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 26

“Snoopy, Come Home!” Re-Released in Theaters on Sept. 29th

Snoopy, Come Home (1972) is re-releasing in theaters on Sept. 29th, Oct. 3 and Oct. 5th.

The1972 film “Snoopy, Come Home” is the rare exception to the other films involving Charlie Brown and the “Peanuts” gang in that (1) Charlie Brown’s name does not appear in the title, and, (2) When originally released, it earned back only $245, 073 of its one million-dollar budget.

The failure to do well at the box office can be attributed to the fact that Cinema Center Films was being shut down. They did not do the necessary marketing. “Snoopy, Come Home” would be Cinema Center’s last release and would also introduce Woodstock and Franklin to fans.

Snoopy visits Lila in the hospital.

The plot—also featured in the comic strip—involves Snoopy’s visit to his first owner, a little girl named Lila, who is hospitalized for three weeks and is very lonely. In a scene that would make no sense to today’s youth (“Why didn’t she just send an e-mail?”) Lila writes a letter and mails it to Snoopy, asking him to come visit her. Charlie Brown also uses an old-fashioned manual can opener to open Snoopy’s food—definitely an antique.

Clara decides she’d like to keep both Snoopy and Woodstock as pets.

Snoopy takes Woodstock, the bird, along as his companion in a trip through the woods, and the two have adventures, including being captured by a little girl along the route who ties Snoopy up and puts Woodstock in a bird cage. Clara (not named, but identified in the credits) wants to keep the two as pets, and she is quite persistent in chasing the pair as they try to escape.

Meanwhile, back at Charlie Brown’s house, Lucy says to Charlie, “You’ve got a used dog, Charlie Brown,” as they figure out  the mystery of Lila of the letter. Charlie articulates his life philosophy to Lucy, saying, “I have a philosophy that no matter how bad things get, they will always turn out good in the end.”

Lucy gives Charlie her usual blunt appraisal, saying, “That’s not a philosophy, Charlie Brown. That’s stupidity.”

The songs this time around are by Richard and Robert Sherman, and the singing is considerably better than on  “A Boy Named Charlie Brown.” The vocal credits are also different, going to Chad Webber as Charlie, Robin Kohn as Lucy, Stephen Shea as Linus, David Carey as Schroeder, and Johanna Baer as Lila. Bill Melendez directs again, and the explanation for the musical upgrade is that he wanted the film to be more Disney-like.

Is the film on the right wave-length for today’s youth? In the days of WWF and violence, it would seem so.

6% of the film has boxing or struggling over Linus’ blanket between Snoopy and Linus.

There is an extended sequence involving a battle for Linus’ blanket between Linus and Snoopy. Following hat, Snoopy and Lucy box (Snoopy wears the boxing glove on his nose). These scenes of active jousting take up at least 5 minutes of an 83 minute film ( 6%.) Maybe one explanation for these scenes would be it’s what kids do, or we can take Peppermint Patty’s words from the film and use them to explain, when she tells Charlie, “I’m an action type of person. When nothing is moving, I feel low. That’s why I always keep moving.”

Kids might notice that, when Snoopy and Woodstock leave home to go visit Lila, Snoopy carries a small valise that resembles a briefcase. Yet, from this briefcase Snoopy is able to take: a helmet; a football; a cooking pot; a frying pan; a complete dinner service; a large, rolled-up sleeping bag; an old-fashioned alarm clock; and a strange musical instrument that I couldn’t identify (mouth harp?), which somewhat resembled a harmonica, except that it looked like a key. That and the antique can opener were both artifacts that Seth Meyer might hold up on his show and ask a young person to try to identify. I’m an old person, and I couldn’t tell you what the “instrument” was that Snoopy plays when he and Woodstock are camping in the woods.

Snoopy, Lucy, Charlie Brown and Linus return on August 18th.

The good advice that was abundant in the previous Charlie Brown film is here, also.  Example:  “No one likes a moody person. If you go around in a mood feeling sorry for yourself, you do it alone—and I mean alone!” Or there is this profound bit of shared wisdom from Linus when he says, “Happiness lies in our destiny, like a cloudless sky before the storms of tomorrow destroy the dreams of yesterday and last week.” That pronouncement causes the retort: “I think that blanket is doing something to you.”

There’s a recurring theme of prejudice against canines. When Snoopy tries to go to the beach, he is kicked out because of a No Dogs Allowed sign. This discrimination continues throughout the entire film, up to and including Snoopy being banned from a library, a hospital, and an apartment building.

The songs are better in this Peanuts film, including “Fundamental Friend Dependability” and the song with the lyric, “I still remember a summer gone by. Why was it over so fast? Why can’t our summertimes last?” The explanation is that Melendez wanted the film’s musical score to be more like a Disney film.

Charlie Brown, as usual, is the lovable loser. He says, at one point, “I had 14 pen-pals once, but I did all the writing.” (Isn’t that always the way?) After Snoopy disappears without any explanation, Charlie moans, “I never know what’s going on.”

That feeling that we are the ones who “never know what’s going on” will keep Charlie Brown and the gang relatable for decades, even though so many visual constants of 1972 now appear dated. The beautifully colored woods that Snoopy and Woodstock hike through will be gorgeous on the large screen when the film begins showing at theaters on September 29th, October 3rd and October 5th as a re-issue.

The emotional messages conveyed by “Snoopy, Come Home” will remain true forever.

