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: News (Page 2 of 8)

Opening Night of the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival on Oct. 13th


Claude LeLouch with interpreter.

Claude LeLouch with interpreter.

Now that I have your attention, may I mention that the lovely creature featured in the tribute above is the co-author of French director Claude LeLouch’s (2015) film “Un & Une?” You may recognize Valerie Perrine from her Oscar-nominated role as Honey Bruce, wife of Lenny Bruce, in the 1974 film “Lenny” or any of her many other film roles. She accompanied LeLouch to the opening night and is a lovely and vibrant 73-year-old (LeLouch is 79).

Damien Chazelle, Writer/Director of "La La Land" and "Whiplash."

Damien Chazelle, Writer/Director of “La La Land” and “Whiplash.”

The current hot director who attended the Opening Night of his film was Damien Chazelle, whose musical “La La Land” has been well-received virtually everywhere it has screened. In Venice, on August 31st, the opening sequence on a Los Angeles freeway received a standing ovation. Since then, the film has opened to kudos at Telluride and Toronto and Emma Stone won the Best Actress award for her role (She is being prominently mentioned as a Best Actress Oscar contender). The chemistry that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone displayed in “Crazy, Stupid Love” (he told her his signature move was the lift from “Dirty Dancing”) remains.

Michael Rooker

Michael Rooker

Another classic flick brought back to life for the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival was “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”, an indie film directed by John McNaughton and starring Michael Rooker. The film premiered in Chicago in 1986 and has achieved cult status over the intervening 30 years. Rooker, himself, now 60, has gone on to appear in such films as “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Days of Thunder” (1990), “The Bone Collector,” and as Merle in television’s “The Walking Dead.”

When McNaughton was asked his advice for aspiring filmmakers who want to make an independent film he said, “Ill give them the same advice my father gave me: become a dentist.”

Rosemarie DeWitt of "La La Land."

Rosemarie DeWitt of “La La Land.”

In addition to Writer/Director Chazelle of “La La Land”, actress Rosemarie DeWitt, who plays Gosling’s older sister in the film, came to Chicago and her comments to me about the film were, “I think Damien made something very beautiful and very fresh that is going to make you very happy and maybe even make you cry.”

Why Won’t Donald Trump Release His Tax Returns?

Why Won’t Trump Release His Tax Returns?

For the first time in modern history, a candidate running for President on a major party ticket is not releasing his tax returns.

Why not?

The 6 best guesses are courtesy of Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, one of 3 news outlets (the New York Times and the Des Moines Register being the other two) that Donald Trump has recently banned from covering his campaign for various slights or offenses he doesn’t like (it doesn’t take much when you’re as thin-skinned as Donald Trump):

1) The Donald may have Russian business ties.

2) Donald Trump did not pay any taxes at all for 2 years in the seventies. Speculation is rampant that he has not paid his fair share of taxes since then. A 1981 report by New Jersey gambling regulators showed that Trump did not pay any taxes for 2 years in the seventies because he reported negative income—which brings us to number 3.

3) Trump may not be as rich as he claims. He once said he was worth $10 biliion. Others have said he is worth $3 billion. Still others insist he is worth far less than either of those numbers. Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York City, is not impressed with Trump’s wealth, saying he is a con man at the DNC.

4) Trump may donate very little to charity, despite claims to the contrary. I’m sure we all remember when he skipped a debate in Iowa to raise money for veterans, but then didn’t donate the money until newspapers tracked down whether he had actually raised and donated as much ($6 million) as he claimed. The tracking down forced Trump to make good on a campaign promise to chip in a large amount of his own and made us aware that the $6 million was actually only $5.6 until the research outed the entire process and showed that he had not put in his contribution until the day after the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold printed the true story. Farenthold also found that his charitable giving to that point was less than $10,000.

