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: Of Local (Quad Cities’) Interest Page 1 of 25

H.Q. Trivia Game Dies A Grisly Death on Valentine’s Day (2020)

I’ve been playing H.Q. Trivia for about 3 years now, and it had become a staple of our evening, with an 8 p.m. show. We played the individual daily games to “level up” and, generally, it was a 15-minute date with trivia.

Scott Rogowski, Host of H.Q. Trivia, “live” in Austin at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

The app fell on hard times with the departure of Quiz Daddy host Scott Rogowski, who asked that he be allowed to host H.Q. part-time and host another sports-themed show on the side. The show declined to allow Rogowski to serve two masters and half of the faithful departed. He was obviously still in high dudgeon at SXSW in April, because I took the pictures of him hosting the first-ever “live” show there, which I attended that year.

There were issues with the leadership of the game show. One of the two founders died unexpectedly of a drug overdose. Peter Thiel was revealed to have been one of the initial investors, which dampened the enthusiasm of other investors. Prizes shrank to low, low amounts—-usually not even more than $1,000—and the very last game on Valentine’s Day caused last host Matt Rogers to give the winner $5 out of his own pocket, while the other winners took home only one cent.

Scott Rogowski, “live” from SXSW at 4:15 p.m. on March 10, 2019. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Stand-up comic Matt Rogers did his best to inject enthusiasm into the mix after Rogowsky’s departure, and his co-host for the Words game, Anna Roisman, was competent in her verbal duties, if sometimes annoying in other ways.  Sharon from England did a good job.  (We watched to see if she’d ever fall out of her low-cut dresses.) Tyler the Fish (Tyler Fisher) was fast, and the blonde who handled sports did good work, but a new “add” to the hosting group who hosted a music version on Friday nights was obnoxious and awful. Laina Alaina (probably not spelled correctly) thought she was way too cute and insisted on singing, which was painful for the rest of us. Guest hosts were increasingly infrequent, but they sometimes appeared (Neil Patrick Harris, Jimmy Kimmel) and that kep fans wsatching and playing.

It was rather unexpected that the game was going to tank completely, however. Had I known, I would have “cashed in” the $13 I was owed earlier. (I’m still nursing a bruised ego over the $20 that the Cash Show took down witout paying me).

Scott Rogowski congratulates one of the 72 winners of the $10,000 prize on March 10, 2019 at SXSW in Austin. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

The season had just ended and I had “leveled up” to Level 10 without winning anything more substantial than coins to use for free lives. Nevertheless, the trivia was a welcome diversion and reminiscent of that old game Trivial Pursuit, which I always enjoyed. I am sad to see H.Q. go.

The final night (Valentine’s Day evening) co-hosts Matt Richards (“Money-flipping Matt Richards”) and  co-host Anna Roisman (the poor man’s Sarah Silverman) Matt had just consumed a large meal consisting of crab legs and shrimp and lots of booze. Anna was complaining non-stop about Matt’s belching in their small studio and kept standing on her head, which was never funny. At one point, Matt insisted that he was going to “moon” the cameras, but Anna talked him out of it.

They were both “in their cups,” sad about becoming unemployed. Matt’s dogs eat $200 of dog food monthly, he said; they might starve. Plus there was the jewelry he had purchased (a gold ring with the initial “R”). Bad timing for Matt. Anna kept shilling for her podcast. I understand this impulse, as I’m going to be starting one on February 27th at 7 pm. CDT on the Bold Brave Media Gloal Network.

Indeed, the quiz show originally had about 35 employees, but a petition to get rid of the other co-founder of the game had circulated and, in a Trump-like gesture, that still-living founder fired 20% of the staff. Some, it was said, resigned in protest, claiming the founder was impossible. Meanwhile, veterans of marketing and coding were defecting and the staff that was left was trying to find a way to attract new downloads of the app, which had declined 92% over time. (measured June to June).

Scott Rogowski, host, and one (of 72) winners of the first-ever “live” game of H.Q. in Austin, Texas at SXSW on March 10 at 4:15 p.m. CDT.

One new game was billed as HQX and involved taking pictures with your IPhone and mailing them in. Bad game.

Then there was Laina Alainna and her non-stop singing and posing during a Friday night music game. Plus, the Words game had truly ridiculous premises, which simply meant that the Tuesday and Thursday night schedule drew fewer and fewer players and the prize money declined to almost nothing.

So, I shall have to fill my time with something else at 8 p.m. each night. Farewell, H.Q.