“A Boy Named Charlie Brown” Returns on August 18th at the Movies

Lucy, Charlie Brown, and Linus examine cloud formations as “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” opens.

Way back in 1969, half a century ago, when my son was a year old, we watched “A Boy Named Charlie Brown,” directed by Bill Melendez and showcasing the lovable loser Charlie Brown from the “Peanuts” comic strip that Charles Schulz created. It’s 50 years later and, on October 18th, 2019, the film is being re-released on the big screen once again in honor of its 50th anniversary.

The songs in the film were both Oscar and Grammy nominated back in 1971, with music and lyrics by Rod McKuen like, “People, after all, start out as being small, And we’re all a boy named Charlie Brown.”

As the film opens, Charlie Brown, Lucy Van Pelt and Linus are all staring at the clouds and describing what they see. Linus thinks he sees an outline of the British Honduras Islands in the Caribbean and a profile of Thomas Eakens, famous painter and sculptor. When asked what he sees, Charlie admits that he was going to say a duckie and a horsie. Now Charlie is rethinking that response.

My son was one year old when this film came out, but most of it is as fresh and timely today as it was then. Perhaps the only exception to that remark is one of the final scenes that shows boys shooting marbles in a circle. Boys today would have no idea what that scene was all about. I remember playing marbles, and I’m sure Charles Schulz, who wrote the source material probably played marbles with shooters and Aggies, but today, it would be some video game.

Mostly, we are allowed to empathize with Charlie Brown, who goes through a depression when he cannot fly a kite (Snoopy can, immediately after Charlie has exclaimed, “Anyone who can fly this kite is a genius!”) or, seemingly, succeed at anything. “I just can’t seem to do anything right,” Charlie says, noting that his baseball team has just lost its 99th straight game.

Snoopy, Lucy, Charlie Brown and Linus return on August 18th.

But the times, they are a’changin’, and Charlie wins the local spelling bee and goes on to a larger competition, where he almost takes home all the marbles. As a former English teacher at the elementary school level, I applaud the spelling rules the film packs into the script. I guarantee you that 90% of today’s students probably won’t have heard most of them before and could benefit from taking notes!

Here is Lucy Van Pelt, pulling the football away just as Charlie attempts to kick it and causing Charlie to moan, “Why, oh why, do I let her do this to me!”

When Charlie embarks on a Lucy-directed attempt to follow up his school spelling bee championship by winning big at other spelling bees, he leaves town on a bus, taking with him Linus’ blanket, which Linus gave him as a good luck token. Unfortunately, the absence of the blanket leaves Linus in a funk.

Linus and Snoopy go to the big city to try to retrieve the precious blankie. My son had such a blankie and, when he was hospitalized with double pneumonia at the age of 2, his grandmother took his dirty blanket home to wash it, leaving son Scott with a substitute blankie. This substitute blanket did not set well with son Scott (“Accept no substitute!”) who went through his own meltdown while in an oxygen tent, pining for his wonderful blanket and rejoicing when it was finally returned to him. (He used to find “the good part” on the edge, which was a tiny segment of the lace that had worn off the entire perimeter of the blanket, and rub it against his cheek as he drifted off to sleep.)

Finally, Linus gets his blanket back (as did Scott) and all is well. Linus can finally stop saying, “Woe is me!” Linus plays Beethoven. (Lucy, seeing a bust of Beethoven on his piano, asks, “Who is this? George Washington?”) and Snoopy ice skates like a champion.

The movie holds up remarkably well after fifty years (with the exception of that marbles-shooting scene) and the colorful sequences with animated pulsing color will be even better viewed on a giant screen once again. Enjoy it at your local theater beginning August 18th.

“Yesterday” Offers 17 Beatles Songs & Ed Sheeran

The second “sleeper” film of the summer, after “Late Night,” is “Yesterday,” an upbeat story of love and the Beatles.

Helmed by Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “Shallow Grave,” “Trainspotting”) from a script by Richard Curtis (“Notting Hill,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Love Actually”) “Yesterday” has an improbable plot that presents as fact the idea that everyone in the world has forgotten about the Beatles, except for Jack Malik (Himesh Patel of the BBC’s “Eastenders”).

Don’t get hung up on why the knowledge of the Beatles and their song catalogue has disappeared. It’s not just their music, as Oasis (the band) has disappeared, as well, along with Coca Cola, Harry Potter and cigarettes. It all seems to have happened during a 12-second world-wide blackout, during which our hero is on his bicycle and gets hit by a bus that cannot see him because its headlights have gone dark.

Starring alongside new-comer Himesh Patel as Jack is Lily James as Ellie, his first manager and long-time admirer. Lily is recognizable from “Baby Driver” and her appearance in “Mama Mia.” She has just the right combination of fresh-faced admiration and loyalty to make her the perfect grade school teacher (which she is) and, eventually—although he is slow to recognize this fact—the girl of Jack’s dreams.

Along the way we are treated to a small appearance by Ed Sheeran as himself, a part he got after Chris Martin of “Cold Play” turned it down. Sheeran hears Jack sing a Beatles song on television and pops around to his Suffolk home to give him a shot at stardom (Sheeran really is from Suffolk). The scene with Jack’s father in the kitchen is pure Curtis and very realistic, as are Jack’s parents’ reactions throughout his climb from unknown to world-famous singer of Beatles songs.

