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: Of Local (Quad Cities’) Interest Page 1 of 37

The category is self-explanatory, but it would include new or old businesses, political elections, trends, restaurants in town, entertainment in town, etc.

Random Topics, Streaming Offerings and Observations

This will be a stream-of-consciousness entry that jumps from topic to topic.

In other words, it will be just like my entire blog. (lol)

We are watching the Andrew Garfield “Under the Banner of Heaven” thing and also just concluded “The Girl from Plainville,” which fictionalizes the case of the young girl who urged her boyfriend to carry through on his suicide threats. While I was not aware of the “Under the Banner of God” underlying factualism (factuality?), I do feel as though I had already seen the story of “The Girl from Plainville,” because we watched it on “Dateline NBC.” Another one that is hitting me with that same feeling of “I’ve already seen this” is “The Dropout.” It was better as a documentary, because, instead of Amanda Seyfriend, you had the real woman who foisted that fraud on the nation. There is a fascinating documentary out about the case, which I saw at SXSW. (It was better than Amanda’s more fictional version).

So, that brings me to some documentaries I have known and loved.

Tonight, on Hulu, we watched “Three Identical Strangers.” I really enjoyed it;l it raised some serious ethical issues. It also has a “surprise” ending that, had I written it, I would be accused of making stuff up, I’m sure. Here is the write-up for this documentary, (should you be a documentary fan, as I am):  “Stories of sibling reunions don’t get any wilder than this one, a 2018 documentary that relates how three triplets who had been adopted by different families rejoiced in discovering one another at college age (19) before a disturbing truth emerged.”

We also watched the first installment of “Hacks,” should you be more in the mood for humor, and it was good. After that, we finished off “Candy” (Jessica Biel, Justin Timberlake) which had a rather disappointing denouement.

Here’s another couple of documentaries that sound terrific, and I’ve reviewed a number of little-seen documentaries (“Krimes” was good) many times on my blog, if you scroll through. Here is a second documentary that I want to see:  “Birth of a Family” ($3 on Amazon Prime), “The Wolfpack” (HBO Max) and “Tell Me Who I Am.” (Netflix) If you see “Misha and the Wolves” being advertised, that one I’ve seen; it is well worth watching.

I completed almost one entire week of radiation today—well, actually, 3 days and 1 simulation.

No, I am not radioactive, but I am hurting. Hearing that Iowa City wouldn’t make me do this and then ME making me do this out of concern about a recurrence may make me hurt more than if I had just cavalierly taken Iowa City’s advice and said, “Well, if it happens again I can just resign myself to another grueling six months of hell, with no good wishes from 90% of the social circle of women who were supposed to have been my friends for 40+ years.”

My way of saying “THANKS” to the long distance friends and Facebook friends and colleagues from other walks of life, who found it in their hearts to take a second or two to wish me well. What is it they say about your true friends revealing themselves in times of trouble?

Since some of my friends have moved from the area permanently, others have succumbed to Alzheimer’s, and a few have simply shuffled off this mortal coil permanently, I truly appreciate the casual “Good luck!” during what I hope is the home stretch of this ordeal. I was brought up to at least say, “Oh, I’m so sorry” (even to strangers.)  I guess that has gone out of style, judging from Christmas Eve.  I anticipated I’d hear that more than one time on Christmas Eve, (the first time I “went wide” with the news.) Besides thanking strangers or far-flung non-local folks (“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers” – Vivian Leigh), I have to say that my spouse and kids have been great. I’m currently loaded with lovely flowers from Mother’s Day.

On a completely unrelated topic (my goal here tonight and every night) has anyone else been deluged with those completely ugly stink bugs in their house? Every single night this week one or more of those pesky critters has landed on my arm or wrist or body, causing me to jump up and scream. Sometimes, they crawl on the lighted TV screen. They might have been attracted by the reading light near my seat in the family room. I hope they are done, because I’ve had enough jumping up and screaming to last me for years.

 

Day Number One of Radiation: 32 To Go

Today’s radiation was a non-event (which is a good thing)…so far.

However, as I was driving to the 12:45 appointment, at 12:28 p.m., the original radiologist who diagnosed me back on December 7th phoned me. Kudos to Dr. Gotswami for taking time out of her busy day to answer the musical question: “Should I try to make it through all 33 days of radiation?”

I could not speak with her at 12:28. I told her I’d be back home following the radiation. Could she please phone me at her convenience later? And she did. Her views on the subject of radiation confirmed mine (rather than Iowa City’s). I just hope that I am in the 52% who benefit, not the 48% who don’t.