Oscar Night Predictions on February 9, 2020

“1917” film’s cast and director Sam Mendes in Chicago at the AMC Theater on December 10, 2019.

My favorite picture of the year, if anyone cares, for sheer enjoyment, was “Ford v. Ferrari.” It doesn’t have a chance for anything but the sound editing and potentially some visual effects.

So, here are my picks, based on having seen almost all of the films. (I do admit that I have not seen “Little Women” or Antonio Banderas’ nominated role in “Power and Glory.”
Let’s see how these come out:
Supporting Actor – Brad Pitt
MakeUp and Hairstyling: Bombshell
Costume Design: Little Women
Documentary Feature: For Sama (the favorite is said to be “American Factory,” which I saw last night. I think that the life-and-death nature of “For Sama,” filmed behind ennemy lines in Syria, was so riveting that, despite its technical issues, I voted for it.
Sound Editing: Ford v. Ferrari.
Here are my current picks: Brad Pitt for Actor in a Supporting Role
Maeup and Hairstyling; Bombshell (for transforming Charlize Theron into Megyn Kelly)
Costume Design: Little Women
Documentary Feature: For Sama (I know that American Factory is the favorite, but For Sama was so powerful in its depiction of medicine in Syria behind enemy lines.)
Sound Editing: Ford v. Ferrari
Sound Mixing: Ford v. Ferrari
Production Design: 1917
International Feature: Parasite (could be the Best Picture for a big upset)
Actress in a Supporting Role: Laura Dern
Amimated Short Film: Hair Love
Animated Feature Film: Toy Story 4
Visual Effects: 1917
Film Editing: Ford v. Ferrari
Documentary Short Subject: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If you’re a girl)
Live Action Short Film: The Neighbors’ Window
Adapted Screenplay: Little Women
Original Screenplay: Marriage Story
Cinematography: 1917
Original Score: 1917
Original Song: “I’m Gonna Love Me Again”
Director: Sam Mendes
Actor in a Leading Role: Joaquin Phoemix
Actress in a Leading Role: Renee Zellweger
Best Picture: 1917 (* Well aware that “Parasite” may knock it off)

Chaos and Confusion in the Corn State

Joe Biden in Independence, Iowa, on the Fourth of July, 2019.

Iowa drops the ball on caucus night, February 3. We still don’t know the results of the Iowa caucuses of Monday night, and it’s Tuesday afternoon.

Donald J. Trump will, no doubt, say something along the lines of, “Look at the Democrats. They can’t even hold an election. How can they run a country?” when he makes his State of the Union address tonight. I’d like to see the Iowa Democratic Party delay releasing the tardy results until the exact moment that the Orange One begins talking. That would be poetic justice.

I’ve actually been to the Iowa caucuses, in 2008. I wasn’t voting, but observing. What I observed in Des Moines was orchestrated chaos that was very home-spun and folksy, but not that efficient. There were all sorts of journalists from all over the globe snaking through the lunch room of the elementary school where my college roommate and I went so that she could caucus.

One thing that remained constant from 2008 to 2020 is that Joe Biden was among those one could vote for at both times. So was John Edwards back then, and I was an early Edwards supporter, while friend Pam caucused for Joe.

I’ve been watching the results (or non-results) of the caucus last night “live” on television since last night. I watched Precinct 38 in Des Moines weigh in, with 2 delegates going for Warren, 2 for Mayor Pete, and 1 to Sanders. Then, the talking heads switched to Cedar Rapids where 437 caucus goers  had gathered. There were 2 ruined ballots, we were told, but Mayor Pete got 26.5%, Warren 19.8%, Amy 18.4%, Sanders 18.4% and Joe Biden 16.8%.

The talking heads today are saying, “Old School was faster.” The back-up of paper ballots is what the Iowa Democratic party is now falling back on to laboriously count them by hand in 1700 caucus locations. “It’s beyond Old School. It’s really rudimentary,” says CNN’s Dana Bash.

During the evening, we viewers were also taken inside Drake University’s Field House (gymnasium) where 400 people had turned out. Sixty-six people would make a “viable” candidate.

In North Liberty, Iowa, just outside Iowa City, bigger numbers were expected than appeared. 591 showed up. Eighty-nine caucus goers meant that one’s candidate was “viable.”