As the press kit for the film put it, “Ultimately, this film is a great example of the power of song…To reconnect with the power of music is a fantastic treat.” One of the amusing points made by the film is the difficulty of remembering all the lyrics to a favorite song. In this film, that song is “Eleanor Rigby.” It proves to be one of the most difficult to re-construct from memory, after all Beatles tunes have disappeared from the globe.

Jack has been struggling to make his name as a singer/songwriter for years, but his own composition, “Summer Song,” just isn’t up to Beatles standards. As the villainess of the piece (Kate McKinnon of “Saturday Night Live”) put it, “I hated it, but I wasn’t interested enough in it to listen to it again to figure out why.”

Now that Jack has pinned down his failure to thrive to his songs, but not his singing, armed with the Biggest Hits of the Sixties and beyond, he completely blows the competition out of the water. There is even an impromptu song-writing competition with Sheeran where Jack’s contribution of “The Long and Winding Road” is judged the winner. He seems to compose it in 10 or 15 minutes. (An interesting side note: the song that Sheeran wanted to contribute at that point was initially received with great enthusiasm—until his record company stepped in and said they needed it for his next album, at which point Sheeran composed another original work that runs at film’s end.)

Another role in the film is that of Jack’s roadie, Nick (Harry Michell). As the plot put it, “Nick is famously a world-class moron.” In real life, Michell was initially considered for the lead role of Jack because of his musical ability. When he auditioned he was ill and barely able to sing, but he was good enough that the part of Nick—comic relief—was his.

In part, the film is a hymn to the power of marketing. The scene where Jack is meeting in a board room with the marketing team that will decide how to present “his” songs to the world featured a dynamite monologue from the actor playing the lead marketer, who is, in reality, a well-known comedian. LaMorne Morris, the marketing guru, knocked it out of the park in shooting down such esoteric titles as “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in favor of “One Man Only.” The room used was loaned to Boyle for one day’s shoot because of his affiliation with WME and Cooper Wave Louise in L.A. and the W Hotel also makes an appearance. The rooftop scene of Jack performing at the Pier Hotel (a real Suffolk hotel) conjures up images of the real Beatles performing “Get Back” and “Don’t Let Me Down” on the roof of Apple Records.

Patel does all his own singing and glowing references to his audition, when he sang “Back in the U.S.S.R.” were made, with the comment that “Danny’s approach is all about the performance; that’s what we were there to catch.” In other words, no lip-syncing.

One small criticism. The film is a bit over-long. As it goes on past 2 hours we meet John Lennon. I wondered if removing the John Lennon meet might have brought the film in at 120 minutes or less, because that would have improved it, and the meeting with the doppelganger for John is not really that central to the plot until they give him this line: “Tell the girl that you love that you love her and tell the truth to everyone whenever you can.”

In other words, not a good movie choice for Donald J. Trump.

The Dead Don’t Die: Observations from the Theater

An Irish illustrator, John Rooney, sent me his work on “The Films of Bill Murray.” Since I just took myself to see “The Dead Don’t Die” in Chicago at the AMC Theater, I told him I’d run his artwork with a few observations about the film. It’s not really a “review,” but simply some observations after my viewing of same.

The Dead Don’t Die film was exactly what I had anticipated: an oddball display of Bill Murray at his hipster best, playing a small town Sheriff with a deputy, played by Adam Driver of “Star Wars” and “BlackKlansman.” Zombie fare has been hot for a while now and this is a bit like “The Walking Dead” in that the principal characters (Murray, Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton) are told to “aim for the head.” Carol Kane also has a brief bit as a corpse who “changes” while in police custody.

Steve Buscemi plays a racist who is not mourned when he bites the dust (or, more accurately, when the zombies bite him). He is featured at a local diner drinking coffee while wearing a hat that resembles the Trump red hat with the words “Make America White Again.” Seated next to him is Danny Glover, who, at almost 73 years of age, seems to be taking just any old role these days. I saw him in a movie about the Ebola virus at the Chicago International Film Festival of 2017. It was pretty bad. Here, he only has a few lines, but the one that Buscemi speaks to him about the coffee is something along the lines of, “That’s too black for me,” which he immediately doubles back on, saying, “I was talking about the coffee.”

At one point, when Murray and Driver are trapped in their car in a cemetery and Adam Driver keeps saying, “This will not end well,” Murray freaks out and tells him to stop saying that. Murray then demands to know WHY Driver keeps repeating the line, and Driver says, “I read the script.” Murray has a momentary outburst of outrage over the fact that Writer/Director Jim Jarmusch (renowned for his “quirky” films) didn’t share the entire script with him. It’s that kind of “inside joke” film.

Tilda Swinton plays a very strange mortician. Her finale in the film is the kind that cannot be predicted, because it is fairly illogical. But, then, this is a Jim Jarmusch film. It really plays like a  long commercial for the song of the same name, which is pretty good, but an entire film about the song? Really?