Today’s radiation song was another Golden Oldie. (I can hum it, but I can’t tell you its name.)

The thing that concerns me is how tired I feel (and have felt since December 1st.) I can’t imagine that I could become even MORE fatigued through the process of radiation. I honestly feel as though I could lay down and go to sleep immediately. At my “wellness visit” of December 1st, I felt this way. The blood drawn at that time did not show any surprising or unusual results, but 6 days later I was diagnosed with cancer, so….

I must remember to call up and schedule my regular every-three-years colonoscopy. (The fun just never stops!) I’m thinking August for that gem, maybe. With a father and an aunt who died of colon cancer, one can’t be too cautious. As I remember, my father’s first symptom of his cancer was extreme fatigue, which first emerged in March. He died in October.

I am so impressed that Genesis’ Dr. Goswami was kind enough to phone me today and confirm for me the logic of my current actions. She did give Iowa City some cover (additional explanation).

So far, I am glad I followed through on my own instincts, but I realize (from reading) t

doesn’t happen at the outset.

I am still, overall, stunned by my late-in-the-game Iowa City second opinion. And grateful for the chance to thank Dr. Goswami (of Genesis) for the phrase that has been ringing in my mind since December 7, 2021: “You did everything right. You’re going to be fine.”

May 10th Is Pre-Radiation Simulation: Show Gets On the Road Tomorrow

 

The husband and me at my nephew’s June wedding in St. Louis in 2021.

I had a “simulation,” today for radiation that REALLY starts tomorrow—one of two. First simulation involved the much-hated and feared “tube.” The second one (today) was simply to familiarize me with the whirring machines that will be delivering beams of radiation to my attractively decorated right side (which is festively marked up with magic marker at key points to guide the beam’s rays and decals.)

You lie on a narrow table, gazing at the ceiling, which has fake stars twinkling through a black background. A large round metal part of the machine is directly above you.

One can hear Prince singing “Let’s Party Like It’s 1999” in the background, followed by Huey Lewis and the News (“It’s Hip to Be Square”). (Makes you hope the machines are not as old as the music.)

I am warned that the machines that will come whizzing by my head may seem like they are going to hit me in the face, but—not to worry—that won’t happen. (I close my eyes after that warning.) The attendants leave the room, because, well, it’s radiation.
Noises besides music include a sound that resembles a vacuum cleaner, but it’s not the loud pots-and-pan clanking of an MRI machine. The sounds of medical machines doing their thing. They “do their thing” for 15 minutes, after which I am free to go, to start “for real” tomorrow (5/12/2022) with creams and side effects and God Knows What Else.

After hearing the words of wisdom of the Iowa City physician (Dr. Vikas) on Friday, May 6th, I decided that I would like to speak, again, with Dr. Goswami, the President of all radiologists in the Quad Cities, who was on duty at the Genesis Hospital in Davenport (East Rusholme Street; formerly known as St. Luke’s) back in December when this all started. St. Luke’s is now either Genesis East or Genesis West. (Even some who work there seem confused as to whether it is East or West.)

If Dr. Hartmann had not taken off and disappeared without a word to the anxious, not to return to his office until January 25, I might have had all this done at Genesis. But, since nobody would tell me if Dr. Hartmann had Covid or was simply on vacation, and I was eager to “get this show on the road,” I ended up with a much-closer hospital (10 minutes away): Trinity and Unity Point and Dr. McKenzie, whom I had actually met once before in 2018.)

Why did I drive all the way to Davenport for a repeat mammogram?Primarily because they were the only facility that would do a mammogram in the afternoon.

I really liked Dr. Goswami, whose positive words of encouragement (“You did everything right. You’re going to be fine.”) have kept me going for 6 months. You could tell that she was good at her job.

She is a graduate of my alma mater (U. of Iowa), board certified, and did her residency in Wisconsin. She did not pussy-foot around but told me immediately (on Pearl Harbor Day, 2021) that this was going to be bad, even before the lab results came back on Saturday, December 10th. She also pointed out that the small size of the tumor was in my favor and would mean that chemo would not be necessary to shrink the size of the tumor before its removal; nor would chemo probably be indicated afterwards.

