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: Movies (Page 1 of 20)

What does Black Panther bring to the table?

First of all, it’s Black History Month and time for Black Panther, the film.

February is  the month with the fewest days, but  African-Americans rise to the

occasion by celebrating the achievements of their ancestors in February.

This film is more fit for the occasion because it is the only film in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) to feature a predominately African American cast, an African American director, and great role models for African American children. T’Challa of Wakanda, aka The Black Panther ,made his debut back in 2016 in the heavily  hero populated film Captain America: Civil War.

Now his awesomeness has his own film. It’s not just a blockbuster film.  It’s a movie that’ll feed the culture, the culture being everything that African Americans stand for. Most films either feature African Americans as slaves, maids, or as silly creatures. This is a film where they  got the culture right tying the roots of the film s back to African origins. This film goes beyond the comic book movie cliches of fantasy, explosions, science experiments gone wrong, love triangles, or training montages.

Creed’s director Ryan Coogler who was snubbed at many awards ceremonies. He set

  the film in the fictional country of Wakanda, a hidden kingdom in Africa, one of the

most secretive and technologically advanced countries in the MCU mainly because of

its reserves of the world’s most useful but rare metal, vibranium.

Aside from setting the film in Africa. Coogler and Chadwick Boseman

considered what they could do to make Wakanda and its people more authentic.

Via Youtube /©Marvel Studios 2018

One thing about Marvel is that their stable of characters is diverse. The revolutionary

Stan Lee creator of Black Panther said, “He’s an interesting character that is going

to be such a different a things for the audience to see on screen.”

T’Challa was last seen in Captain America: Civil War  giving the business to everyone that stood in his way but also coming to grips with his father’s death and the knowledge that he has to assume leadership of his country. That is what makes him such a complex character . That is why Black Panther is on a whole other level. He’s not just a hero. He’s a leader of many.

Boseman who has portrayed many African American heroes on screen in the past, will not be alone in this step forward for African Americans in cinema. Michael B. Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker are among many others who are helping carry the weight of this film.

It is not just the names that make the movie stand out. It is the message the film is sending. One message is that women of color are fully capable. The women of Wakanda explained what makes the country so special. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly Angela Bassett explained that “It’s a nation that respects and reveres women. They think of us not just as Queens but as the Queen Mother. Mother is the nurturer and the first teacher. That position is embraced. She’s not someone who is off to the side.”

Photo Credit: Entertainment Weekly/ Kwaku Alston/©Marvel Studios 2018

Via Youtube/ ©Marvel Studios 2018

The film is already sold out in pre-order tickets. Advance reviews are positive.  The cultural appreciation is on point. This is a movie that Marvel fans have been waiting for like dinner on Thanksgiving Day.

Black Panther definitely has a lot to bring to the table. I hope everyone is ready for the release February 16th.

Thoughts on This Year’s Oscar Race

Nominations for the 2018 Academy Awards on March 4th were just announced and, to no one’s surprise, the Best Picture nominees are:

  • “Call Me By Your Name”
  • “Darkest Hour”
  • “Dunkirk”
  • “Get Out”
  • “Lady Bird”
  • “Phantom Thread”
  • “The Post”
  • “The Shape of Water”
  • “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

I confess to having missed one out of that list, which I plan to rectify in the upcoming weeks before the March 4th ceremony. The one I have not seen is “Phantom Thread,” but it is playing near me at the Lamar Boulevard Alamo Drafthouse and contains what is rumored to be the last performance by Daniel Day Lewis, who announced that he was going to stop acting. (Of course, Cher announced her final tour how many times?)

I heard Richard Roper, the film critic for the Chicago Sun Times, say on WGN radio that “Three Billboards” has the inside track now for Best Picture. It is about an empowered woman seeking justice for her daughter’s rape and murder. Empowerment and women’s rights being all the rage now with the “Me, Too!” movement, he could be right. It is a darkly original well-written script directed by its writer, Martin McDonagh (“Seven Psychopaths,” “In Bruges”). Frances McDormand (married to a Coen Brother and star of the original “Fargo”) is always a force to be reckoned with and she certainly is in this film.

The cast for “Three Billboards” is uniformly great, including Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson, both of whom were nominated for Best Supporting Actor. I saw “Three Billboards” twice, once in Chicago at the film festival and once when I took my husband to it, because I knew he would enjoy it. It was a true original and I think my assessment on The Movie Blog.com at the time was “original and bad-ass,” both of which still apply. At the time, I was being chastised for ranking movies too high (I only go to movies that I think are going to be good, if possible). I had to find a “bad” thing to point out about the film, I commented that Frances McDormand’s character was unremittingly negative, to the point that it was difficult to “humanize” her, even though an attempt was made in a scene with a deer, and that, in real life, many of her actions would have gotten her arrested and thrown in jail. I also did not like the ending as much as the rest of the film.  I wonder now if the plan was, even then, to potentially have a sequel?

If I were to rank order these films in terms of how much I enjoyed them, rather than alphabetically, as above (“Phantom Thread” excepted, of course), the rank order, for me, would be:

#1: “The Shape of Water”

#2:  “Lady Bird”

#3:  “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

#4:  “Get Out!”

#5:  “The Post”

#6:  “Darkest Hour”

#7:  “Dunkirk”

#8:  “Call Me By Your Name”

I’m a former HWA (Horror Writers’ Association) member and that means that the idea of the monster getting the girl appealed to me (“The Shape of Water”). When you read my detailed review of the film elsewhere on this blog, you, too, will appreciate the achievement that “The Shape of Water” represents. It was the closing film of the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival and I was blown away when I read through all of the press notes about how much care and effort went into making it. It truly deserves its record number of nominations (13, the most) and I would love to see it win as Best Picture of the Year. I also remember meeting Guillermo del Toro at a previous Chicago International Film Festival, when he was being given a special award, and a nicer man you cannot find.

Because of my connection to writing horror, I was also very happy to see “Get Out!”, directed by one-half of the Key & Peele comedy team, make it onto the list. It was truly a good film and the lead actor, Daniel Kaluuya was great in the lead part and got a nomination for Best Actor. I particularly enjoyed the Golden Globes opening, when host Seth Meyer described the film as being “a black man finds himself surrounded by a group of rich white people who don’t want to grow old.” Then, in alarm, Meyer looked at Kaluuya in the audience of Hollywood actors and actresses and said, “Oh, no! GET OUT!”

“Lady Bird” is another well-written script. It has the distinction of being a film written by and about women by Greta Gerwig in her directorial debut.  It was clever, capturing the essence of the mother/daughter relationship growing up, and much of it was based on Gerwig’s own upbringing in Santa Barbara, California, although she denies being much like Saiorse Ronan’s character of Lady Bird, when she was a teenager. (Saiorse Ronan received a nomination for Best Actress and Laurie Metcalf received a Best Supporting Actress nod playing her mother.)

I took a close friend (who also has a daughter) to the film, telling her it had a good chance of being nominated for Best Picture, and we both enjoyed it (for the second time, in my case).  Laurie Metcalf is great in her part as the mother and Tracy Letts,  a Chicago native and the playwright responsible for “August: Osage County”, came to our screening. He is perfect as the father (who always gets to be “the good guy”), although, in real life, he admitted he had no children. (Something I read he was rectifying right now.) It would be nice to see a small film triumph, but I’m thinking the fine acting in it and the screenplay has a better chance of getting the kudos.

Timothy Chalamet

Interesting side note: Timothy Chalamet, who is nominated as Best Lead Actor for “Call Me By Your Name” also has a part in “Lady Bird.”

 

 

Michael Stuhlbarg: Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (aka, Dmitri) in “The Shape of Water.”

His double play  may only be surpassed by Michael Stuhlbarg, whom I met and chatted with on “The Shape of Water” Red  Carpet in Chicago. He portrays Chalamet’s father in “Call Me By Your Name,” has a role as a Russian scientist in “The Shape of Water,” and played the owner of the New York Times (Abe Saperstein) in “The Post,” so he is in three of the nine nominated films.

 

Quite the coup for this versatile actor, who shared with us that his next project was supposed to be playing Gore Vidal’s long-time homosexual partner opposite Kevin Spacey in a bio-pic. (One wonders what has happened to that planned picture now that Kevin Spacey seems to be persona non grata in Hollywood?)

(L to R) Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Shannon and Cinema Chicago founder Michael Kutza in Chicago after the screening of “The Shape of Water.”

 

 

This picture was taken just as Michael Kutza (founder of Cinema Chicago 53 years ago) said to the two Michaels onstage, “Why doesn’t Spacey just come out of the closet and admit he’s gay?” Both of the actors cracked up laughing. At the time, it was a fairly brave remark, as Spacey had not fallen out of favor and the proverbial s*** had not hit the fan.

