, and I hope the films are as entertaining as this one was.
Director John Krasinski said, on an appearance on Seth Meyer recently to promote “A Quiet Place 2,” “If you’re a fan of the movie, I wanted to bookend the pandemic for you.” He was talking about the delayed release of one of the season’s most anticipated sequels, “A Quiet Place 2.” It actually premiered in New York City on March 8, 2020, and we all know what happened after that.
I remember the premiere of the original film at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas, as opening night of SXSW 2018 and how amazed the audience and I were at the film we had just seen. It was great! Original. Fresh. Scary. Thrilling. Well-acted. The audience gave it a well-deserved standing ovation.
All those adjectives can be used for the sequel, and, thanks to jump scares and a terrific Marco Beltrami score coupled with great special effects and convincing acting, you’re in for a wonderful time scaring yourself silly viewing “A Quiet Place 2.”
The boys from Bettendorf, Iowa, who thought up the fresh idea (which languished on the Black List of great movie scripts for 10 years or more before Krasinski became involved as a vehicle for his wife, EmilyBlunt) now get an opening credit as the creators of the original characters, but Krasinski has taken over with expert help from his cast, Marco Beltrami’s heart-pounding score, and the special effects genies of Industrial Light & Magic and Lucasfilm.
There is a brief flashback involving John Krasinski as Lee Abbott, who died at the end of “A Quiet Place, #1.” His real-life wife, Emily Blunt, reprises her original role as Evelyn Abbott and the surviving children, Millicent Simmonds as Regan and Noah Jupe as Marcus, plus her new-born baby are all back. Co-stars, this time out, are Cillian Murphy as neighbor Emmett and Djimon Hounsou as a man on Long Island (who is given too small a part).
The film opens in the very same pharmacy/general store that we know from the first film, and Lee (John Krasinski) is quickly picking up some water and some snacks to take to a baseball game that is ongoing. (I noticed that he must have a running tab at the store; at no point did he pay for the goodies.)
While the baseball game is underway some sort of strange aerial event takes place, which, even now, I cannot explain properly. Is it the arrival of aliens? Is it a bombing? Not sure, but the baseball game is quickly abandoned. It must have been an invasion, because the spectators in the small town are suddenly being picked off on Main Street by the creatures we know from the first film. Chaos ensues.
It was this scene, with Emily Blunt trying to flee in her vehicle, that Krasinski talked about shooting early in the film. It took six weeks of planning and 3 weeks with stunt people to make sure that Blunt would be able to do the action-packed scene without injury. A pod was built on top of the vehicle she is shown to be driving, and it was operated by an expert stunt driver who, according to husband John, reassured her, “Don’t worry, Miss Emily. I’m the best.” They did the scene one time. It is truly terrifying and is completely thrilling. Krasinski described it as “definitely the hardest scene” to film.
As the film proceeds, the surviving Abbott family (post Film #1) must abandon their home, which is both flooded and on fire. They begin walking, barefoot, to one of the neighboring homes where signal fires have been burning at night.
The neighboring residence turns out to be occupied by Emmett, played by Cillian Murphy (“Inception,” “Dunkirk,” “The Dark Knight Rises”), whose own children died the day of the invasion and whose wife is also dead. He has holed up in what appears to be some sort of abandoned steel furnace that has a soundproof interior. It has a secure door and one must climb down to enter it, so it is relatively safe from the creatures.
Shooting inside the steel furnace set as a bunker for the Abbott family proved difficult because of its small size. Production designer Jess Gonchor built three different sizes, with removable front and back and sections that pulled out.
“Often we were on a jib arm with small remote heads on the end of it,” added Morgan, “and we would literally push in and out through the tube with the characters as they entered and exited. It was like a scene out of ‘Alien.’”
Emmett is not thrilled that he has been joined by a woman with three children in tow.
Emily Blunt and Noah Jupe in A Quiet Place Part II. Photo: Paramount Pictures
At first, despite Marcus’ injury in a bear trap as they approach, Emmett insists that they must leave in the morning, but that soon gives way to an actual rescue that Emmett attempts, when the deaf older child, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), deciphers the message of non-stop playing of “Beyond the Sea” by a radio station as a message. They must go to the sea, she reasons. She sets out to do this over the objections of younger brother Marcus (Noah Jupe of “Ford v. Ferrari”and “Honeyboy.”) and without her mother’s knowledge or permission.