In other words, she did not sugarcoat the truth, but prepared me for what has come since. This was in direct contrast to the technician who performed the echocardiogram, who was very close-to-the-vest and mysterious about the outcome of that test to verify that my heart was good enough for surgery. He insisted that only a physician could read the chart and tell me. So, how long did it take a physician (no doubt a heart expert) to read the chart and contact me? FORTY-ONE DAYS. Yup. I did not find out that my heart was “sound” for 6 weeks.
That’s right, one day shy of 6 weeks from when I had the echocardiogram on 11/29/2021 until someone could be bothered to let me know that I had NOT “had a silent heart attack” and was, instead, doing fine, with “the heart of a 30-year-old.” (My response: “I’ll bet he wants it back.”) And, yes, I called 3 times a day, trying to find out.

Plus, I was not told the exact location of the tumor until 10 minutes before being wheeled into surgery, when they were inserting a three-foot long wire into my side to “guide the surgeon.” I had asked. And asked. And asked. Each physician would pass the buck to the next, saying, “You need to ask the surgeon about that.” Or, “You need to ask the radiologist about that.”

When we showed up for an 11 a.m. pre-operative consult with the surgeon (my husband with me) we DID “ask the surgeon about that,” he did not join us until 15 minutes to 2 p.m. We sat in a small, frigid examining room waiting for 2 hours. (Fortunately, we had reading material, but I was so cold in the lightweight cotton hospital gown that I ended up putting my coat back on.)

I asked that the surgeons put the mammogram slide that showed the location of the new tumor up on his computer screen, for my husband and me to see. The doctor only had an old biopsy from 2018, which he did put up on the screen. I spent the entire time leading up to surgery (12/6 to 1/27) trying in vain to find out if the “new” tumor was anywhere near the “old” tumor, because the stereotactic biopsy location of the ”old” biopsy site was in a very bad place. It was inconveniently located and took what seemed like forever—at least 2 months— to heal up. The attendant that day (Jane)—who had not warned me that I might be subjected to a biopsy—denied me a second half-moon sized ice pack, when I requested one, and told me, “You can make one yourself.” She also insisted—despite the negative report from Dr. Croemer and the lab that the biopsy was normal—that I would have to meet with an oncologist or my insurance would not pay for the biopsy. (I sowed up with a 3-page letter about the entire procedure.)

Post simulation, I drove over to what used to be called Illini Hospital and went into their Cancer Center in search of Dr. Goswami, because, online, it said that she worked out of Illini. The two receptionists at the desk of the Cancer Center had never heard of her. One said I should go down the hall to the radiology department and offered to lead me there. We walked there together, and commiserated about how, in today’s medical world, insurance companies seem to try, increasingly, to find ways to dis-allow treatment for deserving patients. One day, said my companion, it will come down to only the wealthy can get care. I did not disagree. I added, “Right. And there will be an age cut-off.” Which there actually has been for some time. (I remember when a good friend’s Mom could not get a stem cell transplant because she was over 50; now it is 70.)

I’ve been told to apply udder cream to the radiated area three times a day, but not within 4 hours of a radiation appointment. I’ve been told to check the first 5 ingredients on the Aloe I ordered from Amazon to make sure that alcohol—which is drying—is not among those first five ingredients. I’ve been told to report at 12:45 tomorrow and the rest of this week, with appointments from then on scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

Home Is the Hunter, Home from the Hill

Our journey of 1,000 miles (give or take a few miles) has led us back to the Quad Cities, where the bush next to my garage is in full bloom.

Out of 19 phone calls on our answering machine, only 2 were important. One was from Iowa City, moving the time they want to see me up from 3:30 (May 6) to 2:40 (May 6) so that I can be told about some research studies that I might qualify for. This is interesting, because, earlier in the festivities, I wrote directly to the woman who is (ostensibly) in charge of all research studies at that venerable institution, and she told me I did not qualify for any of the studies currently ongoing.

I’ve been a devotee of trying to help other people with the same ailment ever since my mother volunteered for several diabetes studies during her days in Iowa City (ages 82 to 95). In fact, I’m currently in a knee study (control group) charting how arthritis ultimately gets us all and have had frequent MRI and X-rays of my left knee for that one for close to 20 years. I also was recently called from that same list of participants to ask if our joints hurt more or less after having Covid-19.

This time, the ailment is something far more life-threatening: cancer. I don’t know precisely what they want to talk to me about at 2:40 on May 6th, but it is one of the main reasons I am journeying to Iowa City at such a late date, after the barn door has been left open, so to speak, and the horse has gotten out. My treatment began last December. Hopefully, it will conclude on or about June 27th. I go tomorrow to have a CAT scan to set up radiation. On or about May 12th, I begin the radiation treatments that are supposed to kill any remaining cancer cells and, hopefully, prevent any recurrence on the left side of my body. I go every week day, Monday through Friday, for 33 days.

