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 24

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

 

 

“Waves” Directed by Trey Edward Shults Premieres in Chicago on Oct. 20th

Taylor Russell and Kelvin Harrison, Jr., stars of “Waves” at the Chicago Premiere. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Acclaimed Writer/Director Trey Edward Shults brings “Waves” to the screen with a cast that includes both new and seasoned performers, all in top-notch form. The film’s camera work is beautiful, which makes sense when it is Shults, who learned so much working with the legendary Terrence Malick. (Shults gave huge props to his D.P., True Daniels.

The screen goes  black  5 times, as though the film was over, a la the film “At Eternity’s Gate” (Julian Schmabel). The film is beautiful, whether it is the two leads frolicking in a sprinkler or a sunset or a party scene.

(L to R) Writer/Director Trey Edward Shults, Chicago Cinema Artistic Director Mimi Plauche, Taylor Russell, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr., at the Chicago Premiere of “Waves” on Oct. 20th. (Photo by Connie Wilson).  

“Waves” is really two films in one. You can’t tell what the movie is really about from the trailer. Suffice it to say that w become vitally interested in young athlete Tyler Williams (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) as he tries to live up to his father’s dreams for him to go to state as a wrestler and to succeed  in life. The romance between Tyler and Alexis (Alexa Demie of “Euphoria”) comprises the first half of the film. As the song used put it, “What a difference a day makes.” The Wiliams family (Father Ron, Step-mother Catharine, sister Emily and Tyler) will never be the same following the Tyler/Alexis storyline. A line of dialogue: “All we have is now.” (Clifton Collins, Jr., is wasted in a very small role as Alexis’ father). The cast includes Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us”) as the demanding father and Oscar-nominee Lucas Hedges as Luke, the boyfriend of Emily. (Fellow director Harmony Korine of “The Beach Bum” is listed in the credits are Mr. Stanley. His films are image-heavy and story-light and he listed painting and art as major parts of his career.)

The first half of the film focuses on Tyler and Alexis.

Writer/Director Trey Shults, and stars Taylor Russell and Kelvin Harrison, Jr., are interviewed on the Red Carpet in Chicago on Oct. 20th at the Chicago Premiere of “Waves.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

The second half focuses on Tyler’s sister Emily (Taylor Russell). Her budding romance with Lucas Hedges as Luke includes a touching scene with Luke’s dying, estranged father. But the entire Williams family unit is affected by what occurs earlier between Tyler and Alexis.  Losing sight of Tyler almost completely in the second half doesn’t benefit the film’s plot, which director Trey Edward Shults said was largely autobiographical and/or “personal,” in that it had happened to people close to him.

The film is a cinematic  tour de force, which has been true of the films with which Shults has been associated, including “It Comes At Night,” which also featured Kelvin Harrison, Jr. in its cast. In the Q&A following the film, audience members got a crash course in aspect ratios. (185, 133, 240, 266, native anamorphic et. al) and there’ll be more from the Q&A in a more complete review. Opens November 15th.

Genre: Drama

Writer/Director: Trey Edward Shults

Stars:  Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Taylor Russell, Sterling K. Brown, Lucas Hedges, Alexa Demie, Renee Elise Goldsberry.

Length: 135 minutes

 

55th Chicago International Film Festival Begins October 16th

The 55th Chicago International Film Festival starts Wednesday, October 16th, opening with Edward Norton directing and starring in the film adaptation of “Motherless Brooklyn” (with Bruce Willis co-starring). The book, by Jonathan Lethem, won the New York Book Circle Award some years back and it has been a long time coming to the screen. “Motherless Brooklyn” will open the 55th year for America’s longest-running film competition, which runs from October 16th through October 27th.