The map that we catch a brief glimpse of clearly says the island is Long Island. Thanks go out at film’s end to Buffalo, Akron, Dover and Pawling as some of the sites used in filming AQP2.
The film ends in a way that screams: SEQUEL. Krasinski said, initially, that he did not know whether a third Quiet Place would happen, but he made plans just in case. “I set up a couple of tiny little Easter eggs in [Part II] that not only explain more about [the original], but would allow for more mythology,” Krasinski shared last year.
“I haven’t heard from the studio that they want a third one,” says Writer/Director John Krasinski, “But the good news is that the studio and I are on the same page in that this isn’t one of those franchises where we keep pumping them out if they make money. I think we’ve proven that this is an original idea that is really beloved by people in a way that… I don’t want to break that promise to people.”
Later, it was revealed that “A Quiet Place 3” is officially a go. Paramount Pictures has announced that the franchise is set to continue with a third movie, which is to be written and directed by Jeff Nichols (Mud, Midnight Special).
Krasinski got able help on #2 from a new (female) cinematographer, Polly Morgan, and the editor, Michael Schaever, had his work cut out for him as there are multiple quick cuts between action going on in the steel furnace, with action going on at the dock or on the island. Long shots with real film were the name of the game, an homage to the films of Steven Spielberg and to such influences on Krasinski as “There Will Be Blood,” westerns of yesteryear, and Steven Spielberg’s films, which, said Krasinski, kept the focus on the protagonist in peril.
In this film, it is the teen-agers who must cope with the monsters and with their loss of their father in the first film. Millicent Simmonds plays a much bigger role than in the first film and does a great job.
All-in-all, it’s one heck of a great film. I look forward to seeing #3, when the survivors back at the steel furnace have to be transported to safety on the island, (as well as any other adventures the creative minds of the Paramount team come up with).
It’s great to have a “new Spielberg” coming out with novel, crowd-pleasing material, and I only hope he can keep up the level of cinematography, music, writing, acting and directing in the inevitable follow-up(s).
Angelina Jolie appears in a new Taylor Sheridan film “Those Who Wish Me Dead” playing a “smoke jumper.” If you weren’t immediately familiar with the term “smoke jumper,” it’s people who parachute into a fire zone to fight wild fires. If you thought the 45-year-old screen goddess was an unlikely smoke jumper, join the club. The part could have been played by a younger Frances McDormand or Gwendoline Christie (Brianna of Tarth in “Game of Thrones”).
The ho-hum script was written by Taylor Sheridan, Michael Koryta and Charles Leavitt. It seems particularly shallow and insipid when you realize that Sheridan directed and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay in 2016 for “Hell and High Water.” Maybe we can blame Koryta, author of the book on which this script is based, or Leavitt (“Warcraft,” 2016).
The movie was shot in New Mexico in 2019, when co-star Finn Little, an Australian child actor who plays the young boy in the film, was 13. Sheridan and company actually built the river featured in the film and a small forest so that they could set its trees on fire. Too bad they didn’t build any interest in whether the characters involved in this script live or die.
The plot: “A teenage murder witness finds himself pursued by twin assassins in the Montana wilderness with a survival expert tasked with protecting him — and a forest fire threatening to consume them all.” A forensic accountant (Jake Weber) realizes that two assassins—brothers in the book— (Aidan Gillan, Nicholas Hoult) are on their way to Jacksonville, Florida to kill him and his preadolescent son Connor (Finn Little) following the murder of his boss, a Fort Lauderdale D.A., in a great opening scene explosion.
The crime family accountant and son flee by car to Butte, Montana seeking assistance from his brother-in-law, Sheriff Ethan (Jon Bernthal of “The Walking Dead”). The killers anticipate this move, kill Dad on the road in a ruthless fashion, which leaves Connor wandering the Montana wilderness, where he encounters smoke jumper Hannah (Angelina Jolie).