5) He is being audited. This is pure bunk. Richard Nixon released his taxes while being audited in 1973. My husband ran 2 H&R Block locations and says there is no reason that an audit should prevent him from releasing his tax returns, which many others have confirmed.

6) Trump may have Mob ties. This idea has circulated for years. Ted Cruz on “Meet the Press” said, “There have been multiple media reports about Donald’s business dealings with the job, with the mafia. Maybe his taxes show those business dealings are a lot more extensive than has been reported.” (Of course, Trump claimed that Cruz’ father was somehow complicit in the assassinaton of JFK, so…..

In other breaking non-tax-return news, Melania Trump’s website that claimed she earned an architecture degree before becoming a model (she didn’t) has been taken down.

Paperback “Goodreads” Giveaway Ends in 8 hours

I’m giving away 5 autographed copies of “Obama’s Odyssey, Volume I” through Goodreads, to end tonight at midnight (May 28th). I’ve been mentioning it on the national radio tour I’m on, which will continue on June 1st and June 2nd.

If you don’t mind reading the book as an e-book, on those 2 dates you’ll be able to get an E-book copy of Volume II FREE and a copy of Volume for 99 cents, in conjunction with the radio tour, so that is $30 of paperback books in e-book (Kindle) format for under a $1. (Sweet)

Also, I’ll be at the IWPA (Illinois Women’s Press Association) tent from 10 to 2 on the first day (Saturday, June 11th) of Printers’ Row and from 2 to 6 on Sunday, June 12th. Stop by and pick up the nonfiction or fiction books (30 at last count) for special pricing and have them autographed.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Obama's Odyssey by Connie Corcoran Wilson

Obama's Odyssey

by Connie Corcoran Wilson

Giveaway ends May 28, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Specific Times & Stations for Radio Tour

It was pointed out to me that potential listeners would not know, from my previous post, what station to tune in to (if they happened to be in cities ranging from Ocala, Florida to Minneapolis, Minnesota to Seattle, Washington.)

So, here is a more specific update by station and show and time for May 18th, Wednesday, only. There will be an additional 5 stations on May 19th and then it will jump till June 1st.

Don’t forget: on May 18, 19, 20 and June 1 and 2, you would be able to download BOTH “Obama’s Odyssey” books for a total of 99 cents, because of the radio tour. Volume II will be totally free and Volume I will only cost 99 cents (normally $4.99) for the dates mentioned here.

Wednesday, May 18:
1) Harrogate, TN, WCXZ-AM with Tom Amis in the Morning from 7:30 to 7:40 a.m.
2) Willmer, MN, KWLM-AM with Bill Dean’s The Morning Brew from 7:50 to 8:00 a.m. (*Note: Bill Dean once attended the Mason City, IA, auctioneer college.)
3) Charleston, SC, WTMA-AM with Charlie James from 8:06 to 8:16 a.m.
4) Minneapolis, MN, KBEM-FM, with Ed Jones from 8:40 to 8:50 a.m.
5) Charlotte, NC, WSAT-AM, with Buddy Poole from 8:50 to 9:00 a.m. (*Note: Buddy is now General Manager of the station, but he owned it up until 2014.)
6) Lexington, KY, WMST-AM, Dan Manley’s Mid-Mornings on Main from 9 to 9:30 a.m. (*Note: this is a full half-hour on Kentucky radio. Yee haw!)
7) Hartford, CT, WJJF-FM with The Lee Elci Show from 9:40 to 9:50 a.m. (*Note: Lee used to play pro baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals.)
8) Ocala, FL, WOCA-AM, Larry Whitler’s The Source from 10:05 to 10:15. (*Note: This is a Fox News Outlet).
9) Festus, MO, KJFF-AM, Matt West’s The Morning Magazine from 10:30 to 10:40 a.m. (*Note: Festus, Missouri, is just south of St. Louis, I’m told.)

Thanks to all the radio hosts and wish me luck at those hours in the morning!