Gary Oldman

(Anthony Harvey for Getty Images)

 

Since it seems a foregone conclusion that Gary Oldman will (finally) get the Best Actor statuette for his outstanding portrayal of Winston Churchill in “The Darkest Hour” I’d like to add that the film is actually very good, as well. It’s not just a case of a good acting job in an otherwise ho-hum film. Oldman truly deserves this honor, after so many, many good roles, and I would be surprised if any of the other actors in the category (Timothee Chalamet, Daniel Day-Lewis, Daniel Kaluuya, Denzel Washington) give him any real competition for the gold statuette.

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Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour”

I would also be surprised if the make-up artists (Kazuhiro Rsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick)  for “The Darkest Hour” didn’t cart off the award for Best Make-up and Hair, since their competition is “Victoria and Abdul” and “Wonder.”)

LEAD ACTRESS

Sally Hawkins as mute cleaning woman Elisa Esposito in “The Shape of Water.”

The nominees are Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water”); Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”); Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”); Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”); and Meryl Streep (“The Post”).  Streep has just announced she will join the cast of “Big Little Lies” next season, playing the mother of Alexander Skaarsgard.

THE SNUBS

This brings me to the snub of both Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks for “The Post.” Maybe the Academy just feels they have been honored enough, but this was a truly fine and enjoyable film, and an important one in these times, since it deals with attempts to suppress the free press and focuses on the publication of the Pentagon Papers. I was also sad to see that Ridley Scott’s re-shoot of “All the Money in the World” got short shrift and that Jeremy Renner’s turn as Corey Lambert in “Wind River” didn’t get a closer look, but I think it was released too early. The Academy seems to have a short memory for films that aren’t released closer to the date of the actual ceremony.

 Right now, all the momentum is definitely with “Three Billboards” and Frances McDormand, but I am an admirer of “The Shape of Water.” If I may remind viewers, however, Sally Hawkins (previously known for playing the meek sister of Oscar-winning Cate Blanchett  in Woody Allen’s 2013 film “Blue Jasmine”) had to play her role without speaking, as she portrays a woman who is mute. All of the actresses I saw were good (haven’t yet seen “I, Tonya” performance yet) but, for my money, having to play your role completely without words makes Hawkins’ task that much harder and her achievement that much greater. I wouldn’t mind seeing Frances McDormand win because women’s empowerment is today’s buzzword, but I’d really like to see Sally Hawkins be recognized for such a fine job, working under adverse conditions.

SUPPORTING ACTOR:

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Richard Jenkins

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Sam Rockwell

This category is one of the most difficult to predict. The nominees were Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”); Woody Harrelson (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), Richard Jenkins (“The Shape of Water”), Christopher Plummer (“All the Money in the World”) and Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”).

First, let me say that having two actors from the same film (“Three Billboards) nominated for that film is always detrimental to one of them, but Rockwell, who has labored long and hard in the indie film field, has carted off SAG and Golden Globe honors already and certainly has a quirky, comic role that deserves recognition. But so do the others. Woody is equally good as the long-suffering and fatally ill Sheriff of Ebbing, Missouri. Christopher Plummer, playing J. Paul Getty in the had-to-be-shot-over-from-scratch “All the Money in the World,” is an old pro who does a great job for Ridley Scott, replacing the disgraced Kevin Spacey. The entire film was great and Ridley Scott, who pulled off an impossible task, at the ripe old age of 80, deserved more nominations for this film. Some said Michelle Williams would get a nomination as Best Actress for her role as the mother of the kidnapped grandson of J. Paul Getty, but she did not. I’d really like to see Richard Jenkins win, because he has been so good for so long (played the dead undertaker father in television’s “Six Feet Under“), but has never received the recognition he is due. It also would not bother me to see Christopher Plummer, a veteran actor, get the nod. Having said all that, it seems this is Rockwell’s year. Saw “The Florida Project.” The child actors—especially Brooklynn Prince as Moonnee—-were impressive, but it was not Willem Dafoe’s finest hour or strongest part in a storied career. 

SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

Saiorse Ronan in “Lady Bird”

Nominees are Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”); Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”), Lesley Manville (“Phantom Thread”), Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”) and Octavia Spencer (“The Shape of Water”). I have not yet seen either Allison Janney, Lesley Manville, or Mary J. Blige, but I’m a big fan of Steppenwolf product Laurie Metcalf, better known to TV audiences as RoseAnne’s television sister. She was terrific as the Mom in “Lady Bird” but somewhat snubbed at earlier awards shows, in favor of Allison Janney, who plays Tonya Harding’s mother. It was interesting to learn that, although both Letts and Metcalf came out of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater, they had never shared a stage before “Lady Bird.”

DIRECTORS:

Image result for guillermo del toro photos

    Guillermo del Toro

Nominees are Christopher Nolan for “Dunkirk;” Jordan Peele for “Get Out”; Grets Gerwig for “Lady Bird”; Paul Thomas Anderson for “Phantom Thread”; and “The Shape of Water” for Guillermo del Toro. Again, notable snubs to Ridley Scott for “All the Money in the World” and to Steven Spielberg for “The Post.” My heart is with “The Shape of Water.” It was quite the achievement; read the review posted here earlier.

Playwrght/actor (“August: Osage County”) Tracy Letts, at the showing of “Lady Bird” in Chicago.

Without mentioning ALL the categories, I’d like to see “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” triumph for Steve James and Kartemquin Films in the documentary category. They are headquartered in Chicago (40 years and counting) and this is their second nomination for an Oscar this year, along with “Edith & Eddie” in the Best Documentary Short Subject category. I’d also like to see “The Square” win for Best Foreign Film, “In the Fade” (which I also saw) from Germany seemed to have the inside track, but was another notable snub.

ODD FACTS:

Another interesting odd fact concerns the Best Actor/Best Supporting Actress categories where the one-time former husband/wife team of Gary Oldman (for “Darkest Hour”) and Lesley Manville (for “Phantom Thread”) were both nominated. Oldman has been married 5 times. Lesley Manville was his first wife, whom he married in 1987. He left her in 1989, 3 months after their son, Alfie, was born. In 1990 he married his most famous wife, Uma Thurman but that only lasted two years. He also had a drunk driving arrest in 1991 while out with Kiefer Sutherland (his blood alcohol was 2x the legal limit in California) and has made numerous unfortunate statements that caused him (some say) to be blacklisted in Hollywood for a while. (One was a “diss” of the Golden Globes, which, this year, he seemed genuinely thankful to receive for playing Churchill). His most recent wife is writer and art curator Gisele Schmidt, whom he married in September of 2017, so Oldman will be a newly-wed with about 6 months of matrimonial bliss to his credit in his fifth marriage by the time the awards are televised. Met him during a Chicago showing of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” in 2012, for which he was also nominated as Best Actor.

“12 Strong” Is One Long Boring Movie That Wastes A Great Cast

The trailer looked impressive and, as someone wrote beneath the trailer on Youtube: “Michael Shannon? I’m in!”

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Michael Shannon

I sat through an advance showing of Jerry Bruckheimer’s latest Blow-Em-Up Shoot-Out at the Afghanistan Corral, “12 Strong,” which opens wide January 19th, and all I can say is, “Boy! They must have paid Michael Shannon a s—load of money to make this!”

It isn’t just Shannon who is wasted on this supposedly “declassified true story of the horse soldiers” in Afghanistan. (*Potential spoiler: All of them live to tell about it, and we get to see the REAL soldiers at the end of the film in a group shot.)

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Michael Pena

Other cast members who lend their talents to this thing are everyone’s favorite Hispanic All-Around Actor, Michael Pena, and the heartthrob from Down Under, Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”), as well as Taylor Sheridan (Brian), Rob Riggle (kept waiting for the funny stuff) as Colonel Max Bowers, and a cast of zillions of stuntmen and more explosive charges than I can remember since “Apocalypse Now.”

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Chris Hemsworth.

THE BAD

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Character actor William Fichtner, WITH hair.

Another actor in this Nicolai Puglsig directed movie based on the Doug Stanton book (script by Ted Tally and Peter Craig) is the always dependable William Fichtner, who has been a character actor par excellence since as far back as 1987. The 62-year-old actor has about 7 films in production in 2018 alone, but what, in heaven’s name, was the idea behind having him SHAVE HIS HEAD for his role as Colonel Mulholland?

Image result for =William Fichtner bald in "12 Strong" picture

Ugh. Fichtner has a nice head of hair, as seen during his appearances recently on the TV series “Mom” (and elsewhere) and his is not the kind of head one should have to see shorn nude. He has a typically schmaltzy dialogue exchange with our hero, Chris Hemsworth (Captain Mitch Nelson) where he gives him a piece of iron from the Twin Towers that melted down during the 9/11 attack and tells him to carry it into battle to remember why he is fighting or some such.

Whatever Fichtner said, I was too focused on his bald pate to care or remember. It was a bad look. I hope his hair grows back. (At 62, shaving one’s head might be “the end of hair as we know it.”)

Of course, as someone else pointed out, perhaps it was a “skinhead” wig. I certainly hope so, because it was a truly awful look for Fichtner and for the film.

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Rob Riggle

And the casting of Rob Riggle—who, I believe, actually WAS a Marine—as Colonel Max Bowers was— odd. When you see Rob Riggle, you think “funny” and this is not a funny film.

