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!

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“Killing Jesus” and “The Charmer” Win Awards at the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival on October 20th, 2017

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The Chicago International Film Festival announced winners of many awards, celebrating the films chosen by the Festival juries in various categories.

Among those selected for awards were two foreign films that definitely impressed me: “The Charmer” from Denmark by Iranian born first-time director Malad Alami won the Silver Hugo and “Killing Jesus,” which won the Roger Ebert Award for Colombian director Laura Mora. (Malad Alami moved to Sweden from Iran at the age of 6).

THE CHARMER

This film from Denmark was actually about the practice of Iranian men who come to Scandinavian countries (in this case, Denmark) and attempt to find a Danish female citizen who will either (a) marry them, so that they can stay in the country or (b) agree to support them, so that they can stay in the country. Apparently, this happens quite a bit and, in this case, the good-looking and polite young man who is attempting to strike gold by trolling the bars of Denmark is Esmail.

As the film opens, Esmail is in a semi-relationship with a young woman and living with her, but she has just asked him to move out, saying, “You’re suffocating me. I don’t really know you.”

Esmail responds, “We’re good together, aren’t we?”
His companion in bed says, “We’re good at this, but that’s not enough.”

Esmail learns soon after that, if he cannot file a “Letter of Cohabitation” with the authorities, he will be sent back to Iran.
Also, in his travels from bar to bar in search of a new playmate, Esmail meets a tall, thin Danish man who says, “They’re looking for someone like you. I’m more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy.”

The two keep meeting in this fashion until the Danish man offers to give Esmail a ride home to his tiny, depressing rented room. When they arrive at the destination, the Danish citizen reveals that his wife, Anna, had been one of Esmail’s sexual conquests and she has subsequently committed suicide by jumping out the window when the affair ended. The husband (now her widower) is obviously devastated.

At this point, I expected a standard murder story
, but things become even more interesting, as Esmail—now being completely honest about his tenuous status in Denmark—-meets a young girl, Sara, who is of Iranian parentage, but was born in Denmark and is currently studying law. She lives with her mother, a famous singer, Leila Kazemi, who is highly regarded in the Iranian community.

Sara and Leila Kazemi invite Esmail both to a large Persian party and to their home for dinner. Mother Laila even gifts Esmail with one of the suits that belonged to her dead husband. He is present at a large party they are giving, where the guests all make the assumption that this is Sara’s boyfriend and that they make “a handsome couple.” Leila has weighed in on Esmail’s status problems saying, “What a shame. I really like him. He’s very polite. He’s got intelligent eyes. I’m sure he’ll do well if he’s allowed to stay.”

When Sara (the daughter) asks Esmail what he thought he would find in Denmark when he emigrated from Iran, he responds, “I could never have imagined you.” The implication is quite clear: Sara really likes Esmail and Esmail is falling for Sara.

But the path of true love never runs smoothly.

Director Milad Alami won the Silver Hugo for “The Charmer” from Denmark.

The director, Malad Alami, who was present at the screening, explained how he talked to many people who had experienced this deception or perpetrated it themselves. Find a gullible woman—perhaps a sexually-starved one—be very considerate and attentive and see if that wins you a ticket to life in Denmark.

Alami spoke about how Esmail “can’t really do this.” He is too honorable to misrepresent himself this way. Esmail is also horror-struck (and frightened) when Anna’s husband accosts him and begins stalking him.

The lead of Esmail was one that Alami did extensive casting for, auditioning between 150 to 175 men. He ended up hiring an actor he has known for a long time, Lars Brygmann, who, he said, “has this kind of sensitivity and innocence, but also a lot of darkness.” This was his Brygmann’s first feature film, as it was, also, Alami’s first directorial feature.

Alami did a wonderful job telling this interesting story, so much so that his film won the Silver Hugo on October 20th at the Awards Ceremony.

KILLING JESUS

When you read the write-up in the program regarding Director Laura Mora’s film “Killing Jesus” (Matar a Jesus) you see where the plot will go. “Two men on a motorcycle: shots are fired; another man is left dead on the ground. Paula’s father has been assassinated.” Paula got a good look at the hit man on a motorcycle.

Paula (Natasha Jaramillo) is a typical dreamy college student. The victim, her father, was an admired professor who advocated for unpopular but democratic ideals. The law offers no answers. With revenge in her sights, Paula desperately sets out to find her father’s killer.

By chance, she meets him—dancing, smiling—at a nightclub. The two grow closer. His name is Jesus. He wants to be with her. She wants to get close to him.
So, the plot is inherently rife with conflict as Paula (Natasha Jaramillo) learns more about the man who shot and killed her father (Giovanny Rodriguez).

I found that it helped to have watched the television series “Narcos” to really understand the extent of the criminal element in Colombia and that the message of the movie, ultimately, was that Paula and Jesus were both victims. Jesus is not such a “bad guy,” when Paula gets to know him, but his life in Colombia is completely limited by the unfettered crime of the city and he is simply a pawn in a much-larger criminal enterprise.

The thing that set this film apart was the chemistry of the two leads and the backdrop of the city of Medellin. There was some very nice cinematography (James L. Brown) that showed Medellin spread out below, viewed from a “secret spot” that Jesus takes Paula to, since she is a student of photography.

