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 38

Connie has been reviewing film uninterruptedly since 1970 (47 years) and routinely covers the Chicago International Film Festival (14 years), SXSW, the Austin Film Festival, and others, sharing detailed looks in advance at upcoming entertainment. She has taught a class on film and is the author of the book “Training the Teacher As A Champion; From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now, published by the Merry Blacksmith Press of Rhode Island.

“Being the Ricardos” on Amazon Explores Lucille Ball’s Storied Career

“Being the Ricardos” was scripted and directed by wunderkind Aaron Sorkin. It won screenplay awards and acting kudos from SAG for its leads: Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz. Beyond those top-notch talents, you have J.K. Simmons as William Frawley, Tony Hale as Jess Oppenheimer, and Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance. The Screen Actor Guild awards are considered a good indicator of Oscar nominations and have achieved even more prominence since the demise of the Golden Globes.

Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., are listed as Executive Producers and Lucie Arnaz’s reaction to the film was as follows:

Lucie Arnaz released a video on her YouTube Channel on 17 October 2021, in which she called the movie “freaking amazing.” She complimented Aaron Sorkin for making a great movie that really captured the time period and had wonderful casting. She also said that Nicole Kidman “became my mother’s soul.” Little Lucie said that Javier Bardem didn’t look like her dad but, “he has everything that dad had. He has Dad’s wit, his charm, his dimples, his musicality.”

Besides A Few Good Men (1992), Sorkin wrote The American President (1995) and Malice (1993), as well as cooperating on Enemy of the State (1998), The Rock (1996) and Excess Baggage (1997). He was invited by Steven Spielberg to “polish” the script of Schindler’s List (1993). Sorkin’s TV credits include the Golden Globe-nominated The West Wing (1999) and Sports Night (1998).As of 2021, has written three films that were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar: A Few Good Men (1992), The Social Network (2010), Moneyball (2011), and The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020). His screenplays are often noted for the long speeches the actors must master, and he has done uncredited rewrites on some other major Hollywood pictures.

Despite his list of acclaimed scripts, Sorkin has only directed three films: 2017’s “Molly’s Game;” 2020’s “The Trial of the Chicago Seven;” and 2021’s “Being the Ricardos.” It looks like he is finally coming into his own with this behind-the-scenes look at the tumultuous marriage/love story/career of Lucille Ball. I had read much of the source material, which explored her desire for a home and family, which was in conflict with the womanizing reputation of Desi Arnaz, whom she met when he was only 22. A Cuban singer and bandleader, the chemistry between them was undeniable but Desi’s free-spirited high-rolling life proved to be too much for the woman who was the first actress to portray a pregnant woman on television, as she gave birth to Desi while also filming the popular television series “I Love Lucy,” watched by as many as 60 million viewers weekly.

It is while they are dating that Desi—whose father was once Mayor of Cuba’s second-largest city—tells her that she “has a way with kinetic comedy,” meaning that Lucy—like Chevy Chase later on “Saturday Night Live”—had a genius for pratfalls and physical comedy. The script explores Lucille Ball’s journey through the studio system, ultimately being cut  by studios even though she had just had a successful appearance opposite Henry Fonda in 1942’s “The Big Street.” Lucy’s path through radio (“My Favorite Husband” radio show in 1948), which was ultimately turned into the TV show “I Love Lucy” in 1953, showcases the redhead (who was not a redhead for her entire career) as a smart, savvy woman who understood physical comedy and went to the wall to insist that her on-air television husband would be played by her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz.

Desi, at the time, was leading a band that played at Ciro’s night club and singing such songs as “Babaloo” and  “Cuban Pete.” His free-wheeling lifestyle was out-of-synch with what Lucy wanted for her children. At the end of her life, Lucille Ball was married to Gary Morton. Her tumultuous marriage to Desi lasted for 20 years (with a nearly-filed divorce affidavit only 2 years in), while her marriage to Morton lasted for 28 years, until her death in 1989 at the age of 77 from a ruptured aneurysm.  On March 3, 1960, a day after Desi’s 43rd birthday (and one day after the filming the final episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour), Ball filed papers in Santa Monica Superior Court, claiming married life with Desi was “a nightmare” and nothing at all as it appeared on I Love Lucy. On May 4, 1960, the couple divorced; however, until his death in 1986, Arnaz and Ball remained friends and often spoke very fondly of each other.

Much of the drama of this version of Lucille Ball’s life hinges on how Arnaz skillfully defused accusations against Ball that she was a Communist. One interesting bit of trivia: Ball was being considered for the lead female role as the mother in “The Manchurian Candidate,” but director John Frankenheimer insisted on Angela Lansbury for the pivotal role of Laurence Harvey’s scheming power-mad mother.