Young Connor immediately hands over the vitally important information in his jacket pocket to Hannah and she completely understands its significance within 3 seconds, which is astounding. They go back to the fire tower in the middle of nowhere that Hannah (Angelina) has been exiled to, because of her PTSD after she mis-diagnosed the direction a forest fire would go, killing three children. There’s also Jon Bernthal’s pregnant African American wife, who is remarkably resourceful, saving the day with her plucky marksmanship.
While they try to make their way to the authorities, the killers start a raging forest fire, which threatens to consume them all. Plot points that are never made clear or never connected include Jon Bernthal’s previous relationship to Angelina (Hannah) or Connor; what happens to all the important data Connor gives to Hannah; and why Angelina Jolie—after being beaten within an inch of her life—has only one small scratch on her nose?
Actually, the young boy was not being pursued by assassins simply because he witnessed a murder. It was more that his father—an accountant for influential criminal elements who wants to tell the world—had given his son a duplicate copy of the incriminating data about the evil-doers. The murderers kill him in a spectacular car ambush, with his son in the car. The son does witness this murder, but it is essentially the sensitive information that the assassins are supposed to get—and then that entire plot line, which was never very well fleshed-out, is simply abandoned. The assassins were not “twins,” although brothers in the book. There were two of them, portrayed by Aiden Gillen (the short one) and Nicholas Hoult (the tall one). The bad guys get more lines than normal and considerably more fleshing out of their characters than either Angelina’s character or Connor’s.
I wanted to know what happened to the revelations that Dad put in young Connor’s pocket that set the entire plot in motion. I thought, “Wow! This guy is naïve enough to think that telling the New York Times or the Washington Post would be accepted in the world in 2021?” No belief in the fourth estate after Trump’s term in office. Trump worked overtime to destroy the public’s faith in what he termed “the mainstream (or lame-stream) media,” so getting such a list to the press at this point in history would simply have the evil-doers chanting that it was all “fake news.” The days of ‘Three Days of the Condor” when Robert Redford could save the day by contacting the NYT are long gone.
Angelina Jolie’s films have included such ambitious directorial challenges as “In the Land of Milk and Honey” (2011), “Unbroken” (2014), and “First They Killed My Father.” (2017) All were deadly serious film projects and Jolie helmed each. The person who would direct those complicated projects would not be playing a smoke jumper unless they were being paid a shitload of money to portray something so out of character and out of their wheelhouse.
Taylor Sheridan, too, who wrote “Sicario” (2015) and “Hell or High Water” (2016) and directed “Wind River” would come up with a screenplay that would translate into something more substantial than this bit of fluff.
Darrel Britt-Gibson, Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield appear in Judas and the Black Messiah by Shaka King, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Glen Wilson.
I’ve held off on commenting on the April 25th Oscars. I wanted to see what the reaction, nationwide and internationally, was to the Covid-era ceremony.
Every year, we try to celebrate with our good friends in Des Moines, Iowa. This year, that meant flying there, which was an adventure in and of itself. We had to fly from Austin to Dallas and then make it from the “A” concourse to the “E” concourse. Although we had 2 hours between flights, we almost missed the second one, and one of the reasons was that we had the Traveling Trophy (a small Oscar) in my husband’s carry-on. This showed up as a metal object on the screening at TSA and that was an interesting delay.
When we got to Austin we got onto the American flight and then sat on the runway for over an hour during a thunderstorm. But, finally, we made it to Des Moines and geared up for the Sunday night festivities.
I am always skittish about those who wish to record something important and watch it later on tape, rather than watching it “live.” I voiced those objections to our hostess, but my remarks fell on deaf ears.
Thus it was that, after watching all the way to the “And the winner for Best Picture is _______” the screen went black. That meant that we missed the 3 biggest awards: Best Picture, which was announced before Best Actor or Best Actress, so it was a clean sweep and I missed all three of the most important awards “live” for the first time since 1955. (Sigh)
We ended up having to watch the presentation of the three most important awards on YouTube.
There have been any who have decried the choice of Union Station for the presentation, but I thought it looked rather cool. Similarly, by virtue of great effort, participants were not all wearing masks and it was a step up from the Emmy-awards show where everything had to be done by zoom.