In Cedar Rapids, 900 voters were expected, but 437 showed up. It appeared that Pete, Warren and Sanders prevailed with Biden in 4th and Klobuchar down there in the standings with the former VP. In another Des Moines precinct, 356 people showed up and we were told that fifty-six people would make for a viable candidate. Pete, Sanders and Warren were prevailing. Would the more rural districts weighing in change all this? Don’t know; can’t tell you. Just like the Iowa Democratic Party.

One group, forming 16%, refused to be categorized. They were originally Cory Booker delegates, but there were not enough bodies for Cory to prevail without throwing in with others, and that is what happened, with Biden and Klobuchar people forming an “uncomittted” group. It was weird.

“State of the Union” tonight.

By midnight, nobody knew anything, although, in Grinnell, large screens were lowered from the ceiling that showed the images of Warren, Biden and Pete, at one precinct in this college town.

Overall, it was complete confusion and the much-vaunted “app” seems to have been part of the reason why. One wonders if older volunteers who had done this “the old-fashioned way” for over 20 years were quick to pick up on “the app.” I was reminded of me trying to teach my mom how to program her VCR.

When all was said and done, it appears that Mayor Pete and Elizabeth Warren and Bernie seem to have done well, while Biden is in trouble, both monetarily and in terms of live bodies that showed up. It is now 12:15 p.m., the afternoon of the day AFTER the caucus, and there are still no definitive results known. There are 41 delegates at stake, which is not that many, but the real fall-out is going to be for Iowa.

If Iowa loses its “First in the nation” designation, the millions spent on television and radio spots go away. The economic boom for housing and feeding all of the campaign workers who come from afar goes away. The idea that Iowa can give candidates a boost, as it did for Obama in ’08, goes away. Iowa’s position as national “influencers” goes away.

I would posit the idea that this is a very bad day for Iowa and Iowans. The state looks like it doesn’t know how to conduct a caucus, and they’ve had many, many years to get the process down.  Now the talking heads are all saying they want to see the caucuses “go away.” That means no more visits from national candidates to the Hawkeye state, and it is the state itself that will be hurt the most.

The delay in reporting results may work to the benefit of such old soldiers as Joe Biden, who did not seem to be doing well early in the evening. It seems that the new kid on the block, Pete Buttigieg, and Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders were the ones who came on strong, from what little we know. It remains to be seen if the money is going to be sufficient for candidates like Klobuchar and Biden, whose coffers are becoming increasingly bare.

It makes one wonder if Mike Bloomberg of the bottomless pockets had thought this through and decided to go all in on being there as an alternative candidate when former Vice President Biden collapsed. Did the “smear” in the Senate (the Ukraine thing) take its toll? These are points that will be debated for years.

Meanwhile, the beat goes on in New Hampshire.

E-book Titles on Sale & Radio Show Coming

I’ve been offering some titles for sale (on Kindle) for $1.99 this month, and it seems like a good time to mention which ones are (still) going to be reduced in price for the rest of January and February.

Taken during a McCain rally at the Cedar Rapids Municipal Airport during the 2008 presidential campaign. Cover of Volume II of “Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House.” (Available on Amazon in paperback and e-book).

January 26, “Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House,” Vol. 2, will be on sale for $1.99.

February 1, (Sat.), the second volume of “Obama’s Odyssey” will remain on sale for this one day only for $1.99.

February 8 (Sat), 2020:  “The Color of Evil,” Book #1 of the 3-book series. This book is currently priced at something like $7.95 in e-book and will be $1.99 for one day.

February 15 (Sat.), 2020:  “Red Is for Rage,” Second book in THE COLOR OF EVIL series.

February 22 (Sat), 2020:  “Khaki = Killer”, Third book in THE COLOR OF EVIL series.

I’ll be starting a radio show entitled WEEKLY WILSON on Bold Brave Media, discussing movies, politics, books and whatever else interests me. Expect me to start off with politics; my newest book is BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE. Call in format at  866-451-1451.

Dr. Jill Biden Addresses Supporters in Clinton on January 2, 2020

Dr. Jill Biden and Eric VanLanken in Clinton (IA) on Thursday, January 2, 2020, at Biden Headquarters on 2nd Street.

Dr. Jill Biden came to Clinton, Iowa’s Biden headquarters at 415 South 2nd Street and spoke to a crowd of approximately 30 faithful Democratic supporters who agree with former Vice President Joseph Biden’s wife that, “Anyone can tell you what they want to do, but Joe Biden can tell you what he’s done.”

Dr. Jill Biden in Cinton, Iowa, on January 2, 2020.