The film treatment by Sorkin, with music by Daniel Pemberton and music supervisor Mary Ramos features Javier Bardem doing his own singing and conga drum playing as Arnaz. The film is playing on Amazon Prime.

 

“Take Shelter:” Jeff Nichols-written-and-directed 2011 Drama (Another Jessica Chastain Film)

Jessica Chastain, with co-star (“Nick) on latest film “355.”

Last night, browsing through late-night offerings on television, Michael Shannon’s performance as a mentally-ill husband in “Take Shelter” (2011) caught my eye. If you’re a Michael Shannon fan, as I am, you’ll want to see it.

We turned over to watch it, and I was reminded that Shannon’s co-star in this intense psychological study was (drum roll, please): Jessica Chastain. It seemed only fitting that I re-watch this film, which I thoroughly enjoyed when it was new eleven years ago (when Jessica was 33).

In fact, when I had the opportunity to speak with Michael Shannon in Chicago at the premiere of Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” I asked Michael Shannon what his favorite film role had been. Rather than dodging the question (a question which is a little like asking, “Which of your children is your favorite?”) he immediately said “Take Shelter.”

In the film, Shannon’s character had a mother who was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic at about the same age that he is, in the film. His character is obsessed with the thought that a tornado is going to devastate the town, his house, and his family, and he is taking steps to put in a below-ground storm shelter. There is a climactic scene at a school cafeteria when Shannon mesmerizes as he erupts with emotion, warning the townsfolk that they are totally unprepared for what he sees as a coming apocalypse.

Of course, by then, he has been fired from his job for having taken equipment from the construction sites he worked on to build his underground tornado shelter. His wife’s patience, what with coping with her husband’s obsession and with their young deaf daughter, seems  about to collapse.

The film has a somewhat ambiguous ending, but Shannon’s performance was dynamite, and it is safe to say that Jessica Chastain’s performance as his long-suffering but devoted wife helped. (I met Chastain at the premiere of Liv Ullman’s directorial debut of the film “Miss Julie.” Her co-star in that film was Colin Farrell.)

Jessica Chastain is now 44 years old. She seems to be moving towards directing, as articles suggest that it was her idea to put together the concept for her latest film “355.” Unfortunately, the female buddy genre, which seemed fresh, creative and new when suggested in 2018, had been co-opted by 2022. “355” is currently playing theaters, only.

 

Jessica Chastain Having Banner Year in Two New Movies

We journeyed out to the theater to see Jessica Chastain’s newest movie, “355,”directed by Simon Kinberg.

The log-line says: “When a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands, a wild card CIA agent joins forces with three international agents on a lethal mission to retrieve it, while staying a step ahead of a mysterious woman who’s tracking their every move.”

The star power for the film, aside from Chastain who plays Mace, is provided by stars Penelope Cruz (Graciela Rivera), Diane Kruger (Marie Schmidt), Lupita N’yongo (Khadijah Adiyemi) and Chinese star Bingbing Fan (Lin Mi Cheng). The male lead of Nick Fowler is portrayed by Sebastian Stan and Edgar Ramirez has a small role as Luis Rojas.

The settings for the outing are glamorous. The film opens at a location described as 150 miles south of Bogota, Columbia. Before the tale about the totally untraceable master key cyber disrupter, which will allow the nation that possesses it to wreak havoc, winds down, we will have visited Berlin, Langley (Va) CIA headquarters, London, Marrakesh (Morocco), Shanghai, and many other exotic ports of call.

There is lots of fighting, with slight girls always besting the guys every time.  What is the significance of the title?

“So the woman I played in Zero Dark Thirty talked to me a lot about espionage and I think when I was preparing for that she started talking about 355 and I asked her what it meant. And 355 was the secret code name for the first female spy during the American Revolution. And her name still remains a mystery to this day,”Jessica said  at the virtual New York Comic-Con in 2020.

Lines like “When you live a life of lies, it’s hard to know what is true and what isn’t” made me think of Donald J. Trump, but it didn’t make me marvel at the screenplay, (courtesy of Theresa Rebeck).

I can’t recommend “355,” but “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” available on HBO Max, is pretty good.

Portraying Tammy Faye Bakker has garnered some talk of an Oscar nomination for Jessica, who plays airhead Tammy Fay Bakker, the partner of Jim Bakker in the PTL Club they founded in 1974. Tammy Faye is portrayed quite sympathetically in this film. The film is based on a documentary of the same name that was narrated by Ru Paul, a consequence of the gay community’s embrace of Tammy Faye, just as she had embraced the homosexual community during the AIDS crises of the 70s and 80s. Everything came crashing down in 1989.