Nor was it, for me, an entertaining one. I needed a stiff drink immediately after it was over; it was long. It’s difficult to tell you how long. I searched fruitlessly for a mention of the length of this film. It seemed like it went on forever. (Actually, it was 2 hours and 10 minutes, which is still much too long.)

If you enjoy watching things blowing up and hearing an endless series of huge explosions, by all means run, do not walk, to the nearest theater where this thing is showing.

If you enjoy schmaltzy, seen-before, not-that-original war stories: ditto.

If you just want to see Hemsworth lift that hammer. Oh, wait. Wrong movie,

[Chris Hemsworth does not hammer anything in this one, although he is our lead and the All-Around Wonderful Loving Husband and Father who leads the charge on horseback, no less, against tanks and insurgents of the Taliban.]

THE GOOD

The cinematography by Rasmus Videbaele was sometimes quite impressive, with three Chinook helicopters lifting into the sky against a sunset horizon. The explosions, as well, would have required technical expertise, so good job of not blowing anybody up for real.

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Navid Negahben (General Dostum)

Two actors who portray natives fighting alongside our boys should be singled out for mention, Navid Negahben as General Dostum and Fahim Fazli as Commander Khaled. They turn in credible acting jobs, as do the others packed in this piece of war propaganda. General Dostum goes on to become head of the country, we are told.

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Fahim Fazli as Commander Khaled with Chris Helmsworth on location.

This film, with its 16 producers and its non-stop deafening roar, reminded me of movies going back to “the old days” that featured the likes of Aldo Ray, Audie Murphy, and, at one point, the recently-deceased Don Rickles in a dramatic role, fighting battles of World War II,

Only now there are infinitely more explosions. Be warned.

 

Observations on the January 7th Golden Globes from Zayin Allen

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Oprah at the Sunday, January 7th, Golden Globe Awards
During the Golden Globes, the big moments are not about the ceremony and awards themselves,.
It’s more about what the nominees and winners have to say. especially with everything  happening leading into the new year with the “Me, Too!” movement..
Image result for google images of Natalie Portman at the Golden Globes, 2017

Natalie Portman was strong to subtly voice her opinion on the “All male nominees” for the best director category.

Image result for Google images of Guillermo del toro at the 2017 Golden Globes

Guillermo Del Toro took home the Best Director award for “Shape of Water.”  This act basically called out the elephant in the room with a loud speaker, especially since Barbra Streisand recalled being the last woman to win the award for Best Director and that was in 1984. Portman laid the ground work for the biggest moments of the night, but Oprah’s remarks (which she had been asked to shorten, but refused) were the cherry on top of the sundae..

Who else is there better to steal the show with grace and status than Oprah herself?
 After Oprah accepted the 2018 Cecil B. DeMille Award, Winfrey, the first African American woman to receive the award, went on to use the outlet and addressed the sexual misconduct scandal happening in Hollywood.  During her acceptance speech she stated that “speaking your truth is the most powerful tool you all have.”
Among all the speeches, none of them made the audience form eye puddles like Winfrey’s.  Going on to call out to the young girls at home, Oprah said, become the leaders“I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon!.. And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they  who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say, “Me too” again.” The hashtag #MeToo began to spread like wildfire all over the internet, basically questioning whether or not Oprah was locking in her run for President in 2020.
Yeah, it was that big.
That was not the only huge moment of the night.  Sterling K. Brown’s performance as Randall Pearson  in NBC’s drama “This is Us” was noteworthy. Brown won the Golden Globe award for best actor in a TV series, drama. While the show is heavy in certain moments enough to make a grown man cry.
With most of the talk of the night centering around gender, Brown went on to address something of a different caliber: being one the first African American actors to win the award for the best actor in a TV drama. In his brief acceptance speech he went on to thank the show’s creator, Dan Fogelman  “for a black man that can only be played by a black man…… I’m being seen for who I am and being appreciated for who I am, and it makes it that much more difficult to dismiss me or dismiss anybody who looks like me.”
fter Brown’s speech, the applause filled the room and the internet had a field day with the 75th Golden Globes.The night itself was a momentous occasion with many actors, directors, and films going on to claim awards and the female nominees wearing black in a show of solidarity.

“Porto” Film Is One of Actor Anton Yelchin’s Final Performances

 

I recently attended the Oakton Community College Pop-Up Film Festival, organized by Film Instructor and Director Michael G. Smith in Des Plaines, Illinois.

One of the films viewed by the crowd was “Porto,” a film directed by Gabe Klinger, who flew in from New York to answer questions from the crowd, which contains one of Anton Yelchin’s very last performances. Having just seen Yelchin in the very enjoyable “Thoroughbreds” (in a small part as a drug dealer), here was a chance to see Yelchin take center stage as the male lead in this story of romance remembered.

I was warned, going in, that it would be “intense.”

Normally, I would simply describe the plot and give the “bad” and “good” of it but after reading the harsh and somewhat inaccurate review in the November 27th “New Yorker” magazine, I’ll be doing a bit of quoting and rebuttal.

ANTON YELCHIN’S FINAL ROLES

Line two of the “New Yorker” review: “Yelchin’s character, Jake Kleeman, is an American scholar in Portugal who begins a relationshp with Mati Vargnier (Lucie Lucas), a French archaeologist who followed her professor (Paulo Calatre) there from Paris.” The character Yelchin plays is not accurately described as “an American scholar.” Jake explains that he and his sister were dragged around the globe by their American soldier father and, after enjoying their time in Portugal more than most of their father’s previous nomadic military postings, they decided to “leave the tour” at that point and quit relocating to a variety of cities. Actually, he says his sister made the decision to stay in Portugal, which they both liked, and he stayed in support of Sis’ decision. Jake is long past the “student” stage when the film opens, looking as if he is at least thirty, and, in fact, admits that he will take any job to keep body-and-soul together. We see him with a wheelbarrow, hauling rocks and stones in a quarry. We see him helping the gorgeous Matie (Lucie Lucas) haul boxes to her new apartment. He appears to be pretty down-and-out. You soon get the impression that Jake is closer to bum status than to “scholar,” although he does mention having once been a “scholar.”

Either I watched a different film, or whoever wrote that description for the New Yorker was paying more attention to the character’s talking about his early days when he was able to attend colleges overseas.

CITYSCAPES: LISBON, PORTUGAL

The next New Yorker observation is this: “The director, Gabe Klinger, plants Mati and Jake in lavishly photographed cityscapes but burdens them with a drama that plays like a lonely man’s wet dream.”

     REBUTTAL: I would agree that the cityscapes are lavishly photographed. I would not agree that the leads are “burdened” with the remembered romantic tryst that plays out more than once.

THE SCRIPT:

The New Yorker: “The script (which Klinger co-wrote with Larry Gross) is a hollow batch of cliches, starting with Mati’s hot come-on in a recurring cafe sequence in which Jake glowers and leers carnivorously at her before they grunt and heave gamely in a long bedroom sequence (an icky fantasy of phallic expertise.)”

REBUTTAL: Where to start with this one? What I saw was a Mona Lisa-like gorgeous creature (Lucie Lucas) who would rival Sophia Loren or Ava Gardner in their primes, sitting in a picturesque cafe where Jake (Anton Yelchin) is mesmerized by her beauty. Yes, he stares at the beautiful brunette with the Mona Lisa smile, as any red-blooded heterosexual man would. Ultimately, Jake works up the courage to approach Mati and ask if he may join her at her table. He does and they remain there briefly before Mati asks Jake to assist her in moving many boxes from her car to her apartment.

He agrees and we see him hauling box after box from her car to Mati’s new place, followed by her unrolling the primitive “bed” on the floor, which the couple soon puts to good use. Mati tells Jake that she is involved with her Professor right from the start, but that does not stop the smitten lad. The graphic sex scene (replayed from memory more than once) displays all of Luci Lucas’ charms in full frontal shots that prove that she is truly gorgeous. Unfortunately, we see only Yelchin’s back and his receding David Letterman-like hairline, neither one of which is particularly attractive.

POST ROMANTIC TRYST:

In the morning, Jake (Yelchin) awakens alone in the bed on the floor. He begins assembling one of Mati’s bookcases and arranging some of her belongings on it, when Mati and her amorous mature Professor lover return to the scene of the romantic crime. It is obvious that the older man very quickly sizes up the situation, but he does not seem particularly angry or aggressive. (He goes to the refrigerator, in fact, and changes the subject). He’s French, after all.

Later, we see this romantic scene played out more than once. The bad thing about the repetition of the scene is not the nudity or the sex, but the fact that the scene is badly out of focus in the replay. It really bothered me to see the fuzzy, blurry images.

Director/Writer Gabe Klinger (R), of “Porto,” during the Q&A at the Oakton Community College Pop-Up Film Festival in Des Plaines, Illinois with a college film instructor.