“Obama’s Odyssey” (Vols. I & II) on Radio & Specially Priced

For all of you who, like me, are watching this year’s presidential race with mouth agog, I thought I would remind you that my book about Hillary Clinton’s last run for the presidency, [when she was soundly beaten by the upstart Barack Obama], is going to be on a national radio tour of 18 major markets, starting tomorrow, May 18th.

In honor of my dragging myself out of bed and speaking to morning drive talk show people from coast to coast (list to follow), I’ve lowered the price of Volume I of “Obama’s Odyssey” (e-book only) to 99 cents for the dates May 18, 19, 20, June 1 and 2 and we are giving Volume II away absolutely FREE during those same dates. (Normal price: $4.99 in e-book; $14.99 per book in paperback).

If you don’t know much about either book, you can see me explaining my light-hearted approach to political coverage in a YouTube video that was shown on Chicago television. Simply go to YouTube and type in Connie Corcoran Wilson. You’ll see a picture of Joe Biden, one of the many politicians I tracked through the snowy wastelands of Iowa (and elsewhere) for close to 24 months in 2008.

My 1,000 articles were “hit” over 3 million times by Yahoo readers, and I was named Yahoo Content Producer of the Year for Politics. The books came later—not until after July 14 of 2014, when the Content Contributor Network I served for 10 years was dissolved to employ Katie Couric, instead. ($10 million for Katie; $0 for us).

The company informed us they were not going to maintain the servers to keep the thousands of articles from those of us in the Content Contributors’ Network up on the Internet.

So began MY Odyssey of hiring public school teachers who were off work in the summer to assist me in getting my articles down off the Internet before they would be trashed. And, once down, it seemed as though there were too many pictures–especially unused ones still in my pictures file— for just one book, so I divided the campaign up into 2 parts: 1) The run-up to the conventions, when various candidates jockeyed for position to be their party’s nominee and,
2) The campaign itself, right up to and through the Inauguration.

Volume I has 67 blog posts from the field, with only 27 photos. Volume II has 60 (sixty) previously unpublished historic photographs taken all over the country and within the DNC and RNC, town hall meetings and the Ron Paul Rally for the Republic, with 27 accompanying articles.

My appearances on various radio stations began with a small station in Brownwood, Texas at 7:10 a.m. Tomorrow, 9 stations will speak with me, as follows:

1) Harrogate, TN, WCXZ-AM, Tom Amis in the Morning
2) Willmer, MN, KWLM-AM, Bill Dean’s the Morning Brew
3) Minneapolis, MN, KBEM-FM, Ed Jones
4) Charleston, SC, WTMA-AM, Charlie James
5) Charlotte, NC, WSAT-AM, Buddy Poole
6) Lexington, KY, WMST-AM, Dan Manley, “Mid Mornings on Main”
7) Hartford, CT, WJJF-FM, Lee Elci, “The Lee Elci Show”
8) Ocala, FL, WOCA-AM, Larry Whitler’s “The Source”
9) Festus, MO, KJFF-AM, Matt West’s “The Morning Magazine

On May 19th, Thursday, I’ll be chatting with:
10) Burlington, IA, KBUR-AM, the Steve Hexom Show
11) West Chester, PA, WCHE-AM, Geoff Harris
12) Seattle, WA, KORE-FM, Ken Johannessen
13) Minneapolis, MN, KLTF-AM, Ron Specker’s “Party Line”
14) Yuba City, CA, KUBA-AM, Moe Howard

Then, I’ll be silent (and sleeping in) until June 1st, when I’ll be heard on:
15) Centralia, IL, WILY-AM, Tootie Cooksey
16) Amherst, VA, WAMV-AM, Bob Langstaff’s “We, the People”
17) Albuquerque, NM, KPCL-FM, Annette Ayoub’s “Day Brightener”

If you’re anywhere within listening distance of these stations, tune in. If you’re not, I recommend the YouTube video, which I may post here momentarily.