The horrible ending to the film, for me, was when I was charged $39 to park for 2 hours in the AMC parking lot under the theater. I was supposed to have had my ticket validated, at which point my charge would have been a mere $17. I spent 4 days trying to reach Tiara, who oversees 6 different parking lots, they told me. I did finally reach her, only to be told that she could not put the $22 differential back on my charge card. (Sigh)

 

Doris Day (My Doppelganger?) Dead at 97

Doris Day A few days ago (May 13th), Doris Day shuffled off this mortal coil at the ripe old age of 97. I remember her well from movies like “Pillow Talk,” with Rock Hudson (one of her best) and—when I was a young college girl, working as a waitress at Armstrong’s Department Store Cafe in downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and at the Cherry Blossom Dining Room in Marion (Iowa)—if I had a dollar for every customer who said to me, “You look like Doris Day!”, I wouldn’t have been rich, but I probably would have made more money than I did working as a waitress that summer.

And if I’d had Doris’ job, I wouldn’t have had such sore feet from waitressing. It was a brutal job for minimum wage (a U-shaped breakfast island with a straight part to the left that people could also sit at; you’d wait on the interior part of the “U” and, behind you, people would be seated at the straight bar part that you were not at all aware had come in). All-in-all, both were demanding jobs for paltry salaries. [It was especially brutal the night the Cherry Blossom Dining Room booked a high school reunion (small class) and failed to notify me (the hostess) in advance that several tables of reunion-goers would be sweeping in, en masse, at the peak of the dinner hour). It’s never fun to have to go around and ask 4 to 5 tables of 8 if they’d mind relocating across the room. (!)] However, while fantasizing over Doris’ money made, I have to realize that she was thoroughly fleeced by her “business advisor” (Jerome Rosenthal) who managed her since the forties and by her third husband. It took her until 1979 to recover some of the millions he took in a colossal case of malpractice, which the courts recognized as such, although it took 5 years for Doris to get any of her money back.

Doris Day Doris remained beautiful for many, many years—well into her sixties—and outlived her record producer son, Terry Melcher (who was probably the real target of Charles Manson’s murders, as it was Terry Melchers Hollywood Hills home that Manson sent his acolytes to, where they brutally murdered Sharon Tate and others.) She more-or-less faded into oblivion because the times changed. During 1960 and the 1962 to 1964 period, she ranked number one at the box office, the second woman to be number one four times. She set a record that has yet to be equaled, receiving seven consecutive Laurel Awards as the top female box office star.[57]According to the Hollywood Reporter in 2015, the Academy offered her the Honorary Oscar multiple times, but she declined as she saw the film industry as a part of her past life.[96] Day received a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement in Music in 2008, albeit again in absentia.[97] 

One of the roles Doris Day turned down was Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate” (she found it “vulgar” and “offensive”). Anne Bancroft cashed in. Although scheduled to sing at one of the Oscar ceremonies, while strolling the hotel grounds she received a bad cut on her leg from a sprinkler system that required stitches; she had to cancel. She also was in talks with Clint Eastwood, her Carmel (California) neighbor to star in a Clint Eastwood project, but that never panned out.

Doris Day She received three Grammy Hall of Fame Awards, in 1998, 1999 and 2012, for her recordings of “Sentimental Journey”, “Secret Love”, and “Que Sera, Sera”, respectively.[98] Day was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2007,[99] and in 2010 received the first Legend Award ever presented by the Society of Singers.[65]

Day was  a great animal rights activist (much like Brigitte Bardot, post career) and there are some wonderful photos of Doris with Clint Eastwood, receiving Golden Globe awards in the sixties. Day became one of the biggest film stars in the early 1960s, and as of 2012 was one of eight performers to have been the top box-office earner in the United States four times.[1][2] Doris Day’s began with Pillow Talk (1959), co-starring Rock Hudson who became a lifelong friend, and Tony Randall.  Day received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actress.[54] It was the only Oscar nomination she received in her career.[55

Doris’ personal life was not so successful. Doris Mary Koppelhoff of Cincinnati, Ohio married three times and basically dumped little Terry (her only child) in Ohio with her mother (also a divorcee) to continue touring as a vocalist with Les Brown (and his Band of Renown). Between 1949 and 1959, she recorded First husband Al Jorden was supposed to have been physically abusive, with a violent temper; she intended to divorce him before even while pregnant with her only child. Second husband was saxophonist, George Weidler. Third husband Martin Melcher adopted Terry and gave him his surname, but Melcher was abusive to both mother and son and managed to embezzle $20 million dollars of Doris’ money. Doris’ last husband (1976-1982) was Barry Comden, a maitre de, who later complained that she liked her canine friends more than him. Doris did NOT want to do “The Doris Day Show” (1968-1973) but found out after Melcher’s death that he had signed her to do one.

Day learned to her displeasure that Melcher had committed her to a television series, which became The Doris Day Show:.

It was awful. I was really, really not very well when Marty [Melcher] passed away, and the thought of going into TV was overpowering. But he’d signed me up for a series. And then my son Terry [Melcher] took me walking in Beverly Hills and explained that it wasn’t nearly the end of it. I had also been signed up for a bunch of TV specials, all without anyone ever asking me.

— Doris Day, OK! magazine, 1996[

Nobody has told me “You look like Doris Day” in quite some time, which may be because Doris remained slim, trim and out-of-sight as much as possible after 1968.  When “All in the Family” was popular (I mention it because of the recent “live” recreation of that Norman Lear hit, produced by Jimmy Kimmel) there was the occasional mention of “Gloria” on “All in the Family,” but I always thought it was the long blonde hair and the lack of height.  Gloria (Sally Struthers) has not retained her youthful appearance, post television, like Doris Day did but, thankfully, I’ve not heard the Sally Struthers comparison since the seventies.

