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!

“Shrill” Leaves Air After 3 Seasons

I just watched the final season of “Shrill” on Hulu.

It took me back to March of 2019 when the series was launching and Executive Producer Elizabeth Banks and star Aidy Bryant came to SXSW with a panel that included the woman, Lindy West, who wrote the book on which the series was based. I sat right behind Ms. Banks during the introduction and then she moved to the stage following the showing of one episode for the Q&A.

Aidy Bryant of “SNL” played the lead role of Annie Easton, a writer for the fictional “Thorn” newspaper where she interacted with Boss Gabe Parrish (John Cameron Mitchell), and Ian Owens as Amadi. The 22 episodes that I’ve watched followed the plight of an overweight single woman in today’s dating scene. We didn’t get to see as much of Aidy on “SNL” because of her involvement in this show, but that will, hopefully, end with the series finale.

Annie (Aidy) lives with her college friend Fran (Lolly Adefope), who is a Black Nigerian lesbian who grew up in London, and, for most of the series she dates Ryan (Luka Jones) who was replaced in the show’s final episodes by a new more promising boyfriend named Will (Cameron Britton).

Elizabeth Banks (l) and Lindy West (R) onstage at SXSW in 2019, lauching “Shrill.”

Ryan made it through 16 episodes as the sadly tone-deaf boyfriend, while the Will character only made it through 4 episodes before he became hopelessly pissed off that Annie went to the coffee shop where Will’s ex-wife worked, just to see what her new boyfriend’s ex looked like. After all, Will and his ex-wife met at age 15 and she was the only girl he had ever been with, whereas Annie is seen jumping in and out of bed with a variety of swains, including a really depressing deflowering experience at an “Oklahoma” cast after-party, where the prop manager of the play offered to “do” Annie, since she was the only one in their circle who was a virgin.

Most of the show wants to be striking a blow against fat-shaming. There’s the episode where Annie’s doctor mentions that she could opt for stomach stapling and Annie reacts with a great deal of profanity and unpleasantness. There’s the episode that is a pool party with a bevy of Big Beauties who are lesbian.  The show also wants to come down firmly on the side of lesbian love and there is definitely a strong message for mothers of girls with a weight problem that harping on the problem and putting their daughter on diet after diet isn’t the right approach to urging an overweight child (especially a girl) to lose weight.

As a woman who was of “normal” weight for most of my life, but gained weight after having my 2 kids, I could relate to the mother, played by pro Julia Sweeney, who spends most of her time harassing her daughter about her weight. This approach doesn’t work and the grown-up Annie proves it.

There is also a fun plot about striking back at Internet trolls, with Beck Bennet guest starring as the troll who goes online to attack fat people, especially girls, even if they are complete strangers.

There was a lot of talk about sex or having sex and there was a quirky work group that rivaled “The Office.”

I enjoyed the series while it was on the air, although I thought the attempt to strike a blow for overweight women was probably doomed to failure from the get go.

SPOILER ALERT

Aidy Bryant (second from left) and Elizabeth Banks (second from far right) with the interviewer and other executive producer appearing onstage for a Q&A following the 2019 screening of an episode of “Shrill,” as it launched.

By the last episode, Fran (Annie’s roommate) has managed to deep-six her lesbian relationship and Annie is on the outs with Will because of the ill-advised trip to the coffee shop where Will’s ex worked. I realize that the creative minds behind this venture (Lindy West and Alexandra Rushfield for all of the episodes, with Elizabeth Banks involved for 16 of them) had to end this somehow, but it was definitely not an inspiring finale. Fran and Annie are sitting on a park bench with a bottle of what looks like champagne that they had saved for the day they would stop being roommates and they both confess that they have managed to completely screw up their most recent love relationships and the final word on that is, “I’ll fix it.”

That was not the “happy ending” most of us had hoped for.

The best that can be said about “happy endings” here is that we learn that Gabe has bought “The Thorn” and Annie and Office Manager Amadi have been promoted, so take your happiness where you can find it.

“No Sudden Move” Has Star-Studded Cast (Now Streaming)

Steven Soderbergh (“Sex, Lies and Videotape,” “Michael Clayton”) has a new movie streaming on HBO Max with a killer cast. The leads are Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro. The rest of the cast includes David Harbour (“Revolutionary Road,” “Stranger Things”); Brendan Frasier (“The Mummy”); Ray Liotta (“Goodfellas”); Kieran Culkin (“Succession,” “Igby Goes Down”); Noah Jupe (“Ford versus Ferrari,” “A Quiet Place”); Bill Duke (“Predator,” “American Gigolo”); Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”); and Matt Damon (“Good Will Hunting,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley”).

The odd thing about this impressive list of actors is that Matt Damon doesn’t  appear on the credits at any point. He appears in a somewhat pivotal role, but is not listed on IMDB, in the credits at the end, or in the P.R. for the movie.

The beginning of the film is very impressive; it sucks us in immediately. Some bad guys are hired to retrieve something from a safe. Every time an amount is mentioned for the task to be performed it changes. The audience is not clear in the beginning what is being retrieved. What’s in the safe? Is it diamonds? Is it a little black book that lists Mafia members? Is it pictures meant to blackmail some important person? The log-line online says: “A group of criminals are brought together under mysterious circumstances and have to work together to uncover what’s really going on when their simple job goes completely sideways”

A family is taken hostage and the father (David Harbour) is instructed to get the contents of the envelope in the safe at his office and bring them back to his home. If he doesn’t, his wife and son and daughter are in peril, being held hostage by Don Cheadle and Kieran Culkin who are masked in the world’s worst identity-concealing masks and are holding the family at gunpoint.

The son, Matthew Wertz, Jr.—Noah Jupe of “Ford vs Ferrari” and “A Quiet Place”—is 16 now, and it shows. He is no longer the small boy of those previous films. While the actress playing Noah’s Mom (Amy Seinmetz) as Mary Wertz is good, Julia Fox, who plays Benicio del Toro’s love interest is not very good. She has very few career credits; they only go back to 2018. “Uncut Gems,” in which she played a character also named Julia, was about the most impressive and memorable of those listed. She even appeared in an interview talking about her relative lack of experience when measured against the majority of the cast members. This was not promising, and her fears about her performance as Vanessa were fulfilled.

I paid close attention and even while paying careful attention to the plot, it was tough sledding. The characters throw around names when we haven’t really figured out who these people are yet. It wasn’t until a conversation that Don Cheadle makes from a phone booth (the film is set in 1954 Detroit) that I even developed a coherent theory about what the plot involved. (Note: in the final frames of the film, Soderbergh will synopsize the entire plot in a few brief paragraphs, so don’t worry about leaving the movie without knowing what it was all about.)

The film looked terrific and it was very complicated and, for the most part, well-written and well-acted. Not a “10” on a 10-point scale, but better than most of the original films that are currently streaming.

“Symptoms of Withdrawal” by Christopher Kennedy Lawford Offers Insight

I just finished reading Christopher Kennedy Lawford’s memoir (2005) “Symptoms of Withdrawal.”

Yes, it was published in 2005, so I’m a bit behind on this one. Something reminded me of the Las Vegas trip when I won at roulette with one (1) bet on one number and went upstairs to watch young Lawford be interviewed about a book, which I think was this book. It was a long time ago and that would make it 16 years ago. I remember that the Japanese gamblers gathered around the roulette wheel when I placed exactly one $50 bet on one color and number clapped when I took the money and ran. I had had a spirited discussion with my spouse about the wisdom of betting on roulette at all, but I had just won $50 at the poker bar, so I figured I was playing with the house’s money. I wanted to make it upstairs to hear this interview.

The interview was worth it. The adult son of actor Peter Lawford and one of the fabled Kennedy clan (JFK’s sister Patricia is his mother) would have been 50 years old when this book was published in 2005. He shared that his father was the last person to talk to Marilyn Monroe on the phone the night she died, when Marilyn called him. He talked about his much-discussed 17-year addiction to drugs of all kinds, which ultimately led him to quit all of them and become a speaker and writer on the topic.

Christopher Kennedy Lawford was a handsome guy. He looked like a real charmer, and I’m sure he was. By the time he died of a heart attack (brought on, some say, by a hot yoga class) in 2018 at the age of 63 he had gone through 3 wives and was with a new girlfriend in Canada.

I found his book very interesting and I was a sympathetic reader up until Chapter 39. What happened in Chapter 39, you may ask?

The younger Lawford writes, “I left my marriage in sobriety because I was being dishonest and after seventeen years wasn’t sure I wanted to be married anymore.” Young Christopher went on to say, “To tell lies to others is foolish; to tell lies to yourself is a disaster.” He added, “I have always had a certain ambivalence about marriage…Something about that life didn’t feel right to me. It wasn’t Jeannie (his wife) or my kids. It was me.” Interestingly enough, Wife #2 (Lana) uses the quote about telling lies to yourself in her IMDB biography.

In the next paragraph Christopher adds, “Many of the people in my life, including my kids, thought I was crazy to break up my marriage and got very angry with me. At the time, it was something I felt like I had to do. I could not lie anymore to others or myself. I thought we would all acclimate to the change and go on in the new circumstances. I seriously underestimated the pain my leaving caused and how difficult it would be for Jeannie and my kids to adjust.”

He adds, “I had made quite a show of trying to destroy myself, and now, after years of reconstruction, I was left with the knowledge that if you took away my sobriety, the only thing that I knew how to do was take advantage of the circumstances I was born into. I believed I needed to leave home to find out who I was.”

Christopher Kennedy Lawford’s therapist at the time said to him, “What about your children?”

By this point, he had three—2 sons (David and Matthew) and a daughter (Savannah Rose).

The therapist correctly added, “It is vital that you do not recreate unconsciously  what was done to you by your father.” If you had read the book, you’d know that the divorce of Pat Kennedy Lawford and Peter Lawford meant that young Christopher—their only son—-really had no father and depended a great deal on the “fathering” of relatives like Robert Kennedy, until RFK’s assassination, and, after that, on Teddy Kennedy.

The therapist then added something that sounds like malpractice, really: “You can recreate it consciously.  You can choose to turn away from your family, or not. It’s your life, but you must make a conscious choice.”

Christopher Kennedy Lawford then writes, “I think it was at that moment that I understood how to take responsibility for my own life.”

Wellllll.

By this point in time we have learned that the good-looking quasi-Kennedy had always been a big hit with the ladies and was a real “pleaser.” However, all that pleasing did not extend to following the rules when it came to illegal substances and he paints a pretty vivid picture of someone who hit rock bottom more than once before getting sober. He had dabbled in the worlds of both of his parents, taking acting roles on both television and in the movies, and he had wangled some time as a driver to his Uncle Teddy, among other youthful forays into politics.

What it appears happened here is that the always-reluctant-to-grow-up Christopher—having fathered 3 children and spent 17 years as an addict—finally kicked his bad habits and then decided that he could substitute his appeal to the ladies for some of his other weaknesses. In rather short order, he threw over a close-to-20 year marriage and took up with a beautiful young Russian actress named Lana Antonova. [There went the marriage to Jeannie Olsson, which lasted from 1984 until 2000.]

Lana and Chris were married for 4 years and divorced in 2009. She is a Russian-born actress and, since she was born in 1979, she was 24 years younger than her husband.

Enter Mercedes Miller in 2014. That marriage would only last 2 years before the couple divorced in 2016. His last wife, Mercedes was a yoga instructor and Kennedy, who was worth $50 million when he died, was in Vancouver, Canada when his heart gave out. He already had a new girlfriend and was working to establish an addiction treatment center when he died at age 63, just 2 years later than his actor father, Peter.

Christopher Kennedy Lawford lost his Uncle Jack when he was 8. (He turned down an invitation to fly to JFK’s funeral to stay home and host a sleep-over with a friend.) Uncle Bobby was shot and killed when Chris was 13 and he lost his best friend David Kennedy (after whom his own son is named) at the tender age of 28.

He earned a law degree from Boston College Law School, but really didn’t care for the law and never passed the bar. He studied counseling at Harvard University and lectured on addiction at Harvard, Columbia University and other college campuses. He spoke out on recovery issues for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Barack Obama and for the Caron Foundation, a nationwide drug and alcohol rehabilitation network.

This book by Christopher Kennedy Lawford, “Symptoms of Withdrawal,” is the only one of his many books I’ve read. It contained many family photos of the young Lawford with his Kennedy relatives.

I was sympathetic to his tales of how much he missed his father, growing up, and how that turned him to drugs and alcohol, until he turned around and did, to his own kids, exactly what his own father had done to him, breaking up the home he had shared with their mother for nearly 20 years.

It also appears that the young Lawford then snagged himself a “trophy wife” and, later, a third younger woman, whom he also dumped in 2016 (he died in 2018). He speaks at length of how he hopes to be a good father (unlike his own dad) to his three kids, and I hope he achieved that, at least, because he does not seem to have mastered the “good husband” part.

“We can re-create the days when Frank, Dean, Sammy and my dad were together,” Christopher told the Boston Globe in 2005. “But they all ended up dysfunctional, messed-up guys. And they once had everything. Money. Good looks. Success. Yet at the end, they were miserable, miserable men alone, angry, drinking. So what’s that all about?”

What’s that all about, indeed.

 

“Queen of Basketball” Is Outstanding Short Documentary from Director Ben Proudfoot

Ben Proudfoot (October 29, 1990) is a Canadian filmmaker from HalifaxNova Scotia. He is most noted as codirector with Kris Bowers of the short documentary film A Concerto Is a Conversation, which was an Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary (Short Subject) at the 93rd Academy Awards in 2021. Proudfoot was named one of Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30” honorees. In addition to being a world-class magician, he founded Breakwater films in 2012, primarily dedicated to the short documentary form.

Proudfoot attended film school at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts and, in partnership with the New York Times, Breakwater Films has helmed “The Queen of Basketball,” the story of Lusia “Lucy” Harris Stewart. Skillfully interweaving film footage with Lucy’s own observations and with charming background music, this is a very well-done and insightful short documentary.

As Proudfoot says of his documentary, “The visual legacy of Lusia “Lucy” Harris, as told from memory in her own voice, painted a portrait of one of the most important American athletes of the 20th century.”

Ben and his team digitized nearly 10,000 film negatives and 16,000 feet of film that had lain in the college vaults for 50 years to produce this 22 and ½ minute documentary. The film had its World Premiere at 2021’s New York  Tribeca Film Festival. It won Best Documentary Short at the 2021 Palm Springs Film Festival, which is an Oscar-qualifying film festival.

Told in her own words, Lusia “Lucy” Harris, #45, from Cleveland, Mississippi, is living testimony to the inequities in women’s versus men’s sports that Title IX started to address in 1972. Lucy, at 6’ 3”, was a gifted athlete who led Delta State and Memphis State to three consecutive national titles with the AIAW (Association for Inter-collegiate Athletics for Women). Lucy was also on the women’s U.S. Olympic team the very first year that women’s basketball was admitted to the Olympics, snagging the silver medal and scoring the first-ever basket for women at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Lucy, the 1976 Amateur Athlete of the Year, was the first woman inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Coached by Margaret Wade of Mississippi’s Delta State, the Lady Statesmen played to a packed 4,500-seat fieldhouse for the women’s basketball games, double the men’s following. They also flew to their games, while the men took the bus. The biggest rivalry, documented in Proudfoot’s film, was Immaculata College, which had been the two-time national champion before Delta State beat them 90 to 81.

And yet nobody today knows Lucy’s name.

As Lucy muses in the documentary, “If I’d been a man, there would have been options for me to go further” (after graduating from college). There were none. Instead, Lucy married her high school boyfriend, George, and turned down a try-out offer from the NBA’s Utah Jazz.

Instead, Lucy had five children, endured mental problems (including a nervous breakdown) after her playing days were over, and worked at her old high school (Amanda Elzy Panthers) as head coach.

This short documentary comes at the perfect time in history, when women are demanding equity in pay and opportunity. In much of the world, that seems to be happening, but in a world with Honor Killings and young girls like Malala mortally wounded merely for wanting to acquire a good education, a film like this is more than timely. It is necessary.

 

 

“Happy-Go-Lucky” Is Worth A Look

My apologies to all who thought—as I did—that Weekly in the title Weekly Wilson meant that I would not go more than a week without posting.

I have excuses.

Mostly, the excuses involve my always-rocky relationship with computers.

The hinge on my laptop somehow came undone. So, no laptop to write my post on and most of the graphics I’d need are within said laptop. Computer Revolutions scavenged a new top from an old computer and ordered and installed a new hinge. They did this between Friday and Tuesday, but I still was without a computer recently.

In the meantime, I tried to go downstairs and use my desk top.

Can’t make it type even a letter to the sister for her birthday. Not sure why. Could be “updates.” Could be that I owe money for something that I don’t know about. After all, we were gone from November through May, so various “updates” had to be installed.

Now that I’m (more-or-less) back, I’d like to recommend some viewing, including “Start Up,” which features Martin Freeman and Ron Perlman in a tale from Miami about the Internet, which also features Academy-Award winning actress Mira Sorvino, whom you seldom see onscreen. (Her career a Harvey Weinstein casualty, I believe).

We started watching “The Ice Road” last night, the #1 rental on Netflix with Liam Neeson. When we got to the point where both trucks were on their sides, I asked how they were going to get them both upright again. Still don’t know, as the film quit loading/running.

Last, but not least, Sally Hawkins (the deaf mute girl in “The Shape of Water”) and “Terry” (from “Ray Donovan,” as portrayed by Eddie Marsan) appeared on my late-night television viewing in “Happy-Go-Lucky” and I heartily recommend this film if you are in the market for an upbeat film (from 2008) that has a lot to say about optimism in the face of life’s normal setbacks. (Preview above).

“Cruella” Success Sets Up Sequels for the “101 Dalmatians” Villainess

Cruella De Vil, the big budget Disney picture starring Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, debuted on May 28th and screams “Sequel” from the moment the last scene fades. Director Craig Gillespie has pulled out all the fashion stops on this one, and it shows.

In the last 23 hours, the Hollywood Reporter has confirmed those sequel suspicions, with these remarks:

“We are very pleased with Cruella’s box office success, in conjunction with its strong Disney+ Premier Access performance to date,” a Disney spokesperson said in a statement. “The film has been incredibly well received by audiences around the world, with a 97% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes, in addition to A’s in every demographic from CinemaScore on opening weekend, ranking it among the most popular of our live-action re-imaginings. We look forward to a long run as audiences continue to enjoy this fantastic film.”

Emma Stone in Cruella (2021)   Everything I had read about the performances (Top Notch), the soundtrack (great), and the costuming (exceptionally great) was confirmed. There is even an acceptable backstory for how Cruella got so cruel, crafted by  Dana Fox, Tony McNamara, Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly  Marsel and Steve Zissin.  My remark to my companion, as we left the theater, was that it was obvious there would be a sequel that would pick up where this film left off. And I was right.

Cruella is a 2021 American crime comedy film based on the character Cruella de Vil from Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians and Walt Disney‘s 1961 animated film adaptation.

Unlike other films that have spun off from animated beginnings, this one seems to have more interest in developing sympathy for the devil that Cruella becomes (one of the many soundtrack choices from the Rolling Stones that is heard throughout the action). Audiences didn’t prefer the film versions of Disney offerings like “The Lion King” to the Disney animated pictures, but this one may be the exception to that rule. That song, by the way (“Sympathy for the Devil) released on November 1st, 1968, is but one of the many 70s punk songs like “These Boots Are Made for Walkin,’” “Time of the Season,” “Whole Lotta’ Love,” “Should I Stay Or Should I Go,” and on and on. The music is a large part of the success of the film.

COSTUMING & SETS

Cruella (2021)Emma Thompson in Cruella (2021)Cruella (2021)Emma Thompson in Cruella (2021)Emma Stone, Joel Fry, and Paul Walter Hauser in Cruella (2021)

So are the fashions and with a $200 million budget, you see some over-the-top fashions. “Screen Rant” reports that the film is far pricier than most Disney re-imagined fare. Cruella’s production budget is reportedly $200 million, making it a very expensive endeavor. That price tag is higher than other Disney live-action re-imaginings like Aladdin ($183 million)Beauty and the Beast ($160 million), and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil ($185 million). Cruella’s budget is more in line with what one would expect from a tentpole comic book adaptation. Disney’s upcoming Black Widow also cost around $200 million to make.”

So, we have established that the soundtrack and costuming and make-up will scream “Oscar” in March.

What about the acting?

ACTING: Competent, as one would expect from the two Emmas (Stone and Thompson). Also doing good work are the supporting players, namely Joel Fry as Jasper and Paul Walter Hauser as Horace, with a stylish turn from John McRea as Artie and Billie Gadson as the 5-year-old Estella/Cruella. Mark Strong also has a pivotal role as John the valet, a role that reminds of something Stanley Tucci would play.

 

Joel Fry in Cruella (2021)Cruella (2021)

PLOT:

Set in 1970s London  amidst the emergence of the punk rock movement, Cruella traces the trajectory of Estella (Stone), and the tragedies and ecstasies that mark her formative years. Her mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham) plays a seminal role in shaping her worldview. Despite being a loving and nurturing presence, Catherine often encourages Estella to “fit in” in order to stay out of trouble. Estella is viewed as somewhat different for her beautiful, black-and-white ombré hair and her  rebellious nature. As Estella defends herself in talking about the mother/daughter relationship, “It wasn’t her I was challenging; it was the world.”

As the film progresses, our heroine (Emma Stone) declares, “I want to make art, and I want to make trouble.” At first, she is constrained by her loving mother (Emily Beecham) from realizing her full potential in either field. The pair then begin a journey to London, where Estella hopes to become a fashion designer.

Derailed along the way by circumstances beyond their control (“Happy accidents can change the whole course of your life…Happy may not be the right word.”), Estella ends up living and working in an abandoned building, alongside a couple of childhood grifters straight out of a Dickens novel, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser).

Top cast

One of the fast friends, Jasper (Joel Fry) submits an application for Estella to work at the Liberty House Fashion Firm that she so admires. That opens the door to frustration, followed by eventual fame and fortune when the Baroness (Emma Thompson)—THE arbiter of fashion in the swinging 70s scene— sees Estella’s potential and hires her to be her assistant, ripping off her originality and vision at every turn while lording it over the rest of society.

Using fantastic settings like the Tower of London (yes, THAT Tower of London) doesn’t hurt the film at all. Gorgeous mansions and even more gorgeous gowns are a treat for the eye.

As the plot thickens, Estella realizes, “I’m not sweet Estella, try as I might. I’m Cruella. Born bad and a little bit mad.” She adds, “People do need a villain to believe in, so I’m happy to fit the bill.”

We’ll be seeing a lot more of Cruella in future films, and I hope the films are as entertaining as this one was.

“A Quiet Place II” Is Terrific Sequel to the 2018 Original Film

Director John Krasinski said, on an appearance on Seth Meyer recently to promote “A Quiet Place 2,” “If you’re a fan of the movie, I wanted to bookend the pandemic for you.” He was talking about the delayed release of one of the season’s most anticipated sequels, “A Quiet Place 2.” It actually premiered in New York City on March 8, 2020, and we all know what happened after that.

I remember the premiere of the original film at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas, as opening night of SXSW 2018 and how amazed the audience and I were at the film we had just seen. It was great! Original. Fresh. Scary. Thrilling. Well-acted. The audience gave it a well-deserved standing ovation.

All those adjectives can be used for the sequel, and, thanks to jump scares and a terrific Marco Beltrami score coupled with great special effects and convincing acting, you’re in for a wonderful time scaring yourself silly viewing “A Quiet Place 2.”

The boys from Bettendorf, Iowa, who thought up the fresh idea (which languished on the Black List of great movie scripts for 10 years or more before Krasinski became involved as a vehicle for his wife, Emily Blunt) now get an opening credit as the creators of the original characters, but Krasinski has taken over with expert help from his cast, Marco Beltrami’s heart-pounding score, and the special effects genies of Industrial Light & Magic and Lucasfilm.

There is a brief flashback involving John Krasinski as Lee Abbott, who died at the end of “A Quiet Place, #1.” His real-life wife, Emily Blunt, reprises her original role as Evelyn Abbott and the surviving children, Millicent Simmonds as Regan and Noah Jupe as Marcus, plus her new-born baby are all back. Co-stars, this time out, are Cillian Murphy as neighbor Emmett and Djimon Hounsou as a man on Long Island (who is given too small a part).

The film opens in the very same pharmacy/general store that we know from the first film, and Lee (John Krasinski) is quickly picking up some water and some snacks to take to a baseball game that is ongoing. (I noticed that he must have a running tab at the store; at no point did he pay for the goodies.)

While the baseball game is underway some sort of strange aerial event takes place, which, even now, I cannot explain properly. Is it the arrival of aliens? Is it a bombing? Not sure, but the baseball game is quickly abandoned. It must have been an invasion, because the spectators in the small town are suddenly being picked off on Main Street by the creatures we know from the first film. Chaos ensues.

It was this scene, with Emily Blunt trying to flee in her vehicle, that Krasinski talked about shooting early in the film. It took six weeks of planning and 3 weeks with stunt people to make sure that Blunt would be able to do the action-packed scene without injury. A pod was built on top of the vehicle she is shown to be driving, and it was operated by an expert stunt driver who, according to husband John, reassured her, “Don’t worry, Miss Emily. I’m the best.” They did the scene one time. It is truly terrifying and is completely thrilling.  Krasinski described it as “definitely the hardest scene” to film.

As the film proceeds, the surviving Abbott family (post Film #1) must abandon their home, which is both flooded and on fire. They begin walking, barefoot, to one of the neighboring homes where signal fires have been burning at night.

The neighboring residence turns out to be occupied by Emmett, played by Cillian Murphy (“Inception,” “Dunkirk,” “The Dark Knight Rises”), whose own children died the day of the invasion and whose wife is also dead. He has holed up in what appears to be some sort of abandoned steel furnace that has a soundproof  interior. It has a secure door and one must climb down to enter it, so it is relatively safe from the creatures.

Shooting inside the steel furnace set as a bunker for the Abbott family proved difficult because of its small size. Production designer Jess Gonchor built three different sizes, with removable front and back and sections that pulled out.

“Often we were on a jib arm with small remote heads on the end of it,” added Morgan, “and we would literally push in and out through the tube with the characters as they entered and exited. It was like a scene out of ‘Alien.’”

Emmett is not thrilled that he has been joined by a woman with three children in tow.

Emily Blunt and Noah Jupe in A Quiet Place Part II.
Emily Blunt and Noah Jupe in A Quiet Place Part II. Photo: Paramount Pictures

At first, despite Marcus’ injury in a bear trap as they approach, Emmett insists that they must leave in the morning, but that soon gives way to an actual rescue that Emmett attempts, when the deaf older child, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), deciphers the message of non-stop playing of “Beyond the Sea” by a radio station as a message. They must go to the sea, she reasons.  She sets out to do this over the objections of younger brother Marcus (Noah Jupe of “Ford v. Ferrari”and “Honeyboy.”) and without her mother’s knowledge or permission.

The map that we catch a brief glimpse of clearly says the island is Long Island. Thanks go out at film’s end to Buffalo, Akron, Dover and Pawling as some of the sites used in filming AQP2.

The film ends in a way that screams: SEQUEL. Krasinski said, initially, that he did not know whether a third Quiet Place would happen, but he made plans just in case. “I set up a couple of tiny little Easter eggs in [Part II] that not only explain more about [the original], but would allow for more mythology,” Krasinski shared last year.

“I haven’t heard from the studio that they want a third one,” says Writer/Director John Krasinski, “But the good news is that the studio and I are on the same page in that this isn’t one of those franchises where we keep pumping them out if they make money. I think we’ve proven that this is an original idea that is really beloved by people in a way that… I don’t want to break that promise to people.”

Later, it was revealed that “A Quiet Place 3” is officially a go. Paramount Pictures has announced that the franchise is set to continue with a third movie, which is to be written and directed by Jeff Nichols (MudMidnight Special).

Krasinski got able help on #2 from a new (female) cinematographer, Polly Morgan, and the editor, Michael Schaever, had his work cut out for him as there are multiple quick cuts between action going on in the steel furnace, with action going on at the dock or on the island. Long shots with real film were the name of the game, an homage to the films of Steven Spielberg and to such influences on Krasinski as “There Will Be Blood,” westerns of yesteryear, and Steven Spielberg’s films, which, said Krasinski, kept the focus on the protagonist in peril.

In this film, it is the teen-agers who must cope with the monsters and with their loss of their father in the first film. Millicent Simmonds plays a much bigger role than in the first film and does a great job.

All-in-all, it’s one heck of a great film.  I look forward to seeing #3, when the survivors back at the steel furnace have to be transported to safety on the island, (as well as any other adventures the creative minds of the Paramount team come up with).

It’s great to have a “new Spielberg” coming out with novel, crowd-pleasing material, and I only hope he can keep up the level of cinematography, music, writing, acting and directing in the inevitable follow-up(s).

Some Humor on a Slow Day

McDonald’s: the Early Days.

My husband and I went through the McDonald’s driveway window and I gave the cashier a $5 bill.

Our total was $4.25, so I also handed her 25c.
She said, ‘you gave me too much money.’
I said, ‘Yes I know, but this way you can just give me a dollar back.’
She sighed and went to get the manager who asked me to repeat my request.
I did so, and he handed me back the 25c, and said ‘We’re sorry but we don’t do that kind of thing.’
The cashier then proceeded to give me back 75 cents in change.
Do not confuse the people at MacD’s.
We had to have the garage door repaired.
The repairman told us that one of our problems was that we did not have a ‘large’ enough motor on the opener.
I thought for a minute, and said that we had the largest one made at that time, a 1/2 horsepower.
He shook his head and said, ‘You need a 1/4 horsepower.’
I responded that 1/2 was larger than 1/4 and he said, ‘NOOO, it’s not. Four is larger than two.’
We haven’t used that repairman since…
I live in a semi rural area.
We recently had a new neighbor call the local city council office to request the removal of the DEER CROSSING sign on our road.
The reason: ‘Too many deers are being hit by cars out here! I don’t think this is a good place for them to be crossing anymore.’
IDIOT SIGHTING IN FOOD SERVICE.
My daughter went to a Mexican fast food and ordered a taco.
She asked the person behind the counter for ‘minimal lettuce.’
He said he was sorry, but they only had iceberg lettuce.
I was at the airport, checking in at the gate when an airport employee asked,
‘Has anyone put anything in your baggage without your knowledge?’
To which I replied, ‘If it was without my knowledge, how would I know?’
He smiled knowingly and nodded, ‘That’s why we ask.’
The pedestrian light on the corner beeps when it’s safe to cross the street.
I was crossing with an ‘intellectually challenged’ co-worker of mine.
She asked if I knew what the beeper was for.
I explained that it signals blind people when the light is red.
Appalled, she responded, ‘what on earth are blind people doing driving?!’
She is a government employee…..

Firefly II

When my wife and I arrived at a car dealership to pick up our car after a

service, we were told the keys had been locked in it.
We went to the service department and found a mechanic working feverishly to unlock the driver’s side door.
As I watched from the passenger side, I instinctively tried the door handle and discovered that it was unlocked.
‘Hey,’ I announced to the technician, ‘its open!’
His reply, ‘I know. I already did that side.’
STAY ALERT!
They walk among us, they breed, and they vote…….
(Lisa Sanderson)

“Those Who Wish Me Dead” is Dead On Arrival

Angelina Jolie appears in a new Taylor Sheridan film “Those Who Wish Me Dead” playing a “smoke jumper.” If you weren’t immediately familiar with the term “smoke jumper,” it’s people who parachute into a fire zone to fight wild fires. If you thought the 45-year-old screen goddess was an unlikely smoke jumper, join the club. The part could have been played by a younger Frances McDormand or Gwendoline Christie (Brianna of Tarth in “Game of Thrones”).

The ho-hum script was written by Taylor Sheridan, Michael Koryta and Charles Leavitt. It seems particularly shallow and insipid when you realize that Sheridan directed and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay in 2016 for “Hell and High Water.” Maybe we can blame Koryta, author of the book on which this script is based, or Leavitt (“Warcraft,” 2016).

The movie was shot in New Mexico in 2019, when co-star Finn Little, an Australian child actor who plays the young boy in the film, was 13. Sheridan and company actually built the river featured in the film and a small forest so that they could set its trees on fire. Too bad they didn’t build any interest in whether the characters involved in this script live or die.

The plot:  “A teenage murder witness finds himself pursued by twin assassins in the Montana wilderness with a survival expert tasked with protecting him — and a forest fire threatening to consume them all.” A forensic accountant (Jake Weber) realizes that two assassins—brothers in the book— (Aidan Gillan, Nicholas Hoult) are on their way to Jacksonville, Florida to kill him and his preadolescent son Connor (Finn Little) following the murder of his boss, a Fort Lauderdale D.A., in a great opening scene explosion.

The crime family accountant and son flee by car to Butte, Montana seeking assistance from his brother-in-law, Sheriff Ethan (Jon Bernthal of “The Walking Dead”). The killers anticipate this move, kill Dad on the road in a ruthless fashion, which leaves Connor wandering the Montana wilderness, where he encounters smoke jumper Hannah (Angelina Jolie).

Young Connor immediately hands over the vitally important information in his jacket pocket to Hannah and she completely understands its significance within 3 seconds, which is astounding. They go back to the fire tower in the middle of nowhere that Hannah (Angelina) has been exiled to, because of her PTSD after she mis-diagnosed the direction a forest fire would go, killing three children. There’s also Jon Bernthal’s pregnant African American wife, who is remarkably resourceful, saving the day with her plucky marksmanship.

While they try to make their way to the authorities, the killers start a raging forest fire, which threatens to consume them all. Plot points that are never made clear or never connected include Jon Bernthal’s previous relationship to Angelina (Hannah) or Connor; what happens to all the important data Connor gives to Hannah; and why  Angelina Jolie—after being beaten within an inch of her life—has only one small scratch on her nose?

Actually, the young boy was not being pursued by assassins simply because he witnessed a murder. It was more that his father—an accountant for influential criminal elements who wants to tell the world—had given his son a duplicate copy of the incriminating data about the evil-doers.  The murderers kill him in a spectacular car ambush, with his son in the car. The son does witness this murder, but it is essentially the sensitive information that the assassins are supposed to get—and then that entire plot line, which was never very well fleshed-out, is simply abandoned. The assassins were not “twins,” although brothers in the book. There were two of them, portrayed by Aiden Gillen (the short one) and Nicholas Hoult (the tall one). The bad guys get more lines than normal and considerably more fleshing out of their characters than either Angelina’s character or Connor’s.

I wanted to know what happened to the revelations that Dad put in young Connor’s pocket that set the entire plot in motion. I thought, “Wow! This guy is naïve enough to think that telling the New York Times or the Washington Post would be accepted in the world in 2021?” No belief in the fourth estate after Trump’s term in office. Trump worked overtime to destroy the public’s faith in what he termed “the mainstream (or lame-stream) media,” so getting such a list to the press at this point in history would simply have the evil-doers chanting that it was all “fake news.” The days of ‘Three Days of the Condor” when Robert Redford could save the day by contacting the NYT are long gone.

Angelina Jolie’s films have included such ambitious directorial challenges as “In the Land of Milk and Honey” (2011), “Unbroken” (2014), and “First They Killed My Father.” (2017) All were deadly serious film projects and Jolie helmed each. The person who would direct those complicated projects would not be playing a smoke jumper unless they were being paid a shitload of money to portray something so out of character and out of their wheelhouse.

Taylor Sheridan, too, who wrote “Sicario” (2015) and “Hell or High Water” (2016) and directed “Wind River” would come up with a screenplay that would translate into something more substantial than this bit of fluff.

Liz Cheney’s Last Stand: Another One Bites the Dust

Liz Cheney within the Capitol (Photo courtesy of the Denver Post).

The following represents Liz Cheney’s statement, in its entirety, as she took a stand against Donald J. Trump. It took 15 minutes to throw Cheney out. Now, over 100+ Republicans have announced that they may form a break-away party. Talking heads predict that this is an inflection point and the party may be beyond repair.

From this point forward, Teresa Hanafin of The Boston Globe fills you in, with Liz Cheney’s own statement as she was drummed from her position as #3 Republican leader in a 15-minute meeting in Washington, D.C. today, which saw her booed and which was poorly attended by the Republicans, themselves:

****************

Liz Cheney and backlash over her anti-Trump stance.

“This morning, US House Republicans sacrificed Liz Cheney on the altar of Trump, purging her from the ranks of leadership because of her refusal to lie about the 2020 presidential election.

Her belief in democracy and the rule of law is just too inconvenient for Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his ilk, her insistence that the party grow up and stop groveling before the Mar-a-Lago narcissist too embarrassing.

They’re angry that she’s pointing out their moral bankruptcy as they support Trump’s continued assault on democracy. They’re upset that she’s highlighting their willingness to set aside principle in order to grab power.

So she had to go.

Even as Cheney’s principled stance has been universally praised by those not in thrall to Trump, some on the left aren’t willing to give her a pass, given her hard-right positions on just about everything.

She supported her father, former VP Dick Cheney, when he told another Big Lie about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. She favors waterboarding, insisting it isn’t torture. She said Hillary Clinton’s handling of her e-mails was worse than Trump’s disgusting comments about sexually assaulting women. She accused then-president Barack Obama of deliberately wanting to shrink the economy and weaken the US abroad.

“Liberals responded to Trump’s derangements by bathing the Bush-Cheney crowd in a flattering nostalgic light,” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote. In Salon, writer Chauncey DeVega called Cheney “a friendly fascist” who supported virtually all of Trump’s policies.

She’s no centrist.

But as Jonathan Chait of New York magazine points out, these complaints from some liberals ignores just how profoundly significant her stance really is.

To place her policy positions on the same level as her fight for democracy, Chait argues, is to say that the rule of law is just another issue. He writes:

“Cheney’s decision to challenge the party on democracy is remarkable for several reasons.

“First, she is putting the issue squarely. Rather than softening her line or couching her stance in the logic of messaging (i.e., Trump’s rhetoric will hurt Republicans with swing voters), she is straightforwardly instructing her fellow Republicans that their current path is a menace to the Constitution and the rule of law.

“Second, she has absolutely nothing to gain and a great deal to lose.

“And third, the fact she is such a dogmatic right-winger on economic, social, and foreign policy gives her support for democracy more, not less, weight. The very point of her dissent is that support for democracy ought to be separated from policy outcomes.

“Republicans should not succumb to the temptation of siding with a would-be authoritarian merely because he promises to advance their policy goals. ‘He’ll undermine the Constitution, but give us low capital gains taxes and friendly judges’ is not a morally defensible trade-off.

“Democracy is the one question not subject to horse-trading.”

(You can read Chait’s entire essay here.)

Cheney addressed her GOP colleagues before the quick voice vote that removed her.

“If you want leaders who will enable and spread [Trump’s] destructive lies, I’m not your person. You have plenty of others to choose from,” she said. “That will be their legacy.”

“But I promise you this: After today, I will be leading the fight to restore our party and our nation to conservative principles, to defeating socialism, to defending our republic, to making the GOP worthy again of being the party of Lincoln.”

When Cheney emerged from the meeting, she told reporters that she would continue her fight to protect democracy, and that she would do everything she could to make sure that Trump “never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office.”

Last week, I pointed you to Cheney’s essay in The Washington Post in which she made the point that Trump’s insistence that the election was stolen from him led to the murderous assault on the Capitol, and could provoke violence again.

Last night, she spoke to a mostly empty House chamber — the Republicans who had been giving speeches about “cancel culture” didn’t have the guts to stick around to listen to her — and talked about freedom, the Constitution, and duty.

LIZ CHENEY’S SPEECH IN ITS ENTIRETY:

Trump/Cheney/McCarthy: Three on a Match

Mister Speaker, tonight I rise to discuss freedom and our constitutional duty to protect it.

I have been privileged to see firsthand how powerful and how fragile freedom is. Twenty-eight years ago, I stood outside a polling place, a schoolhouse in western Kenya. Soldiers had chased away people who were lined up to vote. A few hours later, they came streaming back in, risking further attack, undaunted in their determination to exercise their right to vote.

In 1992, I sat across a table from a young mayor in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, and I listened to him talk of his dream of liberating his nation from communism. Years later, for his dedication to the cause of freedom, Boris Nemtsov was assassinated by Vladimir Putin’s thugs.

In Warsaw, in 1990, I listened to a young Polish woman tell me that her greatest fear was that people would forget, they would forget what it was like to live under Soviet domination, that they would forget the price of freedom.

Three men — an immigrant who escaped Castro’s totalitarian regime, a young man who grew up behind the Iron Curtain and became his country’s minister of defense, and a dissident who spent years in the Soviet gulag — have all told me it was the miracle of America captured in the words of President Ronald Reagan that inspired them.

And I have seen the power of faith and freedom. I listened to Pope John Paul II speak to thousands in Nairobi in 1985, and 19 years later, I watched that same pope take my father’s hands, look in his eyes, and say, “God Bless America.”

God has blessed America, but our freedom only survives if we protect it, if we honor our oath, taken before God in this chamber, to support and defend the Constitution, if we recognize threats to freedom when they arise.

Today we face a threat America has never seen before. A former president, who provoked a violent attack on this Capitol in an effort to steal the election, has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him. He risks inciting further violence.

Millions of Americans have been misled by the former president. They have heard only his words, but not the truth, as he continues to undermine our democratic process, sowing seeds of doubt about whether democracy really works at all.

I am a conservative Republican, and the most conservative of conservative principles is reverence for the rule of law. The Electoral College has voted. More than 60 state and federal courts, including multiple judges the former president appointed, have rejected his claims. The Trump Department of Justice investigated the former president’s claims of widespread fraud and found no evidence to support them.

The election is over. That is the rule of law. That is our constitutional process.

Those who refuse to accept the rulings of our courts are at war with the Constitution.

Our duty is clear. Every one of us who has sworn the oath must act to prevent the unraveling of our democracy. This is not about policy. This is not about partisanship. This is about our duty as Americans. Remaining silent, and ignoring the lie, emboldens the liar.

I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.

As the party of Reagan, Republicans have championed democracy, won the Cold War, and defeated the Soviet communists. Today, America is on the cusp of another Cold War – this time with communist China. Attacks against our democratic process and the rule of law empower our adversaries and feed communist propaganda that American democracy is a failure.

We must speak the truth. Our election was not stolen, and America has not failed.

I received a message last week from a Gold Star father who said, “Standing up for the truth honors all who gave all.” We must all strive to be worthy of the sacrifice of those who have died for our freedom. They are the patriots Katherine Lee Bates described in the words of “America the Beautiful” when she wrote,

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!

Ultimately, this is at the heart of what our oath requires – that we love our country more. That we love her so much that we will stand above politics to defend her. That we will do everything in our power to protect our constitution and our freedom – that has been paid for by the blood of so many. We must love America so much that we will never yield in her defense.

That is our duty.

 

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