And, regardless, please consider downloading (or is it uploading?) a FREE copy of Volume II of “Obama’s Odyssey” on the days it is free (May 18, 19, 20 and June 1, June 2) and a 99 cent copy of Volume I on those same days.

Anyone who knows my aversion to early mornings knows I won’t be doing THIS again any time soon, so get them while you can!

Blog Tour Ongoing for “Obama’s Odyssey” (Vol. I)

Right now, there is an ongoing blog tour for the first volume of “Obama’s Odyssey,” complete with some giveaways for a free copy on some blogs.

Originally, the tour was to kick off as I returned from Cancun (April 23), but apparently it started while I was out of the country, so I will attempt to find the dates and blog links to report to you, but, in the meantime, go out to Amazon, type in my name (Connie Corcoran Wilson) and check out the 6 new reviews for Volume I (which is the only one actually “on tour” currently).

I will be doing a radio interview with a Texas station this coming Thursday morning at 7:40 a.m. and the book is currently on the shelves of Book People, the largest independent bookstore in Texas, in Austin on Lamar Boulevard.

There is also a giveaway ongoing until May 28th on Goodreads for Volume I in paperback.

As soon as can, I will post the blog tour links for this timely book, but you can see many of the reviews posted behind the Amazon listing.

The Ruby Slippers: The True Story told in SXSW Documentary



A Little About the South By Southwest Film and Music Festival

I’m here in Austin, Texas, attending some of the festivities associated with the South by Southwest Film and Music Festival. Actually, there are third and fourth components to the festival, as there was an education portion held prior to the beginning of the film and music, which kicked off with an appearance by President Barack Obama. (Michelle Obama arrived for the music portion today).

I’d heard about the film festival here for years and, having covered the Chicago International Film Festival for a decade (and one in Vancouver years ago), I learned that a top-of-the-line ticket to everything would have cost me $1,745. A ticket just for the film portion is $695. In other words, this is a far pricier proposition than attending the film festival in Chicago, which is exclusively film and doesn’t attempt to involve Austin’s version of Silicone Valley (3D printers) nor music venues galore. However, if you are a resident, as we have been since January, locals can purchase wristbands for either $65 or $95, depending on the length of time the wristband covers.


The Slippers

The documentary “The Slippers” by Canadian filmmaker Morgan White was a 5-year labor of love based on Rhys Thomas’ book The Ruby Slippers of OzToronto native and director White co-scripted the film with Derek LaJeunesse. The film was, in a sense, a tribute to a man director White dubbed The Robin Hood of Hollywood, Kent Warner. “Once I read the book, I knew I had to do the movie,” said filmmaker White.

Warner, a Hollywood fixture who really knew his movies, was hired to help organize the sale of MGM’s large warehouse full of film artifacts and costumes when new owner Kirk Kerkorian, Las Vegas multi-millionaire who did not care about the Hollywood history that was going to be auctioned off became the studio owner back in 1970. It is estimated that Warner, who probably liberally “helped himself” to the important dresses and props of the era, discovered the shoes in February or March of 1970. Warner, himself, told an embellished story about retrieving the cache of what may have been as few as 5 pair of ruby slippers or as many as 10. Warner kept the best pair for himself, but often stole things “for Debbie,” meaning Debbie Reynolds, who, for years, was buying props and costumes of yesteryear for a Hollywood Museum that never materialized.


The Rising Cost Of Nostalgia

Debbie Reynolds’ son, Todd Fisher, is interviewed in the film and told stories of how his mother was cheated time and time again at auctions when she bid on bits of motion picture history, detailing one particular purchase of what was to have been the original blue-and-white Judy Garland dress from the 1939 film. When she went to pick up her purchase, she had been given a plain blue dress that was a “test” dress. Similarly, Debbie ended up only with a pair of ruby slippers that were rejected for the film but made initially to test the concept of a pointy-toed elf-like design, (which was ultimately rejected).