It was only after the film was over, during the Q&A with director Gabe Klinger, that the audience is clued in that the fuzziness and out-of-focus images were intentional, meant to show that memories, too, can shift in and out of focus with the passage of time. Unless this is run as a disclaimer at the start of the film if I were cinematographer Wyatt Garfield, I would have advised against this ploy to show that memories can (also) be fuzzy. It’s just incredibly amateurish-looking, as though my dad shot this film—-the guy who always cut the heads off all of his subjects.

TIME SHIFTS

The New Yorker:   “What’s more, Klinger plays coyly with the time scheme, as if to mask the lack of substance with tricks of form.” 

REBUTTAL: I’m not sure that the playing around with time and shifting of time was “coy,” but it did have the effect of being slightly confusing. However, when we see Lucie with a small child and her obviously-now-ex older husband enters to leave his daughter a gift, it is pretty obvious that Mati followed through with her intention to marry the better choice between the two. Time has passed—and a lot of it. Mati has married, given birth, and become estranged from the Professor. As for Jake, he was always just a one night stand, although he had a much more romantic view of their encounter and seems incapable of moving on.

PHYSICAL ABUSE:

The New Yorker:   “A gratuitously ugly scene of Jake’s physical abuse of Matti is a casually checked-off plot point.”

REBUTTAL: The only “physical abuse” I observed took place in the street in public when the frustrated Jake tries to physically restrain the gorgeous Mati by grabbing her arm. She rebuffs him and runs away. It was more of a glancing blow to her arm in his attempt to keep the beautiful creature from leaving him. But, quite frankly, he has no job and no prospects of a job and she was quite honest during their one-night stand about her intentions, so the fact that she doesn’t plan to continue screwing the unemployed (and not that attractive) admirer doesn’t seem to be much of a shock to anyone but Jake.

 THE BEST SCENE?

The New Yorker:   “With Francoise Lebrun, in the movie’s one well-imagined scene , as Mati’s mother.”

In the scene the New Yorker apparently liked, Mati asks her now old and weathered mother if she still desires men in her life. Mom answers that she does, in a rather world-weary manner, and even offers up her last sexual encounter with a stranger for her daughter’s consideration. So, you’re never too old might be the right way to sum that bit of wisdom up, which is comforting.

 I enjoyed the movie and the Q&A and one of his final films is dedicated onscreen to Anton Yelchin.

 

 

 

 

 

Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” Closes Out the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival with a Tribute to Michael Shannon

The closing film for the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival was Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” which seems destined for many Academy Award nominations this season. It also served as an opportunity to pay tribute to Michael Shannon, one of the actors in the film, who was present to accept the award and answer audience questions, along with co-star Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays a Russian scientist spy (Dr. Robert Hoffstetler, aka Dimitri) in the film.

The idea for the story of a romance between a creature like the Creature from the Black Lagoon film of 1954, [directed by Jack Arnold and starring Ben Chapman (on land) and Ricou Browning (underwater)] was part of the film’s appeal for del Toro, a well-known fan of horror movies, whose television series “The Strain” is now entering its fourth and final season. It was “Pan’s Labyrinth” in 2006 that vaulted the Mexican director to the ranks of top talents, however, as the film went on to be nominated as one of the Best Pictures of the Year and to win 3 Oscars for Cinematography, Art Direction and Make-Up. “The Shape of Water” has the potential to take home the golden trophy for all of those categories, plus snag acting nominations for cast members.

ACTING:

Sally Hawkins as mute cleaning woman Elisa Esposito in “The Shape of Water.”

It is difficult to select just one actor who would deserve an Oscar nomination, but it seems a foregone conclusion that the female lead, Sally Hawkins, will be up, as she has to play her entire role without words. (She is mute—but not deaf— in the film). Jane Wyman (first wife of Ronald Reagan) won the Oscar as Best Actress in 1948 for playing a deaf mute in “Johnny Belinda;”  Oscar loves lead characters with disabilities (think “My Left Foot” for a more recent example.)

Sally Hawkins was Oscar nominated for playing the ordinary sister of Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” and this part was written especially for her by Guillermo del Toro. It’s going to be hard to argue that she doesn’t deserve to win when she had to play the entire role without speaking.

Then there is the wonderful Richard Jenkins, so good in everything he appears in. He played Nathaniel, the dead patriarch, on “Six Feet Under” but has been working steadily since 1974 (80 films to the much younger Shannon’s 40) and is always believable and good. In this film he play Giles, a gay man who is ostracized in the Cold War era because of his sexual preferences and also because his craft of painting commercial panels is being supplanted by photography. (*Small sidelight: Jenkins is from DeKalb, Illinois and has been married to his wife since 1969).

All the characters are fighting “aloneness.” Giles (Richard Jenkins) is one of them.

I have always loved Richard Jenkins in Ben Stiller’s comedy, “Flirting with Disaster,” one of the best comedies ever made. But we can’t forget his work in the television series “Olive Kitteridge,” for which he won an Emmy as lead actor, nor his film roles in “Killing Them Softly,””Norman,” “Burn After Reading,”  “Fun with Dick & Jane,” “Me, Myself and Irene,” “Step Brothers” or “LBJ,” to name just a few.

Closing night Tribute to Michael Shannon, along with showing of Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water.” (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Michael Shannon, whom Warner Herzog has called “arguably the best actor of his generation” (Shannon has worked with Herzog three times) is terrific, as always, as Richard Strickland.  When Shannon is onscreen, he commands your attention and you can only really concentrate on him.

I had the opportunity to speak with Michael Shannon on the Red Carpet and asked him these 2 questions: Citing such films as “Revolutionary Road,” for which he was Oscar-nominated in 2008, as well as “Bug” in 2006, “Take Shelter” in 2011, “The Iceman” in 2012, and “Nocturnal Animals,” [for which he once again earned an Oscar nomination in 2016], how does he bring himself down to a more normal performance as an ordinary guy, as in the film “Mud”, which was also directed by Jeff Nichols, (with whom he has worked 5 times?)

Shannon’s answer was this: “It’s a job. I’m an actor.  I just show up and do it.” He would repeat that answer from the stage during the Q&A.

Tribute to Michael Shannon at the Chicago Film Festival. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

When asked what his favorite film was, he said “Take Shelter.” I was surprised to get an answer from him, as often that is a question that actors don’t like to tackle, considering it a bit like naming their favorite child. However, it was clear from his joking-around demeanor that Shannon doesn’t necessarily behave exactly like other actors on the Red Carpet or elsewhere. (He even said as much from the stage later, commenting, “I wasn’t a normal person before I got there, and I wasn’t after I arrived.”)  [The character actor who comes closest to Shannon in tone or style, for me, is probably Bruce Dern in his prime, in films like “Black Sunday” and “Coming Home.”]

Onstage at the AMC Theater in Chicago accepting his Tribute award and thanking benefactors on closing night of the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival on Thursday October 26, 2017. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Shannon was very humble in thanking both his agent, who had flown in from Los Angeles, and his best friend from the age of 14 on, as well as his stepmother and shared how proud his father would have been (Dad taught at DePaul in Chicago, and although Shannon got his start here, he now lives in New York City).

Cast member Octavia Spencer, an Oscar winner for “The Help,” is also an actress who is always good, just as she was in “Hidden Figures” and “Small Town Crimes” recently. She said, in Toronto, that when she heard that Guillermo del Toro had written a role just for her in this film, she said, “Oh, Lord! I’ll play anything he wants. I’ll be a tree if he wants me to be!”

There are no bad performances in this film, so take your pick of who you think will wind up with Oscar nods. Certainly Sally Hawkins and possibly both Shannon and co-star Michael Stuhlbarg, the most decent man in the film, (even if he is a Russian spy.)

The script, written by del Toro with the assistance of Vanessa Taylor (who has worked on “Game of Thrones” and also scripted the “Allegiant” installment of “The Divergent” series) was written with each specific actor in mind all of whom joined the cast. Shannon joked, from the stage, that it was “A little like being indoctrinated into a cult” and said that the experience was “epic and overwhelming and very moving at times.” He added, “Guillermo has such a big heart and it was never more on view than in this film.”

Said del Toro of the project, “I wanted to create a beautiful, elegant story about hope and redemption as an antidote to the cynicism of our times.  I wanted this story to take the form of a fairy tale in that you have a humble human being who stumbles into something grander and more transcendental than anything else in her life.  And then I thought it would be a great idea to juxtapose that love against something as banal and evil as the hatred between nations, which is the Cold War, and the hatred between people due to race, color, ability and gender.” He added, “I like to make movies that are liberating, that say it’s okay to be whoever you are, and it seems that at this time, this is very pertinent.”

Kraus, a Chicago native who collaborated with del Toro on his children’s series “Trollhunters”, suggested the idea that forms the basis of the story to Guillermo over breakfast. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

The basic story was suggested to del Toro over breakfast in 2011 by another of his collaborators, Chicago native and author Daniel Kraus, who has collaborated with del Toro on the children’s series “Trollhunters.” It was a concept that Kraus had been mulling for some time. When he shared his story with del Toro, the director decided that would be his next film. The script was then crafted with certain actors in mind.