I just thought I’d send out a prayer for Doris’ happiness in heaven. It didn’t seem as though all her stardom and fame translated to a gloriously happy personal life, for her. A contentious divorce (her son’s) kept her from ever becoming close to her only grandson, who regrets the manipulation and maneuvering that kept him from ever knowing his grandmother. By contrast, I (we) just got a call from the grounds outside the Eiffel Tower in France from my married son and wonderful daughter-in-law, with the 10-year-old twins (Ava & Elise) posing in pictures that made it seem like they were balancing each other AND the Eiffel Tower on their palms.

Doris Day Day died on May 13, 2019, at the age of 97, after having contracted pneumonia. One day after she turned 97, she told an interviewer her All Time Favorite Film role was “Calamity Jane.”Her death was announced by her charity, the Doris Day Animal Foundation.[123][124][125] Per Day’s requests, the Foundation announced that there would be no funeral services, gravesites, or other public memorials.[126][127][128]

Doris supposedly thought she was only 95, as her birth certificate confirming she was really 97, was only ferreted out a few years ago.

Au revoir, Doris. May you live on in happy memories. “Que sera, sera.”

Bill Duke: An Autobiography Worth Reading

Bill Duke: My 40 Year Career On Screen and Behind the Camera

Bill Duke: My 40-year Career On Screen and Behind the Camera

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, 193 pages, plus index and photographs (15 pages)

Amazon: Print – $16.47. E-book: $13.99.

 

Bill Duke, with his 62 directorial credits, 17 as a producer, and 4 as a writer, is a face on the screen that movie-goers have recognized since the seventies. It was 1976, in fact, when his breakthrough role as Duane/Abdullah in “Car Wash,” paired with such luminaries as Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Otis Day, Antonio Fargas and the Pointer Sisters gave him his first big break in the 40-year career he writes about in “Bill Duke: My 40-year Career Onscreen and Behind the Camera.”

For me, one of his most memorable roles was as Leon, the gay pimp in “American Gigolo.” His movements were sinuous and catlike; he was an unforgettable character in this story of lust and greed, which focused on Gere and his romance of Lauren Hutton as a neglected politician’s wife and a murder suspect.  Paul Schrader (Oscar-nominated this past year for his script for “First Reformed,” which Schrader directed) was the director. The music by Giorgio Moroder imprints the film on my mind.

Duke admits, “I found it to be one of the high points of my acting career with one of the leading roles of the film. It was outside of my comfort zone, but it was a growing experience. I loved the character I played, and I loved working with Richard Gere.”

Duke goes on to say that “Richard Gere was meticulous with every movement of his character, like the movement of his eyes, the face, the lips, the hands, and the legs.” I would add that this attention to detail and movement goes double for Bill Duke in his roles. Leon was, indeed, a high point of Bill Duke’s acting career, and one I remember well.

I would also say that Duke’s praise of his fellow actors and directors and co-stars is universal throughout the book. “Never is heard a discouraging word.” If you are looking for a “tell-all” book from a Hollywood insider that will open the floodgates on unsavory doings, this isn’t it. Bill does allude to a low period in his own life when he gave in to the temptation of drugs, but the story of the seamier side of life in Hollywood is not this book’s mission.

BACKGROUND

When I was teaching junior high school students in a small town in Illinois, I was happy to find that the local library had a series of 16 millimeter After School Specials.  I could rent these and show them to my students. I selected those where Bill Duke and Kevin Hooks were involved because they would be quality productions with good messages and the length was perfect to show to a class on a Friday afternoon late in the year. I was then (and am now) a film critic. I pay attention to who is in a film, and also to who is directing, writing and producing a film.

Duke has appeared in too many television series to list them all, including stints on those After School Specials as well as on “Cold Case” (2008), “Lost” (2006), “Battlestar Galactica” (2006), “Starsky & Hutch” (1978), “Kojack” (1976), “Falcon Crest, “Fame,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Knott’s Landing,” “Dallas,” and “New York Undercover.” He is still active on “Black Lightning.”

Bill Duke’s feature credits include the two films mentioned (“Car Wash,” “American Gigolo”), which really launched him, as well as “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit,” “Get Rich or Die Trying,” “Deep Cover,” “Hoodlum,” “Predator,” “Menace II Society” and “Not Easily Broken,” to name just a few. He has won NAACP Image Awards and been a nominee for a 1991 Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or with “A Rage in Harlem.” Sundance Film Festival awarded “The Killing Floor” (1984) a Special Jury Prize and a Grand Jury Prize.  More recently, the Northeast Film Festival recognized “American Satan” with a Best Ensemble Prize and, in 2018-2019, Bill Duke can be seen as Agent Percy Odell in the television series “Black Lightning.”

Reading about how this 77-year-old African American actor/director/producer/writer rose from humble origins in Poughkeepsie, New York and how he continues to open the door for so many other talented black entertainers was interesting, educational and amusing. He seems to write from the heart with sincerity, although there are a few areas that he treats “once over lightly,” including his own bouts with drug addiction and his personal life.

When Duke talks about Leon, his desire to excel shines through. “Playing that role gave me an opportunity to show other sides of my acting ability.  I was seen by many casting directors as the big, tall, angry black man.  I wanted to show that I could be more than that.  The character of Leon was a soft-spoken brilliant sociopathic businessman, and I wanted the opportunity to let casting directors know that I had more range.”

