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!
“Can You Ever Forgive Me” is a nice change of pace for Melissa McCarthy, who reins it in nicely as Lee Israel, an author who was arrested for forging signatures of other more famous authors and selling them as authentic. Virtually a two-person ensemble, nice support is provided by Richard E. Grant as Jack Hock.
Aside from the two leads, who actually do the selling to unsuspecting buyers via bookstores in New York City that specialize in such matters, Dolly Wells plays one such bookstore owner (Anna), Jane Curtin (“Saturday Night Live”) plays Marjorie, Lee’s crusty agent, and Anna Deavere Smith (Gloria on television’s“Nurse Jackie”) portrays Elaine, Lee’s old friend and roommate, who has left her saying, “It’s not my job any more to talk you off the ledge. It’s exhausting.”
Lee is portrayed as a failed writer who specialized in biographies (“Estee Lauder: Beyond the Magic,” “Miss Tallulah Bankhead,” “Kilgallen”). She repeats several times that she is working on a biography of Fanny Bryce, a subject that her agent finds less than appealing.
Because Lee is not doing well in the business of writing biographies of other more famous writers, she and her only friend and companion, her cat Jersey (Towne theCat) fall upon hard times and people say things to her like, “You’re a clever woman. Figure it out” or “You go out there and find another way to make a living.” And so she does, but she runs afoul of the law and ultimately is sentenced to 5 years probation and 6 months of house arrest. [Plus, Nora Ephron sends her a cease and desist letter telling her to stop impersonating her on the phone.]
Melissa McCarthy really inhabits the sad life of this 51-year-old writer-turned-forger. Lenore Carole Israel (known as “Lee”) died on December 24, 2014 at the age of 75, leaving no mourners, no family and, in addition to magazine work which largely sustained her through the seventies, three books of unauthorized biographies of women whose fame had largely passed with the passage of time. After her apprehension for the over 400 literary forgeries, Lee wrote a best-seller, “Can You Ever Forgive Me: Memoirs of a Literary Forger,” which did well, and the film version, directed by Marille Heller (written by Nicole Holofcemer and Jeff Whitty) was cast, originally, with Julianne Moore. Although Julianne Moore is an accomplished actress, the part seems more suited to Melissa McCarthy and she does a great job with it.
Those responsible for such great song selections include the overall Music Supervisor (Jack Paar), who selected songs like “I’ll Be Seeing You” and Paul Simon’s “I can’t run, but I can walk much faster” to give us the appropriate mood. Six others assisted (Adam Bennati, Ted Caplan, John M. Davis, Brad Haehnel, Nicholas Neidhart and Areli Qurarte).
Writers Nicole Holofcemer and Jeff Whitty have given us a very witty script, which is augmented by the funny letters that Lee created. When Lee meets an old acquaintance, Jack Houk (Richard E. Grant) in a bar and they begin sharing stories of their downward trajectory in the literary world, Jack says his agent, Julia Steinberg, died. Then, he adds, “Maybe she didn’t die. Maybe she moved back to the suburbs.” One of Lee’s fabricated autographs, ostensibly from Fanny Bryce, says, “I have a new grandkid and he got my old nose. Do I have to leave him a little something extra for repairs?” Lee and Jack continue meeting in bars throughout the film and, at one point, Lee shared that this is a celebratory drinking session, not a whining one. Jack responds, “It’s hard to tell the difference with you.” As she is about to reveal her new line of work forging famous people’s signatures, Lee asks Jack, “Can you keep a secret?” to which he responds, “I’ve no one to tell. Everyone I know is dead.”
Brandon Trost was the cinematographer. He does a great job depicting a hopeless, lonely, drab apartment and the dive-y bars that its occupant inhabits. He also did some interesting things with his camera, as in one blurry-into-focus shot in a bar. The moody sets, dimly lit, and the nice choice of music all play into giving the film a thoroughly authentic feeling of alcohol-fueled desperation.
I had overdosed on films about addicted teenagers, so this film was like a breath of fresh air. I will admit that I (also) took in “Flammable Children,” an Australian comedy featuring Guy Pearce and Julian McMahon to try to lighten the mood, but, after 3 drug addiction movies in a row, that mood was pretty low.
If you enjoy witty badinage and a well-written, well-photographed, script with great acting, this could be your guilty pleasure. It was mine, in Chicago on October 14th. You’ll enjoy seeing funny woman Melissa McCarthy in a brand new light. She is one of the four highest-paid actresses in Hollywood and is a native of Plainfield, Illinois.
Opening Night of the 54th Chicago International Film Festival featured the Amazon film “Beautiful Boy,” directed by Belgian director Felix van Groeningen and starring Timothee Chalomet, Steve Carell, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan and Andre Royo (“The Wire,” “Fringe,” “Empire”).
The film is based on two books written by David Sheff (“Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction”) and Nic Sheff: “Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines.” Both books were published in 2009. Their impact on director Felix van Groeningen in his first American film for Amazon, is what brought about the project.
Von Groeningen told me on Opening Night in Chicago, “It’s a real honor to be here. I’m very proud of the film and the fact that it is opening the Chicago International Film Festival.” When I asked him how excited he was, on a scale of 1 to 10, to have helmed this first American film, he replied, enthusiastically: “12!” Von Groeningen said, “I did another film (“The Broken Circle Breakdown,” 2012) that brought up a lot of controversial issues, and you just hope that this film will speak to people.”
Andre Royo (“The Wire”) in Chicago at the showing of “Beautiful Boy.”
Also present this night was Andre Royo, veteran character actor who plays Spencer, the sponsor of the drug-addicted Nic (Chalomet). The film recounts the heartbreaking and inspiring experience of survival, relapse and recovery in a family coping with addiction that stretches over many years. Dede Robinson, of Brad Pitt’s “Plan B” production company was scheduled to attend, but did not. She has won Oscars for producing “Twelve Years A Slave” and “Moonlight” and is the only female producer to have won 2 Academy Awards. (She has also been nominated pretty regularly each year since 2011).
The acting in this one is Top Notch, with Timothee Chalomet(“Call Me By Your Name”) in line for his second Oscar nomination as Best Actor in 2 years, and with the likelihood that co-star Steve Carell as his father will earn a Best Supporting Actor nod. Maura Tierney (“The Affair”) playing David Sheff’s second wife, Karen, is also strong, as is Amy Ryan as his divorced wife (and mother of Nic), Vicky. The acting in this one is superlative, and it is because of the actors’ commitment to finding the core conflict of their characters and conveying it realistically onscreen that the film has won such glowing praise, in Toronto and elsewhere.
There is no question that addressing the growing problem of drug addiction is an important and timely topic. A line onscreen at film’s end notes that drug overdoses are the leading cause of death among those under age 50. Chalomet, on Jimmy Fallon’s show on October 10th, said, “Addiction is not a recognizable face. That’s what this movie hopes to address. That’s how we get through it, by talking about it.”
Whenever you enter a film that features an addict shooting up, you think, “This will not end well.” That is true of this film. It does throw us a bit of a curve ball in that regard.
This is the director’s first English language film. I wondered if the individuals hired for areas like music were people he had worked with on previous films. I’m thinking particularly of the musical choices made by a four-person team, supervised by Gabe Helfer (Bob Bowen, executive in charge of music; ChristofferFranzen, composer; Henry van Roden). I found some of the musical choices odd, incongruous, too obvious or too cacophonous; I spoke with others who did, as well. Could it be cultural differences, or is there another valid explanation?
What do I mean? Perry Como singing “Sunrise, Sunset” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” paired with a Nirvana song, “Territorial Pissing?” “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young. Annoying loud jangly music at times that detracted from what was going on onscreen, rather than augmenting it or adding to it. Jazz for the snorting scene, for example. “Darling, I Need Your Love” as Nic walks into a diner (seemed tooobvious). Why do I pay attention to this stuff? My daughter’s college major at Belmont was Music Business. She worked helping put music in films like “Up in the Air” in internships and, later, worked for Taylor Swift. She told me to pay better attention, so I do.
The Young Nics
There are entirely too many “young Nics” and some of them don’t look much like “teenaged Nic.” Their pictures are all over the walls. Why not use childhood pictures of the REAL Timothee Chalomet? Why use the one child (seen in the trailer) whose hair looks nothing like the wild curls of the teenaged actor? (His hair is straight, his face is the wrong shape, and I doubt if anybody is buying that this child grows up to be Timothy Chalomet.) One young actor who plays Nic as a 12-year-old is Jack Dylan Grazer, who plays Eddie Kaspbrak in “It” and co-stars in television’s “Me, Myself and I.”