The director (Laura Mora) shared that she wanted to work with non-professional actors who were from Medellin because their manner of speaking would be more authentic. The two do a good job and, although there are a few jerky camera shots, the cinematography by James L. Brown was very good.

All-in-all, I was very happy that both “The Charmer” and “Killing Jesus” left Chicago with some of the recognition that each film deserves.

“A Moon of Nickel and Ice” from Canadian Director Francois Jacob: Grim

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Director Francois Jacob of “A Moon of Nickel and Ice” (Canada).

In the ice Russian mining city of Norilsk, residents endure sub-zero temperatures and the weight of a dark history: Once a Soviet labor camp in the 1930’s and 1940’s, tens of thousands of political prisoners died while extracting nickel ore from beneath the tundra.

In this visually striking and haunting documentary, local inhabitants, including a wry theater director, patriotic miners, cynical students and a rebellious historian, confront both past and present.

My companion and I first saw “Thoroughbreds” and we were mightily entertained and impressed. I promised him that if the first 15 minutes didn’t “grab” us, we could leave.

A sweaty Russian miner explained why he doesn’t like jobs where he has to supervise others. His working conditions looked like a prison camp, because it WAS (IS?) a prison camp. Everything looked like the Swedish film about the snowplow murders that I recently saw and liked (which is now being made into an American version starring Liam Neeson.)

I glanced over after 15 minutes. My companion, an AFI (American Film Institute) graduate was sound asleep. We left.

Vanessa Redgrave’s Directorial Debut, “Sea Sorrow,” Documents the Refugee Crisis in Europe

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In her directorial debut after a lengthy career as a much-lauded actress, Academy Award winner Vanessa Redgrave takes on a cause near and dear to her heart in “Sea Sorrow.” That cause is trying to alleviate the refugee crisis affecting Europe right now, with displaced persons—many of them unaccompanied children—streaming in, 70 new people a day at a camp called Jungle Camp in Calais.

Of those numbers, 800 are children with 387 of them eligible to join relatives in the country to which they fled, but bureaucratic indifference or actual opposition dooming progress.
Only Greece seems to be trying to set an example for the rest of the world, although Germany’s Angela Merkle also has done much to help and Canada’s Justin Trudeau was also singled out for praise. Donald J. Trump, of course, has proposed numerous travel bans and seems to have no core moral philosophy guiding his “executive decrees,” [other than to build a wall against Mexico and ban travelers from other lands.] Trump was not mentioned by name in the documentary, which, instead, interviewed the refugees, themselves, and those working hard against overwhelming odds to try to help them. The entire message of the 74-minute documentary could be summed up this way, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Early estimates of the numbers of unaccompanied children entering the country in countries like Greece, Italy, Calais (France), and Dunkirk were 26,000, but more accurate surveying revealed that the number was really closer to 95,000.
Redgrave urges, “Bring back the idea that we’re all humanity.” Jemma Redgrave (actress) is shown saying, “I find it unbearable that there are children living in camps who are denied any assistance. We have to stand up as parents and human beings and not accept the appalling status quo.”

Redgrave hopes the film will educate a generation and a half to the existing mandates, written and adopted after World War II, to stand up for human rights.
There is a film clip of Eleanor Roosevelt addressing the United Nations during the 1945 Declaration of Human Rights, issued after the defeat of Fascism. The film comments on the European Convention on Human Rights (UNHCR, 1951) and the 1989 Rights of the Child legislation, all of which, she said, are being ignored.

It is Redgrave’s feeling that the battle must be won through the courts, using these existing pieces of legislation to force nations that have become insular and unwilling to accept these displaced populations, to do the right thing and help unaccompanied orphans and children streaming into Europe, as well as the entire families who are fleeing for their lives. Precautions against the entry of terrorists are, of course, implicit and already in place in most countries, but the lives of innocent men, women and children are also on the line.

Not only Redgrave, but House of Lords member Lord Dubs, whose own history goes back to World War II when his parents escaped the Nazis, gave the shocked audience actual data on the crisis. It was originally thought there were 26,000 unaccompanied minor children, but the real number turned out to be closer to 96,000 and 10,000 of these poor souls have completely disappeared.

When you hear stories like that of 22-year-old Hamidi, who fled Afghanistan after witnessing the murder of both his mother and his father right in front of him (he was also shot as he fled), who walked 3 months on foot with $8,000 Euros gathered from friends and relatives to finance the trip and then was loaded onto a boat meant for 40 with 80 souls (Twelve fell overboard or died on the boat).

Another young boy spent 11 hours on a boat to Bari; it took him 2 months to flee from Tripoli. These people are desperate and are treated very poorly and inaccurately by mainstream media, according to Carlo Nero. Of the 86% of refugees who entered the UK, the United Kingdom provides support for less than 1%. The words on the base of the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door.”) have gone out the window in the U.S., along with common human decency to our own citizens in many places under the Trump administration. Be careful in screening immigrants, yes, but push for the equality and dignity of defenseless refugees fleeing death and destruction in their native lands.