On the negative side, because of Covid-19, there was no opening monologue, no host, no orchestra, and therefore, no big production numbers, although the nominated songs were all presented by individuals. Did the women dress up? Yes, they did. Was it the traditional Red Carpet that we have seen in previous years? No, it was not.
Now as to the films this year and who won, let’s pull up the list of nominees, with an “X” after the winners:
The Father Judas and the Black Messiah Mank Minari Nomadland X Promising Young Woman Sound of Metal The Trial of the Chicago 7
The winner, of course, was “Nomadland.” This did not come as a surprise since it had won all of the preliminary awards. I found “Nomadland” to be bleak, and would have preferred to see “Judas & the Black Messiah,” “Promising Young Woman” or “Minari” take home the trophy, but it is what it is.
Actor in a Leading Role
Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins, The Father X Gary Oldman, Mank Steven Yeun, Minari
Everyone thought that Chadwick Boseman would win, and that, I am told, is why they re-arranged the order of announcing the Best Picture. The thought was that Chadwick’s win would end the evening and they probably had prepared some film tribute. Instead, 83-year-old Anthony Hopkins won and wasn’t even there. He was home in bed. So much for that plan.
Actress in a Leading Role
Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman Frances McDormand, Nomadland X Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
Frances McDormand won, as it was predicted that she would. This makes 4 Oscars for Frances, although only 3 of them were for Best Actress. She won the 4th one as one of the producers of “Nomadland.” She has won Best Actress Oscars for “Fargo,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and “Nomadland.” She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress back in 1988 for “Mississippi Burning,” but lost to Geena Davis in “The Accidental Tourist.”
Actor in a Supporting Role
Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7 Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah X Leslie Odom, Jr., One Night in Miami Paul Raci, Sound of Metal Lakeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah
This category pitted 2 actors from “Judas and the Black Messiah” against one another in the supporting category, which was odd, but came about because of Oscar rules. I thought Lakeith Stanfield’s portrayal was the central part, but the voters disagreed and Daniel Kaluuya won.
Actress in a Supporting Role
Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy Olivia Colman, The Father Amanda Seyfried, Mank Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari X
We watched “Minari” in the afternoon on Saturday, and all of us liked this sweet story of Koreans relocating to Arkansas. The win of Yuh-Jung Youn was well-deserved and her acceptance speech was charming. She was as excited about meeting Brad Pitt as I would have been. I must admit that I had assumed that, after 8 nominations, the Academy would finally give Glenn Close the Oscar she deserves for her unattractive role as Granny in “Hillbilly Elegy.” Later, she was involved in a scripted bit of entertainment involving Oscar-nominated songs and actually got up and performed something called “Da Butt.” As another said, “That was the most embarrassing thing since she appeared in ‘Hillbilly Elegy.’”
Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round David Fincher, Mank Lee Isaac Chung, Minari Chloé Zhao, Nomadland Chloe Zhao’sX Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman
This one was announced quite early in the evening and Chloe Zhao’s win was not unexpected. It was only the second win for a woman and the first for an Asian.
Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman & Lee Kern The Father, Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller X Nomadland, Chloé Zhao One Night in Miami, Kemp Powers The White Tiger, Ramin Bahrani
“The Father” won. Again, unexpected to a point, but the film did take home the Best Actor award for Hopkins.
Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya appear in Judas and the Black Messiah by Shaka King, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Glen Wilson.l
Best Original Screenplay
Judas and the Black Messiah, Will Berson & Shaka King
Minari, Lee Isaac Chung Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell X
Sound of Metal, Darius Marder & Abraham Marder The Trial of the Chicago 7, Aaron Sorkin
Emerald Fennell won for scripting the Carey Mulligan vehicle “Promising Young Woman,” one of the more entertaining films of this year’s nominees. I had hopes that Aaron Sorkin might take home a trophy, as he is undoubtedly one of the best wordsmiths in Hollywood but it was not to be.
Animated Feature Film
Onward Over the Moon A Shawn the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
Soul X Wolfwalkers
“Soul” won for music and as best animated feature film. I am anxious to see it, but have not (yet) had the opportunity, although I did see all the main nominated films.
