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!

“Limbo” and “Christmess:” Two Australian Films Promoting Family Togetherness

In the past 24 hours, I’ve seen two Australian films, one via screener and one at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival. I love Australian films. I really looked forward to seeing each. The first was “Limbo,” directed and written by Ivan Sen. “A white detective investigates the twenty-year-old cold case of a murdered indigenous girl in this outback-set noir.” The second was “Christmess,” the fourth film from Aussie director Heath Davis, and a continuation of his partnership on film with the star, Steve LeMarquand.


I was really looking forward to “Limbo.” Here are the good things about “Limbo:” the settings in the Australian Outback are about as foreign as anything on Earth. It looked like it was shot on another planet. There are a variety of rock formations that I’ve never seen anywhere before and the area seemed to be filled with abandoned mines, mine shafts, and/or caves. Unfortunately, the film was shot in black-and-white, so the settings (often seen from an interesting aerial point-of-view) came off as dull and monochromatic. This opal-mining area of Australia was fascinating. Even the Limbo Motel where the lead character stays is dug from inside a cave or rock formation. [There are 27 still shots of the interesting terrain on IMBD.com which you should really check out.]

Simon Baker looked like a cross between a more athletic Walter White (“Breaking Bad) and a more scruffed-up Ray Donovan, with tattoos, a beard, and, as we learn in the opening scenes, a heroin habit. He’s a jaded cop. Baker’s performance is spot-on. However, the writer really needed to give him a phrase other than “Fair enough” to continue to mutter. He said it at least four times; it got annoying.


In the first of these two Australian films, “Limbo,” the reunion of a young boy, Zach, with his father is ultimately what emerges as the final theme. The attempt to look into this cold case of Charlotte’s disappearance by hard-boiled detective Trevor Hurley (Simon Baker) goes nowhere fast. Everybody that ever knew anything about Charlotte’s disappearance is either dead, dying or refuses to speak to Trevor.  Charlie (an excellent Rob Collins), her brother, is too screwed up to be of much help in possibly solving Charlotte’s long-ago disappearance.

We finally are pretty much left to believe that Joseph and Leon, two old-timers, definitely had something to do with Charlotte’s disappearance, but Leon is already dead and Joseph will be soon. Joseph almost gets his come-uppance in a strange scene near the end involving Trevor, Joseph and a gun, but ultimately Trevor  rides off into the sunset.

The intrepid detective is called back to the office and we all forget about poor Charlotte. We are left only with the return of Zach to  neglectful father Charlie’s arms. (Charlie says, early on, “I was out of the picture fairly quickly. And I guess that was just the easiest for everyone.”)  In one last gasp of the slow-moving plot, Trevor drives teenaged son Zach out to Charlie’s remote trailer so the two can have a very low-key reunion.

It’s the best you’re going to get for closure on this one.


Steve LeMarquand

Steve LeMarquand as Chris; LeMarquand has appeared in 3 of Director Heath Davis’ four films.

The second film, “Christmess” deals with a once good actor who has become drug and alcohol-addicted and is reduced to serving as a store Santa in a mall. He accidentally encounters his long-lost daughter, Nicole (Nicole Pastor), while performing his duties, and attempts to re-connect with her. Most of the rest of the film is about keeping Steve off drugs and alcohol (AA meetings, conversations with his sponsor Nick) and maybe reuniting him with his daughter for a Christmas day dinner.


Hannah Joy

Hannah Joy of “Middle Kids” rock band, playing Joy in “Christmess” in her film debut.

Aspiring singer of the alternative indie band Middle Kids makes her film debut and contributes a lot of songs. One lyric that comes through is “Life is a mess, but despite it all, Love takes a hand and leads you on.” Matt Sladen also composed some of the original music.

The lead, once again, is Steve LeMarquand, who has appeared in three of Writer/Director Heath Davis’ other films. He is known for “Last Train to Freo” and portrayed Chris Flint in this film.

Darren Gilshenan and Steve LeMarquand

Chris (Steve LeMarquand), right, and his sponsor Nick (Darren Gilshenan) in “Christmess.”

His sponsor in the film is played by Aaron Glenane (“Snowpiercer”). Nicole Pastor plays Steve’s long-lost daughter (who seems to want to stay lost) and Hannah Joy played Joy.

In a “Variety” interview, Writer/Director Davis said, “At its heart, Christmess is a celebration of the human spirit, the kindness of strangers, and the healing power of forgiveness.”

Okay. Two Australian films with good leads (Steve LeMarquand and Simon Baker) where we almost feel that we should all join hands and sing “Kumbayah” as part of the plot’s attempt to bring love to Christmas. Or else, let Hannah Joy do another song (she sang several).

The film shot for three weeks in Campbelltown, New South Wales. LeMarquand has been in three of Davis’ other films: “Book Week,” “Broke,” and “Locusts.”

I still like Australian films very much, but I cannot say that I was overwhelmed by these two. I honestly found myself yawning in one (I won’t say which one). [I seldom, if ever, fall asleep in the movies.] So, good location(s), good acting. Plot, screenplay, and pacing need some work.