In reading about the film, I learned that the scene involving Tammy Faye and a Nashville music producer, who was supposedly interested in her when she was 9 months pregnant, was not accurate. In fact, the producer in question was quite incensed at the suggestion. He did not give Tammy Faye a ride to the hospital to deliver baby number two, as the film depicts.

The way in which the couple met Jerry Falwell (portrayed by Vincent D’Onofrio) was also incorrect. It is portrayed as a chance meeting occurring when the couple’s car is stolen outside a motel, but the truth is that the couple had actually crashed their car and trailer earlier.

I looked up some information on Jim Bakker’s sins and misdeeds. He got 45 years, originally, but it was reduced to 8 on appeal and he even has been appearing on the television air waves again, hawking a silver substance that supposedly  “cures” many diseases and various Covid cures, until he was told to knock it off by the authorities, One of the things that Bakker and his second wife were also selling on TV recently was survivalist food that would save the day in the event of the end of the world. During his days with Tammy Faye Jim kept a second set of ‘fake” books and also used church funds to underwrite a face lift for himself. The pay-off to Jessica Hahn for sexual services rendered, which Roe Messner mis-represented as charges for the building of Heritage USA, an evangelical theme park.

Tammy Faye, after her divorce from Jim Bakker in 1992, married Roe Messner, the character shown in the film as the developer of Heritage USA. A theme park that Jim Bakker was proposing. Tammy Faye made several appearances on Larry King’s TV show during her 11-year battle with colon cancer, which ultimately took her life at the age of 65 on July 20, 2007.

Films of 2021

 

I’m still “on the trail” of the Best Movies of 2021, trying to catch up on any I might have missed at a variety of film festivals.

So far, my favorite films of the year that have Oscar potential include some that have done well at the box office (“No Time to Die”) and some that haven’t, so far. (“West Side Story” reboot).

I really liked “Nightmare Alley,” but audiences are not responding with ticket sales. I thought it was a beautifully done, interesting film, but could have been half an hour shorter—which has been my reaction to nearly every good film this year. See “Power of the Dog” with Benedict Cumberbatch, if you haven’t.

I enjoyed “Licorice Pizza” primarily for the introduction to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s young son, Cooper Hoffman, who portrayed the lead. I also laughed uproariously at Bradley Cooper’s turn portraying Jon Peters, the hairdresser who became a film producer as a result of his romance with Barbra Streisand. (And was the model for Warren Beatty’s character in “Shampoo”).

We watched “The Lost Daughter” (trailer, above) and, as usual, Olivia Colman turned in a fine tour de force performance. It was a film aimed more at mothers than fathers, exploring the remorse a career-driven mother experiences late in life, as she is thrust into a multi-generational group of vacationers in Greece? Italy? [I actually read that the lovely vacation spot was both Greece and Italy in a variety of reviews, but that is far from the most important thing about this film.] It is a character study that really addresses the way mothers who are torn between their love of their children and their desire to succeed professionally are, indeed, torn. It was actress Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut. Critics have been raving about her debut as a director. For me, I can’t remember a film that dove into the reality of mothering and treated it so realistically since Charlize Theron took a crack at it in “Tully,” (scripted by Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate Diablo Cody of “Juno” fame).

I’m eagerly awaiting “The Tender Bar,” which begins streaming on January 7th (Ben Affleck, George Clooney), and “Coda” is another I will be seeking in the days before Oscar nominations come out.

Meanwhile, I would recommend “Nightmare Alley,” “No Time to Die,” “West Side Story,” and “Last Night in Soho.” I also enjoyed “Cruella,” primarily for the costuming.

I did not like “The French Dispatch,” but I understand that the set pieces are Oscar-worthy in their intricate detail. For me, it was a total waste of time. I’m not a big Wes Anderson fan. I liked “Rushmore” and thought “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was mildly entertaining, but this one jumped the shark, for me.

I thought that “King Richard” was well-acted. However, I enjoyed the documentary about Arthur Ashe more than that tennis movie. Likewise, I appreciated the acting in “The Lost Daughter,” but Olivia Colman could read the phone book and make it compelling; here she got to really dig into the psyche of conflicted American working women who are torn between motherhood and career.

While I liked “Licorice Pizza,” I can understand those who felt it lacked much of a cohesive story, but the Bradley Cooper cameo was so hilarious that the people seated next to me got a bigger kick out of me laughing at it than they did from the actual film, itself.

More updates on this year’s best offerings as I “catch up”

“C’mon! C’mon!” from Mike Mills Provides Much Food for Thought

I recently rented “C’mon! C’mon!” and streamed it at home. I missed it at the Chicago International Film Festival.

The film, which stars Joaquin Phoenix as the uncle of a 9-year-old boy named Jesse, was written and directed by Mike Mills, whose 2016 film “Twentieth Century Women” I admired greatly. That film, starred Annette Bening and was about the director’s relationship with his mother in Berkeley; this one is about his relationship with his  7-year-old son.