Dr. Jill Biden, wife of VP Joe Biden, in Clinton, Iowa on January 2, 2020.

Most of us also agree with her assessment that Biden is the one candidate in the field with the national reputation and experience to defeat Trump in 2020.

A career educator (over three decades teaching at high school and community college levels), Jill Biden holds two Master’s degrees in English, education and reading, as well as PhD degrees, and continued to teach full-time throughout Vice President Biden’s time in office. She is thought to be the first wife of a Vice President to continue her full-time job while her husband was in office.

The granddaughter of Italian immigrant signalman Dominicki Giacoppa, the family anglicized the name to Jacobs and Jill Biden’s maiden name was Jill Tracy Jacobs. Her father, Donald C. Jacobs (1927-1999) became President of a Savings and Loan in the Chestnut Hill area of Philadelphia.

The attractive blonde was due in Clinton at 4:00 p.m., but, with 3 previous stops on Thursday, she arrived about 5 p.m. and was introduced by Eric VanLanker, Commissioner of Elections and County Auditor.

Dr. Biden talked about such initiatives as education, alternative energy (wind and solar), the Affordable Care Act and promised that there would be “no late-night tweet storms” if Biden were elected. With only 32 days until the Iowa caucuses, the push was on to secure Iowa voters who would commit to caucus for Biden on February 3rd and to find others to volunteer in various capacities.

No Tweet storms at 3 a.m.! Yeah!

In the most amusing malapropism of the early evening, Dr. Biden noted (to her amusement and that of the assembled crowd), “We can’t stand 4 more years of a Donald J. Trump pregnancy.” Quickly correcting pregnancy to presidency, the personable blonde posed post remarks with each and every person willing to line up for a selfie.

With packing for warmer climes on my mind, I was forced to depart immediately after her remarks, leaving three books in the care of a staffer to deliver to Dr. Biden,  including “Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House,” Volumes 1 and 2, and BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE.

Finnegan Biden, granddaughter of VP Joseph Biden, son of Hunter Biden, in 2008.

I hope she enjoys the books, including the picture of Joe Biden’s granddaughter Finnegan Biden in “Obama’s Odyssey,” Volume I, taken in 2008, when I interviewed her at the annual Jefferson/Jackson dinner in Davenport, Iowa. Hunter Biden’s daughter, the lovely 10-year-old, is now twelve years older and, no doubt, just as lovely a young lady.

Andy Warhol Exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago

Andy Warhol exhibit at the Art Institute in Chicago.

We took in the Andy Warhol exhibit in Chicago this past week. We selected a weekday, because the exhibit has been well-received and we thought it would be very crowded on the weekend.

Elvis.

As an advertisement illustrator in the 1950s, Warhol used assistants to increase his productivity. Collaboration would remain a defining (and controversial) aspect of his working methods throughout his career; this was particularly true in the 1960s. One of the most important collaborators during this period was Gerard Malanga. Malanga assisted the artist with the production of silkscreens, films, sculpture, and other works at “The Factory“, Warhol’s aluminum foil-and-silver-paint-lined studio on 47th Street (later moved to Broadway).

Early illustrations of shoes (the subjects of one of his very first exhibits) showed that Warhol had a thing for gold. Many of the pieces in the display reflect this, including the large painting below.

Gold painting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warhol began as a magazine illustrator in the fifties and continued into the sixties, establishing a studio in New York City called The Factory.  Within the exhibit are some pieces of film taken within the Factory, whose walls were said to be lined with silver foil.

The Art Institute of Chicago Andy Warhol exhibit.

Warhol was an admitted homosexual, at a time when being gay in America was not accepted. Although his image was that of a libidinous lifestyle, he told an interviewer as late as 1980, when he was 52, that he was still a virgin (born in 1928).