The opportunities for human trafficking and other such misdeeds at camp’s like Calais, France’s The Jungle are high
. “Bring back the idea that we’re all humanity,” pleads Redgrave, and one short clip gives a little bit of her own childhood remembrance of the burning of the Coventry Cathedral during the blitz. (November 14, 1940, when she was just 3). She still has nightmares about approaching fire.

The biggest injustice, it seemed, was that, of the 378 children in the Calais camp known as “The Jungle” (which was torn down in October of this year), 178 had relatives who would have taken them in, under the terms of the Dublin Treaty. Said Redgrave, “It is simply a matter of political will.”

Rallies were shown with touching scenes of young refugees thanking their rescuers while wearing shirts with the message “Choose Love.” Seventy new people a day join their ranks. Said Redgrave, “They are brave young people with real courage.” No one denies the need for security precautions, but common human decency is also necessary.

We learn some of the history of why Redgrave feels so passionately about this cause and why Lord Dubs has thrown in his efforts to assist her. An old copy of the newspaper the Manchester Guardian dated 1938 is read by film star Emma Thompson, in which average citizens write in saying they are ready, willing and able to help. Why won’t our government let us help? (Most notably E. Sylvia Pankhurst of Essex wrote, who willingly would have taken some of the refugees that were spirited out of Germany during the Holocaust in an operation known as Kindertransport.) Redgrave mused on “The Diary of Anne Frank.” The young Jewish teenaged girl who lived in hiding from the Nazis for two years in Amsterdam, wrote, “In spite of everything, I still believe people are basically good.”

Redgrave’s feeling: “You’ve got to litigate. The courts are ruling every single time that the government is wrong, but the government appeals. And that’s where we are…We people can change things, but we’ve got some very hard work to do. None of us should feel hopeless. You have to get groups of them and say, ‘This is wrong and we’re going to do everything we can to change it.’”
No stranger to controversy following her Oscar acceptance speech in 1978, her attempt(s) to do good here will, no doubt, incite further controversy, but her message, with 10 people dying a day, was, “The Greek people are showing the world how to help fellow human beings. Now, we have to tell our governments they have to step in.” She urged a common European policy be adopted.

There are some sad stories with happy endings, like that of 14-year-old David from Eritrea, whose parents both drowned on their way to Italy. He spent 9 months in Rome until the group Safe Passage found his Aunt in England and he was allowed to go live with her. “These are inspirational people and a lot of them are young people,” said Redgrave, of the volunteers. She, at 80, said she is willing to go with the film to colleges and elsewhere to help spread the word about the refugee crisis and to let a whole generation know about human rights law that is currently being ignored and violated.

The film’s title comes not only from the harrowing scenes of boatloads of refugees (and even the famous photo of a young two-year-old boy, drowned, dead on the beach in Greece that stunned the world) arriving and being helped ashore by the Greek officials, but from Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.”

At the end of the film, Ralph Fiennes reads the scene from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” where Prospero is speaking to Miranda about how they were “Hurried them upon a boat—a rotten carcass of a boat.”

“How came we ashore?” asks Miranda.

“By Providence Divine. Sit still and hear the rest of our sea sorrow.”

Vanessa Redgrave Receives Visionary Award at the 53rd Annual Chicago International Film Festival on October 16, 2017

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Vanessa Redgrave and Producer son Carlo Nero arrive for her acceptance of the Visionary Award at the 53rd Annual Chicago International Film Festival.

Vanessa Redgrave is one of the most honored actresses of her generation. Now 80, she has been Oscar-nominated six times (winning for Best Supporting Actress in “Julia” in 1977) and may be the only British actress to have won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, a BAFTA, an Olivier, a Cannes award, a Golden Globe award and an award from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).

Redgrave and her 48-year-old son, Carlo Nero, who also functioned as producer on “Sea Sorrow,” Redgrave’s first directorial effort, were present in Chicago at the 53rd Annual International Film Festival both to show the audience their heartbreaking film about the refugee crisis in Europe and to receive a special Visionary Award.

Those who have followed Redgrave’s storied career will know that she has always been a passionate and outspoken proponent for many causes (she is currently a UN Goodwill Ambassador). In 1978 there was a lot of controversy after her Oscar acceptance speech, amidst criticism of her involvement in the Arab cause after her work on “The Palestinian.” Wikipedia notes that, “The scandal of her awards speech (at the Oscars) and the negative press it occasioned had a destructive effect on her acting opportunities that would last for years to come.”

Now, Ms. Redgrave, with the help of other right-minded folk, has made a documentary about the plight of those fleeing Syria, Afghanistan and other countries and arriving in Europe. Appearing in the film in addition to the testimony of actual refugees are fellow actors Emma Thompson and Ralph Fiennes.

On the Red Carpet on Monday, October 16th, before her film was shown, I was able to speak with Redgrave about her early career and the topic of the current refugee crisis. The Festival has been showing the 1966 film “Blow-Up,” directed by Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni and starring Redgrave and David Hemmings. The film was an international sensation more than 50 years ago, as it chronicled the story of a high-fashion photographer in sixties Swinging London whose camera might have captured a murder during a photo shoot in a park with an enigmatic beauty (Redgrave).