The lead role of Jesse, the young boy, is played by Woody Norman, who is one of several child actors who are doing really excellent onscreen work this year. Another was the young lead actor of “Belfast,” Jude Hill, who portrayed Henry Branagh as a child.

Gaby Hoffman plays Viv, Johnny’s (Joaquin Phoenix) sister, who is married to Paul (Scott McNairy). Paul is bi-polar and having another of his breakdowns, which means that Viv is hard-pressed to take care of the young boy and Johnny begins taking Jesse on a trip cross-country that includes a variety of cities, including Detroit, New York City,  and New Orleans. The film is shot in black-and-white. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan has won accolades for his gritty portrait of those various distinctive cities. Ryan was Oscar-nominated for his work on “The Favourite” in 2019.

Johnny is a radio journalist and is journeying cross-country interviewing the youth of America. He is asking young people about what sort of future they see for themselves and for the world, in general. One young interview subject says, “For me, personally, I think things are going to get better because I have a lot of opportunities. For the overall world, I hope it gets better, but I fear it might not.”

Mills, along the way, cites an essay on why women are always expected to make everything all right, even in difficult times. He quotes from stories like “The Bipolar Bear Family” by Amanda Holloway. It’s a random assortment of observations, tied together by the road trip and the blossoming relationship between Joaquin Phoenix and his precocious nephew. It’s refreshing to have a movie that isn’t about Super-heroes rescuing the world with things blowing up in CGI.

Gaby Hoffman, now almost 40, began acting at the age of 4 to help her family pay the bills. She appeared in “Uncle Buck” when she was 7 years old and portrayed the young daughter of Kevin Costner in 1989’s  “Field of Dreams.” Until the age of eleven, she and her family lived in the Chelsea Hotel in New York City, a hotel famous for housing some of the biggest literary luminaries in the world, such as Arthur C. Clarke.  (Arthur C. Clarke, the author of more than 100 books of science fiction and essays,  said he and the director Stanley Kubrick wrote the screenplay for the film “2001: A Space Odyssey” during a stay at the hotel in the 1960s. The hotel is also said to be the inspiration for Chelsea Clinton’s first name.

There are many relatable moments in the film, especially those in the real world when Jesse gives his uncle the slip and frightens both of them.  Young Jesse also reveals that his mother had an abortion in her wild youth, which surprises her brother, who had not known that fact.

The appearance of Joaquin Phoenix post-the-“Joker” as a much chubbier version of himself is, in and of itself, a shock. His character in this piece is so far removed from his last outing as to make him unrecognizable.

The film is dedicated to a 9-year-old boy interviewed on the cross-country recording tour who was accidentally shot and killed after the film wrapped.

Another nice tid-bit that we learn is that when writer Mike Mills was somewhat at sea over the script. his 7-year-old son gave him the advice, “Well, be funny, comma, when you can, period.” The line is in the film and portends a bright future for the son of Mike Mills, who. at a very young age, already knows enough about English grammar to properly punctuate that sentence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four New Films: “Licorice Pizza,” “West Side Story,” “Nightmare Alley,” “Spencer”

Last movie I saw was “Licorice Pizza.” I enjoyed it immensely, primarily for the portrayal of Jon Peters by Bradley Cooper, who is having a banner year in starring roles, most notably as the lead as well in “Nightmare Alley,” which is also playing at theaters.

I was also there when the remake of “West Side Story” hit screens—four of us, making 8 in the theater, total. I thoroughly enjoyed WSS. Ansel Elgort can really sing! He was far better than the original lead, who was from Avoca, Iowa, and even said himself that he didn’t know enough about New York City to be an effective lead. The lead actress, who followed Natalie Wood’s dubbed version, was outstanding and should be nominated for Best Actress.

As for the leader of the Jets, I preferred George Chakiris in the 1961 version, but the dancing and the singing in the new film is superior and the two leads were great. We came home and watched the original, just to remind ourselves how it differed.

Primarily, Tony was not so blatantly described as an ex-convict in the original film, Rita Moreno has a new role as the widow of the candy store owner; the new Anita was far thicker through the waist than the young Rita Moreno, but she could really dance.

Still, the film was great, especially on the IMAX screen.

We enjoyed “Nightmare Alley,” Guillermo del Toro’s new offering, and Bradley Cooper should be nominated for Best Actor. The cast is outstanding: Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara, Clifton Collins, Jr., Tim Blake Nelson, Richard Jenkins, David Straithairn, Mary Steenburgen, Ron Perlman and others. This film is not as impressive as “The Shape of Water” but it definitely is one of the best films of the year.