My suggestion would be to take these two very interesting leads (Steve LeMarquand and Simon Baker) and find a project for them to do together that is more representative of the kick-ass Australian films I have learned to love over the years.

The Music Box Theater.

“Dream Scenario:” Hilarious and Nicolas Cage Is Brilliant In It


Hapless family man Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage) finds his life turned upside down when millions of strangers suddenly start seeing him in their dreams in this blackly comic film from Norwegian director Kristoffer Borgli. Making his English-language debut, Oslo-born writer-director Kristoffer Borgli (Sick of Myself) follows the rise and fall of one man’s fifteen minutes of fame, a mordantly funny and playfully twisted take on the collective consciousness of modern life, where just about anyone can suddenly become a strange kind of celebrity, and fall back into obscurity or infamy just as quickly. It was Borgli’s film “Drib” that screened at SXSW in 2017 where I saw it as Press that alerted the L.A. executives that this young man had a very unusual point-of-view and the skills to translate his vision(s) to the screen.

The 38-year-old appeared with his film at the Music Box Theater on Saturday, October 15, 2023, as part of the 59th Chicago International Film Festival.  Of this amazingly hilarious and original film and his burgeoning career, Kristoffer said, “They picked me up from the streets. I was like a nobody.”

That might be exaggerating a bit, as Kristoffer moved from working in a video store, to trying to write screenplays, to the visual side by producing skateboard videos, music videos and, later, commercials. What makes this film so good, however, is his very unique view of life and a satirical sense of style that has been cultivated by viewing things like Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” as well as by his life experiences.

“It was one of the best scripts I’ve read, quite frankly, and I think it’s my best performance and probably the best movie I’ve ever made,” says Cage, who has appeared in more than 100 films. Cage actually called up A24 executives to convince them he was the right person to play this character.


Kristoffer Borgli

Kristoffer Borgli, Director of “Dream Scenario” on October 14 at the Music Box Theater in Chicago.

Paul Matthews is completely unmemorable. In fact, Nicolas Cage, bearded and with a bald pate, looks more like F. Murray Abraham than Nicolas Cage. Cage has been doing some interesting films lately and having a career resurgence of sorts, with a much-praised performance in “Pig” as well as “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” and “Renfield.” This film will add to Cage’s upward trajectory, as it is enjoyable, hilarious, unique, and blackly comic, all while examining the entire idea of cancel culture and identity politics.

Borgli, when asked about the sudden fame that is thrust upon his main character and his own thoughts on fame, said, “You’re not allowed to be famous in Norway.  Nobody acts like they’re better than anyone else.” [My Norwegian Grandfather Ole Monson would agree with that.]

Paul Matthews is initially quite happy to be temporarily famous. Everyone is seeing this nebbishy professor in their dreams, where he is generally doing nothing. In fact, his doing nothing is a point of discussion. The film opens with a sequence where Paul’s daughter Sophie (Lily Bird) is imperiled while sitting poolside. Paul does nothing, but continues raking leaves by their pool. (“You don’t do anything. You’re just there.”) After a particularly frightening incident where an intruder threatens Paul and Janet with a knife, the authorities comment, “It seems like you were pretty helpless in this situation.”

When his students start asking him “How does it feel to go viral?” Paul responds, “I actually enjoy my anonymity.”


Paul’s wife, Janet, played by Julianne Nicholson (“Mare of Easttown,” “Boardwalk Empire”) is concerned that Paul’s new-found fame might cause difficulty from the very beginning, but Paul—who has always talked about publishing in his field, but hasn’t written that book yet—thinks that perhaps his 15 minutes of fame will open doors for him with a publisher. At this point, the dreams that Paul has appeared in have been completely boring and un-memorable. He seems to be an inadequate loser, merely walking through the lives of the dreamers.

Unfortunately, the dreams go South Big-time. Some of the dreams become actual nightmares, with Paul murdering students and others. Some of the dreams become sexual. One of the most hilarious scenes occurs when Molly (Dylan Gelula of “Hacks,” “Shameless,” “Casual”) tries to get Paul to re-enact the dream sequence she had, which was sexual. She makes Paul stand in the corner and tells him, “Please don’t speak. Just do the dream.” The sex is awkward, weird and hilarious—(just like real sex). The director singled this out as one of his favorite scenes, but also mourned the loss of a scene set in Paris where a woman is affixed to a wall, surrounded by baguettes and being tortured. Said Borgli, “How do you tape her to the wall? We had to cut the scene for a variety of reasons.”

At some point, Paul is dubbed “Paultergeist” and a texted message says, “I kinda’ don’t like going to bed now.” It’s a big change for Paul’s weird ability to enter the subconscious of dreaming subjects; it will lead nowhere good.


Kristoffer Borgli

Director Kristoffer Borgli of “Dream Scenario” at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival.

Enter Mary (Kate Berlant) and Trent (Michael Cena of “Barbie,” “Superbad” and “Life & Beth”). They have a company that holistically pairs brands with unconventional celebrities. Calling Paul “The most interesting person in the world” the duo tell him they can get him a 6-figure deal to sell the rights to his life. The interested corporation would like him to do “Sprite” ads.