Collective Crip Camp The Mole Agent My Octopus Teacher X Time
In this category, “Time” was considered a big favorite. “Collective” also had been written up positively, but I wanted us all to see “My Octopus Teacher” before the ceremony. Last year, we watched “Factory” the day before the ceremony, one of Barack Obama’s first projects after his presidency. We watched that one and it won that night (in 2019). This time, we watched “My Octopus Teacher” and, once again, it won. It’s a beautifully filmed tale of a man befriending an octopus in the underwater kelp forest off the coast of South Africa.
Documentary (Short Subject)
Colette X A Concerto Is a Conversation Do Not Split Hunger Ward A Love Song for Latasha
“Colette” won for Best Documentary Short Subject.
International Feature Film
Another Round (Denmark) X Better Days (Hong Kong) Collective (Romania) The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia) Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
I had heard that either “Collective” or “Quo Vadis, Aida?” was going to win. I have seen none of these films. I thought the Danish gentleman who accepted the award was quite articulate.
The Father Nomadland Promising Young Woman Sound of Metal X The Trial of the Chicago 7
This was an upset category. “Sound of Metal” was a great film—until the end. Riz Ahmed was great and I anticipated that it would win for sound, but not for film editing.
Judas and the Black Messiah X Mank News of the World Nomadland The Trial of the Chicago 7
“Mank” won for cinematography. I had anticipated yet another “Nomadland” win here.
Greyhound Mank News of the World Soul Sound of Metal X
In telling the story of a rock drummer who loses his hearing, many interesting and innovative things were done with sound. This one I expected.
Music (Original Score)
Da 5 Bloods Mank Minari News of the World Soul X
“Soul” won for Best Original Score. Stephen Colbert’s musical director, Jon Baptiste, and Trent Reznor, of the “Nine Inch Nails” had a hand in this win.
Music (Original Song)
“Fight For You” from Judas and the Black Messiah X “Hear My Voice” from The Trial of the Chicago 7 “Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga “lo Sì (Seen)” from The Life Ahead “Speak Now” from One Night in Miami
This one was a bit of an upset, I think. “Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah” took the award, when “Speak Now” from “One Night in Miami” seemed to be the front-runner.
Emma Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom X Mank Mulan Pinocchio
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” won, a victory for Viola Davis’ fat suit.
Makeup and Hairstyling
Emma Hillbilly Elegy Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom X Mank Pinocchio
Once again, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” triumphed.
The Father Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Mank X News of the World Tenet
Love and Monsters The Midnight Sky Mulan The One and Only Ivan Tenet X
This most-expensive project of Christopher Nolan’s took home the visual effects Oscar.
Short Film (Animated)
Burrow Genius Loci If Anything Happens I Love You X Opera Yes-People
Short Film (Live Action)
Feeling Through The Letter Room The Present Two Distant Strangers X White Eye
Of the non-major awards (i.e., aside from Best Picture, Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor or Actress, and Director) I scored 11 of 16 right. Considering the fact that I’d seen precious few of them, scoring close to 70% there was my big brag of the evening.
“Roe v. Wade” follows Dr Bernard Nathanson (Nick Loeb), the narrator of the 1984 anti-abortion film The Silent Scream, from his first interaction with abortion in 1949 – when his girlfriend at the time terminated her pregnancy – to his change to a virulent anti-abortion stance in 1985.”By film’s end, Nathanson changes sides as dramatically as the real Jane Doe (Norma McCorvey) did. While on the subject, try to find the 2020 documentary “AKA Jane Doe,” helmed by Nick Sweeney, because it is one thousand times better than this release. That film involves a death-bed interview with the real woman at the center of “Roe v. Wade,” Norma McCorvey.“AKA Jane Doe,” the 2020 documentary, is more authentic and much more entertaining.
It’s hard to know where to start in critiquing this slow-moving, poorly paced polemic.
The 2020 “Roe v. Wade” is co-directed by Nick Loeb and Cathy Allyn and the writing credits go to those two and Ken Kushner. There are other films with an ultra-conservative point-of-view, like this one, that smeared Obama and slandered Hillary, written and directed by Dinesh D’Souza. Those films were equally biased, but at least they were well done. Here, viewers are subjected to 112 minutes of poorly staged treacly, unconvincing monologues, delivered by a motley crew of actors.