I met Guillermo (del Toro), with Ron Perlman in tow, in Chicago the year of “The Shape of Water” and, somehow, ended up at an after-party with the two of them. On the Red Carpet I had gifted Guillermo with a copy of my book “It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now.” He immediately stopped and began reading it. Handlers had to come and convince him to move down the row of interviewers. Just as the handler moved in on Guillermo, he happened to glance down at his feet and said, “Oh, no. Fat man with shoe untied. This is very bad.”

I was surprised to see Sally Hawkins, the star of “The Shape of Water,” portraying Kristin Stewart’s handmaid in “Spencer.” The only film I’ve mentioned (above) that I did not enjoy of the four new ones mentioned was “Spencer.” While Kristin looked good in the many outfits, nothing really happens in the film and I found it incredibly boring.

All the others were very enjoyable, although some of you won’t like “Licorice Pizza.” Watch it if for no other reason than to see Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son, Cooper, portray the male lead. And, of course, the craziness of Jon Peters, which you can read about for yourself. (And, yes, Jon Peters is still alive!)

 

Four Short Films for the Holidays from Argo

Argo is a global curator of films under 40 minutes and a social streaming platform. Argo’s mission is to support upcoming filmmakers everywhere and connect the world through incredible stories. Every week you can find new playlists curated by the top film festivals and filmmakers.

Here are the four I viewed, with a brief description, listed in the order of my enjoyment of them:

Jackie Weaver in “Florence Has Left the Building”

#1)  “Florence Has Left the Building,” written and directed by Mirrah Foulkes with cinematography by Jeremy Rouse. Florence is a resident of the Marigold House Assisted Living Facility and she’s not a bit happy about it. In her mind, she is still a sweet young thing and she wants out.

In this 13 minute and 37 second film, two dueling Elvises come to her nursing home Eden to entertain the residents. There is gold Elvis (Eden Falk), red Elvis (Justin Rosniak) and the star of the piece, Florence, portrayed by the great Jacki Weaver, who has been twice Oscar-nominated, once for 2011’s “Animal Kingdom” and once for playing Robert DeNiro’s wife Dolores in “Silver Linings Playbook.” (Best Supporting Actor) Florence plots to make her escape with Red Elvis.

The film is totally relatable and enjoyable. I will be showing it to my college roommate when she hits my house this coming weekend. This one gets an “A.”

“Santa Is A Psychedelic Mushroom”

#2)  “Santa Is A Psychedelic Mushroom” – This film is all about magic mushrooms, or the Amanita Muscaria. It makes a connection between a shaman from Lapland and the Santa story, with flying reindeer, a fat little man in a red suit who comes down the chimney, etc.

Great story.

Wonderful animation.

Good advice about thinking more about the spiritual side of our lives.

Terrible music.

Maybe Santa this year is giving us the gift of reflection?

Grade of “B+”

Marius in “The Christmas Gift”

#3)  “The Christmas Gift” -This little gem (23 minutes long) from Amanda Muscaria features a young boy, Marius, who writes a letter to Santa in which he asks for gifts for himself (a locomotive) and for his Mom (a purse) and for his Dad (that the then-dictator Nicolae Ceausescu would die.)

This one required some reading up on the Romanian Revolution of 1989, for me. Here’s the Wikipedia short story:

“The revelation that Ceaușescu was responsible (for the deaths of citizens in the streets of Timisoara, Romania) resulted in a massive spread of rioting and civil unrest across the country. The demonstrations, which reached Bucharest, became known as the Romanian Revolution—the only violent overthrow of a communist government in the course of the Revolutions of 1989. Ceaușescu and his wife Elena fled the capital in a helicopter, but they were captured by the military after the armed forces defected. After being tried and convicted of economic sabotage and genocide, both were sentenced to death, and they were immediately executed by firing squad on 25 December, 1989.”

This small historical snippet helps explain how the mere mentioning of how the populace wanted the repressive dictator overthrown could cause one to end up dead. Ceausescu had unleashed the military upon the populace in Timisoara on December 17, 1989, and many were killed.

Imagine how upset the father is to learn that his son has exposed him to potential arrest and imprisonment.

Most of the rest of the short film involves Dad threatening Marius with physical violence, which did not appeal to me. Marius seems like a really good kid, and he didn’t deserve the screaming fit. I even wondered whether this was really his biological son, as Dad seemed like as big a tyrant as Ceausescu.

Ceausescu seems to have pretty much ruined Romania during his years in power (1955 to 1989) and the economy suffered mightily.

Most of the rest of the film hinges on how Dad might get the letter out of the post box Marius has placed it in, or how he might damage the mail within the post office box so that he doesn’t get arrested.

The very end of the film has actual newsreel footage of the Romanian Revolution, which, to be honest, I barely remember, although the name of this infamous dictator I did remember.