Director Morgan White described his regret at not being able to interview Debbie Reynolds in person but said he talked to her on the phone and said, “She sang to me and sort of trailed off. I think she may have been drunk.”

The rising cost of owning a pair of the ruby slippers was tracked. The shoes probably cost only $13 or $14 to make, originally, in 1939. A woman named Roberta Bauman who  won a pair of the ruby slippers in a contest kept them for years and then cashed in by having them auctioned by Chrstie’s. They brought $150,000 in 1988. In 2000, a pair sold for $666,000. Prices today, if a pair were to be put up for auction, are estimated as bringing as much as $2 million or more. The 2012 auction of Debbie Reynolds’ accumulated treasures brought in $27 million. The film is as much about the rising cost of nostalgia as it is about the iconic ruby slippers.


Different Pairs In Different Locations

One pair is on display at Disney, given them for display by the owner (Anthony Landini). One pair is on display at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. One pair was bought for the Academy by investors including Leonardo DeCaprio. A woman in the Austin audience asked about a pair on display in Austin and the filmmaker sighed and said, “I’m going to be really sorry if there is an original pair on display here in town and I didn’t know about it when I was making this film.”

A large part of the film covers the loaning of a pair of the slippers to a Judy Garland (real name at birth: Frances Gumm) Museum in her hometown of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. After successfully loaning the slippers to the Museum for years for an annual festival, they were stolen in August of 2005. The small town Museum supposedly had security, but the security alarm did not notify police and the security camera had been switched off. The thieves were inside the structure for just a few moments in a smash-and-grab robbery and the film shows scuba divers searching a nearby lake (created from an abandoned iron ore pit), on suspicion that the shoes may have been stolen by some local youths who then threw them away.

Filmmaker Morgan White said the most disappointing thing was the Academy of Motion Pictures’ refusal to allow him to film the slippers that were donated to them by the mystery donors (guesses beyond DeCaprio include Stephen Spielberg and possibly Oprah Winfrey). He described the film as a tribute to Kent Warner, the knowledgeable Hollywood insider who smuggled out so many iconic items. Warner died of AIDS in 1984 at the age of 41 and had to sell off most of his treasures to pay for his treatment. (Shots of Warner’s grave were poignant). White considers Warner an unsung hero of the Hollywood memorabilia movement, one who is not acknowledged or even known.

Dwight Bowers of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., who has a pair on display, explained:


“What makes the shoes so valuable is not necessarily what they are (i.e., size 5 to 6 shoes covered in 2,300 handsewn fish scale sequins dyed red—a change from the original plan to have silver shoes inspired by the advent of color to movies—) but what they represent.”

Christmas in Chicago: Happenings in and Around the City at the Holidays

I came in to Chicago to pick up the daughter (from Denver) to drive her back to the Quad Cities, but good friend Mary Gerace had some other festive ideas for things to do in and around the city, including the free Chicago Youth Symphony concert at Chicago’s Symphony Hall, the Tuba Christmas concert at the Palmer House, and a performance of The Assassination Theater, which purports to prove who really murdered JFK (ending soon at the Museum of Television and other such things.

TubaXmas 013The Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra performance, which was free, was just as good as when I saw them perform with Ben Folds a month or so ago. No Ben, this time, but just as great a performance, with a tour de force performance from a young trumpeter who was voted the 2nd best in the U.S. in a competition.

TubaXmas 057Then came 266 tubas of all ages and sizes. Performers come from all over the state (the youngest was 10 years old) and outnumber those at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Tubas don’t often get to carry the melody, so it was fun to hear that many of them playing well-known Christmas carols. The audience was encouraged to sing along to the second verse. The house was packed. We had to arrive by 9 a.m. to get colored wrist bands or risk being in the “spill-over” room watching it on a TV feed. This was the 30th year for the event.