The film remains an art cinema landmark and a time capsule of the counter-cultural moment. When asked whether she remembered the sensation it created in 1966, she answered, at first, “Not really, no.”
She went on to say this about that classic film in response to questions:

Q1: “Blow-Up” was such a breakthrough in visual filmmaking. (It was said, at the time, that Michelangelo Antonioni, the Italian director, even dyed the grass for the park shoot greener than it would normally have been.) Do you remember the reaction to the film?

A1: I don’t remember. It was a huge excitement as an actress to work for Michelangelo Antonioni, to act for him and to learn what he was seeing. His approach was completely unlike the Anglo-American approach. And he was also very reassuring. He was sitting offscreen during the camerawork. At one point, the cameraman asked something about a scene and Michelangelo. said: “Don’t worry. She’ll either be able to do it or she can’t.” He didn’t know I could speak Italian, so I understood, and I thought, “Well, that’s reassuring.” I relaxed immediately and thought, ‘Well, at least he isn’t going to be mad.’”

Q2: What do you think causes the roots of fear about immigrants amongst other nations?

http://www,youtube.com/watch?v=U-WRhouNVmYA2: “A lot of has to do with media propaganda. Remember the media is owned by certain individuals.” Son Carlo interjected, “A lot of the public has been poisoned by media articles, effectively making refugees out to be rats and it’s a disgrace that this can happen in the 21st century. And this is mainstream, mainstream media.”

Q3: There was a quote in the Palme D’Or winning film “The Square” that said, “How much inhumanity must we experience before we exercise our humanity?” Perhaps you saw it at Cannes. Comments?

A3: We must challenge our governments to act. Right now, these children are here and all alone. I don’t understand how governments can fail to act. Redgrave’s film “Sea Sorrow”, which I will comment on separately, gives the legal grounding for protecting refugees, in general, and refugee children, in particular.)

Q4: So, having been in the film industry for over 50 years, what did you learn about yourself directing this film?

A4: I learned that there was still so much I still had to try and learn. We had to work against the clock. We had to get it ready as soon as we could. It was the kindness of technicians who helped us that allowed that to happen. We had a lot of support making the film. We didn’t have a lot of money and we couldn’t have done it without a lot of generous assistance from others in the film industry who helped us (mentions Ralph Fiennes and Emma Thompson, both of whom appear.)

Both Vanessa (Redgrave) and her 48-year-old son Carlo Nero were gracious in answering questions fully At the end of our brief talk, before the movie began, she mentioned that they “might have an important meeting coming up in Rome soon,” without elaborating on that enigmatic statement.

Palme D’Or Winner “The Square” Lives Up to Its Hype as Funny, Timely Film

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“The Square” won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Last year, Swedish writer/director Ruben Ostlund’s previous film about an avalanche and family dynamics, “Force Majeure,” was one of the most interesting at the Chicago International Film Festival. Still, a Cannes darling is not always mine.

I am happy to report that “The Square” lived up to the hype and then some. Mind you: I am not always as positive about Cannes’ picks. “Holy Motors” a few years back was not a favorite, so what was “The Square” like?

In a few words, it was funny, thought-provoking, interesting, and timely. It also had the benefit of American actors familiar to U.S. audiences, utilizing Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men,” Hulu’s “The Handmaiden’s Story”) and Dominic West (television’s “The Affair”).

The plot revolves around a museum director (Claes Bang, who resembles a younger Pierce Brosnan), Christian Juel Nielsen. He manages the X-Royal Museum in Sweden, and the sets and cinematography are superb. The Museum is mounting an exhibition called “The Square” which is supposed to emphasize mankind’s universal need to care for each other. (“How much inhumanity does it take before you exercise your humanity?”)

For example, at one entry point, museum patrons will either push a button that says “I mistrust people” and go left, or will push a button that says “I trust people” and go right for a different museum experience. (The count was 42 for trusting and 3 for not trusting on the screen when this was demonstrated).

The Museum’s mission statement for “The Square” says: “The Square (a 4 x 4 meter space, marked off) is a sanctuary of trust and belonging. Within its boundaries we all share equal rights and equal responsibilities.”

THE GOOD

Again, I found myself laughing out loud at the ridiculous situations that beset the handsome Christian. I did not expect a laugh-out-loud funny movie, but that’s what “The Square” offers viewers. Having said that, it is also extremely thought-provoking and makes wry statements about the pomposity of art in museums, about how we relate in a social context, and about being kind and caring to others. Qualities like trust, caring and moral courage are examined, but the clever way the issues are examined led to laughter, and there are throw-away lines that are hilarious, as well.

Example: a museum employee manning what looked like a street sweeper has accidentally vacuumed up a pile of dirt and rocks that was part of Big Shot Artist Dominic West’s display (roughly 30 piles of dirt and rocks in a room, all the same size/height). When an employee comes to tell Christian of this catastrophe, he immediately makes plans to keep this faux pas hush hush and try to repair the pile of dirt without mentioning it to anyone. The museum employee glances over at Elisabeth Moss, standing off to the side waiting for Christian and seems reluctant to reveal the full extent of the catastrophe with her character (Anne) listening. They’re talking in Swedish. Christian reassures her, “She doesn’t understand a thing. She’s American.” [That can be taken two ways.]