The acting was good and I could relate to this faux pas on the small boy’s part. I wrote a Letter to the Editor once that similarly parroted my own teacher mother’s feelings about non-certified teachers being allowed to teach in Amish schools in Iowa (she was opposed) and I got the same reaction from my parents (although my high school’s principal called me in to congratulate me on having my letter selected by the Des Moines Register for publication.) I was 16 at the time. My father—the town banker—had a lot of Amish customers and he wasn’t thrilled that I had let his wife’s views on this touchy subject of teachers with no more than an 8th grade education being allowed to teach in Amish one-room schoolhouses.

Grade of B.

#4 –“December in Toronto” – This is a trip to Toronto over 6 days. It seemed like a home movie that some friends had put together. It only runs 6 minutes and 11 seconds.

Not my cup of tea, but I love Toronto at any time of year. It always reminds me of a mini-Chicago, just as Lisbon (Portugal) reminds me of a mini-Paris.

Grade of “D.”

“Cow:” A Documentary About a Cow’s Life – See It At Your Own Peril if You Eat Meat

 

 

“This film is an endeavor to consider cows. To move us closer to them. To see both their beauty and the challenge of their lives. Not in a romantic way but in a real way. It’s a film about one dairy cow’s reality and acknowledging her great service to us. When I look at Luma, our cow, I see the whole world in her.” (Andrea Arnold, director of “Cow.”) During the Q&A, Andrea Arnold did say that Luma, the cow protagonist was suffering from mastitis at the end of the film.

In 2009 Arnold’s film “Fish Tank” won a Special Grand Jury prize and a Silver Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival. Andrea Arnold—who directed her first feature film at the age of 45—also worked on “Big Little Lies.” Virtually all of her Season 2 work on  the television series Big Little Lies was extensively re-shot and re-edited by Jean-Marc Vallee, against her wishes, supposedly for “visual continuity.” When asked about this at Cannes, where “Cow” was shown, she refused to speak to that topic.

The film sticks to the point-of-view of one cow (Luma) and her daughter. Arnold, the director, called Luma “a particularly beautiful cow” and  said that she felt that the cow realized she was being seen.

There is no narrative or dialogue. All you hear is the music playing in the background as the dairy farm workers care for the cows.There is human perspective in the film, but the documentary is  focused on the cow.
The farm that let the crew film is shown breeding the cows, delivering the calves, feeding the cows, milking the cows,  trimming the cows’ hooves, etc.

The cows are essentially prisoners.

You definitely empathize with the cow. At the end of the film, the cow ends up the way most cows end up who are raised for public consumption. I felt I should become a vegetarian, but I don’t like vegetables much and was raised in the Midwest, where beef is practically a religion.

Andrea Arnold (“American Honey”) filmed “Cow” for 4 years and conceived of the project 7 years prior. In 2005 Arnold’s film “Wasp” won the Oscar for Best Short Film, live action.

I saw “Cow” in Chicago at the 57th Chicago International Film Festival on a big screen. Watching “Cow” on a big screen is disorienting because the camera work is very herky-jerky. I walked out feeling dizzy and sad.

Arnold said she wanted viewers to have their own different experiences. “I don’t want to say to you what you should come out with. I’m offering the film to you and you take away whatever you take away.”  She described the goal of making the documentary as: “To show consciousness of a non-human animal.”

“Cow” will be released in January of 2022.

“Last Night in Soho:” Edgar Wright’s Much Anticipated Film Doesn’t Disappoint

This quote from “Last Night in Soho” director Edgar Wright is a good  jumping-off point, for talking about his newest film, “Last Night in Soho,” which opened October 29th after premiering in Toronto. Said Wright, “I’ve always been fascinated by horror films and genre films. Horror films harbored a fascination for me and always have been something I’ve wanted to watch and wanted to make.”

That said, “Last Night in Soho” (an area of London known for its sex trade) is not strictly a horror movie. Until the final 30 minutes of the 1 hour and 57 minute movie, I had no idea where we were being taken by Edgar Wright, director of such films as “Baby Driver,” “Sean of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.”

Initially, it didn’t seem as though it was going to be a horror movie at all. The set-up of “Last Night in Soho” seemed to be exploring the family dynamic of a young girl from the countryside (Cornwall) who is an aspiring fashion designer haunted by the suicide of her mother when she was just 7 years old.

We see Eloise “Ellie” Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) in rural Cornwall, where she lives with her Grandmother Peggy (Rita Tushingham), who is a seamstress; her mother also went to London to become a fashion designer.

“Last Night in Soho

Peggy is played by Rita Tushingham, a nice homage to the ingenue from 1961’s “A Taste of Honey” who was a vanguard of the Kitchen Sink school of British cinema. Not only do we see Tushingham, but Diana Rigg (the Bond girl in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” in 1969), in her final film role; Rigg is a major character and pivotal to the plot. Teence Stamp (absolutely beautiful in 1962’s “Billy Budd”) also has a recurring role.