Paul, who went to the interview with “Thoughts” thinking that his book might become a reality finally, says, “I don’t want my Wikipedia page to  be about that.” He explains that he is an evolutionary biologist with a PhD. We have also heard his lecture about zebras and their stripes and how the purpose of the stripes is not to stand out, but to help each individual zebra stay hidden in the herd, so that predators do not attack the individual.

When Paul’s “fame” becomes negative fame, Thought attempts to pivot the deal they had been planning (Sprite or a tie-in with Obama) to less wholesome buyers, like “Rue Morgue Magazine.” It’s all about the Benjamins. “Thoughts” wants to cash in on Paul’s fame. Therefore, Paul’s book becomes very short. It is now named “Je Suis Un Cauchemar” (I Am A Nightmare).


A company called Norio, whose CEO is Cousin Greg from “Succession” (Nicholas Braun), sees the potential in marketing a bracelet that will let companies intrude on people’s dreams to “pitch” various products. (Imagine the  pharmaceutical companies that would leap at that opportunity!) They guarantee “no nightmares” and an entire industry springs up because of the phenomenon of Paul’s Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame as a mass dream subject.

The implications are mind-boggling. The entire subject of someone who has done nothing being drummed from the corps is interesting to ponder. Cancel culture, as it is known, has come down recently on Russell Brand and, previously, on Kevin Spacey. True, those individuals may have stepped outside society’s boundaries. Perhaps they deserved the Amish shunning they received.

But there are innocent people who suffer such a fate, when they were NOT guilty of anything. I thought of the Atlanta bombing incident at the 1996 Olympics, which was the subject of the movie “Richard Jewell.”  Richard Jewell became suspected of being the bomber after an FBI leak, when Jewell actually had helped avert the tragedy. I can think of three incidents in my own life, where I was “exiled-when-innnocent.” They still trouble me. No, there was never any retribution or any apologies for the injustice(s). I think many of you will be able to relate to the hapless Paul, who even goes on television to say, “I’m the biggest victim in the whole phenomenon.” He apologizes to the world for the brutal nightmares dreamers are unwittingly experiencing.

Wife Janet, hearing Paul on TV is not amused. She tells him it is “embarrassing to be married to you right now.” Having just seen another Norwegian film about being embarrassed by one’s significant other (“The Hypnotism,” also a comedy) I wondered, “What makes Norwegians so prone to dark thoughts and black comedy?” Maybe it’s the weather? Too late to ask my Norwegian grandfather or my Dutch grandmother.


Kristoffer Borgli

Q&A after the screening of Borgli’s film “Dream Scenario” at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival.

Asked about happy endings during the Q&A, Writer/Director Borgli said, “In a way, I think happy endings make you less resilient to life’s ups and downs. We need to be more truthful. For me, comedy is the way to counteract life’s difficulties.”

He went on, “A version of you lives inside people’s heads, and they build a vision of you, based on that.” In interviews, Borgli has said, “I’m drawn to stubborn characters, who live and die by their own unattainable principles.” This is certainly true of Paul who says of his class (they all claim to have been traumatized and there is a hilarious scene where they are being treated for their trauma as a class): “Trauma is a joke. They need to grow up.” Paul also refuses to leave a restaurant when asked to do so and suffers a beating. He shows up at his daughter’s recital, which causes even more grief.


A special nod should go to casting director Ellen Lewis, a Chicago native, who worked for 34 years with Martin Scorsese and has done a great job of putting the right actor in each part. Dylan Baker (“Happiness,” “Revolutionary Road,” “The Good Wife”) plays the host of the dinner party from hell. Tim Meadows, who spent 10 seasons on “Saturday Night Live” and has appeared on “Poker Face” has a small part that he makes the most of, especially when he lets Paul sleep in his basement, but the overhead light buzzes and cannot be shut off.*

Costumer Natalie Bronfman (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) who supervised the clothing and shoes that Paul wears also did a superb job. The David Byrne suit from “Stop Making Sense” was a huge hit with the audience!


This film premiered in Toronto. Make sure you mark it down when it streams or plays theaters. It is a comic jewel, but also has some great observations. To quote Paul Matthews, “I don’t want to be some culture war person.” The “Thoughts” people, still trying to make a buck from Paul’s bad luck, tell him they think they can get him on Tucker Carlson and that they love him in France.

Did you smile? You’ll laugh outright at this movie, and Nicolas Cage is great in it!


(*Totally unrelated aside: At a memorable Book Expo America conference in New York City that I attended, we stayed at the Hyatt hotel that is connected to Grand Central Station. It was a Trump hotel, originally, which seems about right. The light switches in the rooms were very weird. They were not normal light switches, but modernistic, and they did not work well. In fact, nothing in that room worked well. The exact thing depicted in the film happened to me at the Trump Commodore-cum- Hyatt (or whatever its name was.) I could not shut the lights off and had to sleep with a pillow over my head. Also, the water in the bathtub barely came out and never got hot. Later that night, I got a finger stuck in the pop machine, which was very painful. Maybe there is something special about Norwegians that sets us up for this stuff to seem funny later, because I did and do see the humor in that horrible hotel—although I never went back to another conference if it was being held in that location.)