Among the veteran actors who signed on for the paycheck are Robert Davi (“Die Hard”) as Justice Brennan, Jamie Kennedy (“Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell”) as Larry Lader, Joey Lawrence (“Blossom”) as Robert Byrn, Corbin Bernsen (“L.A. Law”) as Justice Blackmun, Steve Guttenberg (“Three Men and a Baby”) as Justice Powell, William Forsythe (“Cold Pursuit”) as Justice Stewart and Jon Voight (“Midnight Cowboy”) as Justice Warren Burger. Former Fox news personality Stacey Dash (“Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens”) appears as Dr. Mildred Jefferson.
Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the lead, is portrayed by Nick Loeb (Loeb is also the writer/director and producer). It seems to be Loeb’s vanity project for reasons both personal and philosophical. The press kit insists that this version of events is accurate because facts and figures were made up by Roe v. Wade supporters. (Of course, we are to accept that every point-of-view presented here is Gospel, including the general rock-throwing at Planned Parenthood.)
When the wives and daughters of various Supreme Court Justices weigh in at their family dinner tables onscreen as being in favor of abortion rights for women, the inference is that these women are to blame for the court’s ultimate decision. Actually, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll, 77% of Americans favor retaining Roe v. Wade as the law of the land, but most citizens want restrictions (most of which already exist).
Only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortions. Planned Parenthood provides American women pap smears, pregnancy testing and services, diabetes screening, breast cancer screening, STD testing/treatment and prevention, male infertility screening/treatment and menopause treatment. But never mind those worthwhile services comprising 97% of what Planned Parenthood does for the community. Let’s paint 100% of their services as bad and move on.
The character of Larry Lader (Jamie Kennedy) is interested in making money from the abortion trade. Lader convinces Dr. Nathanson, who is, at first, very enthusiastic about earning blood money by providing abortions on demand. To show this, the script unwisely has Nathanson (Loeb) and the others in the room sing a song about abortion as follows: “There’s a fortune/In abortion/You never bother/The real father.” Later, when he recants, Loeb has a scene that is far beyond his acting range, which we can call the Norma McCorvey Reversal scene.None of the people in the scene can sing. Not a lick. The scene is excruciatingly bad, but it’s not the worst in the film. There are plenty more to come. Buckle up.
Writer/Director/Producer/Lead Nick Loeb, of “Roe v. Wade.” (Courtesy of “Roe v. Wade”).
Playing the lead in this film would be a stretch in the hands of a good actor, since abortion is a sensitive, controversial, complex topic that deserves a sensitive, competent actor as the lead. Here, Loeb is out of his depth as a thespian. Loeb has said, in interviews, that he decided to play the part because two of his former girlfriends had undergone the procedure and he now regrets their actions. (He has since become the father of a daughter).
The film does have seasoned, competent professionals who attempt to carry off this anti-abortion hit job, but the writer/director/producer and actor are all Loeb, along with fellow writers Cathy Allyn and Ken Kushner. Loeb’s tuneless off-key serenade was just a small taste of the bumpy road ahead.
There are several long, boring monologues that come off as preachy and embarrassingly bad. [It was really a chore to get through the scene with the actor reading as though he were an unborn fetus.] Robert Daniels (“The Guardian”) called these speeches “mawkish grandiose speeches that ring hollow.” Daniels was being kind. Daniels dubbed the film “An Anti-Abortion Film of Staggering Ineptitude.”He went on to single out Loeb as the worst of the cast, while calling the acting of the others “tacky.”“The Daily Beast” revealed that Loeb and Allyn were initially supposed to be simply producers of the film. They had to assume directing duties when the film’s director and first assistant director bailed.
There were more problems, as Daniels shared (3/25/2021 review): “In a 2018 Hollywood Reporter piece, Loeb explained that the crew’s electrician told him “F*** you,” threw her headset on the ground and quit the project. The costumer left, too.” Regarding filming at Louisiana State, “We were told we were rejected due to our content, even though it will be a PG-rated film.” From The Hollywood Reporter: “They refused to put it in writing, but they told us on the phone it was due to content.” Tulane—Loeb’s alma mater— refused to accommodate the crew, as did a New Orleans synagogue.