Biographer Bob Colacello provides some details on Andy’s “piss paintings”:

Victor … was Andy’s ghost pisser on the Oxidations. He would come to the Factory to urinate on canvases that had already been primed with copper-based paint by Andy or Ronnie Cutrone, a second ghost pisser much appreciated by Andy, who said that the vitamin B that Ronnie took made a prettier color when the acid in the urine turned the copper green. Did Andy ever use his own urine? My diary shows that when he first began the series, in December 1977, he did, and there were many others: boys who’d come to lunch and drink too much wine, and find it funny or even flattering to be asked to help Andy ‘paint’. Andy always had a little extra bounce in his walk as he led them to his studio.[73]

Attempted murder (1968)

On June 3, 1968, radical feminist writer Valerie Solanas shot Warhol and Mario Amaya, art critic and curator, at Warhol’s studio.[42] Before the shooting, Solanas had been a marginal figure in the Factory scene. She authored in 1967 the S.C.U.M. Manifesto,[43] a separatist feminist tract that advocated the elimination of men; and appeared in the 1968 Warhol film I, a Man. Earlier on the day of the attack, Solanas had been turned away from the Factory after asking for the return of a script she had given to Warhol. The script had apparently been misplaced. Some of the skull paintings that are shown in the exhibit are said to reflect Warhol’s subsequent musing on life, death and mortality.

One interesting painting in the display looked exactly like Melania Trump and, of course, there were the famous Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and Marlon Brando pictures.

 

 

 

Marilyn Monroe.

Marlon Brando.

 

 

Des Moines businessman immortalized by Andy Warhol.

Melania look-alike at Warhol exhibit.

Watch All the Originals: Netflix, Amazon, Hulu & Now Apple

The battle for viewers is ramping up on streaming services, with Apple’s entry into the field, competing with the more established Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and—also—with channels such as the Sundance Channel. Add to that services like Showtime and HBO and the competition for viewers becomes even more fierce.

A recent entry on Netflix, which began streaming on Friday (November 1, 2019) was the second season of “Jack Ryan,” starring John Krasinski. I watched season one, which was set in the Middle East. While it was well-done, I am enjoying season two, set in Venezuela more. Perhaps that is because I have actually visited Caracas, whereas I have not visited the Middle East and don’t expect to any time soon. I say that while realizing that shooting probably did not take place in that currently chaotic country, but there definitely was on-location shooting for the series. It looks expensive to film.

I’ve been enjoying the series “Castle Rock” on Hulu. It’s related to the genre in which I have published, with 3 novels in “The Color of Evil” series and 3 books in “Hellfire & Damnation.” Watching the pre-cursor of Kathy Bates’ “Misery” character, played by Lizzie Caplan (previously of “Masters & Johnson”) was interesting. The writing and execution, with talents like Scott Glenn, Frances Conroy and Sissie Spacek involved in various stories, has been well above par. Hulu also has another season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” to entertain, which we haven’t gotten to yet. Meanwhile, there is the “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” the much-acclaimed comedy series with Rachel Brosnahan, Alex Borstein and Tony Shaloub. It has garnered numerous Emmy awards for its stars. I’m also eagerly anticipating friend Jonathan Maberry’s vampire series, filmed in Canada, which premieres in early December with star Ian Somerhalder.

Then there are the “Don’t Miss” movies of the season as the race heats up heading towards Oscar season. Films like “The Irishman,” which Netflix bankrolled to the tune of $150 to $200 million, are being shown in theaters in select cities to qualify for the Oscar race, after which “The Irishman” will premiere on Netflix—all 3 hours and 20 minutes of it—-on November 27th.

I just returned from the Chicago International Film Festival. I am still reviewing film(s) from the Denver Film Festival, long distance. It is impossible to watch ALL of the films offered, but I managed to squeeze 42 films into a brief 2-week span. The day that I attended “The Torch” at 10 a.m. (a Buddy Guy documentary), followed by “Seberg” (Kirstin Stewart and Jack McConnell) for over 2 hours, followed by “The Irishman” for 3 hours and 20 minutes, followed by the late-night showing of “Into the Vast,” (a sci-fi epic about strange noises coming over the radio in a small town that set the town’s DJ and friends off on a search for the origin of the noises can best be summed up by these script lines, “They’re here. They’re really here.”) was a l-o-o-o-n-g day.

Of all the 42 films and documentaries that I took in between October 13-27, the two that are Don’t Miss are “Ford v. Ferrari,” with Christian Bale and Matt Damon, and Martin Scorsese’s epic “The Irishman,” with Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Romano and a host of others. It is definitely a worthy and classic film in the Scorsese cannon. I highly recommend it if you have enjoyed Scorsese gangster films (“Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” “Goodfellas”) over the years.

 

“Knives Out” Opens Denver Film Festival & Entertains in Chicago

The Denver Film Festival opened on Halloween (Oct. 31, 2019) with a showing of Rian Johnson’s (“The Last Jedi”) film “Knives Out.” The director was there in person to accept the John Cassavetes Award and discuss the film in a Q&A afterwards with John Wenzel of the Denver “Post.”

The film is a throwback homage to the Agatha Christie-style films that often starred Angela Lansbury…films like “Death on the Nile,” with a tip of the hat to television’s “Columbo.” Johnson admitted as much in Chicago when he said, “I just unabashadly love Agatha Christie.” His goal was to “hide a who-dun-it behind a thriller.” Like many Hitchcock films, the audience is even let in on who the guilty party is mid-film.

If you’re a fan of “Succession” on television, imagine that the scion of that family (Brian Cox) dies and there is a suspicion that one of his heirs has done him in. That, in a nutshell, is what we have here—murder or suicide?  The opening scene of German Shepherd guard dogs patrolling a house that looks like a haunted “Downton Abbey” owes much to production designAll Categorieser David Crank. (“The guy practically lives in a Clue board.”) The house really is a big part of the film’s plot in many ways.

At first, it appears that the successful thriller novelist head of the Thrombey family (Christopher Plummer as Harlan) has committed suicide by cutting his own throat. The plot, as they say, thickens. An anonymous party hires noted private investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) to investigate the death.

Michael Shannon and Director Rian Johnson at the Chicago premiere of “Knives Out.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Daniel Craig, who was hired first for the star-studded project, plays the investigator as a cross between Foghorn Leghorn and Hercule Poirot. For me, he was the least effective cast member. After all, audiences had Michael Shannon (the second hire), Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans,Jaeden Martell, Frank Oz, M. Emmet Walsh, Lakeith Stanfield, Noah Segas and new-comer Ana de Armas in the pivotal part of the nurse, Marta Cabrera, to share screentime. Some of the cast have little to do, as a result. The true perpetrator of the movie’s mayhem is pretty easy to spot early on, but there are still a few unique twists.

One of the enjoyable and unusual aspects of the who-dun-it plot is that Johnson incorporates a lot of humor. You may have seen the scene where Chris Evans (“Captain America”) enters and says, “CSI? KFC?” Or there is the put-down of “Gravity’s Rainbow,” the 1973 novel by Thomas Pynchon that was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, (even though the committee found the book’s content to be offensive and it was described as “unreadable, turgid, overwritten and obscene.”) After a mention of the work, a character says, “I’ve never read it.” “Neither have I,” comes the response, “Nobody has.”

Another source of humor is the inability of the Thrombey family to remember what country the nurse, Marta, is from. The attempts to make a point about the immigrant crisis and inequality of income don’t really “work,” but the fact that the characters who claim to feel that Marta is “a member of the family” don’t even know if she is from Ecuador, Uruguay, Brazil or Paraguay is telling. Point made.

Ana de Armas, who plays Marta Cabrera, is central to the plot. Director Rian Johnson said, “I wasn’t really aware of Ana.  Her part was really, really tricky and it’s a lot to step into the middle of a cast like this. It was really critical.” He added, in an interview from the Toronto International Film Festival where he predicted great things ahead for the actress.  The filming began in January, after 4 years of making the Star Wars film, and the shooting was finished by the following Christmas.

The night I saw the film, Johnson was joined by Michael Shannon in Chicago, for Shannon’s very first viewing of the film. He commented that it was “a pretty remarkable cast” and added, “I don’t really think Walt is reprehensible.  He’s just not fully formed.” Shannon described the appeal of the role as “I had never done a movie like this in a genre like this.” It was quite obvious that director and star became close friends during filming, as Shannon draped his jacket over Johnson’s head on the Red Carpet and Johnson joked that, “I want to do a version where Shannon plays every character.” The director also identified Shannon as the second actor to sign on to the project after Daniel Craig, saying, “He was actor bait.  This film has got some real talent!”

The director also gave major props for the humor in the film to Shannon’s improvisational nature, saying, “Basically, all the funniest lines in the movie are ones that Michael just spouted out on the day.”

Chicago actor Michael Shannon greets the crowd at the AMC Theater in Chicago at the premiere of “Knives Out.” (Photo by Connie Wilson)

On a serious note, Michael Shannon was asked about the recent passing of Robert Forster, with whom he worked in 2018’s “What They Had.” He shared that his father, a former DuPaul college professor had recently died, and said, “When they both died, it was rough.” Of Forster, Shannon said, “He was very kind, a very sweet man.  Something that has never happened to me on a set before was that Robert brought all of us—including my wife whom he had never even met—a present.” Seriously (in what was otherwise a light-hearted series of exchanges) Shannon said, “He was a very kind and sweet man and one of the most grateful actors I’ve ever met.  I did two movies with him.  He was a very lovely person, and I’ll miss him very much.”

Genre:  Comedy/Drama

Writer/Director:  Rian Johnson

Cast:  Daniel Craig, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Christopher Plummer, Jaeden Martell, Frank Oz, M. Emmet Walsh, Lakeith Stanfield, Noah Segan.

Length: 130 minutes

Cinematographer:  Steven Yedlin

Opens in U.S. Nov. 27; in UK Nov. 29; In Australia Nov. 28th

Celebrities Walk the Red Carpet in Chicago at 55th Chicago International Film Festival

Chicago actor Michael Shannon greets the crowd at the AMC Theater in Chicago at the premiere of “Knives Out.” (Photo by Connie Wilson)

The Chicago premier of “Knives Out” took place in Chicago at the AMC Theater and Writer/Director Rian Johnson (“The Last Jedi”) attended, along with cast member Michael Shannon, who has a longstanding connection to Chicago. The film was well-received in its Wednesday premiere and a Q&A was held following the film.

On Saturday night, Gael Garcia Bernal (Mozart in the Jungle), actor-turned-director, received a special Artistic

Director Rian Johnson at the Chicago premiere of “Knives Out.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Award and screened his second directorial effort, “Chicuarotes.” The crowd was very enthusiastic about Bernal’s attendance at the festival and presented him with a Mexican flag, while one entire row wore tee shirts that bore the name of his new film. (His first film was also screened at the festival some years ago, and he shared that the first award he ever won was given him by the Chicago International Film Festival.)

Gael Garcia Bernal on the Red Carpet in Chicago on October 26th. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Scorsese’s “The Irishman” Is One of the Best of the Year

Martin Scorsese, at 77, still has it. He had a film at the Chicago International Film Festival 52 years ago (“Who’s That Knocking At My Door?”) in 1967. Now, he’s the undisputed master of this sort of crime drama, sharing the throne with Francis Ford Coppola. The fact that you can be so thoroughly interested in “The Irishman” for 3 hours and 20 minutes is proof that he’s still in top form.

Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Ray Romano, Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin and a host of other great actors appear in “The Irishman,” which airs on Netflix beginning November 27th   and will play in select Chicago theaters beginning November 1st. This is Pacino’s first collaboration with Scorsese, although not his first pairing with DeNiro.

When you see DeNiro and Pacino in scenes together, it’s like a Master class in acting. The film is about what happened to Jimmy Hoffa, according to the hitman who, late in life, claimed credit for killing him. The film is based on the 2004 book “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt, comprised of interviews with the hitman, Frank Sheeran. Proving it’s all true is up to somebody above my pay grade, but it’s a fascinating story.

Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro) is a World War II veteran who spent 411 days in combat with the 45th infantry and 122 days at Anzio. He learned to kill efficiently. That skill becomes his calling in life once he throws in with Russ Bufalino (Joe Pesci) of the Pennsylvania crime family. Prior to becoming the go-to hit man for the Mob, he drove a truck delivering meat and, as he says in court about his job, (when an entire truckload of meat goes missing and ends up in Bobby Cannavale’s restaurant), “I work hard for ‘em when I ain’t stealin’ from them.”

As the movie progresses, each Mob power onscreen has a placard onscreen that tells when and how he met his end. It is fascinating, but also hard to keep up with so many deaths, some of them in slow-motion close-up.

THE PLOT

Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) has a habit of shooting off his mouth. As he admits in Steven Zallion’s screenplay adaptation, “I get that way. I get abrupt.” Mob bosses at the top would like him to dial it back. When Hoffa is newly out of prison after a 4-year stretch for fraud, he plans to take the Teamsters Union back from former sidekick and incumbent president Frank Fitzsimmons, saying, “At the end there’s only one thing that’s real. This is my union.”

Although Hoffa is repeatedly warned that he should just take his $1.5 million pension and retire , he won’t budge. He seems to think he is invincible, that the Mob bosses (Joe Pesci as Russ Bufalino of the Pennsylvania crime family and the under-used Harvey Keitel as Mob kingpin Angelo Bruno) wouldn’t dare put out a hit on him. His attitude towards the capos In the Mafia who want him to shut up and stop making waves is a little like his attitude towards the Attorney General (Robert F. Kennedy) who is prosecuting mobsters: “He’s (RFK’s) not gonna’ get what he wants. I don’t care what he wants, he’s not gonna’ get it.” There is one last attempt to talk sense to the hot-headed Hoffa, one last try at a sit-down with the gangster known as Tony Pro, Tony Provo, the Union City, New Jersey capo. Unfortunately, Hoffa and Pro can’t stand each another and their meetings don’t go well.