“Eric LaRue” Screens on Friday the 13th (2023) with Director Michael Shannon

Judy Greer as Janice LaRue in the Michael Shannon-directed movie “Eric LaRue.”

Michael Shannon steps behind the camera to direct the film version of a play written by good friend and award-winning writer Brett Neveu. The 2002 play, “Eric LaRue,” deals with the aftermath of a school shooting. It does not focus on the crime itself, but on the effect the murders have on the shooter’s parents and on the community, at large. The film premiered at Tribeca and played the 59th Chicago International Film Festival on Friday, the 13th of October, 2023.

Four films come to mind that “Eric LaRue” resembles:  “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (2011); “Mass” (2021)  “Vox Lux” (2018); and 2010’s “Beautiful Boy.”  In each case, the school shooting plunges the families of those involved into chaos. In this film, the entire community is upset. Janice works at Dellride’s Rightsmart and the floor manager, Jack (Lawrence Grimm), while vaping outside the store, tells Janice that her return to work has upset everyone and she should take another 2 to 4 months off. When Janice asks what she should do during that time, he says, “Meditate. Read a book.” Nobody wants to be around Janice. However,  often working is what helps keep a traumatized person sane.

Shannon, in the Q&A following the film’s screening at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival, said, “This movie really seemed to be about this country. Only one word sums it up: confusion. The country doesn’t make any f***** sense, so I wanted to make a movie about that, and I did.” Indeed, at one point, in a climactic scene opposite his mother Janice (Judy Greer) the title character, now in prison, says, “At the time, I thought I had no choice. Now it makes no sense.” Nation Sage Henrikson plays the teen-aged Eric in the film’s climactic scene. He adds, “Things got out of control in my mind and I screwed up.” The surprising thing is that Eric expresses and feels real remorse, while his mother seems bent on defending the indefensible. That made no sense. Referencing Director Shannon’s remarks at the beginning of this paragraph, that seems true of the nation and the world right now. (GOP, Israel, Ukraine, weather—no need to go on.)

Director Michael Shannon

Michael Shannon on October 13, 2023 at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival.


The acting from this cast of luminaries is as good as it gets. For a small film, it has a stellar ensemble.  Judy Greer (“The Village,” “Adaptation”) plays Janice, the mother of a school shooter, and Alexander Skarsgard (“Big Little Lies,” “Succession”) plays her husband, Ron LaRue. Tracy Letts—who has been in 5 pictures that were Best Picture nominated—plays Pastor Billy Verne at Redeemer Church. (Letts is better known for his play “August: Osage County” or “Killer Joe.” He appeared in “The Big Short” (2015); “The Post” (2017); “Lady Bird” (2017); “Ford vs. Ferrari” (2019) and “Little Women” (2019).)

Judy Greer carries this film on her slim shoulders.  Her performance is Oscar caliber. Janice is doing her best to cope with the horror of her son’s actions. While Ron, her husband, turns to religion in a big way, Janice LaRue actively rejects giving her troubles to Jesus. She is trying to cope, but she has to do it her way, not her husband’s dictatorial way. Quoting 1st Timothy about a husband’s right to rule his household and apologizing to one of the mothers who lost a son in a teary breakdown is not cutting it for Janice, who tells Ron so. (Ron to Janice: “I don’t think you know what you think.”) For Janice, the “His blood will heal you” talk is not cutting it.

Plus, it appears that Ron’s attendance  at Bible readings with Allison Pill may be thinly-concealed unconsummated lust. She is his manager at work and seems to be quite fond of hugging Ron at every opportunity in an overly flirtatious manner, whether appropriate or not. (“I’m the H.R. manager, so I make the rules.”) Ms. Pill does a great job with the part.


The discordant sounds of hymns that are off-key and Jonathan Madro’s original music add a lot to the mood, which is, as you would expect, grim and depressing.


Andrew Wheeler was the cinematographer and the Wilmington, North Carolina area is the film’s setting. The cast took up residence at the Residence Inn. They socialized nightly. Kate Arrington (who plays the mother of one of the murdered boys) is Michael Shannon’s wife and the mother of his two daughters. (Kate plays the mother  who is working on forgiveness.)


Eric LaRue

(L to R), Mimi Plauche, artistic director of Cinema Chicago, Screenwriter Brett Neveu, and Director Michael Shannon onstage at the Music Box Theater on October 13, 2023.

There were a number of interesting shots  in the film.

One was the close-up of a stained glass window that seems to show a Biblical figure about to cut his wrists with a wicked-looking dagger. Another was the truly inspired shot of the Bible-thumping Ron in a booth opposite a crowned-with-thorns Jesus, who is sipping a soft drink through a straw (while bleeding from his wounds). [Genius!] And, of course, there is the final scene, which was beautifully composed,with Janice walking away down a long gravel road and shedding her jacket as she goes. Does this symbolize Janet “walking away from” the entire situation? Or was it simply failure of the gymnast to stick the ending? Out of appreciation for the talents involved, I’ll stick with the former for what seemed like an anti-climactic ending.