Duke shares the trials and tribulations of being a television series regular. (“A television series is the hardest work for an actor on the face of this Earth.”) He thanks all those who have helped him along the way and does not speak ill of anyone, but does tell readers that, after appearing on a television series called “Palmerstown,” he could not find work as an actor for 2 years.

He explains, “In those days, they had something called a TV Q score, which was a way to measure how familiar audiences were with an actor, TV show, and so forth.  If you were on a television show that garnered a lot of publicity, you could be considered ‘overexposed,’ which could make it difficult to get hired for another television show or feature because your Q score went down.” He adds that the experience made him depressed and angry and convinced him that he had “better learn how to do more than just act.”

Thus began a career move towards producing, writing and directing and this quote:  “Once I figured Hollywood might typecast me as the police officer, I turned to directing.  That way, I could wait until an interesting project came along.” Duke has also moved into the job of Chairperson of the Department of Radio, Television and Film at Howard University, as of 2000.

[*As an aside, I once interviewed the man responsible for the Q Score system. He had headquarters at that time in Marion, Iowa. At that point in time, he was tasked with making a television star spokesperson out of top model Cheryl Tiegs, something that never really worked. The man had worked for Gallup and took his knowledge of polling into the world of television and movies with the much-vaunted “Q Score” that Bill Duke mentions as having given him two years of idleness, sadness and depression. The Q Score Big Boss didn’t like what I had to say about the Q Score, so the article never ran.  I was paid a “kill fee” after I interviewed him in his Marion, Iowa, offices.]

Duke scored a collaborative job with Joel Silver on “Commando,” which introduced him to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mark Lester (the director) and led, later, to his role as Mac in 1987’s “Predator.”’

PREDATOR STORY

One of the best stories in the book involves “Predator” and the unknown and inexperienced stuntman/actor hired to play the title creature. The actor was dressed in heavy black felt for the filming in the jungles near Puerto Vallarta. The heat and humidity were intolerable, causing the stuntman to pass out at least two times early on.

The director strode over and said, “If you pass out again, I’m going to have to fire you.” The original Predator creature (which did not appear in the film), was a smaller, more nimble creature that flew through jungle trees with speed and flexibility and fully packed laser guns. That Predator was also invisible and could strike his prey at any time. The bodysuit, including placement over the head and face, was originally used to insert computer-generated special effects over the actor’s body in post production. Unfortunately for the actor within the suit, he did pass out again.

At that moment, Joel Silver marched over to him and, as the actor awoke, suffering from exhaustion and dehydration, Silver said, “You’re fired.” The acrobatic, multitalented martial artist flying through the trees in a felt suit in one of his first jobs in America was Jean-Claude Van Damme.

ENCOURAGEMENT

One of the best things about the book is its “never say die” encouragement of young actors, in general, and African American actors in particular. While giving props to all of the heavyweights who have gone before (Sidney Poitier, Spike Lee, etc.), Bill Duke, himself, has proven to be a shining example of an actor who has paved the way for others. His work in Hollywood earned him an appointment to the Board of the California State Film Commission, as well as an appointment to the National Endowment of Humanities under President Bill Clinton. The Directors’ Guild of America honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Tribute. The reader may get the feeling that the author sometimes feels he has not received his fair share of recognition, and his Bill Duke Media corporation may be an attempt to rectify that by producing a great deal more quality film output.

As an unconventional actor—-not known for good looks, but renowned for good performances—Duke has had a career that has had many highs and lows. He shares that, “It’s all about relationships in the industry.” That remark could probably be expanded to any line of work. It may be intensified in Hollywood, but it seems true of many corporations, businesses and industries.

Quote: “Nobody else in this world is like you.  There may be similarities, but nobody is just like you.  You have value, and if nobody has validated that for you, it is time for you to validate yourself.  Let your soul and your spirit out in your writing.  Tell the truth of your experience in life through your writing.  Writing forces you to love yourself and let out your truth.  It takes courage, but the payoff is something that you cannot spend.” (p. 190)

“I wish I could say that writing this book was inspired by me and my courage, but the truth is that it was not.  For many years, people told me that I should tell my story because of all that I had gone through in Hollywood, but I never believed that I had anything important to say.  I thought a lot of people had gone through what I had gone through.  I didn’t think there was anything special about bill Duke in Hollywood. However, when I reached my seventies, I wanted to leave something for those who come after me to benefit from.” (p. 190)

POETRY

Duke shares his poetry with us throughout the book. After reading of his humble origins in Poughkeepsie, New York, and the events that shaped him over the years, including a history of family violence, his poetry reveals a deep, sensitive soul, who arranges the poems on the page in vertical fashion. Lines like: “Nobody really cares. Nobody seems to really care about the other’s pain. For we must laugh and dance and sing and not remind us of anything that resembles fears that we’ve secretly tried to cover by pretending to be devoted lovers of everything except ourselves. “

What came through, for me, was that Bill Duke, at least early on, suffered from self-loathing. Was it his appearance? Was it because of remarks made to him when he was young? Was it because of his father and mother’s sometimes violent marriage? The source is difficult to pin down, as it often is in life.

WOMEN

Related image

Bill Duke during 1987’s “Predator” filming

It sounds as though Bill Duke doesn’t trust women. The reason for this is hinted at: a girl he had a crush on in college led him to believe that she’d spend time with him if he traveled to her school. He did (travel to her school). She didn’t (spend time with him). That seems to be one of the reasons why he stopped trusting ALL women. He had some sexual mistreatment by an early babysitter that also may have affected his views.

He frankly admits (p. 27): “I thought of sex as a game of pleasure from that day on, and maybe the reason I’ve hurt so many women in my life was because I always focused on the act, not the person.  I liked having sex with different women, but I never went beyond that and made emotional connections.  I simply enjoyed the physical act.  Maybe it’s because of the way I learned about sex; I’m not sure.”

On page 171, Duke adds, “One of the many reasons I never got married was that I always thought I was ugly, and I didn’t want to have children that looked like me.” He goes on to say, “After my first love betrayed me, I used that as an excuse to become a scoundrel when it came to women.”

At least this sensitive, introspective man realizes it is an excuse and admits he has, at times, been a “scoundrel” when it comes to women.

TRUST

While Bill Duke trusts himself (“Trusting what is inside you is key”, p. 189) he doesn’t seem to trust many other people. He talks of loneliness this way (p. 178): “You have a couple of friends who are with you throughout your life.  Some stay and some go, but when you’re not successful, not making money, and your career is not going well in our industry, there aren’t many people who flock to you.  That shouldn’t be a shock, because they are hustling and trying to do what they have to do.  If you can’t do anything for them, you are of no use to them.”

The book is good. The stories and experiences are fascinating and interesting. I always liked any film Bill Duke was associated with and that has proven to be prescient. If you’re interested in the film industry in any capacity as a career, this is a good read.

(Connie Corcoran Wilson, www.TheMovieBlog.com, www.ConnieCWilson.com)

Bits & Pieces of Random News for April 3, 2019

Some random thoughts of the day:

  1. One of the Decorah eaglets has died. Poor little thing had a name/number, like DN10, but he (or she) was one of 2 born in the Raptor Research nest and it appears—judging from the way Mr. North pushed the little bird body off to the side of the nest—

    The Day Shall Come at SXSW. (SXSW Press Photo)

    the chick died only a day or two after being born.

  2. The mysterious polio-like illness that doctors are calling AFM (acute flaccid myelitis) has struck at least 228 known victims in the U.S. in 2018. In an every-other-year cycle, has afflicted more than 550 Americans, including a 32-year-old. More than 90% are children around 4, 5, or 6 years old who come down with a cold that paralyzes them. Those of us who lived through polio epidemics are praying for another Dr. Jonas Salk.
  3. Biden on the caucus campaign trail in Iowa prior to the 2008 presidential race. Don’t worry: I’ll be back to politics by the end of the week.

    Conflicting reports on whether the GOP is going to address health care before or after the 2020 election. DJT has been quoted as saying they should come out with a plan before the election, but having a plan has not been the GOP’s strong suit under this president, no matter what the issue. There seems to be no desire to “fix” the things that would be fixable under Obama-care, because the current occupant of the White House is too obsessed with denouncing, denigrating and destroying the record of his predecessor to really do much beyond “framing” issues and using media to “pose” as having plans on issues, when it seems that little is being done.

  4. Read a horrifying in-depth article (“New York Times”) about Michigan’s schools, which have largely been turned over to a topsy-turvy crazy quilt of Charter schools, which are not doing any better a job with the students than the public schools they replaced. Truly sounds like a nightmare scenario, but this is the scenario that Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, has always tried to foster. She is a native of Michigan and a huge proponent of charter schools, despite her own home state’s dismal record. She also has absolutely not one credential for occupying the position of Secretary of Education.
  5. With Vice President Joseph Biden (then Senator Biden) at the Jefferson Jackson dinner in Davenport, Iowa, caucus season, 2008.

    The Democrats continue to attack one another. I would say “eat their young,” but Joe Biden is not young. The latest attacks on the former Vice President come from a woman actively supporting Bernie Saunders and are largely undercut by photos of her with her hands on his shoulders at the same event that she claims so traumatized her. It is sad that campaigning in the year 2020 has come to this.

  6. The weather remains pleasant here in the Austin area, but it sounds like the Midwest is pretty well flooded. With Trump’s typical lack of concern for those in dire straits, whether Puerto Ricans on that hurricane-ravaged island or Midwestern farmers who seem to have pretty well taken it in the shorts with the Chinese tariffs and flooding, it is going to be no fun at all trying to navigate the construction zone for the proposed new I-74 bridge over the Mississippi River, joining Iowa with Illinois. (Construction was delayed by the brutal winter). Not looking forward to dealing with it.
  7. Image from Suzanne Weinert’s “A Good Son.” (SXSW Press)

    The Lagoon in Cancun, Mexico, at sunset.

    Posting a picture of one film I had to leave early in order to make it to “Shrill” and perhaps a photo from “A Good Son” (see interview with Director Suzanne Weinert, above). “The Day Shall Come” had not, to that point, “gelled.” It did have Anna Kendrick and I had an interesting encounter with Ms. Kendrick when I attempted to stop in the women’s rest room at the Paramount Theater on my way to the opening of “Shrill” right next door. A policeman told me I couldn’t enter the rest room. Cop: “I have someone in there.” Me: “A prisoner?” Cop: (Smiling) “No.” Me: “A female someone or a male someone.” Cop: “Female.” At that point, another woman, holding a Big Gulp cup and having just entered the theater from a side alley entrance tried to cut around the two of us out in the hall to gain access to the rest room. She was quickly dispossessed of the notion that either of us could enter. We continued standing awkwardly in the hall, while I tried guessing who or what was going on. Just then, the film’s star, Anna Kendrick, emerged, having been primping in the bathroom for at least 20 minutes.