We may meet up with long-time friends Pam and John Rhodes for dinner on Friday night (May 6th) in Iowa City, another doctor appointment I have recently set up, but that part remains tentative. Regardless, we will drive up and listen to the experts give their feedback on everything that has been done (and is being done) so far, and listen to the study they mentioned in a phone conversation on our answering machine that they might like me to participate in. I have read that doctors around the country are trying to develop a vaccine to prevent breast cancer and that would certainly be a boon to mankind—or womankind.

The only other phone call that was important was simply to remind me to show up at 1 p.m. for the “simulation” with radiologist Dr. Stoffel and to have the CAT scan for planning purposes. I also have to stop and pick up one of the adjuvant therapy drugs that I was prescribed back in early February. I will have taken 90 of these Anastrozole pills (1 mg.) on Thursday of this week, so the side effects should have kicked in or be kicking in shortly. So far, taking them at night along with 5 other pills, I’m not aware of any extraordinary “bad” things, although perhaps February 5 to May 5 is not long enough? Don’t know. Can’t tell you, but have been told I have to take this pill for 5 years. Have read many horror stories about bad side effects, but, so far, so good. I have to have my bone density checked, which hasn’t been done since 2017, because that is one of the more serious side effects of this estrogen-blocking drug, and the other is high cholesterol (which I already have and for which I already take medication.) It sounded infinitely preferable to Tamoxifen.

Today, we drove from St. Louis and finished off “Comedy, Comedy, Drama” by Bob Odenkirk. We both agree that both books we selected were good, but the book “All About Me” by Mel Brooks gets the nod because of his much longer career. I started a “drama” book…actually 2 of them. One (“Devil House”) has definitely left me cold. It spent hours describing a trip to the supermarket (alert the media!) and barely used any real “” dialogue. Then, suddenly, in the middle of the book, the author began writing an ersatz version of Olde English.

Look: I was forced to memorize the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales when in high school (“Whom that Aprilluh, when the shoruh sota”), which I learned phonetically. It was pure torture then and putting in some made-up version of Olde English did nothing for the book or its plot—such as it is. It started out with promise: a story about a crime writer who moves into a house that witnessed the brutal murder of a high school teacher by two of her students. The teacher was subsequently thought to be a witch. Perhaps it was the fact that she took the time to hack up both students after dismantling them during their surprise attack and then wheelbarrowed their bodies down to the beach and threw them in the ocean. (Doesn’t sound like normal, ordinary, potential victim behavior).

The book was very sympathetic towards the teacher, but, then, just as we were trying to find a reason why an otherwise rational high school teacher who had successfully defended her life would not simply pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1- for help afterwards, there was a shift in tone and the author protagonist interviewed the mother of one of the high school victims.

O……K…….

I’m no expert, but I like good dialogue and a lot of it in the books I read, and I absolutely loathe lengthy descriptions that serve little to no purpose. On top of that, the Olde English thing lost me and—let’s just say that it is a toss-up whether I will continue residing in “Devil House” any longer, so I moved on over to a second e-book selection, the name of which escapes me.

The second book—as my husband agreed—just seems way too “slick.” It’s like a “Mission Impossible” vehicle for a Tom Cruise character. The not-that-original kernel of the book is that an orphan was raised to be an assassin (Orphan X). I’ve actually reviewed a book that had this same premise, only that book was better. This one has now thrown in talk of Mexican cartels and dialing for a Mr. Nowhere who will help find a beautiful young 18-year-old kidnapped by evil Mexican cartel members, and his apartment has been blown up, so he is re-engineering one of those James Bond-type residences that has all kinds of high tech things like hidden rooms and special glass to deter snipers and I-don’t-know-what-all. Meh. I am not getting into this one, either, even though the author has done a more-than-decent job of writing it. It’s just not my thing, apparently, and not my husband’s either, he says. There was one good sexy scene, which I appreciated since so many thriller writers avoid sex scenes like the plague, but, since I’m gearing up now for good old-fashioned radiation, which is supposed to leave one absolutely wiped out, I can’t want to, as my children used to say when young.

So, it’s “Home again, home again” diggety do. The spouse will have to hit the grocery store tomorrow, because I not only have to spend inordinate amounts of time at the radiologists going through a “simulation” but also have to stop and get more Anastrazole, which I run out of in 4 days.

I’ve unpacked. I’m getting ready to watch “Under the Banner of Heaven” with Andrew Garfield, and all’s right with the world.