There is A LOT of religious fervor shown onscreen and A LOT of quoting of religious phrases. A good editor could cut out about 20 to 30 minutes of this, as the film runs just one minute shy of 2 hours. There is also a great deal of plot devoted to which pastor (!st Presbyterian or Redeemer) will do the honors on assembling the mothers of the 3 slain boys in a meeting with Janice LaRue, the mother of the murderer. The entire middle of the film hinges on which pastor (Tracy Letts or Paul Sparks) will win out. Do we care? Some of us think it’s a lousy idea, since it could lead to more bloodshed. Stephanie Grazer (Annie Parisse) is embittered and blames Janice and her entire family. That seemed normal and logical. She asks the browbeaten Janice, “When you go home at night with your son in prison and your neck massage husband, are you happy?” (A: “No.”) That is right before Stephanie tells Janice to “Go to hell.” Stephanie also alludes to the family being outcasts long before Eric went postal, while Eric’s Mom retells stories of school bullying of her son.

When you have a character like Minister Steve Calhan moderating a potentially explosive meeting of three women (one woman, Laura, has gotten religion Big Time and does not attend the meeting at 1st Presbyterian, but is shown talking in tongues and having a fit at Redeemer Church with Janice’s husband Ron), you are asking for trouble.  Example of Pastor Steve’s words of wisdom:  “We all understand your involvement—that you weren’t involved.” (Eye roll).  Steve Calhan seems out of his depth.


Eric LaRue

Michael Shannon at the Music Box Theater during the Q&A following the screening of “Eric LaRue” on October 13, 2023.

The logical end of the film might have been the prison meeting between Janice and Eric. The only way I “get” the walk-down-the-road ending is if Janice is walking away from it all (which she probably should have done much earlier in this film.)

I enjoyed Michael Shannon’s remarks about Janice being like a film director. Said Shannon, “People give you notes, and you either say (a) I’m not doing that (b) Why did they suggest that? Or (c) What’s a better thing I could do? I think Janice is like a film director in responding to her situation the same way.”

Shannon did not sound as though he was inspired to direct more movies. Said Shannon, “I can’t afford to make more movies. I can make more money kicking an ATM. It is impossible to get one made, impossible to fund them, and impossible to sell them.” He said, “We’re going to take something that is pretty much impossible and make it completely impossible.”

But, as Writer Brett Neveu said, “We were all working together to find the truth.”

“The Hypnosis”Amuses Crowds at 59th Chicago International Film Festival

“The Hypnosis” is a 98-minute Swedish/Norwegian/French film from Director/Co-writer Ernst DeGeer. Mads Stegger collaborated on the witty script, an entry in the New Directors’ Competition. The film is described as “a satire of entrepreneurial culture.”

A young Scandinavian couple, Andre Sandru (Herbert Nordrum) and Vera Joseffson (Asta Kamma August), are pitching their start-up company at something called Shake Up. Shake Up brings young entrepreneurs together to pitch their unique ideas to investors. Vera and Andre have created an app that will help improve female health named Epione after the Greek goddess of health.

The couple’s entire pitch is built on a lie. Vera starts off their presentation with the story of her first period and how her hemophilia made it life-threatening. Vera doesn’t have hemophilia; she has claimed to suffer from it to craft a catchy opening for their joint pitch.

When Vera tells that opening story, Julian (David Fukanachi Regnfors) is impressed. He compliments her, finding her presentation natural, heartfelt and affecting. When Anerdre begins his portion of the joint pitch, however, Julian interrupts him, criticizing Andre’s delivery and his guarded body language. After Vera’s opening, Julian says, “But what came after that. Just no. You’re an amusement park of nervous gestures.” In a “Variety” interview, Director De Geer said, “I think from the beginning I was most interested in what would happen if someone close to me suddenly started to act different.  I wanted to explore the feeling of second-hand embarrassment in a close relationship, and how suffocating that can be for the other person and, it turns out, also for the person feeling the embarrassment.”

Vera had been hypnotized shortly before the couple’s big day at Shake Up for her smoking. Because of her visit to Kungshelmen’s Hypnotherapy, like Jim Carrey in the 1997 film  “Liar Liar,” Vera begins being completely truthful. When Andre inquires of the hypnosis firm what, exactly, they have done to his live-in love, the hypnotists explain that hypnosis is just a tool to alter patterns.

Things go South at Shake Up. The relationship between Andre and Vera,  who have been together 6 years, is negatively impacted. Vera becomes a madcap devil-may-care semi-loon. She engages in behavior that is so different from her normal self that Andre even says, “She’s just having a little psychoses.” Situations become weird and zany.

The film may be poking fun at hypocritical commercial gatherings like Shake Up, but it also, ultimately,  underscores the truth of Andre’s remark about relationships: “Find someone that you’re happy being together.” Andre considers his own words during a photo op and makes a dramatic decision to try to salvage their troubled relationship.