The script calls feminism “destructive” and invokes Mother Teresa and Susan B. Anthony as pro-life while tearing down Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood. Sanger drew a sharp distinction between birth control and abortion and was opposed to abortion throughout the bulk of her professional career, declining to participate in them as a nurse. Sanger, however, felt that in order for women to have a more equal footing in society they needed to be able to determine when to bear children.
Speaking of “determining when to bear children” and having a pro-choice right to determine what happens with your own body, if female, there has been speculation that Nick Loeb’s desire to make this film stemmed from his failed 4-year relationship with Sophia Vergara (“Modern Family”), which ended in 2014. (A year later, she would marry Joe Manganiello).
Vergara and Loeb, when a couple, froze her fertilized eggs, undergoing IVF together in 2013. In 2017 Vergara filed legal documents to block Loeb from being able to use the embryos without her written consent. Loeb fought for the right to bring the embryos to term via a surrogate. Recently, a California judge has permanently blocked Loeb from using the embryos without Vergara’s permission. [ The entire dispute embodies, in a microcosm, the film’s main theory about who should have total reproductive control.]
I lost a friend to a self-induced abortion gone wrong in 1963. Despite my Catholic upbringing, I think women deserve a choice in what happens to their bodies (and their eggs). The ultimate decision should be between the woman and her physician, with strict guidelines (as has always been thecase), not a decision by a group of old white men like those portrayed in this film, or by just one party in an IVF scenario. I wouldn’t be thrilled if my former fiancée decided to take my eggs and bring them into the world without my consent.
Millions have been spent on the “Roe v. Wade” film project (figures ranged from $6.5 to $8million). The film seems to be a single-minded attempt to convince the world of the “rightness” of the POV of its writer/producer/director and star and the conservative community. If you have enough money and know how to manipulate the levers of power and use propaganda, you can weaponize that propaganda to seize and hold power. [We’ve seen that lesson as recently as January 6th.]
This is not a good screenplay. Many of the weak performances simply add insult to that injury. “Roe v. Wade” also offers inarticulate editing, patriotic tableaux, repetitive flat compositions (often involving static Supreme Court goings-on), ineffectual camera zooms, insufferably grandiose speeches, tuneless singing and a cast that reminded of “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.” In this case, the “shooting” is disseminating pro-life propaganda for a paycheck.
No doubt some of the principals are deeply committed to the premise that abortion is a scourge; nevertheless, the more well-known the actor, the more detrimental to his or her body of work this film will be. It’s really difficult to believe that “Roe v. Wade” won any awards, although Jon Voight is a well-known Oscar-winning actor (“Coming Home,” 1978). At almost eighty, Voight is playing Warren Burger, who was then 66.
It is surprising to me that any reputable actor or technician wanted to be involved, unless they were in Pro-Life Crusader mode. (As reported elsewhere, the gig was not universally embraced by cast or crew.) In a March 3rd article in The Hollywood Reporter (“Nick Loeb’s ‘Roe v Wade’ Actors Cry Foul Over No-Show Paychecks), New Orleans SAG-AFTRA actress Susan LaBrecque complained that, after 2 years, she and as many as nine other actors have yet to be paid for the New Orleans shoot in 2018, despite the film’s premiere at CPAC last month. They’ve now gone to SAG-AFTRA for resolution. [Co-director Cathy Allyn responded to The Hollywood Reporter that the funds had been released to SAG as of Feb. 10. “They have the money and it’s up to SAG to release it.”]
Loeb hosted the world premiere of his film, Roe v. Wade, on Friday, February 26th at the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) host hotel, the Hyatt Regency Orlando. The Conservative gathering featured Donald J. Trump as its keynote, Trump’s first post-presidential appearance. Loeb arranged for the movie to premiere in order to sell tickets to funnel into marketing costs ahead of an April 2nd release on Amazon Prime, iTunes and PVOD.
In a “Hollywood Reporter” interview, Loeb said, “But it’s not a preachy, pro-life, religious movie.”
Yes, Nick, it is. And, unfortunately, not a very well-done one.