There is also a sub-plot involving Christian’s stolen cell phone, wallet and cuff links. And there is the fancy dinner at the Royal Palace, where an elderly couple is being honored for gifting the museum with 50 million Kroner. The “entertainment” is the entrance of an ape-man, Terry Notary as Oleg Rogojin. The patrons sitting in the fancy ballroom awaiting the entrance are told that some people try to “hide in the herd” and not make eye contact.

The ape man creates havoc, dragging a pretty woman by her hair across the floor, climbing on tables and driving the Alpha Male Dominic West from the room.
After the showing, Terry Notary (the ape man in the trailer), who was present in Chicago shared this with us: “We didn’t really know what we were going to do the day of shooting. We were waiting for an audience reaction. I was told, ‘You need to chase the alpha male out of the room.’ (Dominic West) I decided I was going to start screaming on the way in there. If it had been planned, it would not have felt real. I was told, ‘Go to the one who doesn’t want to be picked.’

Terry went on to say that he has done a lot of motion capture work.
“You go in and play and make all these mistakes and you find the character in the mistakes. It’s hard, because you want to know what you’re going to do, but it’s not about acting. It’s about life. Fear is your best friend or your worst enemy.”

THE BAD

The sub-plot involving Elisabeth Moss, as well as that involving a young boy who is stalking Christian and demanding an apology for having been accused of the theft of Christian’s wallet and phone (his cuff links turned up in Christian’s shirt, after all) seemed unfinished.
Elisabeth’s accusations that Christian used the prestige of his position to bed women, while perhaps true, didn’t seem that related to the main idea of “The Square.”

Not knowing what happened to the young boy who stalks Christian made the film feel unfinished, to me, and Elisabeth’s sexual encounter with Christian was strange, to say the least. (But funny)

I also would have liked a better explanation of the REAL ape that appears in a few short scenes in Elisabeth Moss’s house or hotel room.

VERDICT:

While I have seen Cannes’ favorites that I did not like at all (“Holy Rollers” comes to mind), this one I liked very much
. Lines like “Consider the social consequences of your actions” and “So, suddenly, it comes down to politics and the distribution of assets” were very timely in today’s world. The film is ambitious and brilliant, with beautiful sets, good acting, and a message delivered with wry humor in both Swedish and English.

I won’t reveal the Marketing Faux Pas that a young P.R. team unleashes upon the populace, for fear of ruining its effect on the film for you, but let’s just say that making a video that “goes viral” is not always a desirable thing, and it certainly isn’t in this case. But it’s pretty funny in a macabre way.

“Marshall” Opens the 53rd Annual Chicago International Film Festival on October 12th

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The opening film of the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival was “Marshall,” directed by Reginald Hutton. The film is a depiction of a case that NAACP lawyer and first black Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall took in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The 1941 case involved a charge of rape made by a prominent white socialite Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson). Mrs. Strubing accused a black chauffeur, Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us”), of raping her and throwing her in a nearby river while she was bound and gagged.

THE GOOD

Learning more about the background of famed attorney Thurgood Marshall in a fictional format was informative and entertaining. For instance, the supremely confident Marshall, when he arrives in Connecticut, tells the local attorney with whom he will have to work (Josh Gad of “The Book of Mormon” as Jewish attorney Sam Friedman) that he wanted to attend law school at the University of Maryland, which was very close to his home, but he was forced, instead, to attend the predominantly black Howard University, which was not close by at all. Marshall adds that he learned law well enough to later sue the University of Maryland. We also learn that Marshall argued cases before the Supreme Court 32 times and only lost 3. He won the Brown versus the Board of Education bill that opened schools to all races in 1954 and became the first black Supreme Court Justice in 1967.

The cast includes Chadwick Boseman as Marshall, Sterling K. Brown as the accused chauffeur, Josh Gad as co-counsel, Kate Hudson as the rape victim, Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey” as prosecuting attorney Loren Willis and Academy Award nominee James Cromwell (“Babe”) as Judge Foster. Keesha Sharp has a small role as Thurgood Marshall’s wife, Buster. Jussie Smollett of “Empire” is also cast in a small role as poet Langston Hughes, a classmate of Thurgood Marshall’s. His role seemed unnecessary and superfluous, to me, and made Marshall seem as though he were so single-mindedly fixed on civil rights that he makes a disparaging remark about Hughes not doing anything noteworthy with his life.

The cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel was good, complete with vintage cars and clothing, and the music (Marcus Miller) added much to the production with a stirring song by Dianne Warren (“Up Where We Belong”) at the end, called “You Can’t Be Nothin’ if You Don’t Stand Up for Something.”

THE BAD

The script, written by Jacob and Michael Koskoff, had its moments, with lines like “Here in America our differences are not supposed to matter,” and (said to Marshall upon his arrival in Connecticut), “You have enough confidence for us all, misplaced as it may be.” Another good line was, “The only way to get through a bigot’s door is to break it down.” There is also the counseling of the accused by Marshall that Joseph Spell not take a plea deal, with the future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court saying, “We aren’t slaves, ‘cause we rose up and fought and fought and fought.”

The woman sitting next to me brought up an interesting point when she repeated a line from the film (one that breaks the case wide open): “Men are men and women are women.”

As we discussed the film that had just ended, she said, “Does that mean that Harvey Weinstein’s actions are okay, because he was just being a man?”

I responded, “Yes, and does the line about bigotry mean that someone should be breaking down the door of the Oval Office right about now?”

We both wondered how accurate the portrayal of this early case was, and, just as we were discussing that, a disclaimer came onscreen mentioning that certain characters were composites, etc., etc., etc.

The Judge, played by James Cromwell, seemed too evil and prejudiced to be true to life. He basically hamstrings the defense at every opportunity and is blatantly unfair. His role was over the top.

VERDICT

I’ve been a big fan of Chadwick Boseman ever since he appeared as James Brown in the 2014 bio-pic “Get On Up.” I thought he should have received an Academy Award nomination for his work in that movie, but the release date was too early in the year and hurt his chances. (“Marshall” opens on Friday, October 13th.)
The co-stars all do adequate jobs, although Kate Hudson was underwhelming in her role.

The entire film made me think of the Oprah Winfrey 2013 film “The Butler” (billed as “Lee Daniel’s The Butler”) that starred Forest Whitaker as the long-serving black butler at the White House. There was an outcry that year about the lack of African American nominees amongst the Oscar nominees. Some actors were even boycotting the event. Since then, changes have occurred to make the Academy Awards more diverse (and less old and white).

When the outcry over “The Butler” arose, while recognizing that Forest Whitaker always does a credible job, I was not among those who felt he had been sadly overlooked by not being recognized with a nomination.
In this film, aside from Chadwick Boseman’s role, I didn’t see any Academy Award-worthy work here, either. The film seemed very old-fashioned. I had the feeling I’d seen many just like it previously. It was not that fresh, original, or unique.

Marina plays Josh Gad’s wife, Stella Friedman.

Josh Gad is good as co-counsel and Boseman continues the excellent work he displayed in “Get On Up” but, for me, this was a slightly above-average film, with a lot of semi-boring courtroom scenes that almost took you back to the days of “Perry Mason” on television. (Extensive courtroom scenes tend to be difficult to bring to vivid life in today’s Cineplex, but this film certainly tries.)

Overall, my reaction to the entire film, while positive, was “been there/seen that.”

Still, the issues raised are timely, especially now, and for that reason “Marshall” is worth seeing.

True Tale of Saving the Elephant at the Belfast Zoo in WWII

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“Zoo,” written and directed by Colin McIvor, is the true story of how a lonely widow and three schoolchildren banded together to save an elephant in the Belfast, Northern Ireland zoo (the Bellevue Zoological Zoo) to prevent the pachyderm from being slaughtered during World War II.

Belfast had two major bombing raids on its populace during World War II, killing over 1,000 people. In light of the blitzkrieg by the Luftwaffe, in April of1941, orders went out to slaughter 33 of the animals in the zoo, to prevent them from running amok amongst the populace should the zoo be hit. Even Hugo, the giant rat, and Gilbert, the Barbary lion, were killed.

The zoo veterinarian’s son, Tom Hall (Art Parkinson)—an animal lover of the first magnitude (“I would never harm an animal”)—takes it upon himself to rescue an elephant named Buster. The name Buster seems to be an homage to comedic actor Buster Keaton.

Tom’s father, Dr. Hall, has gone off to war and Tom’s mother, Emily (Amy Huberman), is a nurse ministering to the sick and injured. Once the directive saying, “All potentially dangerous animals must be destroyed” goes out, it becomes Tom’s mission to organize 2 good friends and classmates, Jane Berry (Emily Flain, age 11) and Peter (Ian O’Reilly), to assist him in breaking the elephant out of the zoo and hiding it somewhere to keep it from being euthanized.

THE GOOD

A lonely widow (known later as “the elephant angel”), Mrs. Denise Austin, also enters the plot, agreeing to let the young people hide the beast in her brick-enclosed back yard. Her son was killed in Belgium in World War I and she is portrayed as friendless prior to throwing in with the youngsters to save the elephant. Denise Austin is played by Penelope Walton, known to viewers as Isobel Crowly on “Downton Abbey” from 2000-2015 and a much-decorated British actress. Mark Thomas’ music is well-suited to the material and the costuming by Claire Ramsey is very authentic to the period. Director of Photography on the film was Damien Elliott. He makes Northern Ireland (where it really was filmed) look gorgeous.

Art Parkinson, who plays Tom, plays Rickon Stark in “Game of Thrones” and also played Kubo in “Kubo and the Two Strings.” Ian McEhinney, who plays Mr. Shawcross here, is also a “Game of Thrones” regular as Barristan Selmy. The cast does a nice job with the material. One of the most amusing parts was watching the drills where students were put in a truck and gassed, to see if their gas masks were working properly. The character who plays Peter (Ian O’Reilly) says, “Surely this is not on the curriculum: gassing the pupils.”
THE BAD

The “name” actor that audiences may recognize is Toby Jones, who plays the Security Guard and ticket seller/ticket taker at the zoo. Toby plays Charlie and doesn’t even get a last name for his character. Toby Jones is most recognizable for once playing Truman Capote in a bio flick (“Infamous,” 2006) and for playing the mad scientist on the television series “Wayward Pines” (2015-2016). Jones will also be appearing in “The Snowman” later this year and appeared in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” “Atomic Blonde,” “The Hunger Games” and “My Week with Marilyn.” Jones is widely regarded as one of Britain’s premier actors. It was a shame that he was given such a small part with so little to do.

The elephant portraying Buster was actually Nellie the elephant. This made me wonder about the elephant casting. Surely a male bull elephant looks different than a female? It is true that we mainly see the trio scrubbing Buster’s hairy back in lighthearted moments or leading the beast through the woods at night by means of a rope, but Nellie does not sound like it would be of the same gender as an elephant named Buster.

Colin McIvor’s feel-good true story of saving the elephant in the Belfast (Northern Ireland) zoo during WWII.


The film is premiering in Chicago on October 14th and will open in the United Kingdom in 2018.

“Ali’s Wedding” & “Maktub”: Comedies Screened Prior to the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Two comedies have been screened for critics at the 53rd Annual Chicago International Film Festival during this lead-up week. ”Ali’s Wedding” from Australian director Jeffrey Walker, reminds most of the recent hit “The Big Sick.” “Maktub” (“Fate”) from Israel director Oded Raz featured Guy Hamir and Hanon Savyon, both Israeli television stars in such TV series as “Scarred,” “Asfur” and “Ma Bakarish.”

The Australian film “Ali’s Wedding” starred the real Ali (Ali Basahri) just as “The Big Sick” was written and performed by the real person who lived that story, Kumail Nanjiani. In this lighthearted film, Ali, the son of a popular Muslim cleric, is expected to do well on the examinations to become a physician.

When Ali does not score high enough for entrance to the University Medical School, he conceals that fact and lets the congregation think he has scored the second-highest score on the exams—in the 90s when he was only in the 60s. Ali even attends classes, although not technically admitted.
Ali also is hiding his love for Dianne Mosen, the daughter of the Lebanese fish and chips merchant, who has a very over-protective single father.

It is only a matter of time before the house of cards (lies) that Ali has begun to tell will collapse and trap him, causing anguish for him, his family, and his friends. There is even an “arranged” marriage with another girl that Ali somehow becomes entrapped in, when all he wants is to be with Dianne. Dianne did score high enough to enter the University of Melbourne, but her father has grave misgivings about a girl going off to the University of Melbourne to become a doctor.

Don McAlpine was the Director of Photography and the 3 brothers in Ali’s family represent modern-day influences on Muslim youth, while the old traditions attempt to be enforced by the Muslim elders.
In that respect, there was another similarity to “The Big Sick,” with its tale of the many eligible girls who would be suitable mates for Kumail in an arranged Indian marriage, as they are invited to “drop by” for dinner by his meddling parents.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra provided the score and the film opens with Ali (Ali Basahri) driving an out-of-control tractor through an Australian field. The many situations that Ali gets himself into are both amusing and also telling of the ongoing cultural battle between the old and new order in a modern country like Australia.
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“Maktub”, by contrast, has two fast friends (Guy Amir and Hanan Savyon as Stephen and Chuma), who are mob enforcers for a small-time gangster named Kaslassy. The destiny of these two small-time enforcers for a Jerusalem mob protection racket irrevocably changes when they survive a suicide bombing in a restaurant. The $400,000 in a suitcase carried by another member of the gang remains intact, but the large criminal with the glass eye that the briefcase was attached to is toast. Recognizing their great good fortune in surviving, Steven and Chuma wind up fulfilling the wishes of those who leave notes at the Wailing Wall.
Some of the humor comes from the fact that women are only allowed to approach certain parts of the Wailing Wall and men go to a different area. Therefore, in order to access the women’s side, each man is seen in drag at various points and the assumption, for humorous purposes, is that one or both men have become “trannies”.
There is a backstory involving Steve’s small son by his ex-girlfriend Doniasha. The boy may or may not be Steve’s biological offspring. Steve is loathe to parent the winsome child. Since Steve was once told he was infertile by a fertility clinic, he refuses to believe that the cute little boy who only wants his father to attend his soccer game is really his son and does not do the right thing in parenting him. Chuma tries to cover up the fact that Steven does not believe the child is his and, while paying frequent visits to Doniasha, finds himself attracted to her.
Zaful, the large Telly Savalas look-alike who provides muscle for Boss Kaslassy, has a wife who longs to have a child, but is 40 and fears it will never happen. All these random components come together at the climax of the film, to prove that “Maktub” (“Fate”) really can step in and change one’s life. Apparently “mitzvahs” (good deeds) can (sometimes) change one’s life.

“Sicilian Ghost Story:” A True Story of Crime & Consequences

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Classmate Luna will not stop searching for her 13-year-old kidnapped classmate Guiseppi.

The Italian film “Sicilian Ghost Story,” directed by Fabio Grassadonia/Antonio Piazza is based on a real-life Mafia kidnapping of a 13-year-old son of a Mafia don who was kidnapped and held hostage to be used as leverage to make his criminal father stop cooperating with the police. The term, in Italian, seems to be “supergrass,” although, since I don’t speak Italian, I am merely relying on the subtitle term, [which was foreign to me in English.]