In a gesture of apology and reconciliation, Andre, at film’s end, out-does Vera in the psychotic behavior department. That’s putting it mildly.(Oh, those wacky Scandinavian lovers says the reviewer with a Norwegian-from-the-Old-Country maternal grandfather, Ole Monson!)

Along the way, the audience laughed loudly at the clever script and the surprise ending.

“The Hypnosis” was a fun film at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival.

“Departing Seniors” Screens at the Music Box Theater on Opening Night of the Chicago Film Festival

Chicago native Clare Cooney directed her first feature film, from a script from first-time screenwriter Jose Nateras. It screened at the Music Box Theater in Chicago at 10 p.m., immediately after the Opening Night film of the 59th Chicago International Film Festival, “We Grown Now.” The theater was packed, and most of the cast and producers were present.

Ignacio Diaz-Silverio as Javier:

Ignacio Diaz-Silverio

Ignacio Diaz-Silverio as Javier in “Departing Seniors.”

The comedy/horror mélange involves Javier having the ability to “see” events, past and present, by touching an object, a power known as psychometry. Throughout the film, Javier is trying to prevent more of the “suicides” that actually are murders. Diaz-Silverio reminded me of the then-young Eric Roberts in “King of the Gypsies.” [That is a big compliment.] Diaz-Silverio has appeared in “Suspicion” (TV series, 2022), “The Good Fight” as Andres (2021) and as Quinn in 2023’s “A Good Person.” His delivery of serious lines was believable, but his comic timing was even better. He described his goal as to “work from a personal place. I was definitely trying to make things specific and very personal.”

Ireon Roach as Bianca:

Cast members of Departing Seniors during a Q&A on 10/11/2023.

(L to R) “Departing Seniors” producer; Bianca (Ireon Roach), Mr. Arda (Yani Gellman) and Javier (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio during the post-screening Q&A at the Music Box Theater on Opening Night of the Chicago Film Festival.


However, the cast member who stole most of the laughs was Ireon Roach as Bianca. Ireon played the best friend of the gay Javier, a strong Black lesbian woman who can knock you out if necessary, but is always there for you. Ireon has appeared in “Candyman” (2021), “Knives & Skin” (2019) and “Chicago P.D.” (2014.) Her comic timing on lines that were arguably straight lines was impeccable, as when she delivered the line, “Angry, you say?” to a character thought to be the murderer of three students, [who is ranting on about his rage.] Calling this character “Murder-Boy” brought laughs from the audience. Between her insouciant vaping and her best friend in-the-trenches attitude, Bianca was a real crowd pleaser.



Jose Nateras, Screenwriter:

(L to R) The Music Box programmer; Director Clare Cooney; Writer Jose Nateras; Producer; Ireon Roach (Bianca); Yani Gellman (Mr. Arda); Ignacio Diaz-Silverio (Javier) during the post screening Q&A on Oct. 11, 2023.

Screenwriter Jose Nateras—also a newbie to screenplays—described his influences as “horror movies” and, specifically, Stephen King.  He said, “My heart is in this movie, and my heart is in horror.” He intentionally left Easter egg homages to classic horror films like “Scream.” There are at least two references to Billy Loomis, Skeet Ulrich’s character in “Scream.” There is even a drama mask (comedy/tragedy) that figures prominently in the plot. The film is not meant to be taken too seriously, but it did touch on such serious topics as “homo-erotic overtones of male relationships.” Nateras drew on his own personal life and experiences as a gay Mexican in the public schools of Elmhurst. (Elmdale was changed to Springhurst on set, to take advantage of the school used in the location shoot, which had the letter “S” everywhere, when it had originally been an “E” in the script. Jose worked on rewrites on set, and shared that this was his second film as a producer.)

Departing Seniors cast member

Cast member Maisie Merlock (with friend) as Ginny, the Valedictorian we all love to hate. (Young Reese Witherspoon in “Election”).


A crew of 35 filmed the movie in August, sharing the interior of the real public school with teachers preparing for fall semester. The interior locations included Sullivan in Rogers Park, the Athenium Theater nearby; the Lamont pool; and, for exterior shots, Morgan Park. The cast shot the film for only 16 days and also had to deal with Covid.

Writer/Director/Actor Clare Cooney:

Clare Cooney

Director Clare Cooney being interviewed prior to the screening of her first feature film, “Departing Seniors.”

I first became aware of Clare. Cooney’s talent when I saw her short film “Runner” at the Windy City Film Festival, where I had a script in contention. “Runner” was  excellent. I vowed to try to keep up with this promising new-comer. In some ways, her current path reminds of two Quad City natives, (Scott) Beck & (Bryan) Woods, who went on to hit it big with “A Quiet Place.”

The next time I reviewed a Chicago film directed by Michael Smith (“Relative”) , Clare was acting in it. She is tall and lovely. She can do it all, and her expert handling of this film proves it. As she said, “It’s my first feature, and it’s a really ambitious one to do.” She went on to describe the making of the film as being “like making 5 shorts in a row.”