A poem by Charlies Bukowski is featured. It is read in part by the lead during a rehab session and in its entirety at the end of the film. Once would have been enough. It seemed more like something that an Indie film director would do…an “auteur” move. We’d already gotten the general idea from the short portion that young Nic reads in group.
The two filmgoers next to me—middle-aged women—both said, “This needed to be about a half hour shorter.” The film runs 111 minutes, but she was right that relapse after relapse after relapse begins to wear on you. I would definitely go for the stellar performances, bound to be recognized on February 24 (Oscar time) and hope that the message about how awful Meth, in particular, is for the human brain gets out there.
Anthony Kaufman and Francesco Zippel onstage at the North American Premiere of “Friedkin Uncut!” in Chicago at the 54th Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo by Connie Wilson).
William Friedkin, the Director of such 70s masterpieces as “The French Connection” (1971), “The Exorcist” (1973), “Boys in the Band” (1976), “Sorcerer” (1977) and “Cruising” (1980) was awarded a Career Achievement Award on Monday, October 15th, at the 54th Chicago International Film Festival.
Friedkin, who is now 83, was thought to be the youngest man to win the Oscar for Best Director when he won for “The French Connection” in 1971, at 36 years old. (This record is now held by Damien Chazelle, who won at 32 for “La La Land”). That proved wrong. However, William Friedkin is now the oldest surviving winner of the Best Director category for “The French Connection” in 1971.
I recently heard Friedkin speak before a showing of “The Exorcist” in Austin, Texas, and after a showing of his new, short documentary of an exorcism (“The Devil and Father Amorth”), which Friedkin filmed in Italy himself using only a GoPro camera.
This night, the audience was treated to the North American premiere of Francesco Zippel’s film “Friedkin Uncut,” where we heard from his actors and fellow directors, including Ellen Burstyn, Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Matthew McConaughey, Walter Hill, George Lucas, William Peterson, Philip Kaufmann, Gina Gershon, Willem Dafoe, Juno Temple, Francis Ford Coppola and many more. Dafoe and Peterson cited Friedkin’s “energy, passion, intelligence. One of the smartest people I’ll ever know, and he has balls that clank. “ Friedkin, himself, said that a filmmaker needs, “Ambition, luck and the grace of God. You have to go out and try to make your chances.” He cited Kathry Bigelow and Damien Chazelle as two of the best new filmmakers and said “The Babadook” was one of the scariest of the “new” horror releases.
Watching the uncut, uncensored William Friedkin (“Billy” to his close friends) talk about movies and movie-making onscreen was followed by the genuine article. And William Friedkin is a raconteur. He would have talked for another hour in Austin, had the showing of the 1973 film “The Exorcist” not been scheduled.
In addition to the stories of how he began in the mail room of WGN and grew up on the north side of Chicago, other directors paid tribute. George Lucas, alluding to Friedkin’s roots as a documentary filmmaker, marveled that Friedkin’s early documentary (1962) “The People vs. Paul Crump” caused the governor to commute Crump’s death sentence after seeing it. Coppola found this a powerful message and others, like Director Wes Anderson, shared that, “His films are built on something very solid.” Said one, “What ‘Star Wars’ was to science fiction, ‘The Exorcist’ was to horror.” (It was a bit of a blow to Friedkin that the phenomenal success of “Star Wars,” which was released very shortly before “The Sorcerer,” left his film in the red after the studio had spent $22 million making it.)
William Friedkin disposing of Michael Kutza’s notes.
Friedkin came out and joined retiring founder and Director of the Chicago International Film Festival, Michael Kutza, at the podium. Kutza reminisced that they had begun together 55 years ago. Kutza then began reading from the award that Friedkin was to receive, but, somehow, the award had Carey Mulligan’s name on it (she was to receive her award the next night) and that was all it took for Friedkin to riff and joke and, ultimately, throw all of Kutza’s notes on the floor.(See photo)
Friedkin worked that way when directing, also, and Gina Gershon told a story of his treatment of her while they were on-set and Friedkin was trying to evoke a certain reaction from her. She thought he didn’t like her, she said. He was just trying to provoke a certain reaction.
Friedkin, himself, told an amusing story about casting Max Von Sydowas the priest who performs the exorcism in that 1971 film. Because Von Sydow was an atheist, he kept having trouble saying the line, “The power of Christ commands you!” Said Friedkin, to laughter, “On a list of 100 things that could go wrong, Max Von Sydow blocking on a line was #100!”
Director William Friedkin and Chicago International Film Founder Michael Kutza.
Friedkin’s films illustrate his documentary origins, with their gritty realism and the premier chase sequences of “The French Connection” and “To Live and Die in L.A.” The director also commented on the continual battle between good and evil (in life and on film), mentioning Hitler and Jesus. Said his colleagues, “He’s always looking for people to put themselves out there. He’s in it. He’s passionate and he expects people to give 200% because he’s giving 200%.”
Friedkin said, “Rehearsal is for sissies. Dummies. I’m a one-take guy. F***** bring it! I’m not looking for perfection; I’m looking for spontaneity.” He went on to say that 80 to 90% of a film’s success “is casting” and added, “My thing is to be real.”
“No…this is for you. Three of your films are in it.”
He thanked me.
This night, I joined a crowd that was much bigger, clustering around the famous man. I tried to find his wife Sherry Lansing and his son Jack, who were in Chicago with him, but they had disappeared in the mob. Many of the people were asking Friedkin if he remembered this person or that person from his Chicago days. (Philip Kaufman, director of “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” with Donald Southerland, was a classmate). I eventually had one second to ask him if he remembered receiving the book about seventies movies (“The New Hollywood”), which consisted of 50 representative films, 76 photos, and interactive trivia, and my reviews from the Quad City Times, painstakingly brought up to the pixel standards of today over a period of 8 years.
His response? “No. I don’t remember.”
Well, the man IS 83 years old, after all, but he seems as sharp as the proverbial tack. He also nearly died of a congenital heart defect way back in 1977. But he seems quite happy with his Auteur Emeritus status and shared that “acting and filmmaking are both jobs.”
Friedkin shared that his favorite films were “the great MGM musicals” and also said “They’re dead.” We learned that he has staged several operas, at the explicit urging of Zubin Mehta, and it was (now-retired) “Vanity Fair” editorGraydon Carterwho urged him to film a real exorcism when he returned to Italy and to write about it for “Vanity Fair,” leading to his short documentary (which, quite frankly, is not riveting.)
Friedkin thanked his wife Sherry Lansing, head of Paramount Pictures for many years, whom he married 26 years ago. Prior to that, Friedkin had been married three times, but none of his first 3 marriages lasted over 3 years (Jeanne Moreau, ’77-79; Lesley-Anne Down, ’82-’85; Kelly Lange, ’87-90.)
Director of the documentary “Friedkin Uncut”, Francesco Zippel said, “This film has been very important to me. I had the chance to look back at all the films with him. I tried to give him the chance to talk about himself and his career in a way that was closer to him. I thank William Friedkin so much for allowing me to do this.”
Of Chicago, in particular, Friedkin said, “This is the most beautiful city in the world. Chicago is not a city that brags about itself. I got my sense of curiosity from Chicago. It is easily the best city in this country—but I do like Venice (Italy).”
The third day of the Austin Revolution Film Festival saw participants journeying to a high school to speak to one of the founder’s classes and then on to Austin’s Salt Lick for Barbecue. Since I’ve been to Salt Lick, I was not among the tourists, but I spent the past two evenings watching shorts and a few feature length offerings culled from among 10,000 entries, we were told.
My script (THE COLOR OF EVIL), based on the first book in a novel trilogy I wrote, which has won 36 competitions as a screenplay, was a Finalist until September 12, 10 days from the end of this festival, when I received a short “Dear Con” letter telling me it wasn’t in the running any more. I’d have been upset if I had paid $500 x 2 per airplane ticket (the one-way fare from Chicago), or, worse, from Australia (a 17-hour flight). Not to mention the cost of a hotel room. Why tell people they are losers 10 days before the end of the festival? (Weird. Not the way it’s done in Vancouver, Chicago or San Antonio, but nevermind about that.) There was a mixer on September 12th. I went. It was immediately after the mixer that I received my Kiss-of-Death e-mail, so I’m wondering, “Was it something I said?” (lol)
The Austin Revolution Film Festival
The first night (Tuesday, Sept. 18) began with thanks for the sponsors, including Uncle Billy’s Brewery and George Dog Music. The “prize” from this film festival is a gigantic belt buckle. (Does anyone actually wear it? No idea. Made me think of that ad that is currently running with the young cowboy who keeps showing up with a bigger and bigger belt buckle.)
This was the 7th annual Austin Revolution Film Festival, not to be confused with the “regular” Austin Film Festival, which runs from October 25-November 2, or SXSW, which takes place in March. Organizers of this film festival are James Christopher, who shared that it is 13th year of film-making and his 15th feature film (“A Chance of Snow”) would close out the evening, and Lisa Belcher of JumpRock Pictures IShort: “Guest of Honor”). Christopher shared that the event grew out of neighboring filmmakers in the area wanting to join in a chance to show the films they had made and described it as a chance to provide networking, to help other filmmakers to build teams and a support system. One young man I met (Henry Young) had journeyed all the way from Australia to show his short, “Animal.”
THE BLACK MARKET CLUB
First short: a van is shown crashing off a bridge. The van crashes over and over and over. The group in the van are apparently members of a rock band that has just played a gig. There was a guy with a weird mustache, shown in close-up and a song with the lyric “Falling like so many times before.” Interesting depiction of the van crashing although one member of the rock band who was about to die was incongruously seen smiling a bit.
The next short focused on people who had suffered traumatic brain injuries and, therefore, were having trouble remembering things, much like Alzheimer’s sufferers. There is a support group for these troubled souls. A handsome young man meets a pretty young girl named Claire there and they both write things on their arms to try to help them remember things. The young man in this Avery Merrifeld-directed short didn’t have any trouble immediately asking the young girl to join him for coffee after the meetings, however, and those scenes, with a blonde waitress wearing a CoffeeShark shirt led to scenes at an ice skating rink (the girl’s passion). The skaters were quite good and the picture of me [and the woman who played the blonde waitress at the coffee shop, above, with me.] The problem with this piece, for me, is that I spent 20 years working with head injury patients. I know that the cast and crew did visit a head injury clinic, but my small Sylvan Learning Center (#3301) in Bettendorf, Iowa, became the “go to” facility for traumatic brain injury patients in the IA/IL Quad Cities and never did I see one write things on his or her arm. Our most extreme case was a young man who cardiac arrested in the parking lot of St. Ambrose University when he was entering to take classes to become an engineer. The cerebral anoxyia (lack of oxygen to the brain) he suffered wiped out his ability to read, write and/or do numbers. We worked with him for years and were able to restore the number knowledge faster than the reading, which never progressed beyond the 7th grade level. All higher level thinking skills were wiped out and his dream of becoming an engineer along with it. When he woke up in the hospital (aftersome Good Samaritan passersby performed CPR in the parking lot and saved his life) he did not remember his fiance (that engagement soon faltered), but he did remember things from when he was a child. He eventually was moved to a treatment facility in St. Louis, but, as they say, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” and A LOT of knowledge is a much more dangerous thing.
This one was one of the more ridiculous premises, with a man who has the misfortune to have a bird leave its droppings in his eye causing him to turn into a tree (think Groot). Patrick Griney wrote and directed. The kudos really belong to the make-up people who had to make a tree take root in the lead’s ear realistically and, ultimately, take over a human male’s body. The audience seemed to like it.
This was one of my favorite shorts, dealing, as it did, with an old man’s encroaching dementia. Andy Kasteler wrote and directed and the actor did a good job of railing against his boss’s directives. The boss turns out to be his son, and the old man is white-washing trees. But, in reality, at one point he has painted a telephone pole (dementia evidence). I am not knowledgeable enough about why he was whitewashing trees to tell you what that had to do with anything [and I’m from farm country]. (Apparently it is something that is done to a grove to prepare the trees for winter?) All I know is that the main actor, who had a last name of Fyre, did a great job, and I wondered if the line “Everything about him was old except his eyes. They were the same color as the sea” was from “The Old Man and the Sea.” An anguished examination of the horror(s) of growing old, seen from the vantage point of both the elderly man and his young son.
DEATH (*& DISCO FRIES)
Denis Culo, New York City filmmaker and director/star of “Death” (& Disco Fries).
Dennis Cahlo of New York City wrote, directed and stars in this humorous examination of one man’s regrets as he learns he has only a short time to live. It’s played for laughs, as he answers the phone and is told by his old gym teacher that he is dead. Dennis is asked by old coach O’Halloran if he has any regrets and Dennis admits he’d like to eat disco fries, despite the fact that he has been a vegan all his life. The problem with disco fries? Nobody I talked to knew what they were. I’m from the Midwest, so maybe it’s an Eastern thing, but I literally asked people from all areas of the country if they’d ever heard the term “disco fries.” Nobody had. What are they? Apparently it’s a truly disgusting looking french fry dish where some sort of gravy is poured over the fries. (Ugh) It would have been more universal if Dennis had gone with a hot fudge sundae or even a steak, as disco fries were less-than-universal, (in my own admittedly limited experience). They looked absolutely horrible. That didn’t change the sweet message about asking Veronica (Kate Vincent) to dance with him at the Prom. I liked it very much, but I hated the font used for this short and for the feature film that followed. It was a Gothic font that made it very difficult to even read the title of “A Chance of Snow” when (also) used there. Dennis also has a podcast and we may chat about movies on it.
Clementine appears and tells us how happy she is with her life and especially with her wonderful husband Jerry. (“My life is a dream”). With music by Matt Kidd and direction by Ross Wooten, Allen G.Hale gets the opportunity to play four different roles, a tour de force (think Peter Sellers in “Dr. Strangelove” or “How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb”…what? You haven’t seen it? Check it out!) Hale is Jerry, her wonderful, if boring, husband. He is Francine, Clementine’s best girlfriend (and a terrible girl he makes with theblonde wig!) He is Lonnie the mailman. He is Alfonse the yoga instructor. He is Aunt Pearl. By the end of the piece, we learn that Clementine is crazy (“Her brain is disappearing”) and Jerry feels it necessary to provide her with a host of friends and acquaintances as she becomes loopier and loopier. A weird concept, but Alan had fun with it and so did we.
There was a picture of a hand putting a needle on a record and Santa entered a living room where two children were present. [Not sure this was really a complete short in and of itself, as it was immediately followed by the feature film.]
A CHANCE OF SNOW
“A Chance of Snow” poster.
This feature film was put together by one of the festival organizers, James Christopher. The plot featured a blonde young man (Tyler) who has a new girlfriend now that he has left home for college. The new blonde girlfriend’s name is Holly. (She is gorgeous, but she was also in Arizonawhen the film screened.) Supposedly, Tyler’s family is really BIG on Christmas, and he went with a different girl named Noelle all of high school, but they broke up when he left for college and she failed to follow him there. There was a sister named Faith, with a boyfriend in “a third world country” that is never named (Iraq? Afghanistan?). It takes about 2 minutes to realize that the boy should have stayed with his original girl friend and/or will somehow end up with her when all is said and done. Some of the dialogue was…odd. [“That really ain’t nofun for no one.” “At least you didn’t lift your leg.” “I don’t know what Yankees liketo do.”] The best part of the film was Alejandro Patino’s (also a Producer) depiction of Noelle’s Hispanic father. He doesn’t really like Tyler and speaks Spanish to his daughter telling her so, but Tyler (and Holly), who are present, don’t speak Spanish, so the father has a chance to insult the boyfriend pretty thoroughly while Tyler remains clueless. One wonders why either girl would fall for him. His special Santa suit, worn at the end of the film, is the pits and I asked several people about the tag on is left sleeve that says OPPO (Nobody had any answer for me;maybe the rental place?). Andy Bertelson’s very country song by the Texas Renegade worked in the idea “All I need is a chance of snow and a chance you will love me.” Setting was Winter’s Hope, Texas. The black delivery guy has about 2 minutes of screen time; his delivery (pun intended) was priceless. Moral of the story: “You don’t know what you’re missing till it’s gone.”
On the second night, (September 19, Wednesday) the slate of shorts led off with Lisa Belcher’s short film:
GUEST OF HONOR
Lisa Belcher of JumpRock Films, one of the organizers of the Austin Revolution Film Festival.
The gallery filling up for the first night (4 hours) of films at the Alamo Drafthouse Mueller in Austin, TX.
Lisa Belcher, who is one of the guiding lights of the Austin Revolution Film Festival also co-wrote, acted and directed this short, which was quite good. Her co-star, Lukas Hassel, also earned a writer credit. Lisa appears, looking very sad, and we know something has happened to her son because she is boxing up his school trophies and mementos. (Lisa’s real-life son, who is taller than his mom, is used in thephotos.) As the plot thickens, Belcher conveys the preoccupied sadness of a grieving mother quite well, and we learn that there is some sort of a celebration planned, with caterers coming. (The sets were lavish and appropriate). At first, I thought the caterers might have been summoned for a post-funeral dinner, but it turns out that the couple is going to have a 21st wedding anniversary celebration, because their son, who recently was killed by a drunk driver, wanted so much to throw a big party for the couple’s twentieth anniversary (the year prior), before his tragic death. The father is shown at one point conferring with a slim young black girl in the street, who ultimately gets in his car with him, and I’m sure I wasn’t the first to think he was soliciting a hooker. But, no. The young girl has received the heart of the heroine’s dead son, and shows up at the party. This one seemed very professionally done and the sound, in fact, was done in Los Angeles, if I remember the credits correctly. Lisa Belcher and her producing partner Christian Olteanu are an Austin force to be reckoned with.
LEARNING THE ROPES
Alyssia Rivera (“Noelle”) from “A Chance of Snow.”
Eric Goodman and America’s Academy of Pro Wrestling. Two words: “The Wrestler,” Mickey Rourke (should have won the Oscar, but Sean Penn beat him with “Milk”), directed by Darren Aronofsky, 2008). Why are all the people in this world so screwed up? Beats me, but it was a great film in 2008 and this short re-visited that real world with “Meatball,” an overweight wrestler who loves the sport, et. al.
This one opens with a young girl climbing a mountain and collapsing after mumbling something about “angels come to me when I close my eyes.” As the plot thickens, her sister sells her baby to a con man from the Guiding Light Evangelical Mission, one of the sisters manages to get shot, and there is talk of the father being an alien. Real Rain Productions took off on this, with Bears Fone writing and directing. Ambiguous ending. Part of the time we’re wrapping our minds around an alien pregnancy (remember Hallie Berry’s short-lived series?) and part of the time we’re dealing with GNL Pharmaceutical Company which may profit from an alien baby, and the rest of the time we’re wondering if the sister who gets shot is going to live and, all-in-all, lots to deal with here for a short.
Not sure if the name of this was “leechers” but “leechers” are people who touch someone as they are dying and absorb their entire lives. One word: “Fallen,” 1998,Elias Koteas as Edgar Reese, a convicted killer who touches Denzel at the moment of death and passes bad stuff on. [Not a totally new idea, in other words, but arethere any new ones left?] In this particular treatment, we have a sister who wants to stop her brother from going on as a bad guy serial killer. [Do sisters usually shoot their brothers to save total strangers? Wrong question, probably.] He says he’s NOT a serial killer because “they were all still alive in my head.” Rushton Williams, Kelsey Pribelai, Timothy McKinny, J.T. Campos, “Cold Summer” productions, Linus Lau music and Kory Hill sound mixing. The young boy who started out as the younger brother was quite good, but did not look like he’d grow up to look like the adult star of the piece. However, stranger things have happened…right?
Tracy Ely—who is about to be married—from “A Chance of Snow.”
This short was the perfect example of what, in psychology, is known as “a double approach avoidance” response. The textbook example of that was marriage and a wedding. As the wedding grows closer, the bride (and groom) become both more apprehensive and more excited. In this case, the bride has some pretty severe doubts about her intended. At one point she is holed up in the bathroom having an anxiety attack and her mother-in-law, Linda, is trying to lure her out. The best line in the short, with great delivery, is: “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM THE DOOR, LINDA!” as the mother of the groom is pestering the bride-to-be to come out and rejoin the guests at her bridal shower. Unfortunately, her intended shows up and insists on singing the song he wrote for her (“I hate that effing song!”) Best line that was written, rather than spoken: “No goldfish were harmed in the making of this film.” Nice surprise ending that probably wasn’t that big a surprise once you thought about the characters of Jesse and Ashley. Cassidy Freeman, Brady Johnson, Caitlin Norton. (Great hair throughout!)
Tracey Ely of “A Chance of Snow” (Faith).
ONE ACT PLAY
This 73-minute gem from Landry Gideon and company of Triadatx Media proves that even a topic that sounds like it might be boring can surprise you. In this case, Landry and his crew tracked the progress of various thespians (actors) in drama classes throughout Texas as they move through the various competitions to be named the Number One troupe in the state, based on the one act play they present.
Landry Gideon (best name ever) pictured with his D.P. , I hope, on the right. If that is his D.P. his name is in the article (Andrew Miller) and he went to Cedar Rapids (IA) Washington High School. Apologies to all names I failed to scribble down in the dark fast enough. Landry is a sound expert who works on other people’s films’ sound and his wife, who is expecting, is just about to add to their family in the new house in Pfluegerville.
The schools were Salada High School, Rogers High School, Hempstead High School, Randall High School, Barbers Hill High School and their various drama teachers and students. It’s a bit like “Glee” on television, where the tension rises as the competition nears and the stakes get higher and the students proceed from Zone to Area to Regionals to winnowing down to eight and making it to State. Andrew Miller, Director of Photography, shot literally loads of film, as he told me; the editing was great, as was the sound. Will Patterson was brought in to provide the heart-pounding music that propelled the tension, and the choice of Rogers High School to present “Kholstomer: The Story of a Horse” (a German play, translated) means that a field trip to a horse farm is included and the students have to pretend to be horses onstage. (Always interesting). Solado High School chose a war story (“Boys of Winter”), and the director commented that she likes war stories because the students’ grandfathers had often been in VietNam, (which means mygeneration.) “Black Angel” segments looked very interesting (Hampstead High School) and only “MidSummer Night’s Dream” seemed as though it was a weak choice (Remember on “American Idol” when the judges would talk about how important the right song would be? Well, it applies here.)
The expressions used by the directors reminded me of the University of Iowa’s head coach for many years, Texas native Hayden Fry, who used the term “high porch picnic” (no idea what that means; I’m from Iowa, but I think I was told it had to do with snakes and flooding the last time I asked) and, in this case, one of the coaches says, “I want to beat you up and then beat your sister.” (Surely a Texas idiom?)
I was active in drama in high school in the state of Iowa, and, in fact, one of the founders of my high school’s Thespians troupe, and I can tell you that it is nothing like this. As one individual says, “If it wasn’t for the one-act play, there are thousands of kids in Texas who would not be exposed to theater.”
As for me, I was amazed that that many able-bodied macho boys took part. (It is not that way in all high schools, for sure.) Another great line: “There’s douchebags sitting in the front row.” And “Judges are weird.”
The young girl who declares this to be “the largest interscholastic competition in the world” (and then wonders whether it is just in Texas or the U.S.) was precious. This one should apply for the Chicago International Film Festival, where it would stand a very good chance of admission. A great flick!
Spike Lee’s new film “BlacKkKlansman,” winner of the Cannes Grand Prix award in May, is based on the early 1970s true story of Ron Stallworth, who was the first African-American hired by the Colorado Springs Police Force. Ron is played by Denzel Washington’s son, John David Washington, a new face to contend with for future roles, but previously better known as the subject of father Denzel’s television comments on his son’s football playing prowess. (John David—his full name, as he has no middle name—was drafted by the St. Louis Rams after graduating from Morehouse College in 2006 and played for the Hamburg Sea Devils as a running back in ’06 and ’07.)
Lee said of John David’s casting (“Time” August 20th cover story by Rembert Browne), “I told him, ‘I knew you before you were born.’ I didn’t have him audition or read. Even before I sent him the script, I knew brother man could do it.” And so, a star is born. IMDB even awarded John David Washington the STARmeter award in Cannes on May 9th, 2018. Expect to see a lot more of him in the future, (even if we’ve seen almost nothing of him in the past).
The improbable story that Spike Lee’s terrific cast brings to life is the story of black police officer Ron Stallworth’s infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan. It is based on Stallworth’s book “Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime,” which shows up now on Amazon with the movie’s poster as a cover, but was out as a hard cover book in June with the close-up of a single eye, peeking out through a KKK hood eye hole.
This film is a direct commentary on the subject of bigotry and racial prejudice in America, and Lee doesn’t mess around. He never has in dealing with racism, violence and inequality in America. Real news clips are used depicting Donald J. Trump speaking, as well as footage of the Charlottesville murder one year ago of 32-year-old white protester Heather Heyer, run down by a car driven by a racist demonstrater. Real film of the event ends Lee’s film, used with permission of Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro. Lee told (“Time”) “I consider her a martyr.”
That event in Charlottesville one year ago also prompted Spike Lee to say, “That is nothing more than home-grown, apple pie, red-white-and-blue terrorism,” in a telephone interview with the New York Times.
The film is certain to make the list of Best Films of the Year and deservedly so. It is Spike Lee’s best non-documentary film in years, and perhaps the strongest commentary on this incendiary topic since “Do the Right Thing” won him an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay in 1989. Spike Lee has been telling America to “wake up” for 30 years and this latest film underscores the need with current film inserts and newsreel and other footage.
The film opens with the famous scene from “Gone With the Wind” depicting Scarlett O’Hara is wandering amidst the dead, dying and wounded lying on the ground in Atlanta. It uses footage of 1915’s “Birth of A Nation” to show Klansmen celebrating the abhorrent behavior laid out for us in grim detail by none other than Harry Belafonte in a cross-cut scene with the Klan shouting “White Power!” while the African American group meeting across town shouts “Black Power!” The 70s were, indeed, a time when unrest, bred in the sixties, made it appear that race warfare was going to be our next Civil War. If it wasn’t Stokely Carmichael (using the name Kwame Ture in a speech that he givesonscreen) it was SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) or the SLA (Symbionese Liberation Army) that worried white Americans.
As Alec Baldwin’scharacter of Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard says in the first few moments of the film, playing a White Supremacist narrator of a propaganda film, “We had a great way of life, until Martin Luther King.” He goes on to refer to the “monkeys, rapists, murderous super-predators and blood-sucking Jews” who have, in his opinion, ruined the country, calling it an international Jewish conspiracy. The “N” word is thrown around quite liberally in the film, as well as many other demeaning names for African American citizens. It is not till film’s end that Ron Stallworth’s character (John David Washington) has the chance to respond in kind to the Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke (Topher Grace) during a phone conversation. One small criticism I might make is that the scenes showing the great amusement of Stallworth’s fellow officers during these conversations are over-done at times.
It is a telephone conversation that sets the entire investigation in motion, as Ron Stallworth notices ads in the newspaper for Klansmen and responds by phone, posing as a loyal White Supremacist. Ultimately, he becomes a card-carrying member of the KKK—a completely unlikely scenario—but the investigation could not have gone forward without the in-person substitution of fellow officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver of “Star Wars”) for Stallworth’s phone persona.
The cast was terrific throughout. The casting by Kim Coleman was right on the money, with many recognizable faces in the crowd. If John David Washington was an unknown before this film, it is a certainty that he will not be after this film. If you listen closely, you can hear some of Denzel’s cadence in his vocal delivery of lines, but he is clearly a talent in his own right, hitting the right notes throughout.
Contributing to the excellent ensemble, besides Washington and Driver, are Robert John Burke as Chief Bridges. I recognized him immediately from “Rescue Me” where he was Dennis Leary’s “sponsor” at AA meetings. (Bridges was also in “RoboCop”). Laura Harrier, who plays the love interest Patrice, is a more recent arrival, from “Spiderman: HomecEggoloming” in 2017. Ryan Eggold as Walter Breachway, is a face you’ll know from “The Black List,” where he was the evil husband of the female lead. (Eggold has a new medical drama starting on TV this fall and had a short-lived show that focused on his character from “The Black List.”) Eggold is the Klansman who eagerly accepts Driver as the real deal and wants to make him head of the group! Michael Joseph Buscemi plays Jimmy Creek, one of the police investigators, and, while he is not Steve Buscemi’s son, he is related (nephew?). Brian Tarantino plays Officer Clay Mulaney and Nicholas Turturro, not much in evidence since 1993’s “NYPD Blue,” is a familiar face. The dim-witted Ivanhoe is Paul Walter Hauser, most recently playing a thug in “I, Tonya” (2017). Two faces I did not recognize were Jasper Paskkonen as Felix Kendrickson, the craziest of the Klansmen, and his wife, Connie (Ashlie Atkinson), who worked with Lee in 2006’s “Inside Man.” Arthur J. Nascarella as Officer Wheaton is from “The Sopranos.” All were excellent.
THE MUSIC Lee has worked with the same music person many times and Terence Blanchard put together a terrific score, complete with seventies hits like “It’s Too Late to Turn Back Now” and “Oh Happy Day.” The soundtrack will be terrific. We are also treated to some dancing scenes to lighten the mood, which has comic moments amongst this dead serious topic.
Chayse Irvin is responsible for many of the trademark Spike Lee camera shots, most notably the double dolly shot, where the actors seem to be floating towards the camera (both actors and cameras are placedon dollies on tracks). The grainy high contrast footage, saturated colors, evocative end credits and the “wake up” call to his audience are also typical Spike Lee touches. In this film, the close-up shots of faces in the crowd at StokelyCarmichael’s (Corey Hawkins of “Straight Outta’ Compton) speech are an added plus. In order to be able to both shoot the crowd scene (which Officer Stallworth is monitoring from inside) and to focus on the faces of individuals in the crowd (Washington and Patrice, for example), a separate camera had to be set up in a side room and the actors had to be pulled aside to shoot them in close-up to integrate the close-ups into the crowd scene.
THE POLITICS OF Blackkklansman
In a line from the film, heard during Stokely Carmichael’s speech, he tells the black crowd: “We must unite and organize to fight our oppressor. We are being shot down in the streets by white racist cops.” He goes on to add, “If I am not for myself, who will be? If not now, when? and if not you, who?” Powerful stuff on the heels of so many recent shootings. As a student at Berkeley who remembers the protests of the Vietnam War led by Mario Savio (they were locking him up then; now there’s a statue of him on campus!) and lived through the violence of the sixties, the parallels are much more than theoretical. “Wake up!” is, indeed, a call to all right-thinking U.S. citizens when the KKK is quoted as feeling that, “We’re cleaning this country of a backwards race of chimpanzees. First the N—– and then the K—- (Jews).” Is Spike Lee going too far, when, just today, Omarosa’s book is touting the racist epithet’s popularity as used by the man who once was the star of “The Apprentice” and is now President of the United States?
Another telling line that clearly shows the parallels between these two diametrically opposed groups and times is: “We’re a family and, right or wrong, we stick together.” While that line is spoken by a police officer, the comment immediately follows, “That reminds me of another group.”
I went to hear Spike Lee speak years ago in person in Rock Island, Illinois. The author of the “Time” cover story acknowledged that Lee has a reputation for being controversial, “brash, contrarian and intellectually intimidating,”— a guy who is prickly and wonders “when black people, liberals and Americans in general will stop falling for ‘the okey-doke.'” Some have characterized Lee as “indignant.” He was all of those things that night, causing me to ditch my carefully thought-out-in advance question and remain silent. He is said not to suffer fools gladly and to be impatient. He reminds us all of things we would rather forget, like how Muhammad Ali’s status changed from the sixties, when he was characterized as a draft-dodger and thrown in jail, to Ali’s final years, when he was hailed as an American and global icon.
By “the okey-doke” Lee means the skullduggery, shenanigans, the subterfuge and bamboozling that white America uses to stay in control. It is what one of the O.J. documentaries portrayed as being how O.J. became more involved with the white community than with the black community, after he achieved football and movie stardom. As writer Rembert Browne put it in the “Time” cover story: “Lee makes movies to reopen wounds that white America would like to pretend have healed. He’s a provocateur who clearly knows what his role is: to say difficult things about both the history and the present state of race in America.”
MISCELLANEOUS: Jordan Peele
Spike Lee inherited this project after “Get Out” director Jordan Peele (who remains as a Producer) found himself too busy to follow up on making it. Lee was exactly the right person for the film. Jason Blum of Blumhouse Pictures (who I recently spoke with at the conclusion of a panel on horror movies at SXSW entitled “The Bleeding Edge”) is also one of the producers.
OSCAR TIME FOR LEE?
Spike Lee has made 35 films since 1983 and is 61 years old. He has also taught film in New York (Tisch Center) and been its artistic director for 16 years. He has had celebrated feuds with others, including one with Clint Eastwood when he criticized Eastwood’s two war films (“Letter from Iwo Jima” and “Flags of Our Fathers.”) Eastwood said that Spike should “shut his face.”
While that feud has been resolved, Spike Lee is still stereotyped as “an angry black man.” Given the fact that the grim story Harry Belafonte relates in the film is true and the lynching of Chicagoan Emmett Till in 1955 for supposedly whistling at a white woman happened 63 years ago (and the men who committed the act were acquitted), can we really blame Director Spike Lee for speaking out at this time in history. Or should we all just wake up
Don’t miss this movie. It’s bound to garner awards at award season…maybe even the biggest of them all.
The 24th Annual San Antonio Film Festival kicked off at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts at 100 Auditorium Circle, San Antonio, Texas, on August 1st, 2018.
Longtime director Adam Rocha, who has led the group for 24 years, did not greet us as we drifted in to get our credentials, and my badge, listing me as a Screenplay Finalist for THE COLOR OF EVIL, was MIA. (I was given a VIP badge, instead.)
Most of us waiting for the 6 p.m. kick-off films were directed to a small café across the street called Pharm Market that was heavily in to health food(s). There were literally no soft drinks (like Coca Cola or 7-Up) but there was a table serving free alcoholic beverages (beer and wine) and many strange delicacies that I did not have the time nor inclination to sample.
We headed over to the opening film(s) at 6 p.m. selecting between “Tecumseh, the Last Warrior” directed by Alvarez Studio and Larry Elikann or “They Call Me King Tiger,” directed by Angel Estrada Soto.
6:00 p.m. Premiere Showing was here.
My husband chose the latter film, which had this synopsis:“In June, 1967, the court of Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico, was assaulted by armed men under the command of Chicano leader Reies Lopez Tijerina. The outcome of such bold action was the largest manhunt in the recent history of the United States. Tijerina managed to survive prison, a psychiatric hospital, and several assassination attempts. The Chicano movement faded away, and everyone thought the same of Tijerina. People spoke of him as a saint, a man illuminated, a man that used violence looking for a fair cause. They called him King Tiger. King Tiger is alive and he wants to tell his story.”
Some of this was misleading, as King Tiger recently died at age 88 (and insisted that he be dressed in his coffin as a Muslim to illustrate his conviction that he was a prophet; people had to be flown in from Chicago to accomplish this).
The story as told by Director Larry Elikann had a meandering documentary quality that did not serve the extraordinary story well. There definitely was feature film potential in the story of King Tiger, but this treatment, witnessed by only 9 people sitting on hard-backed chairs, was probably not it.
San Antonio, Texas, Aug. 1-5, 2018
For one thing, this was the Premiere of the film and the Director was not present.
For another, as we moved into the main substance of the story, it was still unclear what injustice, exactly, King Tiger was trying to rectify. It purports to be the story of New Mexico’s Hispanic peoples losing their land to “the gringos,” much like the Indians lost their land to European settlers. Quote: “These lands were robbed, and we want them back.” The 1848 Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty was at the bottom of much of the dissent, but the terms of that treaty are never spelled out for the viewer.
There were allusions to such historic figures as Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez and Malcolm X, but King Tiger’s followers never numbered more than 14,000 to 20,000, from the film’s reckoning, and, when he was a handsome firebrand of a man who had “boundless courage because he was always living in some other realm” he didn’t exercise his power as skillfully as MLK.
A conversation is recounted that supposedly took place between Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy and Chicano leader Reies-Lopez Tijerina. Bobby Kennedy supposedly said, to the firebrand leader, “There was a war. You lost it and we won it. Go home.”
Tobin Center for the Performing Arts
A Treaty of Hidalgo is constantly mentioned, supposedly transferring one-half of what was then Mexico’s land to the United States. The statement is made: “They lost their lands through diverse legal movements, so he (King Tiger) led a campaign to reclaim those lands.”
How devoted the followers were seemed to be one problem. A friend and acquaintance of Reies’ recounted a rally at which Reies asked how many of those present “will fight like a she-dog fights to protect her puppies” to get back the land. He asked them to stand up, if willing. One-third of the men present stood up. Reies then told his followers that those who didn’t stand up should be among the first killed. This took me back to a horrifying documentary I saw at the Chicago International Film Festival about just such neighbor purging neighbor that happened in the Philippines, when the U.S. encouraged the removal of Communists and atrocities were perpetrated, neighbor upon neighbor.
Interior of Tobin Center for the Performing Arts
The film consisted largely of interviews with the extremely elderly (age 88) Reies himself, who wandered on about dreams and angels and was a shadow of his former firebrand self. If anything, it was an object lesson in how death comes for us all and the most dynamic among us will be weakened and withered by time, as Reies definitely had been. His three wives are interviewed and many of his numerous children, some of whom recount beatings at Reies’ hand. The prettiest daughter from his first marriage was incarcerated after Reies formed a small band of armed men and marched on the courthouse.
He then was arrested in a manhunt (2,000 National Guardsmen were searching for him) that was not as dramatic as the program claimed. He said he was in the back seat of a car on the way to Coyote when he was apprehended. Reies is quoted as saying, “I’m chewing up the gringos no matter who is in the middle.”
One of his wives—a second wife who left him—said, “He wanted to be fighting, fighting, fighting. I didn’t want to do anything.” His son by a second marriage remembered that Dad told him: :You are nothing. You are never going to be a man like I am.” The prettiest daughter, Rosita, who went to prison after the attack Reies engineered on the courthouse, said, “I don’t want to talk about or remember any of that. I think that people saw him as a terrorist. All my 6 brothers and I were beaten by him.”
So, not overwhelmingly positive as a leader and Man of the People.
The English subtitles were also rife with errors. Example: “”Take this (sic) pills, please.” This was in reference to what was said to be psychological torture that Reies underwent in prison. His first trial, when he defended himself, he was found innocent, but the film suggests that he was a victim of double jeopardy or that various trumped-up charges kept recurring. One of his wives, Maria Escobar, had a house that was attacked and Reies swears that the attack was by thugs from the government.
Tobin Center for the Performing Arts
As nearly as I could determine from the meandering plot and lack of focus, Reies was declaring that all those lands were taken illegally by District Attorney Alfonso Sanchez and that they were taken from Mexican and sold to white people and Sanchez was the person they hoped to get when they marched on the courthouse.
Just before his death, Reies told the interviewer, “What happened, happened, my friend.” His wife said he asked for forgiveness before he died.
The Awards Ceremony for the San Antonio Film Festival will take place at 7 p.m. on Saturday night and the world premiere of “Stella’s Last Weekend,” a new comedy from writer/director Polly Draper (“Thirty Something”) will follow at 9 p.m.
Formerly of “Fame.”
A debut film from Director Jesse Borego (“Fame”) “Closer to Bottom,” will screen on Sunday, August 5th. It deals with two brothers who are coping with the death of their father when both fall for the same girl.
The San Antonio Film Festival began on August 1st and will conclude with the showing of Boreo’s film on Sunday, August 5th.
“Celebrate Michael” In Chicago on July 14, 2018 celebrated Michael Kutza’s retirement as longest-serving Artistic Director of a Film Festival in North America.
Michael Kutza, Founder and Artistic Director of the Chicago International Film Festival for the past 55 years, was feted at a gala celebration at Loews Hotel, 455 N. Park Drive, in Chicago on Saturday, July 14th.
(Photos by Connie Wilson)
Michael Kutza with Paula Wagner, producer of the “Mission Impossible” films.
Those present to honor his legendary career as the longest-serving Artistic Director of a Film Festival, (which is also the oldest Film Festival in North America), included Producer Paula Wagner, known for her collaborations with Tom Cruise on the “Mission Impossible” series (among others); Kathleen Turner, star of “Body Heat,” “Romancing the Stone” and many other films; Andrew Davis, Director of “The Fugitive”, Joe Swanberg, Steve James and many others. Kutza started the Chicago International Film Festival in 1962 as a 22-year-old film buff.
Mr. and Mrs. Terrence Howard. (Photo by Connie Wilson)
Terence Howard, of television’s “Empire”, (which shoots in Chicago), was present with his wife at the invitation of Chaz Ebert, widow of Roger Ebert, who served as one of the co-chairs of the event. (Howard received a call from their babysitter while on the Red Carpet). Howard said he’d only met Kutza once previously, in 2005, when given an award by the
Michael Kutza, with the co-chairs of the “Celebrate Michael” gala on July 14 at Loews Hotel, including Chaz Ebert, (widow of Roger Ebert), center.) (Photo by Connie Wilson)
Phone call from the babysitter. (Photo by Connie Wilson).
Chicago International Film Festival, but expressed admiration for Kutza’s contributions to cinema in Chicago. He also told Chinese/American interviewer Meiling Jin that family was important in delineating a character, as it formed the basis for all human emotion.
Meiling Jin has been interviewing celebrities in the United States since high school and now, at 27, is listed as the 91st most influential media expert on films for a Chinese audience, with millions of hits daily. She also models and serves as CEO of Meiling Jin Television and Video Productions.
Kathleen Turner (Photo by Connie Wilson).
Kathleen Turner, in speaking with me, advised that “Less is more” (Mies Van der Rohe) in acting and urged directors to “trust their actors,” but also suggested that a screenwriter might wish to think about the many sets or set-ups in writing a screenplay. (As a Finalist in several screenplay competitions right now, including the Windy City Film Festival to be announced tomorrow at 2:30 p.m., as well as San Antonio’s, this was good advice for me).
(l to r), Connie Wilson, Patrick of the omnipresent hat, and Meiling Jin, CEO of Studio Meiling Productions, LLC. (Photo by Studio Meiling Productions, LLC).
Also on the program this night, besides awarding Kutza a Lifetime Achievement Award, would be bidding on a series of gala items, including a guitar signed by Tom Petty, a poster signed by the entire cast of the movie “Black Panther,” and a limited edition poster from the original “Star Wars” film (only 25 were made) signed by all the original “Star Wars” cast members.
The second year of the Windy City Film Festival kicked off on July 12th at the Victory Garden Biograph Theater in Chicago. This is the very same theater made famous by John Dillinger’s assassination outside it after viewing “Manhattan Melody” in the 1930s.
Windy City Film Festival
As a Finalist in the Screenplay Category, I was fortunate enough to be able both to see the interior of the remodeled theater at 2433 Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, a feature length film (“Double Major”) and a series of 8 short films.
We were all warmly welcomed and the choice of hors d’oeuvres was the best and most innovative of any festival I’ve attended as a critic (and I’ve attended a few). Plates of candies are what they serve at the Oscar gala were arrayed, along with grapes, and the bar offered a discount to those of us who were Festival Finalists. Still, with a glass of wine reasonably priced at $7 that 20% discount wasn’t totally necessary. Bravo to the organizers!
After the opportunity to chat with fellow contestants, I was fortunate enough to chat at length with an actress in one of the selected films, Jen Buhrow, and, later, had conversations with other contestants, including 2 directors of the shorts that we watched for 2 hours, Thom McCloud and Brad Riddell. All of the films were shot in Chicago.
Windy City Film Festival organizers Josh Hope and Mindy Fay Parks .
First, let me compliment the film festival organizers, Mindy Fay Parks and JoshHope, on the truly great opening credit sequence that introduced several short films. They were as good (or better) than those shown at the opening of the much-larger (and 25 times older) Chicago International Film Festival.
SHORT #1: RUNNER (Grade: “A”)
This was a riveting short piece featuring Clare Cooney and Shane Simmons. Clare is a runner and, while jogging down an alley in a suburb that had alleys that resembled those in Bridgeport, where my son lived for years, she is an eye witness to a murder. The murder appears to have been an accident caused by an argument between a young couple, when the young man shoves the girl and she falls and hits her head. Still, when the murderer then begins chasing Clare, everyone senses the danger she is in, and when the murderer later turns up at a gathering at a local bar and follows her home, the stress level goes even higher. This one was terrific! Clare Cooney not only acted in it, she directed it. Watch for her in the future.
SHORT #2: TEN MORE (Grade: “A”)
DePaul Screenwriting Instructor and Windy City Film Festival Finalist Brad Riddell on July 12 at Opening Night.
This was my second favorite of the night. I told Director Brad Riddell that I could relate to it more easily, because, based on a roughly autobiographical brain injury he incurred, it leaves the viewer thinking about his (or her) own mortality and was not aimed exclusively at a young audience. Another huge plus for this film was its star, a local Chicago actor who looks as though he could be Adrien Brody’s brother (if Adrien Brody had a brother, which he does not). The actor’s name was David Tasques and it opens with Tasques playing the piano (which also summoned memories of Adrien Brody’s 2003 Oscar win at age 29 for “The Pianist.”) Puzzled by the water dripping through his ceiling from the floor above and the apartment of the old lady who usually bangs on the floor with her cane when the concert pianist is practicing (causing him to yell “Ten Minutes More”), Tasques’ attempts to find out what is going on leads to a surprising discovery. Director Brad Riddell has written 4 feature films and is currently working on a feature film for a Hollywood studio, as well as on a podcast. He is both a faculty member at DePaul and a working screenwriter.
SHORT #2: MARGARET AND THE MOON (Grade “B”)
A chubby little girl is watching the film “Danse pour la luna” that predates cinema as we know it, going all the way back to the Lumiere days and the Man in the Moon. We then see the girl being bullied at school by two young classmates and a lesson about true friendship is learned. Trevor Morgan, who made the film, circled back to the Man in the Moon film for a sweet ending.
SHORT #3: SPACEMAN (Grade “B+)
This one was light-hearted, as we follow the adventures of a young man named Rupert Madursky who refuses to let NASA’s demise stop him from wanting to become an astronaut. As one character reminisces, “Becoming an astronaut was pure and American. We all wanted to grow up to be President or an astronaut.” Christopher Olva wrote, produced and edited this gem, with lighting and lenses by DePaul University. I think one reason I related to it as well as I did is that my husband and I toured Cape Canaveral when they were dismantling one of the towers and having the last NASA manned flight and it was a bittersweet thing to think of this nation’s space program being mothballed. (It still is). The film also had the advantage of being humorous in spots, as when Rupert ticks off a Russian cabdriver by saying to him (in Russian), “Cosmonaut is for second place,” when the driver asks if he is training to become a cosmonaut. (Rupert is fond of wearing NASA gear at all times.) The driver unceremoniously dumps his fare in the street.
SHORT #4: STEP ONE (Grade: “B”)
Written and directed by Thom McCloud, who is primarily a local Chicago actor, a stressed man in a car is shown sitting near a railroad track and practicing the “Hello, I’m _____” speech that normally means the individual is going to be attending an AA meeting. As the film opened, the car’s positioning near the railroad tracks immediately made you wonder if the driver intended to join a meeting (he has said his wife will leave him if he doesn’t attend) or if he is suicidal enough to drive that car onto the tracks. Speaking with McCloud later, he shared that the film is autobiographical and that it was shot in one day. Asked about the difficulties of making it, he singled out Pre-production, saying that raising the money to fund it was largely done through crowd funding and by him pitching in his own funds. It was a thought-provoking piece.
SHORT #5: CHEESE SHOP (Grade: “B”)
The director of “Cheese Shop”
The director of “Cheese Shop” shared, from the stage after the viewing, that Director Sammy Zeisel also had experience at working in a cheese shop, and learned how difficult things that are seemingly simple can be. The out-of-work actress who takes the job in the cheese shop learns that everything from wrapping wedges of cheese to mopping floors can be difficult. Cheese Shop is a bitter-sweet, funky little film…like a simple wedge of cheese, says the write-up, and it is.
SHORT #6: BLAKOREA (Grade “B-“)
This film was also an autobiographical story of the marriage of a black G.I. suffering from PTSD and his Korean bride. Two young children are in the middle of their parents strife and are ultimately left with their black grandmother, Pearl. Christine Swanson, its director, cast the film well and the actors all deliver. The reason it was slightly less appealing for me was difficulty with understanding the Korean battered wife. The film almost needed subtitles for some of her dialogue. I winced when the black grandmother served watermelon to her Asian/American grandchildren on a visit that turns into a permanent placement. Not sure that plays well in the P.C. world of today, but this was obviously an earnest effort and it was well done. The child actors were outstanding and the picture of the real Pearl with her granddaughter at the film’s finale was priceless.
SHORT #7: MICKEY’s PETS (Grade: “B-“)
Mickey’s Pets star is fourth from the right.
Ashley S. Brandon made this short documentary about Mickey’s pets, and the real Mickey, multiple tattoos covered by a lovely green dress, was present onstage following the film. She is shown with her pts, saying, “I’m never lonely and they never judge me.” Mickey is working on stuffing a peacock to enter in the 45th Annual National Taxidermy Competition in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. The winner of the title Taxidermist of the Year will take home a $1500 prize. Mickey Alice Kioapte certainly stood out in the room full of exclusively male animal stuffers (if that is a term). Side bar: I had a boyfriend in college (Frank Cornwell) who used to be in to taxidermy, and, of course, we all know that Norman Bates was. Of course, Frank also used to work for the phone company and randomly climb a telephone pole outside my apartment window to phone me, so THAT was odd, too, and so is this nice little film.
SHORT #8: COME TO LIFE (Grade: “C”)
The plot here is that, when a young man’s wife leaves town for a few days, he is lonely and so creates talking creatures, made from pillow cases and socks to keep himself company. The first problem was that the sound and the lip movements were “off,” (which I was later told was because the film was being “streamed” from a computer. The second problem, for me, is the current insistence that all marriages onscreen must be inter-racial. If that isn’t true, then there has to be a LGBQT character or somebody has to be handicapped. [This is based on recent reviewing at SXSW and not on these shorts, but it’s getting to be a bit much.] I’m sure many of the viewers were really intrigued by the concept, but, plot-wise, I was not. I do understand that creating them onscreen must have been quite an accomplishment, but the idea that this grown man was so lonesome for his wife because she left for 2 days that he resurrected characters (from his youth?) who he said had been hiding in the attic just didn’t work for me. It sounded incredibly juvenile, since he is depicted as an adult, not a college student.
Still, impressive work from all. Go Chicago! It is an honor to have a screenplay being considered amongst the 24 others (25 total) and I have no illusions of grandeur for what is only my second solo outing in screenplay writing.
In 1964, film buff Michael Kutza founded the Chicago International Film Festival, with silent screen star Colleen Moore. The debut of the Chicago International Film Festival (now in its 54th year) was at the Carnegie Theatre at Rush and Oak Streets, on November 9, 1965. (Photo of Michael Kutza by Connie Wilson)
Mimi Plauche will become Artistic Director of the Chicago International Film Festival, while Vivan Teng will remain Managing Editor. (Photo by Connie Wilson)
Kutza, then 22, has served as Artistic Director longer than any other film festival director in the country (55 years). The Chicago International Film Festival is the oldest film festival in North America; it is often called a Director’s Festival. Kutza will be passing the torch to Mimi Plauche as Artistic Director and VivianTeng as Managing Director.
Michael Kutza. (Photo by Connie Wilson)
Kutza’s illustrious 55-year career heading up the festival and Cinema Chicago and his contributions to film as a visionary helping advance the careers of so many luminaries in the industry will be celebrated on July 14th. He is being honored (Saturday, July 14th) with “Celebrating Michael,” an event that will take place beginning at 6 p.m. at Loews Hotel Chicago and will culminate in the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award to Kutza.
Chaz Ebert, one of the “Celebrate Michael”organizers. (Photo by Connie Wilson)
Exclusive items will be available for purchase at the Gala, including an autographed “Black Panther” movie poster, an autographed Special Edition “Star Wars” poster (one of only 25 in existence), a signed “Godfather” poster, and a guitar signed by Tom Petty, a trip to Naples, Florida and much, much more.
Michael Kutza with Michael Douglas at the 1997 Chicago International Film Festival. (Cinema/Chicago Archives).
Kutza has been a ubiquitous presence on the Chicago International Film Festival scene and he will remain affiliated with Cinema Chicago as Emeritus CEO. Over the course of his 55-year career he has received many awards, including the Chevalier de l’Order des Arts et des Lettres from French Minister of Culture Jacques Lang at Cannes in 1984, the Silver Lion Award at the 32nd Venice International Film Festival, the Chicago “Sun Times” award for “Exceptional Contribution to Chicago” and, in 2010, placement by “Chicago Magazine” on their list of the Top 40 Chicago Visionaries. Also weighing in with awards have been the President of the French Republic for Kutza’s achievements as “an internationally recognized graphic designer, filmmaker and the Founder of the Chicago International Film Festival” in June of 2015. In 2017 Kutza was awarded the Onorificenza di Cavalierato, the highest honor awarded to someone in the arts, bestowed by the President of the Italian Republic.
The list of those whose careers Kutza has fostered is long. A partial list would include Martin Scorsese, Rainer Werner Fassbender, Krzysztof Zanussi, Claude Lelouch, Wim Wenders, Margarethe von Trotta, Tsai Ming-liang, Mike Leigh, Michael Moore, Oliver Stone, John Carpenter, Joe Swanberg, and Taylor Hackford.
Clint Eastwood with Michael Kutza at the 38th Chicago International Film Festival. (Official Cinema/Chicago archives).
Among those who have attended the Chicago International Film Festival over the years, a partial list would include: Harold Lloyd, Bette Davis, Jack Lemmon, Vincent Minnelli, Sophia Loren, Jack Nicholson, Shirley Maclaine, Francois Truffaut, Director Spike Lee, Director Oliver Stone, Director Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Clint Eastood, Liv Ullmann, Dustin Hoffman, Will Farrell, Jodie Foster, Director Kevin Smith, Halle Berry, composer Howard Shore, Director Richard Zemeckis, Al Pacino, Clint Eastwood, Sidney Poitier, Helen Mirren, Director Claude LeLouche, Director Philip Kaufman, Jane Fonda, Chadwick Boseman, Vanessa Redgrave, John C. Reilly, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Director Guillermo del Toro, Director Danny Boyle, Director Peter Bogdanovich, Ed Burns, Alan Cumming, Robert Downey, Jr., Forest Whitaker, Director Steve McQueen, Writer/Director Charlie Kaufman, Sterling K. Brown, Geraldine Chaplin, Gary Cole, Colin Farrell, Jessica Chastain, Helen Hunt, Dennis Farino, Joan Allen,Directors Lilly and Lana Wachowski, Mark and Jay Duplass, Ron Perlman, and the director of “La La Land,” Damien Chazelle.
Said Executive Board Member Byron Pollack, “Michael has had a tremendous impact on the film industry world-wide as well as on the cultural vibrancy of Chicago.” Gala co-chair Candace Jordan said, “We are pulling out all the stops to make this the most spectacular Cinema/Chicago gala ever!”
For tickets to this event, call 312-683-0121, x108, or visit chicagofilmfestival.com. Tickets start at $500.
Just received word that my screenplay based on Book #1 of THE COLOR OF EVIL trilogy (series) has won another Los Angeles Screenplay competition, this time the L.A. EdgeFilm Awards. Having also just gone out to see “Hereditary” with Toni Collette, which I will review momentarily, I want to quote the June 18th issue of “Time” magazine which heralded “Hereditary” as “among the films forming the swell of a new wave in horror, pictures that are smart, subtle and artfully made.”
The article goes on to say that this is not to put down the “Saw” or “Halloween” more overtly horrific films of yesteryear, but that those who say they don’t “like” horror movies means “you have haven’t met the right one yet.”
SXSW proved this to be true with the smash opening of “A Quiet Place,” which, in Mexico, they described as “alien on a farm.” My interview with the two young writers of that film (Scott Beck and Bryan Woods)convinced me that I should go home and write a screenplay based on THE COLOR OF EVIL, which I did in 3 weeks, while reviewing SXSW.
My script (whose ending I reworked 3 separate times) was checked over by producer John Crye for content and looked over for formatting errors (up to page 57, anyway) by founder of the Chicago Screenwriting School and AFI Film School graduate Dan Decker and then off it went to many festivals, which are now weighing in on (yet another) horror film that taps into the zeitgest of the nation right now. It has won two, is a Finalist in several, and is running above a 75% acceptance rate. (Woot!)
We would like to thank you for participating in The LA Edge Film Awards. There were a.lot of great submissions. It was very difficult to choose this month, but we are now excited & proud to announce the winners for MAY 2018!
“Time” said of “Hereditary”, “It’s a movie about feeling small and inconsequential in the larger pattern of danger churning all around us.” Those who have been horror afficionados for years will remember that “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was often said to be a film about Communism and the cold war threat, although that was denied by the writer and director. Nevertheless, it was films like that one (which was remade several times to varying degrees of success) that captured the mood of the moment.
Whatever your opinion of it, horror is hot, right now.
If anyone out there is reading this: I’ve got literally hundreds of short stories that can be made into great onscreen movies, part of my 50+ year love affair with film and residing in such collections as “Hellfire & Damnation” (Books 1, 2 and 3) and “Ghostly Tales of Route 66.”.
I also wrote THE COLOR OF EVIL, 3 novels that follow a young boy with the paranormal power of Tetrachromatic Super Vision (a real thing, by the way) and put him in peril because others don’t understand that it isn’t necessarily a predictive power. By book three, when we’ve followed Tad (McGreevy) and Stevie (Scranton) and Jenny (SanGiovanni) and Janice (Kramer) through their junior and senior years of high school and on into adulthood, you’ll feel that you know them well.
Set in Cedar Falls, Iowa, in 2003-2005, the books are right in touch with today’s mania of the moment, and I hope those of you in a position to see for yourself check out the e-book boxed set (THE COLOR OF EVIL series by Connie Corcoran Wilson) and find out for yourselves.