Sally Hawkins plays a mute cleaning woman (along with best friend on the cleaning staff Octavia Spencer) in a government lab who falls in love with a sea creature that has been captured somewhere in South America and brought to the lab for study. When it appears that the evil government scientists are going to kill the creature, cleaning woman Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), aided by her good friend Giles (Richard Jenkins), cleaning woman Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer) and Michael Stuhlbarg’s scientist conceive a plan to smuggle the creature from the laboratory and, eventually, release him back into the ocean. The fact that an inter-species love affair begins to emerge between Elisa and the creature is an original idea that I’ve not seen portrayed  before. (The only previous similar story I’d ever seen involved the real-life prosecution of a human male who kept sneaking into the dolphins’ pool to have sex with the female dolphins—not quite the same vibe as depicted here.) Del Toro had said he wanted the monster to “get the girl” this time, after seeing so many films (“King Kong,” “Frankenstein”, etc.) where that doesn’t ever happen.

The Sea Creature becomes a huge part of the plot, of course, and it was important to del Toro that a real actor play the creature in the suit. Doug Jones, who has worked with del Toro for 20 years (and played a key role of The Ancient from 2014-2016 on television’s “The Strain”) was tapped to wear the suit—which meant that he faced grueling hours in the make-up chair each morning and each night. Even getting the suit on was quite the chore. Jones was the first on set in the morning and the last to leave at night, with at least 4 hours of make-up each day. Del Toro said of Jones:  “We’ve been working together for 20 years and he’s done some of the most crucial roles in my movies.  He is one of the few guys who does creatures who is also a full-fledged dramatic actor.  Often those are two separate gifts, but Doug has them both.  He’s a fantastic actor, with or without makeup.”

THE CREATURE

The theme of being alone comes in with the creature, because he is the last of his species. “He’s also never been outside his river, so he doesn’t understand where he is or why. He’s being tested and biopsied all because the government thinks, ‘We’re going to use this thing to our advantage, somehow.’”  And the Russians want him, too, if only so that their arch-enemies (the U.S.) don’t have him. The Creature was revered as a god in his original homeland and has some superhuman qualities, such as the power to reflect people’s desires back at them and the power to heal wounds more quickly.  “He comes into people’s lives and he seems to expose and amplify whatever is going on inside a human being,” said Jones. Physically, del Toro told Jones that the creature should have the bearing of a sexy, dangerous toreador, but with the fluidity of the Silver Surfer. To make sure he was attractive enough for a human female to fall in love with him, del Toro said, “Every night, I took it to my home and got the female vote: enough ass or not enough ass? Enough abs or more abs? Shoulders bigger or slimmer? It just had to be a creature you could fall in love with.”

Guillermo had encountered Mike Hill at a horror film convention and del Toro set him on a mission (at his own expense ahead of filming) to create a model of the sea creature this way: “He said he wanted me to give the creature a soul.  He wanted it to be something a woman could fall head over heels for in every way.  So I started sketching a handsome looking version of a fish man, giving him kissable lips, a square jaw and doe eyes and I went from there.”  Real-life fish like the tropical lionfish were used as a model for how the creature might eat and for its translucent bioluminescence.  Work began on the creature’s facial elements, especially its eyes.  “One of the early conversations with Guillermo was that he wanted the eyes to be changeable on set in order to change the mood or look of the creature. Since you can’t take Doug’s makeup off to change them, we ended up coming up with a magnetic system to interlock the eyes.  It was the only solution.  Once we were shooting, we would change the eyes 4 or 5 times a night.” A working set of gills was especially challenging because “we were dealing with a lot of water in some scenes. The gills give the creature an additional way of reacting without words, and we could use Doug’s breathing to enhance emotions like excitement, anger or affection.”

Finally, four spectacularly intricate suits, each capable of becoming waterlogged, were made for the production by the team at Legacy in Canada. Said Jones, “The suit is super tight and inside it there are actual corsets to make it even tighter.  But we segmented the abdominal plates so that they do give and move a little bit. It’s not solid, so it can create the graceful motions the story demands of Doug.”

It took 4 people to hoist Jones into the suit and in some scenes Jones was entirely blinded by his prosthetic eyes. The film’s visual effects supervisor, regular del Toro collaborator Dennis Berardi, began by creating an exacting digital double of Doug Jones in the prosthetic suit.  “We got to the point where we could do a digital version of the creature that could match up with Doug’s beautiful performance,” he says, adding, “Our hope is that the audience can’t distinguish at all between the digital version of the creature or the Doug Jones version.” (I’d say they completely succeeded.)

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (aka, Dmitri) in “The Shape of Water,” as played by Michael Stuhlbarg (Photo by Connie Wilson).

“The Shape of Water’s” shadowy atmosphere drops the audience into the depths of the story and Dan Laustsen’s creative cinematography was essential to achieving del Toro’s vision. During the Q&A following the film, Michael Shannon commented that, “The cinematography is off the charts.” He said that, in his 40 films, he had previously been a Deakins fan, but that the work of Laustsen, a product of Denmark, was essential to the film’s look.  Working with monochromatic tones of color, they meticulously shifted light and texture to craft a more modern, yet desaturated look, full of deep-sea tones.  Del Toro explained, “I knew I wanted the film to be monochromatic, so most of the palette is blues and greens with amber as a counter-balance.  Red only comes in as the color of blood and love.”

Del Toro said, “Dan is a genius with light.  He was able to light the film as if it was 1950’s black and white, even though we used color.  The light is very expressionistic and full of shadows and I think feels very classic.  For some of the underwater sequences, Laustsen harked back to the technique of shooting “dry for wet”, creating the illusion of water.  This involved using heavy smoke, wind machines and projection to create a dripping, pulsating atmosphere akin to water, while allowing the actors to work with their eyes open, vital to their expressions.” Said del Toro, “We did a lot of research on how to do dry for wet well, from how many frames per second to use to how you can create floating particles.  We knew the key was to create a video projection of caustic light on the characters that is very operatic.” Laustsen put the much-loved Arri Alexa digital camera to work and used Arri/Zeiss Master Prime lenses, which allowed for maximum precision. “Guillermo wanted lots of camera movement, and he likes very precise movement, so we worked with all kinds of cranes, dollies and Steadicams. It was very exciting.”

Dan Laustsen has shot more than 40 feature films, television movies and documentaries, both in his native Denmark and internationally. He has won (the Robert Award (Denmark’s version of the Academy Awards) for Best Cinematography 3 times and was nominated for the Swedish Academy Award (Guldbagge) for Best Cinematography. He shot “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “John Wick: Chapter 2.” This was Luastsen’s third collaboration with del Toro, following “Mimic” and “Crimson Peak.” It seems inevitable that this film will and should be nominated in the Cinematography category at Oscar-time.

(*Note: The scene I snapped above with “the 3 Michaels” onstage together came about when Michael Kutza (far right), Cinema Chicago founder asked about each star’s next project and learned that Michael Stuhlbarg is going to play opposite Kevin Spacey in a bio-pic about Gore Vidal. Stuhlbarg said he would be playing Vidal’s gay lover of 52 year.  Kutza remarked, “Why doesn’t Spacey just come out and admit that he’s gay?” The 2 actors cracked up. A few days later, amidst some rather unsettling sexual harassment charges from years ago involving a 14-year-old male co-star of Kevin Spacey’s, he did, indeed, admit that he is currently living as a gay man, but said he  has, at times, been bi-sexual.)

EDITING:

Sidney Wolinsky, ACE (Film Editor), a graduate of Brandeis University and San Francisco State University, has been an editor on “The Sopranos,” “Rome,” “Ray Donovan,” “House of Cards,”  and David Chase’s film “Not Fade Away.” He also edited the pilot episodes for “Sons of Anarchy,” “Blue Bloods,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Ray Donovan,” “The Strain” and “Extant.” He received 2 Eddies for his work on “The Sopranos” and an Emmy for the “Boardwalk Empire” pilot.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

Paul Denham Austerberry, with credits on such films as “The Three Musketeers” and “Amelia”, as well as “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” was brought in to design the sets, including the period apartments of characters Giles (Robert Jenkins) and  Elisa (Sally Hawkins). Del Toro said, “I fell in love with the fact that Paul has a very strong opinion of design, meaning he could counter anything I talked about with new ideas.  But even though Paul has great ideas, he’s also very practical, and that was important because this film had such a big scope, with complex sets and underwater shooting. He had to be able to orchestrate and manage all that.”  Sally Hawkins said, “The sets were like stepping into a painting. That’s what it felt like, to me.” In both cinematography and sets, I was reminded of Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo.”

Another important area for production design was the laboratory where the creature is housed.  “We didn’t want a lab that would come off as too sterile and bright. We want you to feel lots of unsettling things have gone on in there and it has some dark history.” The creature’s room is a maze of pipework, ducting and cylindrical chambers. “For the creature’s compound,” said del Toro, “I wanted it to feel almost more medieval than modern, to add to the fairy tale feeling.”