Then there were the lovely Christmas trees, including the one in Millennium Park barely a mile down Michigan from me, and the one in the Palmer House Lobby.

And, of course, Water Tower Place beckoned with shopping galore. Last night, when I was there, they planned to be open until midnight! Christmas Eve, demonstrators plan to demonstrate on the Miracle Mile, which the shops along there have claimed has cost them at least 30% of their normal business.

Last, but not least, I received word a while ago that I was one of the Finalists for the title of Best Indie Thriller of 2015 and had been named one of the Top 100 from among 12,000+ entries. I was sworn to secrecy until the newest issue of “Shelf Unbound” online magazine was published, however, and the Dec./Jan. issue is up now. I think “KHAKI=KILLER” is on page 58 (or 60?). Here is the link:

You can see the issue here: http://issuu.com/shelfunbound/docs/shelf_unbound_december-january_2015

Khaki = Killer is shown on page 58 or 60.

Lastly, MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR to one and all, and if you are of a different religious persuasion, as our Christmas card said, “Merry Everything.”

Christmas Schedule for New Xmas Cats Appearances

“The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer,” 4th in “The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats” series, has been on a virtual tour for the past month and receiving generally five-star reviews from bloggers.

This year, there is a hard-cover book for the first time ever, but it is available only from me at the appearances listed below or from the book’s website (www.TheXmasCats.com) using PayPal. The paperback and e-book versions of the book are available on Amazon, but the hard cover is only available from me in person or on the Xmas Cats website.

Here is my Christmas Schedule, as far as I know it now. It starts this Friday (December 4th) with an appearance from 7 to 9 p.m. at Razzleberries in LeClaire, Iowa. Come join me and celebrate the season with the store cat on Friday night! (You never know when the Cat-in-the-Hat might show up to lend moral support.)

Christmas Stops for “The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer”

(Some of these are tentative. One of my former stops burned down in May, but re-opened today. I apparently asked too late for the Four Seasons, so I will be at a new restaurant in Geneseo that is just opening called “Genevino’s” from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

December 4, Friday: Razzleberries in LeClaire, Iowa from 7 to 9 p.m.
December 5, Saturday: Moline, Illinois, Public Library with other local authors. I am the first author of the day, at 10:30 a.m., who is to read or speak for 15 minutes. I will share the newest Christmas Cats book, which takes 3 minutes to read in its entirety. After that, I’ll mention my 4 other series and miscellaneous titles. This gathering of local authors ends at 2 p.m
December 5, Saturday: Village of East Davenport, (Iowa) Freddy Fritters’ Dog Bakery: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., hopefully with the Cat in the Hat stopping by. Freddy Fritters had a ribbon cutting ceremony on December 2nd to celebrate its re-opening after a disastrous fire near Mother’s Day. Come help us re-launch Freddy Fritters!
December 11, Friday: Gallery Hop in Rock Island, Illinois. Consult their map upon arrival. I am tentatively scheduled to be within a dining establishment. 6 to 10 p.m.
December 12, Saturday: Geneseo (Illinois) Christmas Walk. Although I’ve been at the Four Seasons in other years, this year I will be within Genevino’s, a new dining establishment at 217 South State Street in Geneseo, Illinois, near where the parade ends.
December 13, Sunday: There may be a Breakfast with Santa opportunity in Geneseo; stay tuned for further developments. I will know more about this after Monday, December 7th and will update on my blog.

       Other Series and Miscellaneous Books:
“Ghostly Tales of Route 66” (which recently reached #1 as a Kindle e-book with over 3,000 downloads). Volume I – Chicago to Oklahoma; Volume II – Oklahoma to Arizona; Volume III – Arizona to California’s Santa Monica. Quixote Press.
“The Color of Evil” novel series, with 3 entries – “The Color of Evil” (Book #1); “Red Is for Rage” (Book #2) and “Khaki=Killer” (Book #3). “Khaki = Killer” was named one of the Best Thrillers of 2015 in the December issue online of “Shelf Unbound” magazine from over 12,000 entries.
“Hellfire & Damnation” short story series, with Volumes I, II and II. Short stories that illustrate the crimes or sins at each of the 9 Circles of Hell in Dante’s “Inferno.”
“Obama’s Odyssey”, Volume I (Caucus to Convention) and Volume II (Convention to Inauguration). Nonfiction. From-the-field reporting on the 2008 presidential campaign from the 1,000 articles (3 million hits) that earned me the title of Yahoo’s Content Producer of the Year for Politics.
“The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats” series, with “The Christmas Cats Chase Christmas Rats,” “The Christmas Cats Encounter Bats,” and “The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer.”

Miscellaneous: “Laughing through Life” (humor columns gathered from 5 different newspapers.
“Training the Teacher as a Champion” (nonfiction, teaching, from PLS Bookstores)
“It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now” – movie reviews from the Quad City Times, with 76 photos and interactive trivia. The Merry Blacksmith Press.
“Out of Time” – science fiction novel from Lachesis Press
“Both Sides Now” – memoir
“Never Fear Phobias” – horror anthology. Fear of dreams and dreaming is one of 19 stories in this anthology.
“Never Fear Christmas Terrors” – anthology. One story: “Black Friday”.

First Week of 51st Chicago International Film Festival Brings Break-out Films

As Press, we are not allowed to write a full review of any of the films or documentaries until they are released. We can only write capsule reviews, so I shall write capsule reviews of the 10 films I’ve seen so far. I was unable to take part in viewing any films yesterday (Wednesday, Oct. 21) as I was on a panel in Highland Park regarding writing children’s books. My Toyota GPS took me right past the front of Wrigley Field both going and coming, just as the Cubs were being trounced by the Mets, so, as you can imagine, getting there and back was a lengthy ordeal.

Here are the films in the order in which I saw them, with a capsule review or comment (full reviews later and some Q&A material to follow):

“I Smile Back”

This small budget film features Sarah Silverman proving she has serious acting chops. She portrays Laney, an attractive, intelligent suburban wife and mother of two adorable children who suffers from depression and turns to destructive coping mechanisms. The film electrified this year’s Sundance Film Festival crowds with its unblinking plunge into the nature of addiction and the roots of self-loathing. The routinely excellent cast includes Josh Charles (“The Good Wife,” “Masters & Johnson”) portraying her long-suffering husband, veteran actor Christopher Sarandon as her father, and television’s Thomas Sadoski as Donnie (“Life in Pieces,” “The Newsroom”). Directed by Adam Salky, the film was shot for $100,000 in just 20 days.

“Embers” – Director Claire Carre’s film depicts a world where a neurological epidemic leaves survivors with no long-term memory. (Think a world where everyone has Alzheimer’s disease.) One young woman, quarantined by her father, craves freedom. Two lovers struggle to remember their connection. Described as being “like Memento en masse” this was one of the slowest-moving films of those I screened.

“James White” – Directed by Josh Mond, the best thing about “James White” is the acting by Christopher Abbott (“Girls”) and Cynthia Nixon (“Sex and the City) as a mother dying of cancer. A raw, affecting film that nearly everyone who has ever lost a loved one will be able to relate to, it is as depressing as it sounds. Abbott has the intensity of a young Pacino and Josh Mond has done a great job of translating to the screen some of the emotions he experienced with the passing of his own mother. (“The movie feels like I’m opening up my diary all the time to strangers.”) Q&A from the director and star of the film to follow.

“They Look Like People” – by Director Perry Blackshear. The write-up made the film sound like a modern take on “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” which is not totally incorrect. However, the film turned out to be less a horror movie and more a disturbing look at a young man on the edge of paranoid schizophrenia. The Q&A following this film featuring Wyatt Goodwin as the lead proved that a talented filmmaker can work nearly alone and produce a film in one month on a shoestring budget. (I can honestly say that, having reviewed film since 1970—45 years, if you’re counting— this is the first time the lead in a movie I am about to attend came down the line of patrons beforehand handing out buttons promoting the film.)