  8. The Royal Islander, penthouse view (9th floor).

    I’ll be in Cancun in 3 days. I’ll try to post some photos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q:  What was it like working for Ron Howard?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q:  After the orangutang experience, what was next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A:   Yes.

Q:  How does one do that?

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

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

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

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

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

Q:  What’s next for Suzanne:

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

“Us” Film Rakes in $70.3 Million in Ticket Sales

Jordan Peele’s film “Us,” his follow-up to the popular “Get Out,” which premiered at SXSW on March 8th, has opened well above forecasts, raking in a 94% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes and marking it as the largest debut for an original horror movie and one of the highest openings for a live-action original film since “Avatar 10 years ago.

The only original horror films that challenged the debut were the “It” remake and last year’s “Halloween.” “A Quiet Place” did unexpectedly well, but didn’t have the “name” recognition that Director Jordan Peele is now commanding to boost its opening.

The distribution chief for Universal Pictures put out this statement:  “Peele has really crafted an extraordinary story that I think once again is going to capture the cultural zeitgeist. He is recognized as just an amazing talent.  He crafts films that make you think, that are extraordinarily well-acted, well-written and are amazingly entertaining.”

More good news: “Us” took over the top spot at the box office from “Captain Marvel.” In today’s franchise-driven spandex movie world, it is encouraging to realize that a thoughtful, original movie can still compete and dethrone those from the comic books wearing the costumes.

Following the top two films were “Wonder Park” and “Five Feet Apart,” which each made about $9 million in their second week of release. “Us,” by ontrast, doubled (and then some) the 2017 Oscar-winning “Get Out” debut, which grossed $235.4 million on a budget of $4.5 million. Since “Us” cost only $20 million to make, it’s already a huge hit for Universal Pictures.

Audiences other than the Rotten Tomatoes raters have given it a relatively low “B” CinemaScore. There are various explanations for this. One is that, as Paul Dergarabedian said, film goers are shell-shocked when they emerge from the film. Others would say that the improbable plot explanations have both confused and dampened the enthusiasm of some movie-goers. Those that enjoy thinking and talking about the meaning of a film will enjoy it; those that want it spelled out for them will not.

One thing that will emerge from this in all probability is that the 40-year-old director has now vaulted himself to the ranks of such filmmakers as Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Brian DePalma, M. Night Shymalan, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, making his name as the director as important as who is appearing in the film.

Camp Sandy Shenanigans & Other Promotional Things at SXSW

I thought readers might enjoy seeing some photos from one of the promotional things that went on during SXSW in Austin, Texas.

This particular promotion was sent to me as Press and involved the sponsors (a local whiskey and Turtle Wax) being willing to send an Uber to pick me up in Austin and ferry me out to Camp Sandy, which, I can personally attest, is way-the-hell-and-gone out in the middle of Hill Country, but has a spectacular view.

Downtown Austin  (TX) mural.

A couple of the other shots were simply things that caught my eye as I was walking (for miles) around downtown Austin (it is, by actual mileage count, nearly 2 miles from the Conference Center to the Paramount theater).

But back to Camp Sandy. I RSVP-ed that I would come to hear “the band in the van.” The concept here is that the band is INSIDE a van and the listeners watch the band on screens mounted on the outside of the van. (Weird). Low Cut Connie was supposed to play, complete with a piano (“the first time a full-sized piano has been inside the van!” said the e-mail).

Note the small tan Prius on the right of this picture (mine) at Camp Sandy.

If you had a car, they would Turtle Wax your car for free, although this turned out to be incorrect.

I RSVP-ed and asked for specific parking and navigational directions and got nothing, but I had the address, so I set off in my trusty Prius (one of 5 in the family since 2002) and found this out-of-the-way place, high up in hill country with a spectacular view. I parked alongside the driveway in, which turned out to not be that smart a move, as someone driving a humongous tank-like vehicle pulled in and left their vehicle smack dab in the middle of the ONLY way in or out. (It took about 15 minutes to find out who had left the painted van blocking the only exit or entrance.) I only had one hour before I had to be standing on a Red Carpet somewhere, but Camp Sandy sounded interesting, if weird. And, of course, there was the matter of that promised free Turtle Wax.

Except that, when I showed up, it sounded like several cars were ahead of me in a “scheduled” fashion and, therefore, there would be no Turtle Wax for the Silver Fish (as I call my Texas Prius). That was okay, but when I learned that Low Cut Connie had also bailed, I did a quick tour of the premises and left.  That turned out to be quite difficult with the blocking van and, after the van moved, I could get no signal on my GPS and would have been totally lost. The organizer who greeted me said, “If you drive to the top of the hill, you’ll probably be able to get a signal.” (Yikes! Let’s hope so!)

Still, here are some “local color” shots of the venue and of downtown Austin, Texas, during SXSW.

Camp Sandy.

Interior, Camp Sandy.

View from Camp Sandy.

Sponsor of Camp Sandy.

Patrons viewing “the van” at Camp Sandy.

Typical crowd around the block waiting for admission.

The van at Camp Sandy.

View from Camp Sandy, Austin, TX, SXSW.

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