On the Road Again: Poplar Bluffs, Missouri

I’m currently in Poplar Bluffs,Missouri. Yesterday, we were in Mt. Pleasant, Texas. . We journeyed across Arkansas today. Hampton Inns are our “home away from home” and I (belatedly) remembered that I am a Hilton Honors member and they now own Hampton Inns.

All I know is that we will hit St. Louis tomorrow and, hopefully, see brother-in-law Mark and do dinner and some sight-seeing.

We added up the cost of gas, so far, to and from Texas: $74 Of course, we are driving my Prius hybrid auto, which gets something like 52 miles to the gallon.

We managed to find two of the worst gas station rest rooms in the states of Arkansas and Texas. One had a rest room, but it was “out of order.” We ended up eating waffles at a waffle house at 4 p.m., simply to gain access to a rest room. Today was no better, as this rest room definitely did not earn a gold star for cleanliness. Yet there were instructions posted prominently about washing one’s hands, although I was afraid to touch ANYTHING in this rest room.

I am reading aloud and the book in question on this way home is Bob Odenkirk’s “Comedy” autobiography. On the way down, it was Mel Brooks’ autobiography, “All About Me.” Both re good books and very funny and very interesting.

My spouse insists on pronouncing “Poplar” as “popular” (!) but I will say that the Hampton Inn here is very nice. Rooms are running about $150 per night, so the trip will end up costing around $400, total, whereas our air fare back to Texas for the Fourth of July is going to run more like $600, or $300 apiece.

I can’t say that Arkansas is an improvement over Oklahoma, Folks, but Texas was way warmer and I’m getting ready to don a jacket as we head closer to home.

Texas to Illinois: 1,000 Miles in 4 Days (and You Are There)

We begin our journey from Texas to Illinois tomorrow.

We returned from Mexico (Cancun) on April 23rd and now we are battening the hatches in our Manchaca residence until the Family Fest, which usually coincides with the Fourth of July, which is only a couple of months away. (Plus, we come down earlier to help get ready for it.)

I have scheduled myself into the breast cancer center of the University of Iowa on May 6th to tell them what has happened to me, so far, since a diagnosis of breast cancer on Pearl Harbor Day. After 2 EKGs, one chest X-ray, one MRI, one echocardiogram, one radioactive injection for a sentinel lymph node biopsy, a lumpectomy, 124 Cephalexan pills for a “seroma” (rhymes with “aroma” but not nearly as fun: an infection, post surgery) and time to heal up, I now face radiation for 33 days. I will have a CAT scan (and a bone density scan) on May 2, the day after our return to the Illinois Quad Cities. The actual radiation needs to get started by May 12 so that I can finish up just in time to fly back to Austin for the Fourth of July, with tickets purchased for June 30th. (I hope I’m not as tired as I was after one week with 17 relatives in Mexico!)

But enough boring health stuff. I do want to alert folks that I’m going to be participating, in one way or another, in a lot of film festivals, with reviews to appear here:

1) The Chicago International Film Festival, which I have covered for over 20 years. It ends on Oct. 23rd and I’ll be there for the duration.

Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, screenwriters of “A Quiet Place,” the morning after the film opened SXSW in 2018 with Connie at Starbucks.

2)  The Austin Film Festival that commences on Aug. 27th. This is a “writers festival” and writers from television and movies are invited to tell “how to do it.” Last year, (Scott) Beck and (Bryan) Woods from the Quad Cities were invited to appear, based on their screenwriting for “A Quiet Place.” I wanted to participate then, but the dates overlapped with Chicago, so I couldn’t. This year, I can do both, if I get on a plane after Chicago ends.

3) The Denver International Film Festival, which is in early November.

4)  Sun Dance Film Festival in Idaho, via video.

And, as usual, I’m planning on covering SXSW in Austin in March, as I have done for the past several years.

Now, for your viewing pleasure, here are some photos of  Cancun, Mexico, which  I shot with my

brand new IPhone 13. Enjoy!

Nicoletta Italian restaurant.

The Royal Islander

Is the World Ready for A Political Fresh Prince?

(Quotes from August 10, 2016, Adam Howard, NBC News)

Will Smith

Six years ago, when “Oscars So White” preceded “Oscars So Black” as a theme, [spearheaded by Will Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett-Smith, who was annoyed that Smith was not nominated for his role in “Concussion,”] the remarks below were made to NBC’s reporter Adam Howard.

The article sub-title was this:  Is America ready for the “Fresh Prince” as President? Maybe setting one’s sights on the top office in the land is premature, but what office do you think Will Smith will be angling for?