“Howard Shore” – See previous article on the Tribute to Howard Shore and check for it on Saturday, up on ReadersEntertainment.com.

Director Eytan Rockaway of "The Abandoned."

Director Eytan Rockaway of “The Abandoned.”

“The Abandoned” – From Director Eytan Rockaway comes this psychological horror film starring Jason Patric. In a vacant luxury complex, a young woman takes a job as one of two security guards covering the night shift (the complex is actually several New York courthouses). As she patrols the vast hallways, increasingly sinister phenomena threaten her, seemingly born from the building’s catacombs. A claustrophobic, bone-chilling thriller that features sound from the soundman honored for “Gravity.” A confusing ending, but a great beginning and middle.FilmFestival2015 058

“Looking for Grace” – This Australian film from Director/Writer Sue Brooks featured an almost all female group behind making it and the acting of Richard Roxburgh, who cleaned up at the 1st Annual Australian Oscars a few years back. Roxburgh played the lead in the television series “Rake” (which was later made into a tepid, short-lived American version starring Greg Kinnear). The amazing thing about the film is its ability to mix humor with pathos in the story of a rebellious teenager who leaves home by bus without permission to attend a concert several days away. It’s a look at rural Australia (shot in western Australia) and contains not only the story of Grace, the runaway off to see the rock group “Death Dog” with her friend Sapphire (and a pocketed $13,000 from the family’s safe), but also a story of everyday life and how everything can change in an instant. Recommended.

“Brooklyn” – This Ireland/UK film from Director John Crowley tells the story of Eilis (Saoirse Ronan of “The Lovely Bones”), a young Irish immigrant in 1950s Brooklyn who must decide whether to stay in America with her Italian boyfriend or return home to her widowed mother and a romance that develops unexpectedly when she must attend her sister Rose’s funeral. Beautiful cinematography and a well-told tale, but IMHO, they either needed to tell Miss Ronan to take off her high heels or they needed to find a taller male lead. The scenes in Central Park where she is to lay her head on her date’s shoulder are about as awkward as can be, since she is taller than he is, and must practically become a pretzel to pull the scene off at all. Develops slowly, but was enjoyable.

The entire clan came to the World Premiere of "Motley's Law" at the Chicago Film Festival on Oct. 20th.

The entire clan came to the World Premiere of “Motley’s Law” at the Chicago Film Festival on Oct. 20th.

“Motley’s Law” – A documentary from Danish filmmaker Nicole Horanyi, this was the World Premiere of the film and both lead and director were present, so I will be getting some Q&A remarks posted later. A captivating documentary about a former Mrs. Wisconsin, Kimberley Motley, who is the only American allowed to practice law in Afghanistan. Motley defends US and European citizens detained in a corrupt system and finds herself targeted as a foreigner. (A grenade is thrown through her apartment window). Meanwhile, Claude, her husband, back home watching their 3 children, goes to Milwaukee for a class reunion and is shot in the face! More to come on this one.

Kimberley Motley and Danish director Nicole Horanyi at the World Premier of their film "Motley's Law."

Kimberley Motley and Danish director Nicole Horanyi at the World Premier of their film “Motley’s Law.”

“I Am Michael” – U.S. Director Justin Kelly takes on the true life story of a former gay advocate (Michael Glatze) who goes from outspoken champion of the gay community as a writer and magazine editor to become a conservative Christian pastor and “ex-gay” therapist. (Michelle Bachman’s husband might like this one). Zachary Quinto gives a great performance as James Franco’s gay lover. The film was executive produced by Gus Van Sant.

Kimberly Motley of "Motley's Law."

Kimberly Motley of “Motley’s Law.”

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