For me, this film was a stroll down memory lane. I was an exchange student in England in 1967 and made a special trip to Carnaby Street back in the days of mini-skirts and 60s fashion, including “the tent dress,” as worn by the second star of the film, Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”).

Although I found the multiple tent dresses in Ellie’s fashion show to be pushing the entire idea of the “tent” dress of the sixties, I remember them well. One of the worst moments of my 7th grade school year was when Jimmy Cowell loudly proclaimed that I was wearing “a maternity dress,” when it was,in reality, that season’s new look, the tent dress. (When you’re 12 it doesn’t take much to embarrass you).

That did it.

I was impressed with costume designer Odile Dick-Mireaux’s work, and the 60s music, selected by music supervisor Kristen Lane is to-die-for. The cinematography is great and the special visual effects, which primarily depict the young Ellie communing in dreams (and, sometimes, in reality, it seems) with a girl named Sandy who once lived in the apartment she rents, are terrific. The multiple images of predatory men with faces blurred are original and appropriately frightening.

At first, the film, which builds slowly, seemed as though it were going to be about the country mouse coming to the big city (London) and dealing with all that entails. It seems as though Ellie’s struggle to become a fashion designer at the London College of Fashion and her ESP super-sensitivity, especially because of the loss of her mother, are going to be the primary focus of the film. Her bitchy roommate Jocasta (Synove Karlsen) says, “I’d lay bets on her slashing her wrists before Christmas.” And perhaps Ellie would have, had she had to endure rooming with the likes of Jocasta for more than one night.

Ellie quickly decides to rent a room of her own, which is advertised by a  kindly landlady, played by Diana Rigg in her final film role. (Rigg’s presence in the cast is also a nice salute to the 60s).

It seems odd to me now that Ellie never learns the landlady’ name until their final scenes together. Wouldn’t Grandma Peggy want to know the name of the woman who is now Ellie’s landlady? It wasn’t until the final scenes of the film that her name surfaced, however.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Sandi (with Jack) in “Last Night in Soho.”

I also wondered, “How did Ellie get her money back for the dorm room she would have had to pay for in advance?” These are practical things that bothered me, which have little to do with the plot. My own daughter spent a semester in Brooklyn and we had to pay for her lodging in advance. The fact that Ellie spent only one night in the dormitory and then moved out struck me as odd. Her Grandmother did not seem independently wealthy and yet Ellie acted as though money were not an object throughout most of the film.

One line from the film is, “There’s just something about the sixties that speaks to me.” It is uttered by Ellie, but it could have been me. I arrived in the United Kingdom in 1967 for my home stays in three communities: Chislehurst, Weston-Super-Mare, and Birmingham. Chislehurst was in Kent, just a short train ride to London, and I visited many clubs like those depicted (a Wright trademark) in the film and remember the “swinging sixties.” (My favorite was “The Three Witches” in Stratford-on-Avon).

It struck me as interesting how faithfully someone born in 1974 (i.e., Edgar Wright) has managed to recreate that era, but Quentin Tarantino (one of Wright’s close friends) did so in “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.” Both are spot on. I say this as an expert who lived the sixties as a youth aged 15 to 25.  It was definitely THE best decade to be young in this or any country, (although my mother, who was that same age during the Roaring Twenties, might have disagreed.)

At night, in her newly-rented flat that is quintessential 60s, Ellie dreams of a young girl named Sandy, who came to London to be a singer. The young singer is played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who is brimming with the self-confidence that Ellie lacks. The cinematic choices and visuals that cinematographr  Chung-hoon Chung selects are stunning. The film is truly worth seeing for the music, fashion and cinematography alone. But we have the added bonus of a film that morphs from being (apparently) about a young girl trying to forge a career in the big city and dealing with the loss of her mother to suicide at the age of 7 into something completely different.

POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT

In some ways, this film reminded me the most, thematically, of the Emerald Fennell Best Picture nominee of last year, “A Promising Young Woman” with Carrie Mulligan. In that film, Carrie seeks revenge on the predatory males who drove her best friend, a rape victim, to suicide.

Although Ellie’s Grandmother warns her about being careful in the Big City, the minute Ellie hits the city and gets a cab, the cab driver (Colin Mace) turns out to be a dirty old man.  All of this preying upon beautiful young women of the sixties is absolutely Gospel, but only now, in the wake of Harvey Weinstein and Donald J. Trump are there films about women speaking out and demanding some form of justice, or taking revenge, vigilante-style. I can remember being “hit on” by dirty old men and horny young men and, yes, it was always quite a daunting task to keep one’s self safe from  predators.