Interestingly, the pipes that you see that look like heavy cast iron pipes are really all done out of Styrofoam.  Said Austerberry, “That set was such a complicated jigsaw puzzle.  We were working on it right down to the wire.  On top of everything else, we had to design everything to endure lots of water and steam and for a huge lighting job as well.” He had in mind Brutalist architecture, the concrete-heavy, function-based style that flourished from the fifties to the seventies.

Then there was the capsule, which was described as an iron lung in the script. “I pulled lots of historical references to iron lungs. There was one in particular that Guillermo loved.  He loved the color, the shape and the language of the materials.  It was one of the first things we designed actually, because it took over 8 weeks to make.  The idea is that the chamber is on wheels so it can then be attached to the larger pressurized cylinder in the laboratory to transfer the creature.”

The ”command center” where Michael Shannon’s evil boss Strickland looks down from above was researched from fifties wall murals.  His office floats above the command center, overlooking the minions who work for him through the glass via an early closed-circuit camera system that was based on 1960’s TV studio set-ups.  “When you see Strickland behind this wall of images, it really speaks to how he sees himself as above everyone and privy to all information he can take,” Austerberry reflects.

Several scenes take place in the laboratory’s bathroom and locker room. These were shot in Toronto’s massive Hearn Generating Station, an old power station that has become an icon of a bygone industrial age.  “We looked at Hearn because it has tiled rooms. Unfortunately, the tiles in Hearn are cream and Guillermo was like, ‘We can’t have that color in this movie,’ so we ended up still using the location but hand-painting every tile to be in our color palette,” Austerberry relates.

The apartments that Austerberry designed for Elisa and Giles sit atop a classic bijou-style movie theatre.  To forge the exterior, he used Toronto’s Massey Hall, a designated National Historic Site of Canada, which was designed in neoclassical tradition by architect Sidney Badgley in 1894.

Austerberry said, of the apartments of Giles and Elise: “Their apartments are like two hemispheres of the same globe, but we lit each half differently.  With Giles, even if the scene was at night, we lit it like sunset in very warm tones.  The color coding of Elisa’s apartment is aquatic, with cool lighting and lots of cyan.  Hers is corroded by water, while his is not corroded at all. His is full of wood and golden  light, very grounded colors because he is the grounding for Elisa, whereas Elisa’s apartment has the magical light of the cinema below it.”

Austerberry shares:  “Guillermo brought us an image he had from a photograph competition in India with an old lady in a darkened room with a really aged textured and a cyan blue wall in the background and that became a big inspiration. We talked a lot about the idea that once this was a grand room but, at some point there was a fire and it never got repaired, so it looks very aged with that patina that Guillermo loves.”

The walls were a major focus, and an exhaustive quest led Austerberry to a vintage Anglo-Japanese wallpaper pattern featuring little curves that subtly resemble fish scales, similar to an ancient Japanese engraving.  He then merged that pattern over a faded cresting wave reminiscent of 19th Century Japanese artist Hokusai’s iconic woodblock print, ‘the Great Wave off Kanagawa.’

“We had a scenic artist paint a beautiful version of the Great Wave in textured plaster and then we just layered and layered and layered over it until it’s basically gone, but you still sense there’s this shape of water on this wall. Guillermo wanted the wall to be stark and subtle, but to tell a little story, if you knew what you were looking for.  So, that’s how it became so finely detailed.” All of the walls in the apartment were created as “wild walls,” meaning that they were all on quick releases so that they could be moved at a moment’s notice to accommodate a roving camera.  In addition, the windows each had to be plumbed for the deluge of rain that leads up to the film’s climactic moments.

The most challenging set of all was the modest retro bathroom, which is Elisa’s oasis from the world and becomes the creature’s refuge and the site of their deepening romance. “Our sets are generally made out of wood, Styrofoam and plaster.  But for this one we had to make everything out of aluminum and Bondo, instead of plaster, because it all would ultimately be submerged in a tank.  At one point we actually lowered the sets slowly into the tank so that you can see the water rise.  It was all very, very tricky to pull off, Austerberry describes.

With this kind of attention to detail, does anyone doubt that an Oscar nomination will follow?

THE MUSIC

Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat is noted for his collaborations with some of the world’s best filmmakers, including Wes Anderson, George Clooney (currently on display with his score for “Suburbican”), Stephen Daldry, David Fincher, Stephen Frears, Tom Hooper, Ang Lee, Terrence Malick, Roman Polanski, and Angelina Jolie. He has garnered 8 Academy Award nominations.

Among his film scores are “The Girl with the Pearl Earrings,” “The Queen,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The King’s Speech,” “Argo,” “Philomena,” “The Imitation Game”  and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” which won the 2015 Oscar for Best Score.

His more recent work includes Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken” and “Florence Foster Jenkins”, as well as “The Light Between Oceans and “Suburbican,” out now.

COSTUME DESIGN

Luis Sequiera has worked with Guillermo on 3 successful seasons of “The Strain” on television. His feature film work includes “Charlie Bartlett” starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Hope Davis, “Mama,” produced by Guillermo del Toro with Jessica Chastain, “The Thing,” “Breach” with Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe, “Carrie” with Julianne Moore and Chloe Grace Moretz and “Thomas & the Magic Railroad.”

With this amount of background on the technical difficulties the cast and crew faced in making “The Shape of Water,” I’ll formulate something resembling more of a review next, but it should be clear that it’s going to be a very positive one for this film that easily could win it all in March.

Closing night of the Chicago Film Festival…26 days of non-stop movie watching, viewing over 40 films and still behind on the reviewing, so stop by as I keep on keeping on. And don’t forget that THE COLOR OF EVIL boxed set series is currently (through November) on sale for half-price as part of the boxed set virtual tour in E-book! Thanks for stopping by; please leave a message about anything you’ve read.

 

 

Sir Patrick Stewart Honored with Lifetime Tribute Award at the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival on October 25, 2017

Sir Patrick Stewart give Lifetime Tribute Award at the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival on Octobr 25, 2017.

Sir Patrick Stewart was honored with a Special Tribute night on Wednesday, October 25, 2017, at the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival. This spring, the Emmy and Golden Globe nominated actor earned some of the best reviews of his career as Professor Charles Xavier in “Logan,” reprising a role he originated in the first installment of the “x-Men” franchise which he has appeared in, off and on, for 17 years.

Although perhaps best known for his role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Stewart has a wildly varied resume that includes comedy (“Robin Hood: Men in Tights”, “L.A. Story”) drama (“Match”), dark horror cinema (“Green Room”) and English drama (“I, Claudius”).

Stewart is a three-time Olivier Award winner and an Honorary Associate Artist with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2001.

During his remarks, Stewart shared that his entire life was changed by a teacher, Cecil Dormand, now 93, who placed “The Merchant of Venice” in front of him when he was a boy of 12. “Something happened,” said Stewart.

Of playing Captain Jean Luc-Picard in the “Star Trek” reboot, he told the crowd that, when he signed a 6-year contract, he was told, “Don’t worry. It will never happen” of the odds of the series lasting that long. But last it did, with the series going into its 7th season. Stewart said that he once said, “What I lack in my career is just more camera time.  Well, I got it.” He also directed 6 of the episodes in the last 3 years.

In his younger years, Stewart confided, he was smitten with Hollywood stars like Doris Day, Tab Hunter and Debbie Reynolds. “I wanted so much to marry Doris Day. I don’t think she ever knew that.” For someone who never had a television set until he was 24, Stewart was more smitten with Hollywood than many.

Of the movies he admires, he mentioned by name “On the Waterfront” and the recently-watched “Shawshank Redemption.” He also spoke of his work in the cult favorite “Green Room” that featured work by the recently-deceased Anton Yelchin.

Sir Patrick Stewart and wife in Chicago on October 25, 2017.

When Hugh Jackman announced that “Logan” would be his last outing in the role of Wolverine, the creature with claws and a violent nature, Jackman and Stewart had been working together for 15 years. They decided to really probe the characters and their inner lives, which is exactly why “Logan” is so much better than other Marvel comic offerings. It is, if you will, a return to the character-driven films of the seventies, rather than the “Let’s see how much stuff we can blow up” of the current crop of films.

The two old friends and co-stars watched the final X-Men entry at the Berlin Film Festival and, recounts Stewart, he felt tears running down his cheek and then noticed that Jackman, too, was crying. At that point, Jackman reached over and took Patrick Stewart’s hand and the two watched the end of the World Premiere with Daphne Keene’s 11-year-old girl taking over the role that Jackman originated and, the next morning, Stewart announced that he, too, was not going to be in the series any longer.

As he said, “There can never be a better way to say me, too.  I announced it the next day, after the World Premiere.  I was already killed once in this series. I was rather uncomfortably vaporized by Famke Janssen.” There are those who say Stewart might earn an Oscar nod for his performance in “Logan.”

As he mused on “the power of art to affect people’s lives,” he also talked about “A Christmas Carol,” his one-man show, and, as Cinema Chicago founder Michael Kutza presented him with his Lifetime Achievement award, he praised the Chicago-based Improvised Shakespeare Company and Rod Steiger, who was instrumental in helping him at the start of his career.

At the very end of the program, Stewart left for a private reception at a Gold Coast home saying, “Thank you so much.  This is marvelous.’

Jane Goodall & the Wild Chimpanzees of Gombe Are the Subject of Husband Hugo VanLewick’s Treasure Trove of Discovered Film

When  I taught 7th and 8th grade Language Arts, I always showed the students the documentary (16 mm. film rented from the local library) “Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees.” Imagine my excitement at learning that Director Brett Morgen (“The Kid Stays In the Picture” (2002); “The Chicago Ten,” (2007); “Cobain:  Montage of Heck” (2015)) had unearthed a vast treasure trove of National Geographic film shot by Jane Goodall’s husband, Hugo Van Lewick, long considered one of the most accomplished photographers of wild life.

Jane Goodall was Louis Leakey’s 26-year-old British secretary when Leakey selected her to go to Gombe in 1957 and study chimpanzees. She had no formal higher education, as her parents were not wealthy enough to afford university, but she had an abundance of patience, an open scientifically inclined mind, and a life-long love of animals. She had a desire to get close to wildlife. Jane’s father left for the war when she was five, and her mother was very supportive of her daughter’s unorthodox aims.

Said Jane, “I wanted to do things that men did and women didn’t. I wanted to come as close to talking to animals as I could. I had dreamt of going to Africa ever since the age of 8 or 9.  I felt that this was where I was meant to be.  I had no idea what I was going to do, but I wanted to be able to move among them…And so began one of the most exciting periods of my life: the time of discovery.”

Through Jane’s extensive documentation and Hugo’s photographic record (he arrived September 1,1962, funded by National Geographic), we learn that it took almost 5months in Gombe before the chimpanzees began to accept Jane Goodall.  Jane began naming the chimps (David Graybeard, Goliath, Mr. McGregor, Flo and her baby Fifi and, eventually, Flint) and the chimps began to actually come into the tents to steal bananas. In fact, ultimately a system had to be put in place to keep the chimpanzees from stampeding the place in search of any manner of goods to carry off. Jane comments: “Staring into the eyes of a chimpanzee, I saw a thinking, reasoning personality looking back..How like us in so many ways.”

Both Jane and Hugo found it “absolutely thrilling to have the chimps so close.” Jane writes, “What an amazing privilege to be accepted by a wild, free animal.” Hugo’s funding from National Geographic (which contributed most of the film used, but without much organization or color, as the director confided, both of which he had to provide) ran out and Hugo left, moving to the Serengetti Plain to photograph all manner of animals. A telegram arrived for Jane that said, “Will you marry me? Stop. Hugo.”

And so the woman who had given little thought to marriage or having a family did marry Hugo and the newspapers of the day had a field day with headlines like: “Me Hugo, You Jane.” “Jungle Relationship Leads to Altar.” “Eat Your Heart Out, Fay Wray,” and “Beauty and Her Beasts.” Soon, the couple had a son, whom they called Grub. As Jane recounted the couple’s partnership, she said, “You got married. You got pregnant and you had a baby.” Jane dedicated herself to raising their son for the first three years, and commented that, “There is no doubt that my observations of the chimpanzees helped me to be a better mother.” She commented that she “understood the mother/child bond better” after giving birth. However, she also soon found that she couldn’t both raise a child and study the chimps.

Jane Goodall with one of her wild chimpanzees.

Jack Parr (better known as the early host of the “Tonight” show) came to interview Grub and we learn that Grub had to be locked In a sort of grandiose enclosure or cage, as chimpanzees have been known to eat other small primates.  At the age of six, Grub was sent back to England for schooling and, after a period spent working as Hugo’s assistant on the Serengetti Plain, Jane returned to Gombe, visiting her son who was being raised by Jane’s mother (his grandmother) on holidays in England.

When Jane returned to Gombe, however, tragedy struck. The chimps had been struck by a polio epidemic and many of them died or were crippled. McGregor had to be shot, and Jane comes down definitively on the side of euthanasia, saying, “I see no difference between helping an animal and helping a human.  The epidemic didn’t start with us, but it was tragic.” A rule was made that students studying the chimps could no longer touch them.

Flo, the dominant female amongst the group, had a daughter, Fifi. Then came Flint and the opportunity to observe a baby chimpanzee grow to adulthood in the wild presented itself. The observations so far had already proven that chimps were capable of making tools (in this case, long sticks used to lure ants from logs). Now more funding could be garnered to study a baby chimp that would grow to adulthood while being observed.

However, Jane’s own marriage to Hugo was faltering, impacted by their differing circumstances, and ended in divorce (Hugo died in 2002). Hugo’s letter to Jane spelled out the conditions of marriage: “The woman is to be a compliment to the man in all things.” Let’s just say that Jane Goodall did not completely buy into that philosophy and the pair went their separate ways, while remaining friends.

Grub, their son, now lives in Dar Es Salaam, where he builds boats.

Brett Morgen describes some of the difficulties faced in helming “Jane” about Jane Goodall and the wild chimpanzees and her life. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Filmmaker Brett Morgan, who appeared after the showing for a Q&A. announced that the film will be showing in Chicago by Friday, October 26. He was asked how he got the film and responded:  “I received a call from National Geographic about this lost film. But there were no 2 consecutive shots. We had to construct the narrative. That was 2 and ½ years ago.  The film was also totally silent, so we had to add sound editing in the office. There was a massive library of chimp vocalizations and we arranged for all the footage to move to the music. We also put in 225 hours of hand painting to make the film resemble the vibrant forest that Jane described, as it was sort of brown when it was found. There were very few scratches on the film. Every shot is Hugo’s. There is no stock footage.  Hugo was a total neophyte when he went to Gombe, but these two people defined and redefined their vocations.”

In response to questions from the audience, Morgan said, “It was also kind of empowering that Jane didn’t’ have to give up her dream for a man.  It is a very refreshing message for boys and young men and is of equal or greater value for young boys. Kids: follow your dreams! The message for parents comes from Jane’s strong mother: she listened and accepted Jane for who she is and allowed her to be heard and identified.”

Documentary “Jane” plays the Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

When asked about interviewing others who might know Goodall (now in her eighties) Morgan said, “I don’t do the broad interview approach where you interview anyone and everyone.  Jane was enough.”

VERDICT

This is a truly outstanding look at the work of two pioneering students of animal behavior and the landscapes and photography of wildlife in Africa are beautifully done, with a score by composer Philip Glass. Although there were moments when the soaring crescendos of Glass’ music became almost intrusive, the film as it was originally found (silent and brown) was vastly improved by the addition of the animal sounds and the voice of Jane, herself, reading from some of her books, including “Reason for Hope.” I learned so much that I had not known about this truly remarkable woman and one of her observations late in the film, when her chimpanzees became aggressive and violent, was sad: “I had no idea of their (the chimpanzees) brutality. I thought that was just humans, but now I think it is deeply embedded in our genes.”

As Director Brett Morgan said, “Jane Goodall is an author, first and foremost, and also a good speaker.” He mentioned “Reason for Hope” and talked of the poetry and lyricism of her writing. She has devoted her life to trying to help preserve the wild chimpanzees, moving around the globe with her message and never spending more than 3 weeks in any one place since leaving Gombe. She has said of Morgan’s film that it is “the only one that has captured Gombe” and her favorite of all previous films made about her work.

“Lady Bird” Is The Name That Saiorse Ronan Gives Herself

“Lady Bird” is the name that Saiorse Ronan gives herself (in the film of the same name), rather than her given name of Christine. The Greta Gerwig-helmed indie film was smartly written and gives Gerwig an impressive directorial debut with an equally impressive cast, including Laurie Metcalf as LadyBird’s mother, Tracy Letts as Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein as Julie, Lady Bird’s best friend, Lois Smith as a nun with a sense of humor,  Lucas Hedges as Christine’s first boyfriend (who turns out to be gay) and Timothy Chalemet as Kyle, the boyfriend who deflowers Lady Bird in what she hoped would be a special experience for both of them.

I first became aware of Greta Gerwig in the Rebecca Miller-directed “Maggie’s Plan,” where she co-starred with Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore (2015). However, her first “big, breakthrough” role was in “Frances Ha” in 2012, which she co-wrote with Noah Baumbach, with whom she has had a personal relationship since 2011. She showed up again as Abigail “Abbie” Porter in 2016’s “Twentieth Century Women” with Annette Bening. Now she is both acting, directing and writing. She has said, Creating projects is really what’s happening these days. The chance to participate in your own career is a lot more exciting than just hoping that it all works out.”

THE GOOD

Judging from “Lady Bird,” Gerwig has a great sense of humor and a lot of natural wit. The “Lady Bird” script showed that. Set in 2002 Sacramento there are autobiographical touches from Gerwig’s own growing up in Sacramento that ring true.