Clare Cooney

Writer/Director/Actor Clare Cooney of Chicago at the screening of her film “Departing Seniors” on October 11, 2023, openng night of the Chicago International Film Festival.


Cooney described screening her film at the iconic Music Box Theater as “overwhelming and surreal.” She said she loved the homage paid to such films as “Heathers,” “Clueless,” and other films with the same vibe. Upon seeing the script, she knew that she and Jose and the excellent Chicago cast should make this movie. And they have. And it’s very enjoyable. As its writer said, “It needed to be a fun screamer.”

(*Favorite throw-away line, spoken by William (Ryan Foreman): “Is this an extension cord?”

You’ll have to see the film to appreciate it; I hope you do!)

Opening Night: 59th Chicago International Film Festival on October 11, 2023

The 59th Chicago International Film Festival, North America’s longest-running competitive film festival, opened at the iconic Music Box Theater tonight with a showing of “We Grown Now,” directed by Minhal Baig.

The film is a heartfelt story set in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green projects in fall of 1992. Two boys come of age amid change in their community. Malik (Blake Cameron James) and Erik (Gian Knight Ramirez) are 12-year-olds with the projects their playground. S. Epatha Merkerson portrays Malik’s wise and witty grandmother and Malik’s mother, Dolores, is portrayed by Jurnee Smollett (“Lovecraft Country).

All the performances rang true and genuine. The two young men portraying Erik and Malik are particularly affecting, especially at the film’s finale, when the two friends since childhood must say good-bye to one another.

When violence comes to the neighborhood, Malik’s mother Dolores must decide how best to protect her son. She has a chance at a better job in Peoria, but the Cabrini Green Housing Project has always been their home. How will her children—Malik and his sister—cope?

Director Minhal Baig at the Opening of her film “We Grown Now” at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival.

Director Minhal Baig during the Q&A following her film “We Grown Now” at Opening Night of the 59th Chicago International Film Festival.

Written and directed by Minhal Baig (“Hala” )”We Grown Now” is a coming-of-age story based on the real-life experiences of Chicago’s Black community. “We Grown Now” premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival and was awarded the TIFF Changemaker Award. Sony Pictures Classics is releasing the film.

Baig’s previous feature, “Hala” about a Pakistani-American Muslim teenager uncovering a secret about her family, premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and was released by Apple.

The film took one and one-half years to cast and the director explained, during the Q&A, how the exact specifications of a real Cabrini Green unit were recreated. She started collecting the memories of former residents of this housing development, which, at one time, housed 15,000 people, in 2018. The research that went into recreating the housing complex was major. In 1995, CHA began tearing down dilapidated mid- and high-rise buildings, with the last demolished in 2011. Originally built to house workers during WWII, the housing development became synonymous with crime and violence.  In the film, the death of a 7-year-old boy is a major turning point in Dolores’ realizing that, “I can’t keep you safe, and that hurts me.”

Among other incidents depicted, were police raids at 2 a.m. that treated all residents as though they were potential criminals. The residents were also required to carry I.D. cards to enter or leave their own homes, in an effort to fight the rampant crime and violence. I remember when Mayor Jayne Byrne moved into Cabrini Green as a political stunt.

The music, including original music by Jay Wordley, is one of the bright spots in the film. Coupled with the cinematography by Pat Scola that used corridors and trains effectively, plus the use of the young protagonists to tell the story of the complex, both good and bad, was an important point-of-view. Director Minhal Baig told the audience that, “I felt like this point-of-view—that a place is the people—was not something I had seen. This place meant a lot to the kids and to the community.”

As a tribute to those who called Cabrini Green home for all those years, it is a remarkable achievement. As its director said, “It felt very personal. We recreated the complex and were very faithful to the original. We were trying to give the place a very lived-in real feeling.

The entire production has a very “real” feeling and the collaborative effort with the two young actors and Ms. Smollett (sister of Jesse Smollett) served the film well.

It is worth noting that both of the films that screened at the Music Box tonight were by female directors. And both directors show huge promise.

movie Foe

“Foe” Premieres on Amazon on October 6th: Closing Night of Nashville Film Festival

“Foe’s setting is supposed to be the Midwest in 2065. Information projected on the screen tells us that the planet’s climate is growing worse as mankind continues to pollute and ruin the air and water. The government, like Elon Musk, is intent on using space as a safety valve for humans to flee our ruined Earth. Once we completely ruin our home planet, humans will be relocated to suitable locales. The husband of this couple is being recruited to go for a year. (Why?)

A representative of the government, Terrence (Aaron Pierre), comes to the couple’s remote farm home to inform them that the husband, Junior, has been selected to live aboard a government-built space station for a year. (Why?)  While he’s gone, an A.I. Replicant will serve as a companion to Junior’s wife Henrietta. Terrence tells the couple that this is a great opportunity for them. Originally, Terrence says the year-long sabbathical will take place in roughly 2 years.

Terrence  leaves, but then he returns in his modernistic DeLorean-like car much sooner.