The young boy (Guiseppi) was held for 776 days in an attempt to get his father (whom we never see) to stop giving the police information.
The only person who still seems to be looking for the young victim is a teenaged girl Luna, his classmate. She will not give up in looking for the boy with whom she has become infatuated.

Just before Guiseppi disappeared, Luna wrote: “I lock myself in my room and dream. When I’m sad, I dream, and when I’m happy I dream. Only you can help me because it is of you I dream. If you say no, I’ll stop dreaming. If you say yes, I’ll stop dreaming, because it will be of us together.”

The forest and lake scenes are beautifully photographed, usually with the camera looking up at the trees. The underwater sequences are equally haunting.
One saying, repeated by Luna’s best friend is a bastardization of a Russian idiom that says every time there is a moment of silence in Russia, a cop is born. The friend notes that “Here, every time there is a moment of silence, a Mafiosa is born.”

Amidst the forest scenes and the gnarled roots of trees there is a drama playing out between Luna and her loving father and her cold Swiss stepmother and the authorities, who are less-than-intent on finding the young victim.

French Film About Love & Its Effects Gives Viewers Much to Think About

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The lead-up to the Chicago International Film Festival’s 53rd year is underway. Critics are getting the chance to screen films from over 95 countries, including 1,044 feature films, 3,500 shorts and 646 documentaries. Twenty-five of the films will enjoy their North American Premiere here and 29 others will have their U.S. Premiere in Chicago when the festival begins on October 12th.

Many films are embargoed, meaning that a complete review cannot be written until the film is actually released. Let me give you a peek at onr of these new films.

The black-and-white French film “L’Amant d’un Jour” (“A Lover for a Day”) directed by French director Philippe Garrel (“Regular Lovers”) was quite charming and a Cannes favorite. This one had much food for thought. Here are a few lines of dialogue and a brief synopsis:

“A Lover for a Day” is the provocative tale of modern love and family ties. When Jeanne’s (Esther Garrel) boyfriend Mateo breaks up with her, she is forced to move back home with her father, charismatic college professor Gilles (Eric Caravace) and discovers that he is now living with a girl her age, Ariane (Louise Chevillotte), his philosophy student.

Let me first disagree that Gilles is “charismatic” He’s dumpy looking and he is not young, but, in a classic case of transference, Ariane (Louise Chevillotte) has decided Gilles is the one for her. She pursues him until he catches her. Maybe she has a thing for older men (father fixation) or maybe it is the fact that Gilles was her Professor of Philosophy. Who knows? His appeal is not immediately apparent, but “the heart wants what it wants.”

When Jeanne comes calling at her father’s flat, Ariane is in residence; the two young women become friends.

Jeanne is extremely distraught over her break-up with fiancé Mateo, but Ariane, who is roughly Jeanne’s age, reassures her that, “You’ll get over it. We always do.”

Jeanne: “He kept telling me he loved me. I held off, at first. He came chasing after me. Now, there’s nothing there. I was totally played by love…and it all ends like this.”

The relationship between Gilles and his young lover continues, but there is a discussion of them having an “open” relationship where Arianne can take younger lovers, as long as Gilles doesn’t know. (“Not only do I not want to know, I’d rather have no idea.”)

Ariane counsels the heartbroken Jeanne with lines like, ”Sure, he (Mateo) was selfish. It happens to us all. I know it hurts, but it’ll pass.” She tells her new friend Jeanne that her father has been married and divorced three times and that she “thinks he enjoys divorcing.” This should give Gilles pause, if nothing else about Ariane does.

There’s a discussion of the Algerian War, in which one million Frenchmen were drafted to fight against Algeria. During the dinner-table discussions, the beautiful Arianne is ogled by another cute young Frenchman and Gilles seems upset. Ariane says, “It’s what you want. For me to flirt with others but sleep with you.” She also says, “You know me so well. I can’t hide a thing. It’s crazy to even try.”

Gilles responds, “I know you because I love you, perhaps.”

Voice-over: “Eternity never stopped. Happiness reigned over their home.”

However, problems arise, which, indirectly, are Jeanne’s fault. The denouement was interesting, to me, as I wondered, “How is this going to end?”

More thoughts that the movie gives us about love, in general: “When you’re so young and fragile, it can mark you for life.” (A reference to Jeanne’s heartsick behavior).

Ariane tells Jeanne: “You must know how to choose lovers. When you fall in love, you fall in love with everything; you become stupid.”

Jeanne responds, “But it’s sad to never fall in love, isn’t it?”

Of being in love: “I love it and, at the same time, it pisses me off. It’s great, but, then again, it’s super crazy. You just feel great, like you’re wrapped in a great coat/”

Gilles’ goal is this: “I want to age in a loving relationship.” He also admits this about himself: “I hurt women who did nothing to deserve it.” (*Note: the script was written by Philippe Garrel, Jean-Claude Carriere, Caroline Derues-Garrel, and Arlette Langmann).

Will Gilles and Arianne go the distance? Is Jeanne’s engagement to her fiancé, Mateo, really over? You’ll have to see the movie to find out when the it is released in the United States. (It played Cannes and also was featured October 10th at the New York Film Festival before it shows on October 13th in Chicago.)

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