THE WHISTLERS
It hasn’t opened to the public yet, but critics have already had the opportunity to see the new film from Corneliu Porumboiu, “The Whistlers,” which will be the Czech Republic’s entry for the Academy Awards. The involved noir tale follows the adventures of a corrupt, middle-aged policeman named Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) who travels from Bucharest to the Canary islands to study the ancient Aboriginal whistling language, which allows criminals to communicate clandestinely. Director Porumboiu, in interviews from Cannes, says he became interested in this authentic language after seeing a piece on television describing it. There’s a femme fatale named Gilad (homage to Rita Hayworth intentional), quick clips of “The Searchers” (which is one reason the original title, “La Gomera,” was changed to “The Whistlers”) and a gorgeous opportunity to see lighted garden display in Singapore, which runs 12 minutes and shows two times a night. It’s a complicated caper plot. When asked about the finale Hong Kong Gardens light show and how he knew about it, Porumboiu said, “YouTube.” (Romanian English with subtitles, 97 minutes).

8 – A SOUTH AFRICAN HORROR STORY
This film from director Harold Holscher has a wonderfully moody, menacing, supernatural plot and the South African cinematography is gorgeous. It revolves around a black man named Lazarus (aptly named) and his interaction with a South African family returning to their family farm after many years. A little girl named Mary will be the focus of the film and the spine-tingling, creepy, well-acted central performance by Tahamano Sebe as Lazarus holds the film together. The female performances, especially the ingenue, Mary, are not as impressive, but there are visceral scares and a heartbreaking plot. (98 minutes)


FORMAN vs FORMAN
This documentary traces the life and achievements of Milos Forman, who won Oscars for directing both “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 1975 and “Amadeus” in 1984. There are a multitude of film clips of young Milos, his parents, Prague where he grew up, and some personal shots from his widow. Forman died on April 13, 2018, and this documentary about his life, directed by Helena Trestikova and Jakub Hejna is a treasure trove of archival footage that traces Forman’s life and career. Both of Forman’s parents are taken away to concentration camps when he was young, leaving him feeling like an outsider in the world. (His mother died in Auschwitz and his father in Buchenwald.) It’s well worth a look. (78 minutes)

JUST 6.5
Saving the best of those I’ve seen so far for last, from Iran comes this riveting story of detective Samad (Peyman Maadi, of “A Separation”), whose mission is to bring down powerful drug kingpin Nasser Khakzad. The first 8 minutes of this film is as riveting and intense as the opening of “Shallow Grave.” There is a foot chase through winding alleyways that forces the runner over a fence and (inadvertently) into a deep hole where he is buried alive. The film was a hit in its native land and it’s easy to see why. It’s a high-octane look at the drug trade and the criminal justice system in Iran. (Farsi with subtitles, 135 minutes)

“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” Is Great for “Breaking Bad” Fans

Robert Forster, who passed away on Oct. 11, 2019. Photo taken on Oct. 15, 2018 at the Chicago International Film Festival by Connie Wilson at 9 p.m. at the showing of “What They Had.” (Who knew Robert had only 361 days left on the planet?)

We watched “El Camino: The Breaking Bad Movie” last night and liked it very much

.There are numerous flashbacks that provide some “Walt” for those who have to have Walt with their Jessie.

Since the original series had been off the air for 6 years, I confess to being hazy on some of the finer TV plot points. For example, I did remember that Jessie was kept in a cage and tortured and forced to make crystal meth, but the contraption used to give him mobility was totally forgotten by me, until it re-emerges in this film.

The “shoot-out at the O.K. Corral” part is quite good. (See it to find out what I mean).

Jessie’s desperate attempt to get money to finance his “disappearing” act was well done, with a run-in with “police” that is very creative. This part involves Robert Forster, who helped Walt hide out in the TV series.

Yesterday Robert Forster, 78, known as “the Disappearer” in the original TV series and the long-ago star of “Medium Cool” back in the sixties (one of the few—-perhaps only—-examples of cinema verite in the U.S.) unexpectedly died of brain cancer. I met Forster in October of 2018 as he made the film festival rounds on behalf of “What They Had,” a very good film with Michael Shannon, Vera Farmigia and Blythe Danner co-starring about an elderly couple coping with the wife’s encroaching Alzheimer’s disease.

Forster was perfect in the part of her devoted elderly husband, but when I saw him standing in the aisle as I walked to my seat (he was leaning against the wall at the time, in preparation for the post showing Q&A) I had to go over and introduce myself and tell him how much I admired his work in “Medium Cool” and many other projects. He was genuinely warm and friendly, and we chatted briefly for a few moments before I took my seat. Then, he talked about his career, both in an interview in the Chicago “Tribune” but also onstage, and, once again, cemented my admiration.

This is Forster’s final film role. I was struck, when he first came onscreen, by how much he had aged in just one year, as it was October of 2018 when I met him in person. It is one year later, I am about to leave for the October film festival again, but Robert looked like 5 years had passed. I assumed it was make-up. And then I heard that he had died, of brain cancer.

I found the arc that Jessie traverses in this film believable and well-acted and another reason it rang a particularly intense bell with me, besides the information in the paragraph above, is that we just returned from a tour of Alaska and Alaska has an important role in the plot.

I definitely recommend the film for fans of “Breaking Bad.”

“Joker” May Bring Joaquin an Oscar

JOKER

Joaquin Phoenix has turned in another riveting, intense performance in “Joker,” this time as Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill young man who lives with his invalid mother and works as a clown. In the opening scene, he is twirling a sign on the rat-infested, garbage-strewn streets of Gotham (1970s New York City) when 5 young men steal his “Everything must go!” sign and beat him up in an alley.

If you think this is grim, just wait.

Joaquin has pretty much made a career out of playing character parts that Bruce Dern of 30 years ago, Crispin Glover of 20 years ago, or Michael Shannon of today might play. He is intense and strange, excelling, as one critic put it, in films that depict “exquisite isolation.” In this film, for which he lost 15 pounds, he looks emaciated, like Christian Bale in “The Mechanic.” He claims it helped him with his weirdly artistic dance moves to be lighter on his feet. Arthur (Phoenix) laughs inappropriately and compulsively and may suffer from pseudobulbar affect disorder (or any of a series of ailments often related to traumatic brain injury and/or schizophrenia). It is off-putting and uncomfortable; he even carries a small card explaining his condition to strangers, much like the deaf have used.

The tour-de-force part of Arthur Fleck is eerily reminiscent of Travis Bickle in 1976’s “Taxi Driver.” This part also builds on Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn as the Joker in “The Dark Knight Rises” and gives us a back story for Joker that is different from the ones in other “Batman” films. Oscar history could repeat itself with a gold statuette for Joaquin, but the film, itself, does not seem Oscar-worthy, to me.

Joaquin has been acting since the early eighties. Many of his best performances have utilized his personal projection of a sense of strange intensity. I remember seeing him on David Letterman’s show on February 11th, 2009, when he claimed he was giving up acting for good to become a rapper. He acted weird, strange and was monosyllabic. Letterman played off that, as he used to do when Crispin Glover came on the show and acted like a World Class Weirdo. (Remember the kicking sequence with Glover on the show?)

At the time, Joaquin was making the movie “I’m Still Here” with his then brother-in-law (Casey Affleck). As it turned out, they thought it would be a good promotional stunt to have Joaquin claim he was quitting acting to become a rapper. Later, on September 22, 2010, Joaquin returned to Letterman’s “Tonight” show to admit that he was actually not finished with acting. Each time, Phoenix came across as supremely weird, strange, and intense. He’s supposed to be engaged to frequent co-star Mara Rooney now, so perhaps both of those television appearances were just good examples of his acting ability.

Whatever. He fooled most of us, and, therefore, his persona with the public and the press has been close to that of Arthur Fleck. The part of “Joker” was perfect for him.  Director/Writer Todd Phillips (the “Hangover” movies) said that he never wanted to develop a Plan B for any other casting, because he always intended to cast Phoenix in the part.

When New York Times writer David Itzkoff pointed out while interviewing Phoenix that he seemed to be the “go to” character actor for such over-the-top intense performances  and that Phoenix could continue acting characters like this for a very long time, the actor responded, “Oh, really?” in a sarcastic voice as dry as sandpaper. “Well, good. Thank you so much. That’s great. I was worried.”

Then, said Itzkoff, “he grinned and let out a laugh to let me know he was kidding. (Or was he?”)

THE GOOD

The Acting

Joaquin Phoenix is a good bet for an Oscar nomination and, potentially, for a win, although it’s still early for making those predictions.

The film is powerful, but about as grim a film as you can find. Still, there were many great supporting turns from the rest of the cast including Frances Conroy (“Six Feet Under,” “American Horror Story”) as his mother, Robert DeNiro as  talk show host Murray Franklin and Zazee Beetz as his next-door neighbor Sophie Dumond. The use of DeNiro as the late night talk show host modeled on Johnny Carson elicited echoes of Jerry Lewis’ 1982 film “King of Comedy,” where DeNiro played Rupert Pupkin.

Cinematography & Editing:

Director/Writer Todd Phillips (who co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Silver) has used an interesting mix of “Is this really happening?” cinema, woven together to leave it up to the audience to determine whether what Arthur Fleck is experiencing is wishful thinking or really happening. Audiences today are fairly savvy. We are used to having to figure out some of the connecting tissue of a film on our own, and Phillips handles that beautifully, along with the assistance of cinematographer Lawrence Sher, who seems to love to dwell on Phoenix in close-up. Phillips does a good job of incorporating the seamy, rat-infested city of Gotham as almost a character in itself, and the many nods to Scorsese’s classic films show that, “Hangover” or no “Hangover,” Phillips recognizes a modern-day cinematic icon’s quality work when he sees it. All nice touches.

THE BAD:

Music:

I was not a fan of the cello-heavy score by the 31 people listed as being in charge of the music for the film. It was overpoweringly dark, screaming, “Feel sorry for Arthur” at every plot turn.

Plot:

That last remark brings me to the fact that we are primed to feel sorry for/excuse Arthur for his misdeeds. There isn’t a single murder that takes place (and there are plenty, most of them bloody) that some rationale or excuse as to why Arthur would have committed the bloodthirsty crime can’t be ginned up to defend or excuse this poor mentally-ill man (who seems completely amoral by film’s end, if not before).

When Arthur first turns homicidal on a subway train,  he has acted in self defense. The plot channels Bernard Goetz, who shot and wounded four African-American youths on a Manhattan subway train in 1984. Only this time “the enemy” is Wall Street and it is three young white Wall Street brokers, insensitive louts all, who abuse and mistreat poor Arthur before he snaps. That brings about the violence. The viewer does feel that the audience is supposed to sympathize with the poor beaten-down loser that Joaquin is portraying so well. We’re rooting for “the little guy” standing up for himself, even if you feel that a sane person would have taken his chances with the NYPD, since the subway shootings seem justified.

After that, while excuses/rationales/reasons are still given for every single murder, feeling sorry for poor Arthur goes downhill fast.

The entire idea of the poor versus the rich is elevated to new heights when portions of Arthur’s comedy act showing him laughing hysterically and uncontrollably are broadcast on Murray Franklin’s show. Arthur becomes a lightning rod for the general sense of malaise and unrest abroad in the land. “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” asks Arthur, at one point.

It’s not just you, Arthur. It IS getting crazier out there, and most of us know why.

It is interesting to have a homicidal, mentally-ill killer elevated, by film’s end, almost to the point of “leader of the pack,” but maybe not such a great idea. We can always bring back Steve Bannon, who wants to tear down everything in order to create “the Fourth Turning” (as he himself articulated in the Erroll Morris “American Dharma” documentary).

Permissive nods towards out-of-control violence of any kind should be quickly squelched, whenever and wherever they crop up. Arthur’s sad plight illustrates many of the issues this country is facing. Indeed, problems that the entire world is facing: the ‘haves vs have nots” battle, etc. But letting anarchy rule doesn’t seem like the best solution, regardless of our emotional empathy for Arthur Fleck and embattled little people the world over.

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