It doesn’t stop there.

In her nightly clairvoyant visits to the time that Sandi was trying to make it as a singer in Swinging Sixties London, we see Sandi (whose real name is Alexandra) being victimized by a “manager” named Jack (Matt Smith), who is a bigger predator than the skeevy cab-driver and wants to “turn her out” as a prostitute.

Just as I enjoyed “Antlers,” the horror movie showing across the hall from “Last Night in Soho,” I enjoyed this movie and found it to have the clearest claim to Best Costume Design for a film made this year since the Disney epic, “101 Dalmatians.”

The film cost $43 million to make. With its homage to 60s stars and fashions, it was a real kick for me. I’m old enough to remember all of the things being presented to today’s audiences as ancient history; I am glad I lived through it as a young person.

The music, cinematography, acting, writing (co-writer is “1917’s” co-writer, Krysty Wilson-Cairns) are all Top Notch, and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie from start to finish. If you are young, you’ll get a chance to experience the sixties. If you’re a child of the sixties, it will be like leafing through your old scrapbooks.

 

 

 

Rhino Poaching in Africa is Treated in Doc “The Last Horns of Africa” at Denver International Film Festival

“The Last Horns of Africa” is a film by director/cinematographer Garth de Bruno Austin that chronicles the endangered rhinoceros of South Africa. The film is shot in Kruger National Park, a 2-million acre park the size of Israel or Wales.

Regional Ranger Don English, whose father was a ranger in the park from 1963 on, has worked the area since 1985. Over the years, Don’s job has changed from conservation to guerilla warfare against rhinoceros poachers, who will stop at nothing to kill the rhinos in the park in order to remove their horns and sell them on the black market.

The Chinese belief in the medicinal properties of rhino horn powder, as well as the prestige of having a dagger with a rhino handle has made life difficult for the 450 ranger who try to patrol the large park. The job is virtually impossible since the ratio is one ranger for every 3,000 acres.

Also prominent in the telling of the story is the woman running the Care for Wild Rhinos Sanctuary, a rhino orphanage, Petronel Nieuwoudt. Petronel is plunged into deep grief over the death of Thor, a rescued baby rhino. Thor does not die at the hands of poachers, however, but as the result of frolicking with a herd of white rhinos, who somehow harm his spine.

There are only a few thousand rhinoceros left in Africa and something like 300 to 400 in Kroger Park. The pay-out of up to $8,600 for a rhino horn is irresistible to small teams of natives who have even resorted to murder of breeders, making it necessary to hire security and to keep the exact location of the rhino orphanage within the park a secret.

One breeder, John Hume, of Swaziland wants the government to legalize the trade of rhino horns, the money going towards the car and upkeep of rhinoceros to replenish the herd. His reasoning seems to make sense, as he is trying to save the lives of the animals and the horns, removed humanely, would not be sold on the black market but would allow the community to financially support the animals. And, as he pointed out, it might drive the high price of the rhino horn down if it were legalized. A vote is taken and fails, with only 26 yes votes, 17 abstentions, and 100 voting no.

One interesting analysis of the inability of the principals to agree reminded a lot of the current dilemmas in Congress between the GOP and the Democrats. As the narrator suggests, “They’re reluctant to sit down around the table and find a solution that works for everybody.”

The cinematography of the veldt, with a variety of wild animals pictured in their natural habitat, is visually stunning. Gorgeous landscapes abound. At one point, we see a rhinoceros come down to drink at the river, something Don England said he had never seen in his 44 years in the park.

Rhino numbers have decreased dramatically in Kruger National Park. According to recent rhino statistics, the rhino population in Kruger National Park has decreased by 60% since 2013. There are only 3,529 white rhinos and 268 black rhinos left in Kruger National Park. Rangers have recently voiced their frustration to the media about the courts taking too long to prosecute alleged rhino poachers who have been arrested. Many go free on bail only to commit more acts of rhino poaching.

The documentary could have played like a “Dateline” thriller, as the law, working undercover, attempts to shut down the two biggest illegal dealers, “Big Joe” Nyalunga and Mshengu (Petros Meduza). Finally, we see the raid on the property of Big Joe, as he and his colleague are taken down, as the result of an undercover officer, Lt. Colonel LeRoy Bruwer, who, along with the others, is successful in arresting the duo in September of 2018. Although the prosecution argues against bail for the defendants, they are released anyway. March 17 of 2020 the lead investigator is assassinated while on his way to work in Mbombela in Mpumalonga Province. He was 49 years old.

The film is long, but beautifully photographed and helped draw attention to a very real problem. According to the latest statistics, the problem is becoming somewhat better, no doubt because of efforts like those detailed in the documentary.

Page 1 of 38

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén