Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books—-her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Movies Page 2 of 26

Trump Twitter Museum Is Launched at SXSW

As President Donald J. Trump continues to castigate a fallen war hero 7 months after his death, it seemed particularly timely to post the photos of the Presidential Twitter Library that Trevor Noah’s “The Daily Show” people put up at SXSW on the mezzanine of the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin.

There are counts of how many times DJT mentions President Obama; how many times he mentions various Fox News People (Greta Van Susteren won that one); how many times he mentions each of his children. (Tiffany snagged only 5 mentions, total).

There is the gold-plated toilet room—where you could have had your picture taken on the gold-plated throne.

And there were tweets—lots and lots of tweets.

Government by tweet. Insult by tweet. Etc., etc., etc.

 

 

 

 

Trevor Noah introducing visitors to the Trump Twitter Library on the mezzanine level of the Driskill Hotel during SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

“Pet Sematary” Re-Imagined at SXSW Premiere 30 Years After Its 1989 Predecessor

Jason Clarke and Jete Laurence, who plays his daughter Ellie Creed in “Pet Sematary” are interviewed on the Red Carpet for “Pet Sematary” at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

In the 1989 original  film“Pet Sematary” pets buried in a spooky backwoods cemetery come back to life. When a tragedy befalls a child of Louis and Rachel Creed (Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz), the lure of having their dead child returned to them by reburying the body in the Pet Sematary is too great to resist. [*Don’t watch the trailer if you don’t want to know one of the movie’s major plot twists in advance; it’s a “spoiler” moment].

As the plot for the Stephen King 1983 novel and the original film, (released almost exactly 30 years earlier to the day) put it: “With dreams of a better life, a young doctor, Louis Creed, and his family—wife Rachel, their 9-year-old daughter Ellie, and their 3-year-old toddler, Gage—move to their new home in the small rural town of Ludlow, Maine, alarmingly close to a busy highway.  However, when Rachel’s cherished tomcat, Church, is inadvertently killed in an awful accident, a desperate Louis will reluctantly take his friendly neighbor’s advice to bury it in an ancient Micmac graveyard—a mystical burial ground imbued with re-animating powers.  Despite the terrible results and insistent warnings, a tragedy-stricken Louis in the wake of the death of his child, goes back to the Indian cemetery, hoping that, this time, things will be different. But can the dead return from the grave?”

Despite the lure of having a loved one come back from the dead, the tag line for this movie is, “Sometimes, dead is better.”

Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer with John Lithgow, shooting “Pet Sematary.” (SXSW Photo).

There are changes in Matt Greenberg’s treatment of Stephen King’s original concept. As the directors told the audience, onstage, following the World Premiere as the closing film of SXSW, “I was a big fan of the original. You know it exists. It was an influence on us.  There were homages, but there comes a time when you have to start making your own film out of it.”

Jason Clarke had not seen the finished product until this night. He described himself as “very proud and very freaked out” and said, “I enjoyed the experience” commenting on the thrill of seeing a film at the theater in a large group. When Jete Laurence, who plays Ellie in the film, was asked if she found playing her part frightening, she answered, “It was really cool.  I wasn’t that scared because I was one of the scary ones.”

One audience questioner wanted to know why there wasn’t more gore shown in the child’s death scene. Answered the directors:  “You gotta’ be really specific about how you show blood.  With the child’s death, the horror is reflected in the looks on Jason’s and Amy’s faces.”

(L to R) Hugo and Lucas LaVoie, who play Gage Creed in “Pet Sematary.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Q:  How did the 3-year-old twins who played Gage (Hugo and Lucas Levoie) deal with the scary stuff?

A:  With them, it was all just playing—like it’s a game. They thought it was a game and had a great time.

Amy Seimetz remarked, “I think what’s interesting about this is that it’s a meditation on the source material.  We’re all gonna’ die, so we can all meditate on that.” She added, “Having been in a lot of genre films, it is everything I want in a genre film.”

The film respects the essence of the 1983 novel, but refreshes it for a new generation. As one of the directors said, “Let’s get under the skin of what’s happening with death.” The directors said they have heard that Stephen King appreciates it when other artists bring their own artistic visions into play and added, “It was validating to hear that he was a fan of the film.”

Jete Laurence (Ellie Creed), “Pet Sematary”, on Red Carpet in Austin. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Jete when asked if she had seen the original 1989 film version of “Pet Sematary,” said, “I think if I saw the original, I might not have as many creative ideas.”

THE GOOD

The mood of the piece is appropriately creepy. Music by Christopher Young is relied on heavily and it delivers.Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer seemed to know what they wanted to achieve; their previous film “Starry Eyes” (2014) was a bit of a Faustian rip-off, so refashioning an older tale is not new to them.

With actors as good as John Lithgow and Jason Clarke, you know that they will do a good job. The children are also up to the task.

One producer was asked about his fears when doing the remake, “Well, you know what they say about filming with children and animals. (laughter) Also, dogs train well. Cats—not so much. But we had such great child actors.”

That last statement was definitely true. Young Jete and the twins who played Gage did a great job, alongside three seasoned veterans (Clarke, Lithgow and Seinmetz). The cat from hell was appropriately diabolical, as well.

Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

The set that represented the pet cemetery was well done, although you really had to wonder how the actors could climb the wall of sticks and brambles that were supposed to keep the bad vibes in or out without injury.

The end of the piece will leave you pondering. There are film endings that provoke thought; this is one of them. What will become of this family? What will Louis Creed’s co-workers reaction be when he shows up for work at the clinic ? Or Ellie Creed’s fellow students at her elementary school? (Another film, perhaps? Maybe even a dark comedy?)

THE BAD

Amy Seimetz (Rachel Creed) and Jason Clarke (Louis Creed) at SXSW for “Pet Sematary.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

While the music was good, it might have been relied on  too heavily at times, to produce “jump” scares. You know the kind: the teenager is going to the basement or the attic. The adult is approaching a large wardrobe or closet or door and we are all waiting to find out what is behind the door.

The heavy fog was so thick that it made me think of the 1971 Academy Awards  when the theme from “Shaft” was played onstage as a nominated song and the performer singing it (Isaac Hayes) completely disappeared. There’s fog in low swampy places and then there’s Major League Fog, all the time, everywhere, as in this Pet Sematary. (*Odd thing I noticed in the film: when Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) types in Pet Cemetery to his computer, he misspells it–again— as Pet Cemetary. It’s all e’s all the time.)

Jason Clarke (Photo by Connie Wilson).

There was  a lot of graphic violence during the last one-half hour, as opposed to a relatively bloodless first two-thirds of the film. Audiences today may demand such graphic gore; I always admired the Hitchcock touch. Hitchcock gave the impression of a knife being used to dispatch Janet Leigh in “Psycho’s ” shower scene but, through clever cutting of the film, the knife never is really shown being plunged into the victim. A little less plunging and twisting is  fine by me.

I didn’t feel that there was anything excitingly original or new being shown us in this film, but the end result was a perfectly acceptable genre film, buoyed by the good performances of the cast.  Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, from the stage, sarcastically called the movie,  “The feel good movie of 2019.”

If this film were a baseball game, nobody would be saying it was “a home run.” But the movie was a good solid hit—at least a double—maybe even a triple. For me, the all-around superlative performances of every actor involved– child or adult—carried the film through familiar territory that we all have covered before, since the original film thirty years ago and the novel 36

Jason Clarke (Louis Creed), on the Red Carpet for “Pet Sematary” at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

years ago. The attempt(s) to secure a new “twist” or ending were successful, (although I kept wondering what Dr. Creed reporting for work the next day at the clinic would be like. Or Ellie Creed’s return to school. Maybe another movie?)

VERDICT

As genre horror movies go, this one is superior to most. It’s no “A Quiet Place,” but it’s good. It opens wide on April 5th.

 

 

 

 

 

“Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins:” Documentary on the Journalist at SXSW

(*Named an Audience Favorite Documentary at SXSW)

Documentary “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins” at SXSW. (SXSW Press Photo).

“Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins” showed at the Paramount Theater in Austin as part of SXSW. It premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January. Director Janice Engel has culled footage of the legendary Texas wit and journalist to entertain and inform us of her skill as a humorous columnist, a talent which was often compared to that of Mark Twain.

Ivins’ column was carried by 400 newspapers through syndication at the time of her death from cancer in 2007. Ivins, the former co-editor of the Texas Observer, who also put in time at the esteemed New York Times, was known for calling George W. Bush “Shrub” and telling her public that Dan Quayle was so stupid that if his brain were transplanted into a bumblebee, the bee would probably fly backward.

She wrote about Texas politics and Texas politicians and was a close friend of famous Texas Governor Ann Richards. Ivins once described a particular politician as having an I.Q. so low, “if it gets any lower we’ll have to water him twice a day.”

Ivins grew up in River Oaks, went to St. John’s and was a child of Texas oil and gas privilege. Much of her character was formed in conflicts with her strait-laced Republican father, who was known as General Jim or Admiral Jim because of his stern authoritarianism.

Ivins enrolled in Scripps College in 1962 but was not happy there, and transferred to Smith College in 1963. She became romantically involved with Henry “Hank” Holland, Jr., a family friend and student at Yale whom she later referred to as “the love of my life”. After he was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1964, her friends said that she never seemed to find anyone else who could replace him. They suggested it was why she never married. She spent her junior year at the Institute of Political Science in Paris and received her B.A. in history in 1966, earning a master’s degree from Columbia University‘s School of Journalism in 1967.

Her first job after college was with the Minneapolis Tribune.  Molly Ivins became the first female police reporter at the paper. Ivins joined the Texas Observer in the early 1970s and later moved to The New York Times. The New York Times was not a good fit and Ivins moved back to Texas, becoming a columnist for the Dallas Times Herald in the eighties and then the Fort Worth Star-Telegram when the Times Herald was sold and shuttered. The column was subsequently syndicated by Creators Syndicate and carried by hundreds of newspapers nationwide.

The new documentary contains footage from Ivins’ numerous appearances on television, but also interviews with many of her longtime friends and acquaintances. Her witticisms are front-and-center, as when she said, “I’m not anti-gun; I’m pro-knife” or “You got to have fun while you’re fighting for freedom, ‘cause you don’t always win.”

Janice Engel, Director of “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins” at SXSW. (SXSW Press Photo).

Director Engel told interviewer Charles Ealy in an Austin American Statesman piece: “She’s not only a prophet; she’s the voice of now. She is more relevant today than she probably was when she was alive.”

The struggles of Ivins to go it alone in what was then substantially a man’s world and to overcome alcoholism and cancer are part of this engrossing documentary. As Ivins herself said of her fierce battle against cancer: “Having breast cancer is massive amounts of no fun. First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that.”

This one is both poignant and hilarious at the same time, and well worth a watch.

Olivia Colman in “Them That Follow” Is Snake-Handling Pentecostal in Appalachia

 

Alice Englert, 25-year-old lead of “Them That Follow.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

 

“Them That Follow,” from Directors Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage, is described in the SXSW program this way:  “Set deep in the wilds of Appalachia, where believers handle death-dealing snakes to prove themselves before God, “Them That Follow” tells the story of a pastor’s daughter who holds a secret that threatens to tear her community apart.”

The film benefited mightily from superb casting, scoring Olivia Colman, fresh off her Oscar win for “The Favourite,” and the always charismatic Walton Goggins, previously known for playing Boyd Crowder in 74 episodes of “Justified” between 2010 and 2015. “Them That Follow” has just been selected by the Chicago Critics Film Festival as one of the first seven films to be shown at its film festival slated for May 17-23 at the historic Music Box Theater.

(L to R) Kaitlyn Dever, Thomas Mann and Alice Englert, who are Dilly, Augie and Mara in “Them That Follow” at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Walton Goggins’ preacher, Lemuel, is “in” to snake handling and his young daughter is an ardent follower of his church. However, she has fallen in love with Augie (Thomas Mann), son of Olivia Colman’s storekeeper and ardent church-going woman of the Pentecostal faith.

Olivia’s husband is played by Jim Gaffigan as Zeke. It is certainly true that  comedian Gaffigan must be one of the most ubiquitous actors working, as he also turned up in “The Day Shall Come” at this year’s festival and at “You Can’t Choose Your Family” at last year’s SXSW. I have to admit that I hadn’t really ever thought of Olivia Colman and Jim Gaffigan as man and wife, but they give it their all.

The fanatical preacher (Walton Goggins) has no pesky wife to interfere in his stewardship of his daughter Mara (Alice Englert), but Mara has a best friend, Dilly (Kaitlyn Dever), who brings new meaning to that old cliché, “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”

Thomas Mann (Augie) and Alice Englert (Mara) are the young lovers of “Them That Follow” at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Mara’s proposed marrying off to Garret (Lewis Pullman), despite her unprofessed love for the unbeliever Augie, is what sets the plot in motion. As you can imagine, there are many scenes of snake handling and tests of faith when Lemuel (Walton Goggins) learns that Mara is pregnant and, relying on the Bible (“Woman—Eve—is the first sinner and she must be cleansed!”) subjects Mara to a test of faith and a cleansing by way of the poisonous rattlesnakes the Congregation uses in its worship services.

Lead actress Alice Englert, the 25-year-old Australian-born Mara in the film, and  directors Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage provided much insight into the film and its origins in the Q&A that followed its showing.  Said Poulton, “I’ve had a lifelong fascination with Pentecostal evangelism and snake handling.  I felt an incredible sense of urgency.  This was an attempt to take audiences on a journey of empathy and understanding. I grew up in a religious family in The Church of Latter Day Saints. It wasn’t easy for me to discover me.  As you take steps towards your own identity, the pressure on you is intense.  How do you, in this world, reconcile faith and coming of age and coming into your own self?  I was fascinated by the YouTube videos of snake handling. I was bitten (laughter from the audience). It was electrifying to me.”

L to R) Dan Madison Savage (Director); Kaitlyn Deaver (Dilly); Thomas Mann (Augie); Alice Englert (Mara) and Britt Poulton (Director) of “Them That Follow.”

This was the duo’s first feature film and they were asked, “What was it like to have such a great cast?”

A:  “It’s a miracle. Such a gift.  We leaned on them so much.  We were so lucky to have this experience with them. The friendships forged in the woods were so incredible.  That is why I think the families feel so real.”

An audience member asked the directors this question. Q:  “It’s almost like a horror movie.  Did you want to take it to this extreme level?”

The answer from the directors was, “We wanted to show some of the consequences of this kind of extreme faith.  They’re really wrestling with the conflict between the faith and the extraordinary stakes of their lives. These are people making choices that put their lives on the line.”

A second audience question about music listened to by the actors as they prepared went nowhere, but the film’s Mara shared that she did a great deal of research, as she was from Australia and all of this was new to her. She read “Salvation on Sand Mountain” by Daniel Covington about a journalist who got deeply involved in the practice of snake-handling and, also, “Hillbilly Elegy.”

Said Alice, to audience laughter, “I’m from Australia. I had to do some homework.”

The cast did share that the rattlers are not REAL rattlesnakes (“Those snakes were friendly. Stumpy was a delight.”) but relatively harmless snakes who have, over the years, changed their appearance to mimic the dangerous rattlers for protective camouflage purposes.  The cast also worked with a dialect coach, Judy Dickinson.

See it. It’s good, and well worth the investment of time and money.

“Bluebird” Is SXSW Documentary about Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe Launching Pad to Songwriting Stardom

Director Brian Loschiavo of “Bluebird.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

“Bluebird” premiered at SXSW on Thursday, March 14th, with Director Brian Loschiavo and many of the crew in attendance, including the now-retired owner of the 1,000 foot café in Nashville on 16th Avenue, Amy Kurland. Director Brian Loschiavo, a Philadelphia film school graduate, spent 10 years in Los Angeles as a freelance screenwriter and Senior Producer with Disney, ABC, and other TV networks, until signing up to be involved in the show “Nashville,” which made him into a believer. He moved to Nashville permanently and was soon tapped to film this documentary about the Bluebird Café.

The Bluebird is a small café in Music City that helps provide a place for songwriters to perform their songs and has launched the careers of megastars like Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift and Faith Hill. Other well-known names (Trisha Yearwood, Maren Morris, Vince Gill, Jason Isabell, Steve Earle, Connie Britton, Charles Esten) appear, but the magic of the place is that the unknowns behind famous songs—those who actually wrote the words and lyrics—have a place where they can perform and become known for their talent.

Amy Kurland, founder with daughter Barbara of the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

As Thom Schayler called it, “The Bluebird is a place to come and be found.” Owner and founder Amy Kurland, with her daughter Barbara, did not originally intend for the Bluebird to be a music venue. It opened in 1982, not in mid-town, not in downtown, but in a strip mall next to a beauty shop and a dry cleaners, featuring all kinds of music.

Owner Amy described it, originally, as “A place for women to come to eat after they had their hair done. Minnie Pearl came to eat at the Bluebirt after she had her hair done.” She added, “When we first opened, it was all kinds of music,” and shared that they would sometimes put on the Talking Heads at max volume to drive out those lingering over a late lunch.

Said Amy, “The goal was to hear not a star, but a great songwriter.” Over time, the proscenium stage gave way to playing in the round in the center of the small room. Thom Schuyler described it as “The most fun I ever had with my clothes on.”

Brian Loschiavo of “Bluebird.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Snippets of the greatest Nashville songwriters of the day are heard, performed in some cases by the artists who made them famous, but more often by the songwriters who initially poured their heart and soul into the song to create the piece. Over the years, the Bluebird became known as a place to give aspiring songwriters a chance. Said one veteran: “They nurture the songwriter as an artist. I learned in that room that being a songwriter is a legitimate job.  Sometimes the performance by the writer of the song is more intimate than the famous version.”

With Open Mike on Monday nights, 60 singer/songwriters audition on Sunday night. Garth Brooks was one such aspiring singer/songwriter who had been turned down by every major label but was discovered by someone in the audience at the Bluebird. Taylor Swift was another who joined forces with her manager in that space, as he was just starting out with his own label and she was an 8th grade songwriter from Pennsylvania. (*Full disclosure: my daughter, a music business graduate of Belmont in Nashville, worked for Taylor Swift for 2 years.)

After the screening, talent producer Shawna Strasberg, who had to line up all the famous folk to appear, said that it “took six months to a year to figure out Taylor Swift’s schedule.” She added that most artists said yes “because it was the Bluebird.”

Props were also given to the elaborate set recreating the interior of the Bluebird, built for the TV show “Nashville,” which has popularized the place. The goal was to make you feel like you were in the room. Previously, as one cameraman said, “The opening scene was shot under a table, through someone’s legs with a handheld camera the whole time. It’s a challenge to shoot music.”

Founder and former owner Amy Kurland, who was present the night of the premiere, described herself as someone who grew up on Broadway musicals. She was so dedicated to having the Bluebird remain a place for up-and-coming songwriters to potentially get their shot that she signed over the café to the NSAI Nashville Music Association to make sure that it remains a launching pad for talent now that she has retired.

She looked back over her time since 1982 and said, “Those first few years I knew we were legitimate when Don Everley agreed to come play there.” Given a standing ovation by the appreciative crowd, Amy said, “I didn’t take a salary for a long time. If you’re in it to make a killing, I’d have been better off with a sports bar” to laughter.

It was the success of the TV show “Nashville” that took the struggling café from break-even to money-maker. Now, large crowds gather outside and, while approximately one-third of the café’s revenue comes from merchandise sold, there are routinely 200 to 300 people in the parking lot seeking entry to the small 90-seat venue. (A $25 cover charge is mentioned by the doorman at one point.)

“Bluebird” musicians close out the March 15th World Premiere showing at the Paramount Theater at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Director Brian Loschiavo acknowledged during the Q&A that “The hardest decision, hands down and a great challenge, was that we had to be stewards of the story.  A lot of cutting room stuff we had to lose.” With former owner Amy Kurland smiling and saying, “I really didn’t expect it to be so lively. I’m so grateful” a six-piece band onstage serenaded us as we departed.

Truly a heart-warming, entertaining, and informative film—especially if you dream of becoming a songwriter and wonder how to go about getting your big break in Music City (Nashville).

“Sunset Over Mulholland Drive” @ SXSW Proves You’re Never Too Old to Be Creative

“Sunset Over Mulholland Drive” is a behind-the-scenes look into the Motion Picture and Television Relief Fund’s Hollywood retirement home and grounds. The piece was a German entry into the documentary spotlight at SXSW, directed by Uli Gaulke with writing assistance from Marc Pitzke. It was produced by Helge Albers. When I failed to gain entrance to “Us” (Express passes at SXSW went in 9 seconds!) this 97-minute documentary having its North American Premiere here was Plan B.

A look at the retirement community that is home to many of Hollywood’s former leading men and women sounded like it would be right up my alley. Director Gaulke admitted, in the Q&A after the film, that he was thinking about himself when he decided to make the film after he read an article about the motion picture retirement community in California. And now the documentary has had its North American premiere at SXSW. He had hit a bad patch, endured a divorce, and he was hitting mid-life.

The odd thing about the entire project is that it was made by Germans. (What’s up with that?) Uli read the article, contacted the home and, roughly 4 years and 70 to 80 hours of material later, after shooting for a year with 6 people traveling between Berlin and Hollywood,  it premiered here at SXSW. The film inspired the director who said, “They were very open to telling me their stories.  Then I found Jerry (Selby Kaufman), my favorite…They were not only thinking of their own past, but the most important part was to follow them and to see that they can be creative when they are old.”

[Whew! THAT was a load off my mind!]

(L to R) Producer Helge Albers and Director Uli Gaulke of “Sunset Over Mulholland Drive” at the North American Premiere in Austin, Texas at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

The Q&A after the film was delightful because, besides speaking excellent English, Uli would punctuate his remarks at key points with a “Ya?” that was reminiscent  of “Fargo.”

Uli said, “I always learn something. For me, personally, in my mid forties and fifties, I was glad to learn that life becomes a little more interesting, but that it is a continuation and that stamina is the key.” He added, “The challenge was getting them (the residents) to be working together and that was where the UCLA scriptwriting class helped.”

This reference was to a creative writing class that asked the residents to think of Ilsa and Rick from “Casablanca” and what they might be like if they met again twenty years in the future. This brought out a veritable plethora of ideas from the creative community. We also see the residents shooting a short film directed by Jerry (a former director) that is called “Santa for All Seasons,” where Santa’s close friends and wife and co-workers talk about him frankly.

One of my very favorite anecdotes in the film was provided by Joe Rosen, who became an apprentice film editor in 1957. He had a meeting with then-studio head Jack Warner and, during the course of their conversation, the subject turned to which actor should play a serious part then up for casting. Although Jason Robards was available, Jack Warner wanted to cast Troy Donahue, instead, causing Joe to say, “You have to be incompetent to make a statement like that!”

Joe Rosen was subsequently banned from the studio grounds.

(R) Director Uli Gaulke of Berlin, Germany, at the North American Premiere of “Sunset Over Mulholland Drive” at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

We hear Wright King, now 94, telling us that he had wanted to be an actor since the age of 6 and that he once looked at Vivian Leigh onscreen in “Gone with the Wind” and said, “Some day I’m gonna’ kiss her onscreen.” And he did, in “On the Waterfront,” which we see in a brief film clip.

There is the charming older couple (married 62 years), Joel and Deborah Rogosin. Deborah is legally blind and Joel is obviously devoted to her, but he talks non-stop and she largely ignores him. One of the most touching moments in the film is when Joel sings “Always” to his bride: “Days may not be fair always. But I’ll be loving you always. Not for just an hour. Not for just a day. Not for just a year, but always.”

Joel finishes up that lovely serenade by saying, “I forget.  Did you use the word ‘obey’ in our marriage ceremony?”  Deborah responds that she most certainly did not, and Joel says, “Well, that accounts for it!” A gifted writer, Joel and Deborah have been working on a book together for most of their 62 years of marriage, entitled “How to Stay Married Without Killing Each Other.” They bicker over the title and the contents of each chapter. At one point, as they remember a long-ago romantic dance in the rain when they were young, Joel writes: “I wish that special glistening rain would fall and make us young and beautiful again.”

The entire documentary was delightful and charming. In retrospect, I’m glad I saw it instead of “Us,” (which opens wide soon.)

I highly recommend this stroll down memory lane in “Sunset Over Mulholland Drive.”

Celebrities Hit the Red Carpet for “The Beach Bum” at SXSW in Austin, TX

Isla Fisher at the premiere of “The Beach Bum” at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Jimmy Buffett at the premiere of “The Beach Bum” in Austin, Texas, at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Star of “The Beach Bum” Matthew McConaughey with wife Camille and his mother on the Red Carpet at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Jimmy Buffett and Martin Lawrence at the Red Carpet for “The Beach Bum” at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Harmony Korine, Director of “The Beach Bum” on the Red Carpet at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

While the flow of movie stars to SXSW continues, the Red Carpet opportunities seem fewer than in previous years.

Nevertheless, there have been some names showing up and here are a few of the celebrities who walked the red carpet for “The Beach Bum.”

Much of the action this year seems to be in the Convention Center for panels involving politicians who all seem to have a goal of running for President in 2020.

Here’s a rogue’s gallery of a few famous faces that have appeared for films like “The Beach Bum” (Matthew McConaughey, Jimmy Buffett, Martin Lawrence).

And then there was Scott Rogowsky for H.Q. trivia “live,” for the first-time ever.  Camp Sandy in the Hill Country pitched us with a free Uber ride, a free Turtle Car Wax if you drove your own car, and Music in the Van. (I went out to Camp Sandy for Low Cut Connie and Wyclef Jean, but the other Connie had lost his voice singing outside in the rain. He performs again for free on Friday night outside in downtown  Austin.)

“Lowland Kids” Attests to the Effects of Global Warming: World’s First Climate Change Refugees

Director Sandra Winther. (SXSW Photo).

“Lowland Kids,” a documentary short showing at SXSW directed by Sandra Winther and beautifully shot by Director of Photography Todd Martin tells the story of America’s first climate change refugees.

Brother and sister Juliette and Howard Brunet are being raised by their Uncle Chris Brunet, who is handicapped and confined to a wheelchair. The parents of the teen-agers apparently died from drug addiction, although Howard, when asked, says, “I don’t want to talk about that.”

The two siblings and their Uncle Chris live on Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana and, as Chris explains their predicament after 3 generations of living on the island, their island is losing one football field of earth every hour because of the oil and gas company building canals and due to natural disasters. The rising water is going to take over the island, the lowlands, and, as Uncle Chris says, “This is home. You really can’t get that again.”

The government has pledged to build houses to relocate the entire lowland island because, “The ground is sinking.  You’re looking at mass relocation.” When asked how they feel about moving in questions like, “What are you gonna’ miss about this place?” Chris answers “Everything, Man!” It is clear that the teen-agers feel the same way. Explains Chris, “That’s just it. It’s the simplicity.”

While the house they live in is not much, the scenery is gorgeous with beautiful sunsets and trips by boat to hunt alligators. The young people spend a lot of time driving all-terrain vehicles around the lush and isolated grounds and Howard says, “Moving off the island is gonna’ change a lot. Nobody really wants to lose their hometown.”

Howard shares that he is an aspiring football player and adds, “If you’re good at it, you shouldn’t just waste your time.” He hopes to get a college scholarship to help him go to a college or university in the future. He is shown watching a Saints/Vikings showdown on his cell phone and practicing his throwing.

Juliette shares that, “The person I respect the most is Uncle Chris…in a wheelchair and raising two teenagers.” She seems to have made her peace with the deaths of her parents, saying she doesn’t need a female role model because, “They died for a reason. To me, it’s cool.” The only hint that the loss of their biological parents really isn’t so “cool” for them comes from a family friend, Mike, who talks about her brother Howard being “in a bad way” at one point, but all of them rallying to care for the orphaned children.

The place and its loss is front and center, with gorgeous cinematography and comments like,”They say there’s not too much here. That’s the thing—it’s just implicit.”

There are so many unanswered questions in the short (approximately half an hour) documentary: What happened that confined Uncle Chris to a wheelchair? Is Uncle Chris their true, biological uncle, or is that an honorary title? What do Chris (and, for that matter, Mike) do to earn money to live?  How do the Brunets get around the lowland island and, for that matter, off the island, when the comment is made that floods frequently shut off the ability to get to the mainland? How much is the relocation of 180 to 200 families going to cost the government or the families affected? Are the oil and gas companies that Chris says are responsible in large part for this erosion going to pay for some or all of the moves that are supposed to take place by 2022?

See this one for the beautiful shots of the Watery Island lowland paradise of which Uncle Chris says, “I would like to find a place like this with good friends and family…Home, you really can’t get that again.”

“The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story” Premiering on Wednesday, March 13th at SXSW

“The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story”: in the good old days. (Photo used by permission of YouTube, Pilgrim Productions & Lance Bass Productions)

The Boy Ban Con: The Lou Pearlman Story is a You Tube Original documentary, presented by Pilgrim Media in conjunction with Lance Bass Productions.  It premieres at SXSW on Wednesday, March 13th, 2019 at 3 p.m. at the Paramount Theater.

Lance Bass is onscreen discussing Pearlman’s defrauding of the boy bands he formed, as is Bass’ mother and Justin Timberlake’s mother and several members of the boy bands N’Sync and The Back Street Boys, including A.J. McLean, Ashley Parker Angel, Chris Kirkpatrick, J.C. Chasez, Johnny Wright, Lynn Harless (Timberlake’s Mom), Aaron Carter, Nikki DeLoach and Diane Bass (Lance Bass’ Mom). Justin Timberlake does not appear in the film, except in old footage. Director Aaron Kunkel paints a picture of a very bright, but very dishonest man.

Pearlman used falsified Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, AIG and Lloyd’s of London documents to win investors’ confidence in his “Employee Investment Savings Account” program. He used fake financial statements created by the fictitious accounting firm Cohen and Siegel to secure bank loans for his Airship Enterprises, Ltd. (Essentially, an airline without any planes). Trans Continental Records followed. The Backstreet Boys became the best-selling boy band of all time, with record sales of 130 million, hitting gold, platinum, and diamond in 45 different countries. Pearlman  then repeated this formula almost exactly with the band *NSYNC, which sold over 70 million records globally.

Lou Pearlman is presented as a consummate ponzi scheme artist, with little emphasis in this documentary on the pedophile claims that came to light later, revealed in a Vanity Fair article, “Mad About the Boys” by Bryan Burrough (August 21, 2016.)

Pearlman died in prison 3 days before the article appeared, but he had denied such accusations of sexual impropriety in a 2014 Hollywood Reporter interview from prison. Pearlman’s death was caused by surgery to replace a heart valve, which he had undergone a week before his death. He developed an infection of the lining of the heart valve.

Defrauding people of over half a billion dollars through various schemes is what sent Pearlman to jail for 25 years, where he died at 62 on August 19, 2016. His tentative release date from prison would have been 2029.

The judge offered Pearlman one month off each year of his 25-year sentence for every million dollars recovered, but only $38 million dollars was ever recovered, most of it from the sale of Church Street Station, a historic train station in the heart of Orlando which Pearlman had purchased in 2002. That sale, alone, recouped $34 million.

Here, with Lance Bass shepherding this 99 minute project as Executive Producer and one of the principal talking heads exploring the Lou Pearlman phenomenon, the documentary is focused almost exclusively on how an overweight, relatively friendless man started two boy bands between 1993 and 2006. Other less successful bands followed.  (Pearlman even asked the Judge, after his sentencing, to allow him Internet access from prison so that he could continue to manage. The judge declined).

After viewing “Finding Neverland” the idea of a rich, powerful and/or famous man in a position to advance the career(s) of young talent(s), causing naïve and gullible young people to be victimized, is not difficult to believe. It has occurred many, many times. Hollywood coined the term “the casting couch” for the promises made to innocent young actresses.

Lou Pearlman had been custom-fitting airplanes for famous bands to travel and became aware of the tremendous amounts of money these artists were making. He immediately set his sights on forming such a band and becoming a promoter.

The way in which he got the seed money to be able to underwrite expenses for the venture is pure Lou Pearlman: he defrauded an insurance company of $3 million by insuring a blimp he bought for $10,000. Pearlman painted the blimp gold to be used as advertising for Jordache. McDonald’s was another signed advertiser.

When the blimp crashed, Lou had his seed money; he used it to audition a $3 million-dollar talent search and form the boy bands that were then supplanting the Seattle grunge scene as those bands (think Kurt Cobain in “Nirvana”) fell victim to their own successes.

The members of the Back Street Boys and NSync fell victim to Lou Pearlman presenting himself as a paternal father figure, but also insisting that he was “the sixth member of the band”( much like Billy Preston was once dubbed “the Fifth Beatle.”) In Lou’s case, this meant a monetary cut equivalent to the young men who were practicing their dance moves 16 hours a day, but also cuts as the producer, marketer, etc. Lou Pearlman was triple-dipping. Pearlman presented the boys with a lavish party house for them to “bond” in and paid for the recording studios and, also, for lavish meals in eateries like Lawries.

The climax of the film seems to come when all of the boys are invited to such a dinner and told to bring their parents. It is far into the group’s success; they are pulling down millions. An envelope appears on each boy’s plate. They can only dream of the riches they now will receive for their hard work, since the per diem allowance to date has only been $35 a day, plus their comped food and living expenses.

When the checks were for only $10,000, Lance Bass says he went home and tore his up.

Lawsuits ensued, with the boy bands finding out that the contract(s) they had signed were very very good for Lou Pearlman but very very bad for them.

Then Lou went a step further and ultimately defrauded investors in Trans Continental Airways of half a billion dollars, of which only $38 million was ever recovered. Over two hundred investors lost all of their money. Some are interviewed in the film. Most are elderly couples who could not afford to lose their only inheritance.

Lou’s sole childhood friend, Alan Gross, had been a model plane assembler as a hobby. Pearlman took one such plane, painted a logo on the side of the model, and held it up with his hand against a backdrop of mountains to make it appear that he had an airline, Trans Continental. He didn’t.

Ultimately, Lou Pearlman died in disgrace at age 62 on August 19, 2016.

Has James P. Allison Found the Cure for Cancer? The Nobel Prize Committee Awards University of Texas Researcher the 2018 Prize for Medicine

James P. Allison

James P. Allison

     [Nobel Media Phot0]

James P. Allison of Alice, Texas, was inspired to try to develop a cure for cancer when he was eleven years old in 1959. That year, Jim’s mother died of lymphoma. As the years went by, one brother died of prostate cancer and one developed metastatic melanoma. Jim, himself, has faced down cancer three times, so far, in his seventy-one years.

BACKGROUND

Said Jim of his life’s work and ambition:  “If you’re gonna’ do these things, you oughta’ at least do things that help people.” He thought back to his own childhood and reminisced, “They thought I was a troublemaker. I just knew I was right…If you disagree with someone or something, you just have to stand your ground.” When he finally found a way to put his discovery into drug form, it took many years spent overcoming “all kinds of things that stood in the way.”

Young Jim’s father traveled frequently, so he often spent time with another family that had a son about his own age after his mother’s death and, always, he played the harmonica and relied on music to release some of the pain and the pressure in his life. His friendship with Willie Nelson is illustrated, with an appearance onstage at Austin City alongside his musical idol.

After graduating from high school at the tender age of 16 in 1965, Jim went on to become a researcher in the field of immunology—using the body’s own defense system to cure cancer tumors. It was for his discovery of a drug dubbed Ipilimumab or Ipi (known commercially as Yervoy) that he was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Stockholm for medicine or physiology.

BREAKTHROUGH, THE DOCUMENTARY

Director Bill Haney, winner of a Silver Hugo, the Gabriel Prize, short-listed for an Oscar, and winner of accolades from Marine Conservation, Genesis, Amnesty International and Earthwatch weaves an engrossing tale around Allison’s achievements, narrated by Hollywood’s Woody Harrelson. He inserts scenes of James Harrelson with his wife and son alongside the expert testimony of some of the other leading researchers in the field, including the University of Chicago’s Jeffrey Bluestone, whose own discovery challenged Ipi in the field at the time.

Another effective visual method for the audience was to find the dramatic patient—the one whose participation in the clinical trials for Ipi saved her life. That patient was Sharon Belvin, who was diagnosed with terminal melanoma at the age of 22. With metastatic melanoma, she was told she would not live more than 7 months. As we see in the film, Sharon has not only lived decades beyond her original diagnosis, she has been completely tumor-free since receiving Ipi, is married, and has two children.

We even get to have a happy ending of James Allison “getting the girl,” in this case, prominent fellow researcher Dr. Padmanee Sharma, whom he married after his marriage to wife Malinda fell victim to his work.

THE STORY

Jim struggles throughout to make it clear that Ipi is NOT an anti-cancer drug. It all started with the belief that the immune system played an important role in responding to cancer and that the T cells of the immune system needed to be studied. “I really wanted to understand T cells and the immune system,” James Allison says. Tyler Jacks, a fellow scientist, tells us: “Jim doesn’t care that he is not following convention. He’s an iconoclast. They are always thinking beyond the work. They’re creative people.” Jim felt that tumors caused T-cell receptors to turn off the immune system, but if you inserted an antibody, then the T-cells would be free to attack the tumor. His experiments with mice were amazing as the mice that had received the antibodies just before Christmas became tumor-free.

But now the real work began.

OBSTACLES TO OVERCOME

Jim spent ten years trying to get his discovery of the antibody that would turn the immune system into a fighting force against tumors made into a drug for cancer patients like Sharon Belvin. He had written his first paper (“Enhancement of Anti Tumor Immunology by CTLA-4”) in 1996, but things went South fast.

Interferon 2 was in the news then, but it took “two years and nobody would listen.” This is the period of time when Jim’s brother, Mike, was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer in his fifties. Two of Jim’s uncles had also died of cancer. Jim’s urgency escalated. But clinical trials take deep pockets; no big pharma firms wanted to shell out for them. If a drug is deemed safe in Phase 1, it goes on to Phases 2 and 3. As one fellow researcher said on camera, “Mainstream medicine was ignoring the immunology crowd. And pharmaceutical companies don’t know if something is promising or deadly.”

James’ P. Allison’s drug, known commercially as Yervoy, became the first to extend the survival of patients with late-stage melanoma. Follow-up studies show 20 percent of those treated live for at least three years with many living beyond 10 years— unprecedented results. Additional research has extended this approach to new immune regulatory targets with drugs approved to treat certain types and stages of melanoma, lung, kidney, bladder, gastric, liver, cervical, colo-rectal cancer, and head and neck cancers as well as Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The documentary premiered at SXSW on March 9th. If you have a close friend or loved one affected by cancer (and who doesn’t?) you should see this one.

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