Donald J. Trump shook up traditional notions of who can be considered a credible candidate for the White House, and his stint on “The Apprentice” is at least partially responsible for the four years of Trump. Smith himself has hinted at a career change, telling The Hollywood Reporter in 2015: “I look at the political landscape, I think that there might be a future out there for me. They might need me out there.”

It seems that Will Smith has publicly blown up his film career with his behavior on March 27th at the Oscars. This article from six years ago seems to point to a new direction that Will Smith might be contemplating, so let’s just lay it out there with these quotes from the actor himself.

As an established A-list star entering a new phase of his life and career, Smith may also feel more liberated to speak his mind. For instance,  during a “Suicide Squad” press event in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Smith spoke candidly about the perception of anti-Muslim bias back in the U.S.  “The Middle East can’t allow Fox News to be the arbiter of the imagery, you know. So cinema is a huge way to be able to deliver the truth of the soul of a place to a global audience.”

Smith then went on to pointedly attack Trump’s controversial Muslim ban proposal: “As painful as it is to hear Donald Trump talk, and as embarrassing as it is as an American to hear him talk, I think it’s good,” Smith said. “We get to know who people are and now we get to cleanse it out of our country.”

These comments came just a week after Smith lamented that the Republican presidential candidate’s rhetoric towards women had found a captive audience.  “For a man to be able to publicly refer to a woman as a fat pig (Rosie O’Donnell), that makes me teary,” he said during an interview with news.com.au. “And for people to applaud, that is absolutely f***king insanity to me. My grandmother would have smacked my teeth out of my head if I had referred to a woman as a fat pig. And I cannot understand how people can clap for that. It’s absolutely collective insanity. If one of my sons — I am getting furious just thinking about it — if one of my sons said that in a public place, they couldn’t even live in my house anymore.”

“For me, deep down in my heart, I believe that America won’t and we can’t elect Trump,” he added.

But Smith’s streak of outspokenness hasn’t just been limited to the presidential race. During an appearance earlier this month (August, 2016) on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” the actor spoke with a degree of cynicism about the claim that racial divisions have never been worse.

“Racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed,” he told Fallon then.

Earlier in the year, Will Smith had backed his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith ‘s call for an African American Boycott of the Oscars, after the Academy Awards failed to recognize a single actor or actress of color (including himself, a would-be contender for the drama “Concussion”) for the second year in a row.”

So, the remarks made to NBC’s reporter Adam Howard are above; draw your own conclusions.

Since North Carolina and Kansas will play for the NCAA Championship on Monday, April 4th and that predicting season is almost over, we can then begin the pools on whether or not there will be regime change in Russia AND for which office the Fresh Prince might best run.

Right now,  watching “Saturday Night Live” (which featured a clever, but questionable skit about mental acuity in cases like aphasia or dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease) the host of “SNL” has declared himself the “least famous host of ‘SNL,’” which may be true. I can’t even tell you what his name is (Jerrod Carmichael; I cheated and looked). He  just informed us that he is the star of a television comedy special in which he comes out as gay. Jerrod says that we are in an Andy Warhol Fever Dream right now. Having just watched the documentary the “Velvet Underground” with real footage from Andy Warhol’s The Factory era, I agree. When will we break out the dark glasses to be able to tolerate the chaos?

Comedian Carmichael is trying to “heal the nation” by talking about Will Smith’s Oscar brouhaha.

Jerrod’s parting remark to the “SNL” audience and directed to former President Barack Obama: “You got us all hopped up on hope and change, Barack. We need you back, because I think you’re going to have to talk about it. The nation needs to heal.”

2022 Oscar Winners (Installment #2)

After listing a few choice Best Oscar nominees in my last pick, I stopped, while trying to nail down a couple of categories. Continuing:

Best Director:  Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”)

Other nominees are Kenneth Branagh (“Belfast”);Rysuki Hamaguchi- “Drive My Car”; Paul Thomas Anderson – “Licorice Pizza”‘;  Steven Spielberg – “West Side Story.” Of these films, my personal favorite was “West Side Story,” but nobody (except, perhaps, Spielberg’s father, at one time, was clamoring for a remake of the fantastic sixties film.