The heartwarming story of a small Italian town (Cesena, Italy) and its wacky crusade to convince Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters to come give a concert in that town is the central drama of “We Are the Thousand,” a film written and directed by Anita Rivaroli.
Even more inspiring in this story about Fabio Zaffagnini’s creative approach to the problem of getting one of the most popular bands on the planet to visit a town of roughly 100,000 residents is the joy that the participants created in organizing and launching their hare-brained project and, in the process, creating an enduring musical monster.
Make no mistake: this was a Herculean task that the team worked on for over a year.
“We Are the Thousand” (SXSW Photo).
The idea was to gather 1,000 musicians and have them all form one big band. The first (andonly) song they were all going to try to learn to play together was Grohl’s “Learning to Fly.” The crew set to work crowdfunding and trying to raise the roughly 40,000 Euros that was the bare minimum needed for the project. Among the problems: not enough headsets for everyone and no money to buy them.
There also was the matter of the distance that sound travels and how the members of the group would manage to play in synch, when they were going to be filling the Parco Ippodrome, a large outdoor race track area near Cesena. That was when one of the organizers thought up the idea of a visual metronome, like a stoplight, which the drummers could see and, therefore, keep on the beat together.
Musicians from all over Italy and Europe, hearing about the project, sent in videos of themselves playing their instruments or singing. From those rough “auditions” the 1,000 were selected and—at their own expense—told to show up on July 26, 2015, to be part of the event.
The “Rockin’ 1000” were from all walks of life: truck drivers, doctors, perfume shop workers, you name it. One said, “We’re forced to live a normal life to support our dreams. So we keep our shitty jobs to keep our dreams alive.” Another shared, “It was about achieving something.” Termed “a sociological and musical experiment,” the band is shown taking a pledge not to showboat and/or show off during the practice sessions. Then they begin rehearsing.
The drummers, all drumming in unison, “felt like an earthquake” said one participant. Another said it was as though a shock wave had gone through the arena, as the musicians were “flooded by sound.” And the sound is pretty good! As the organizers said, “An engine like this can take us a long way.” Another added, “It gave me goosebumps in every language in the world.”
With the guitars, singers and drummers playing their hearts out—(although cautioned, “Don’t hit the drums like a madman!”)— the one thousand became “the biggest rock band on Earth.” Said one, “What we did here is just a huge, huge miracle.”
After the video shoot of the gigantic rock band performing at Cesena’s racetrack, the plan was to post the video, asking Grohl and the Foo Fighters to come play a concert in the small Italian town. Once posted, on July 30th,—four days after the performance— the video began to climb in hits: 10 million hits—-15 million hits in 3 days—-26 million hits. It finally got Dave Grohl’s attention. He explains (in Italian), “Well, now we have to come. It’s f***ing amazing!”
“We Are the Thousand” (SXSW Photo).
There are then the scenes with the band members attending a Foo Fighters concert and, for some of them, playing alongside Dave Grohl. Fabio’s crowd-surfing to the stage was one of the highlights of the film. Actually getting to meet their idols is obviously life-changing for the band members. “It changed the spiritual current. It changed how people think,” said one.
Fabio from Fasignano does not disappoint, continuing his efforts to maintain “the biggest rock band on Earth” and entering the arena dressed in a robe that says, “The Italian Stallion” (a nod to the movie “Rocky”).
The extreme joy of producing music with others is not to be under-estimated. Renato—a participant from Perugio who had just received a bad health diagnosis—described the act of playing in the band as better than any therapy he might have asked for and, one year later, is still playing with “the Rockin’ 1000.”
Cinematographer Pasquale Remea has captured the elation of the crowd and the joy in human community that music can and does provide. It’s a feeling that those who have participated in a band or an orchestra or a chorus or a choir can relate to and even some of our most influential films have acknowledged that music is “the universal language,” as Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” testified.
This documentary (in Italian, with English subtitles) is a feel-good film for our time. It goes on well past the triumphant Dave Grohl scenes to show that the sheer joy of producing harmony is as euphoric, in its own way, as making a dream come true through hard work, creative thinking, dedication, and an influential video that achieved its goal.