THE GOOD

The acting is great. The cast includes DeNiro, Pacino, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Jesse Plemmons, Bobby Cannavale, Joe Pesci (who came out of retirement to make the film), Anna Paquin as Sheeran’s daughter Peggy, and Steven Van Zandt as a lounge singer. Everyone is good, although Pacino tends to chew the scenery a bit in a few scenes.

The cinematography is compelling; Thelma Schoonover’s editing over the years has made Scorsese’s films masterpieces. It is hard to believe that three hours and twenty minutes could go by so quickly without unnecessary draggy baggage in these days of 200 minute-plus movies, but this one was so well-done that I saw no one exit early. I even had a ticket for a late-night film that would have meant leaving slightly early, but the film was too well done and  interesting to leave.

The story starts out in the nursing home where Frank Sheeran now lives in old age;  it ends in the same nursing home. There is a valedictory feeling, as though Scorsese is saluting his own illustrious career, and also those of the great actors who have brought the movie characters in his classic films to life. The old-timers in the cast were excellent. This longest (3 hrs. 20 mins) and most expensive ($150 to $200 million) of Scorsese’s many movies is one of his best.

The screenplay by Steven Zallion makes use of the phrase “It is what it is” frequently and creates a scene in a car that will rival Tarantino’s scene where Le Grand Royale as terminology for a cheeseburger in Paris is debated. This time, it is a discussion about fish, with Jessie Plemons (“Breaking Bad,” “Fargo”) driving and the others talking about what kind of fish Chuckie (Hoffa’s surrogate son) had in the car earlier. (“Never put a fish in your car. You’ll never get the smell out.”)

There is also a scene discussing how you have to “spill a little beer along the way” that showcases DeNiro and Pacino, once again, and another in a restaurant where they await the tardy Tony Pro that is great. It’s such a pleasure to see these two talents  onscreen together in good material crafted by a master.

The music by Robbie Roberson is spot-on, with “In the Still of the Night” still echoing in my ears. (I would have liked to have heard the Chairman of the Board crooning “My Way” at some point, but nevermind.) The cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto is wonderful. The visual de-aging work by Industrial Light and Magic worked  well.

THE BAD

While it is a pleasure to watch DeNiro and Pacino onscreen together, there are a few scenes, especially one in his office where Hoffa rants about RFK, where Al tends to go slightly overboard and off the rails. There’s even a line spoken by Joe Pesci, regarding Hoffa, that could apply to Pacino.  Russ Bufalino (Joe Pesci) says of Hoffa, “He likes to talk, don’t he?”

Pacino was never physically “right” to play Hoffa, who was a big man, but what Al lacks in stature he makes up for in sheer bluster. However, in the RFK office scene Pacino risks portraying Hoffa as a total buffoon. Still, when Zallion gives a talent like Al Pacino this line: “There’s only one point. I don’t wanna’ do it and I’m not gonna’ do it” you can’t really fault Al for taking his hot-head character and making the most of the script and the characterization. Pacino’s in some pretty awesome company, after all, and working for Scorsese for the first time.

I was delighted to see that Scorsese (et. al.) can still deliver the goods. Spielberg’s last outing in “Ready Player One” was underwhelming, but Marty Scorsese is still hitting it out of the park while treading familiar terrain. Clint Eastwood, now 90, says he is going to hang it up. Brian DePalma, William Friedkin, George Lucas and Peter Bogdanovich are gone from the scene. Even Quentin Tarantino is saying he may direct only one or two more films. Yes, there are good new talent(s) coming up, but many of us still miss the brilliance of Hitchcock, so seeing that Scorsese, 3 years shy of 80, is still in fine form is satisfying and reassuring. The audience will have a ball with Scorsese’s latest, and even if we are saluting the end of an era, it’s a good film to do so.

THE VERDICT:

It’s a great movie, a classic. It drives home this message from the script, “You don’t know how fast time goes by until it goes by.”

Genre: Crime drama

Director:  Martin Scorsese

Actors:  Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Jesse Plemons.

Writer: Steven Zallion, from the book “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt

Length: 210 minutes

 

 

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