Best Supporting Actor – Troy Kotsur, “CODA”

Best Supporting Actress – Ariana DeBose – “West Side Story”

Film Editing – “Dune”

Best Adapted Screenplay – “The Power of the Dog”

Best Original Screenplay – “Belfast”

 Best Cinematography – “Dune”

Best Animated Feature – “Encanto”

Makeup and Hairstyling – “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”

Best Costume Design – “Cruella”

Best International Film – “Drive My Car”

Best Original Song – “No Time to Die” (Billie Eilish, Finneas O’Connell)

Best Documentary – “Summer of Soul”

Best Visual Effects – “Dune”

Production Design – “Dune”

The film with the most (not counting those that will be announced off the air separately) is “Dune” on my list. I was torn between “Flee,” which was making all the film festivals, and “Summer of Soul,” but, just like “Encanto,” it’s hard to overcome a marketing giant like Disney. I was not convinced that the Best Screenplay Award should go to “Up in the Air” and can’t help but believe that Kenneth Branagh telling his autobiographical life story has to be a winner

 

“The Big Conn” Premieres at SXSW; Streams on Apple TV May 6th

The log line for the Apple TV documentary “The Big Conn” is as follows: “Eric C. Conn was a lawyer living a little too large in eastern Kentucky…until two whistleblowers realized he was at the center of government fraud worth over half a billion dollars, one of the largest in U.S. history. And that was just the beginning.” The investigative documentary series is helmed by James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte.

The four-part investigative series had its World Premiere at SXSW and it will launch, globally, on May 6th. It is a fascinating look at a man who is described as “an evil Robin Hood” for securing Social Security Disability payments for his Kentucky and West Virginia clients in 30 days, at a time when the Social Security Administration was backlogged for 18 months. In the process, Eric Christopher Conn made big bucks and spent the money just as fast as he got it. His office employees document a globe-trotting habit of traveling for one week of every month to exotic ports of call such as Thailand, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Las Vegas. In many instances (16, at least) Eric would return to Pikesville, Kentucky with a brand-new bride.

The mind boggles merely at the concept of someone loony enough to marry 16 times. He can’t even keep his wives’ nationalities straight, but managed to list 5 United States citizens, 5 from Columbia, 1 from Vietnam, 1 from the Philippines, 1 from Ecuador and 1 from the Dominican Republic. (Later, he admitted that he might have forgotten one or two of his wives from foreign countries). The first thought that pops into your head is, “Who does that?”

The answer to that rhetorical question is given by one attorney involved in the case, who says: “You’re dealing with a guy who doesn’t have a moral compass. You can’t get mad at a snake for being a snake.” Trey Alford, an Assistant District Attorney who ultimately refused to give up on the case, described it as “the ultimate trifecta: bad lawyers, bad judges and bad doctors.”

Despite the heroic and persistent efforts of two honest Master Docket Clerks to blow the whistle on Eric’s high, wide and handsome shenanigans, it took over 6 years for anything to be done. Conn had made himself a Big Name in Appalachia, better-known than Ali or Elvis, with extensive use of billboards, television and other forms of advertising, and, even after he was accused of graft and corruption, clients flocked to his offices for his services because he guaranteed he’d get them a check within 30 days, and he usually did.

Con handled 1800 cases between 2006 and 2010 and the amount of fraud for the government that they would need to recover to break even was estimated at $2.62 billion, when you factor in the payments to applicants who were unqualified to receive them, over years of their dependence on the $900 a month to (in one case) $2,000 a month disability payments. The problem after the fall of Conn is that there were 1500 applicants, some of whom were genuinely deserving, but the Social Security Administration now had to solve the mess they had created for themselves by being completely indifferent to the reports that the whistle blowers, Sarah Carver and Jennifer Griffith, had been making for years.

The lid was blown off the corrupt scheme when a “Wall Street Journal” reporter named Damian Paletta, who is now the economics reporter for the “Wall Street Journal” (and the author of a book about Donald Trump’s time in office entitled “Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History”) journeyed to Appalachia and did a story on the situation. Paletta is not unsympathetic to the legitimate disabled and was, himself, disabled as a youngster.

The message that comes through, loud and clear, is that the Social Security Administration did an extremely poor job of policing its own. Shame on them!

Secondly, the true heroes and heroines of the story are not recognized at all. They include whistle-blowers Sarah Carver and Jennifer Griffith, various attorneys, including Ned Pillersdorf, Trey Aldorf, and  “Wall Street Journal” journalist Damian Paletta.

Meanwhile, we can all ask whether the corrupt Judge Daugherty, whose alcoholism and arrest of his daughter set off the scheme in the first place was properly punished, when he ended up serving only a few months of a short (4 year) sentence.

The only one of the three (Dr. Atkins), characterized as a “whore doctor” during Congressional testimony, who refused to take a deal and went for a jury trial did worse than those who copped a plea. But did any of the three principals receive adequate punishment for such large-scale fraud?