For example, when Christine (aka, Lady Bird) mentions that Alanis Morrissette wrote the song “One Hand In My Pocket” in 10 minutes, her sarcastic mother (Laurie Metcalf,  RoseAnne’s sister on that TV sit-com) says,  wryly, “I believe it.” There is Lady Bird’s first boyfriend Danny (played by Lucas Hedges, who also turns up playing Frances McDormand’s son in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), who is from such a large Irish Catholic family that he says, “It’s hard to find a girl to date who’s not my cousin.”

Sacramento—where Gerwig really grew up—is knocked as “the Midwest of California” but, later in the film, we get the impression that she really enjoyed growing up there.

One scene involving an anti-abortion speech by a well-meaning volunteer has the opinionated Lady Bird unimpressed by the woman’s earnest speech explaining how she was a child whose mother nearly aborted her, but did not. Lady Bird says, “If your mother had had the abortion, we wouldn’t have to sit through this effing assembly.” Of sex, in general, (after her first sexual experience), Christine says, “I found when it happened that I really like dry humping more.” She is also crushed to learn that her partner, with whom she thought she had a “special” relationship, has been with six other girls. He nonchalantly reassures her, “You’re gonna’ have so much unspecial sex in your life.”

Laurie Metcalf and her husband, played by playwright (“August: Osage County”) and Chicago actor Tracy Letts, are always struggling financially, so Lady Bird’s hopes of going to an East coast school are not supported by Mom. However, Dad helps his daughter secretly fill out applications for a variety of schools on the East coast and Christine does, indeed, gain entrance to one.

Laurie Metcalf’s Mrs. Hedges has been so hard on her daughter—and they are both such strong personalities—that Mom cannot even bring herself to walk her daughter to the gate to fly East to college. But Lady Bird/Christine recognizes that her mother does truly love her and, in a touching scene near the end of the film, calls home to tell her mother that she loves her.

THE BAD

There are no IMDB fact sheets or trailers for this film yet. Suffice it to say that all the actors mentioned above do a great job and the script is top notch. It will move on to the Austin Film Festival next, which runs from October 27-November 3rd.

Playwrght/actor (“August: Osage County”) Tracy Letts, at the showing of “Lady Bird” in Chicago.

Tracy Letts, who plays Christine’s father in the film, joined us for a Q&A at the end of the movie and shared that the crew shot “mostly in L.A.” He said, “Sacramento means nothing to me. It had zero meaning for me.” As the rock of the family, Lucas Hedges, Letts said that the cast didn’t meet each other until the film premiered at Sun Dance.  He added, “This is the movie I thought we were making when we read the script and that is not always the case.”

Letts had high praise for Gerwig’s work as writer/director, saying, “She was so sure-handed. She knew exactly what she wanted.” He went on to say that he had known Laurie Metcalf, who plays his wife, for 30years, from the Steppenwolf Theater, but they had never worked together. He said, “Her script was fantastic.”

When asked about rehearsal time, he said, “When making a movie at this budget level, there’s no rehearsal.  You make yourself available to the chemistry,” and, he noted, despite not being a father himself, “We just clicked from day one,” meaning Saiorse Ronan of “The Lovely Bones” and Letts as her father. He repeated, “If there’s a better algorithm than the script, I don’t know it. It was all on the page. The script was great.”

Letts had a bit of criticism for Lucas Hedges (his character), saying, “I didn’t identify with that abdication of the father.  When the trouble starts, he steps out of the room.  The idea that he suffers from depression? Depressed? Who isn’t?” While Letts didn’t identify with the opinionated controlling mother and the father who likes to play the softie and do very little disciplining, I could relate to it on a personal level and I know many other folks who have lived that scenario in their own lives, too. The good news is that the daughter realized her mother’s genuine caring and concern for her welfare and it did not lead to permanent alienation.

VERDICT:

As Letts says, “She’s (Greta Gerwig) really a very attractive person because she’s so smart and magnetic.  She’s gonna’ make many other good films.” I agree and enjoyed this first one.

 

Genre:  comic drama

Cast:  Saiorse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, Timothy Chalemet

Length:  93 minutes

Writer/Director:  Greta Gerwig

Cinematographer:  Sam Levy

Music:  Jon Brown

 

 

“Sammy Davis,Jr.: I’ve Gotta’ Be Me” with Director Sam Pollard at the 53rd International Chicago Film Festival


Director Sam Pollard brought his hugely entertaining documentary “Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta’ Be Me” to the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival and spoke about the fascinating subject of this film.

A host of celebrities, ranging from Whoopie Goldberg to Billy Crystal to Sidney Poitier testify to the man who was “showbusiness from the top of his head to the tips of his toes.”
Sammy Davis, Jr., won his first talent show at the age of three (He sang, “I’ll be glad when you’re dead, you rascal you.”) and performed with the Will Mastin Trio comprised of his father and uncle.

Until he was 45 years old, long past the life span of the trio, his earnings were split three ways amongst the members of the trio. Sammy was born to a Catholic mother and a Baptist father at 2632 140th St. and 8th Ave in Harlem, but converted to Judaism. He never went to school and, much like Michael Jackson, never had a real childhood.

Sammy’s big break-through as a singer was the song “Hey There” and stars like Eddie Cantor and Jerry Lewis (who is interviewed shortly before Lewis’ recent death) helped advise him. He lost his left eye in a 1954 car accident that was rumored to have been Mafia-inspired. It took him two years just to re-learn how to pour a glass of water, but he came back to performing as good as before. And when he was good, he was very, very good, singing, dancing, acting and doing impressions of white actors (a breakthrough for the times).

THE GOOD

The film clips in this bio-pic (written by Laurence Maslon) are truly enjoyable and take you back to the days of the Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. Those days began to fade in 1964 and the personal snub that Sammy felt when JFK excluded him from his Inaugural Ball (primarily because of Davis’ marriage to May Britt, a white Swedish beauty) hurt Sammy to the core. He is quoted as saying, “”Nobody’s gonna’ get inside any more. I can’t afford that luxury.”

When Harry Belafonte wanted Sammy to come to Selma for the civil rights march, he was appearing in “Golden Boy” on Broadway and told Belafonte his absence would close the play. Harry bought the house to get Sammy to come to Selma. Despite Davis’ efforts, he was often not accepted by the black community, who often considered him a sell-out and an Uncle Tom.

Sammy was the epitome of extravagance. He was ostentatious and larger than life, saying, “I have no desire to be the boy next door.” He is quoted as saying, “If I’m not going first class, the boat ain’t leaving the dock.” He was also the first black man to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom in the White House.

THE BAD

The stories told of Sammy’s abuse when serving in the Army are truly heartbreaking. Even when he appeared in “Golden Boy” with Paula Wayne ( Arthur Penn directed), rednecks said, of Paula, “She’s the one who kissed the N—-.”

His only Number One Hit was “The Candyman” from the “Willy Wonka” movie and Sammy thought it was a terrible song. He also supported causes when they were not fashionable, supporting Richard Nixon for President and making trips to Vietnam when the tide of public sentiment had turned against the war. (“It’s not cool to be in support of the war.”) He became an anachronism in his own time

Stories like the one about a patron at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas complaining that Sammy was swimming in the swimming pool, which caused them to drain the pool were horrifying. The only place he felt safe was onstage, as he fought the odds his whole life (and usually won).

When he contracted throat cancer, he did not have surgery for fear he would never be able to sing again, but had radiation. He died on May 16, 1990, in his Beverly Hills home with third wife Altovise by his side.

None of the children from his marriage with May Britt, nor May Britt herself appeared in the documentary. Pollard shared that he hired a crew and a studio and flew to Nashville to interview Sammy’s daughter Tracey, but she did not show up on the appointed day. His children seem to have been lost to him, as “everything was about Sammy.” (His marriage to May Britt ended in 1964).

VERDICT

Documentary about the life of Sammy Davis, Jr., played at the 53rd International Chicago Film Festival with Director Sam Pollard in attendance.


This is a great documentary about a fantastically talented legend. Director Sam Pollard said, “We’re all complicated. He was larger than life and a public figure. I’m always drawn to the complexity
. If you’re going to do a documentary about someone as phenomenally talented as Sammy, you look for the dark edges.” Pollard said he had read the autobiography “Yes, I Can: The Story of Sammy Davis, Jr.” (by Sammy and Jane and Burt Boyar) when he was 15. He noted that Sammy “had trouble being alone” and that they were “very fortunate that we had access to all the audio tapes from his autobiography.”

As Whoopie Goldberg and Billy Crystal say in the documentary, “I don’t know if we’ll ever see that much talent in one person again.”
Crystal likened him to a comet passing by the Earth.

Many black performers who appeared at his 60th anniversary in show business testimonial on February 4, 1990 (just 3 months before his death), such as Michael Jackson and Geoffrey Hines, saluted him, saying, “Thanks to you, there’s a door we all walked through.”

The scenes of Davis tap-dancing with Hines literally days before his death from throat cancer demonstrate that he was one of a kind; he actually made Hines (tap dancing co-star of “White Nights” with Mikhail Baryshnikov) look clumsy by comparison.

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