To find out how they ended up, watch the four-part series premiering globally on May 6th with  sections entitled: “Mr. Social Security” (#1); “United We Stand; Divided We Fall” (#2); “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” (#3) and the finale, which will spell out the sad end of this story of greed, corruption, incompetence and stasis.

“DMZ” Series Has World Premiere at SXSW on March 13, 2022

The riveting drama “DMZ” was premiered at SXSW 2022 on Sunday, March 13th, 2022, at the Paramount Theater in downtown Austin. Prior to the showing of this first of four episodes of the limited series (which will air on HBO Max beginning on March 17th), Dawson and Bratt and others met the press on the rooftop of the Riley Building. The cast continued answering questions at a Q&A following the screening of the first of the four-part series.

Cast of “DMZ” (Warner Media) on Sunday, March 13, at the Paramount Theater in Austin at SXSW 2022.

Producer/Writer Roberto Patino (“Westworld”), taking the stage with the cast in Austin (far right), described how he had taken the Vertigo graphic novel (comic), which ran from 2005 to 2021, and selected Rosario Dawson’s character of Alma Ortega to develop more fully. Because of the pandemic, the series was pared down to only 4 episodes

Premise:  A Civil War has decimated the United States. This is particularly relevant at a time when we are closer to Civil War than at any time since the 1861-1865 North/South conflagration. The story focuses on the DMZ (Demilitarized zone), a ravaged Manhattan Island with 300,000 souls trapped inside.The various parts of Manhattan have been taken over by various gangs. We are taken to the Village, the Upper East Side, Midtown, Central Park, Chinatown and all other parts of the city.

One power-broker within the warring factions is portrayed beautifully by Benjamin Bratt, as a whip-thin political gang leader radiating ruthless charisma. Onscreen, he explains, “People don’t want leaders. They want spectacle.” Imagine a good-looking, taller, younger, articulate Hispanic Putin. He’s a power-hungry leader who will stop at nothing to consolidate his reach and is running for Governor of the DMZ, telling the enthusiastic crowd that the DMZ will become its own state. Bratt is outstanding in the role, menacing and believable.

Rosario Dawson and Benjamin Bratt at the Premiere of “DMZ,” a 4-part episodic WarnerMedia presentation at the Paramount Theater in Austin on March 13, 2022, at SXSW Film Festival.

Alma (Rosario Dawson) portrays a medic, a single mother desperate to find her missing son, Christian They were separated while fleeing the city six years prior, in a scene straight out of the train stations in Ukraine occurring right now. In Episode #1, Rosario interacts with another medic, portrayed by Mamie Gummer, daughter of Meryl Streep and a look-alike for her talented mother. It’s an intense exchange as the medic trapped within the DMZ (Gummer) takes Dawson’s Alma under her wing in helping her search for her missing son. Show-runner/writer Patino paid tribute to Dawson’s work telling her, “You inhabited this woman so thoroughly and made her your own.” True that.

Everyone in Episode #1 was very credible, but another outstanding performance is turned in by Jordan Preston Carter, who portrays the young Odi Peerlis. The  actor has eleven credits since 2016 and, while his exact age is not mentioned in his bio, he appears to be roughly ten years old and holds his own against a talented adult cast. He is a natural. The character of Odi conveys the trauma and pathos of children caught in the midst of war. The parallels with current real life are obvious.

One line from the film explains the film’s themes/conflict this way: “Even when we’re here, surrounded by two armies with guns firing on one another, people can’t see past killing each other to better themselves.” Later, the line is: “People won’t hesitate to kill you for whatever you’ve got.” A lot of truth in those scripted lines.

Dawson’s character represents hope and a better way of dealing with life than through never-ending violence. In her remarks to the audience, she mentioned her own hard-scrabble upbringing on New York’s lower East side and described the entire four-episode series as “real” and “poignant.” Dawson decried “patriarchal toxic masculinity”and said  that she hopes her character is a catalyst to help eliminate  it.

Benjamin Bratt at SXSW with “DMZ.”

Bratt, too, described a change of heart in portraying his character as he began work on the series based on a comic book. He said that, at first, he thought it would be fun to portray a kick-ass comic book character. As the series went on, he began to see Parco Delgado (his character) as “a real person suffering from habituation learned as a young man; might makes right. Clearly he is someone who recognized the opportunity to seize power.”

The Ava Duvernay directed series, judging from the showing today, is dynamite. Don’t miss it! (HBO Max on Thursday, March 17, 2022).

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