Terrence returns in just one year. He says that he must live with the couple for a period of months in order to help make the Replicant-to-be-made as authentic as possible. Terrence will be conducting confidential interviews with each of the couple and generally butting into their lives. His presence seems unwelcome and, frankly, unnecessary.

The first impulse that Junior has when their doorbell rings at a very late hour is to grab a gun and shoot. Henrietta talks him out of loading the shotgun; no shots are fired at Terrence. [Perhaps they should have been.]

Junior is not thrilled by Terrence’s news. [I couldn’t help but think of the film we watched just prior to this one where a black family in North Carolina fights for 33 years to be able to stay in their home. Two of the principals in “Silver Dollar Road” go to jail for 8 years, just to be able to remain in the only homes they have ever known. “Foe,” which screened immediately after “Silver Dollar Road,” again presents us with a home-owner who does not want to be rousted from his habitat.]

Junior makes the usual accusations about how he doesn’t want some robot living with his wife while he’s gone. He repeats the usual things about his ties to the land and how he doesn’t think that his wife would like living on an artificial construct launched into space. We, the audience, are less sure of this the more we hear of Henrietta’s angst at the sameness of their lives and how she has always felt “that there’s something else out there for me.”

Farming is already nearly impossible in the Midwest of 2065, however; the bleak picture of the future of the planet certainly seems likely after the weather we’ve all experienced this past summer. The dust storm scene reminded me of the Margot Robbie 2019 film “Dreamland.”


The scenes depicting the ruined planet are all very cinematic. The lonely tone of the farm and fields is impressive, even if it looks nothing like what I would imagine a ruined Midwest would look like in 2065. We could also say that the couple seem oddly stuck in the past, themselves, with a beat-up pick-up truck and a house that could easily be from the fifties. No flat-screen TVs in evidence and a very old-fashioned look and feel to the entire setting. The acting was top-notch, and I would urge you to check it out on Amazon if you have Amazon Prime and fill me in on the gaps in my interpretation, which are many and numerous.


Problems with the interesting landscape do present themselves to the viewer, however. The couple this film focuses on supposedly live in a remote area that is seeing Dust Bowl-like storms and very little rain. If it’s so remote, why is this huge chicken processing plant where Junior works located in the middle nowhere? And who are the customers that Junior’s wife, Henrietta, is seen waiting on in a fancy restaurant?

I’m an Iowa girl. The landscape looked completely foreign. Dying mucky pink fields and crop circles are not part of my Midwestern experience. Even with the passage of thirty-two years, it’s hard to accept that this is supposed to be the Midwestern United States in 2065. (It is, in fact, Victoria in Australia.)

Two Irish actors (Saoirse Ronan as Henrietta and Paul Mescal as Junior) portray the Midwestern couple on the farm, which is suffering the fate of the entire planet. Based on the book Iain Reid wrote and scripted by Reid and Director Garth Davis (“Lion”), this closing night film at the Nashville Film Festival, is an Amazon/MGM project and set to have a premiere on Amazon on October 6th. ( It premiered at the New York Film Festival and will open in the U.S. on October 6th and in the U.K. on October 20th. The reviews have been somewhat negative, but it is definitely worth a look.)


The film owes much to “Black Mirror” episodes we have seen before, like the 2013 episode Be Right Back, starring Domhnall Gleeson as an AI facsimile for Hayley Atwell’s late boyfriend. There was a similar one on “Black Mirror” in 2011 entitled “Beyond the Sea” that starred Aaron Paul as an astronaut. And, of course, who can forget the Replicants of “Blade Runner?”

The movie opens with Henrietta (Saiorse Ronan) crying in the shower. She is bemoaning the loss of interest in her that she feels she has seen from her husband of 7 years. (“In the beginning, everything seems so new and exciting until time makes it so predictable.”)

IMHO, Henrietta has made a sort of “deal with the devil” to  allow the well-made robot early access to her home and marriage. She is tired of the hum-drum existence with which her husband seems content. She wants to play the piano; Junior makes her play in the basement. She wants to travel and leave this dead place. He does not seem to want to leave his  familiar homestead. This seems fairly male, in my own experience, so Henrietta’s angst at her husband’s happiness with the status quo is a motive for her behind-the-scenes collaboration with Terrence to allow the husband substitute to enter her life earlier than we originally think as we watch the film. We only learn it in a climactic scene near the end.

The give-away for “which one is the real robot” is the fact that Henrietta obviously knows Terrence when he comes to their door in the middle of the night. My companion said, “Yes, but isn’t that just because she may have signed them up for the spacecraft because of her desire to leave the farm and get away from the sameness of life?”

Possibly, but the plot seems to give the nod to the wife shacking up with the robot from the get-go and the robot being in house throughout 90% of this movie. (This despite the audience thinking that there will come a later time when the robot will be introduced.) Our thinking is that the robot is “in house” from Scene #One. The ability of a replicant to learn to “love” has been pondered before in other films, and it seems to surface again in this one. (Terrence: “Henrietta didn’t know how this would end. They’ll be studying you for years.”)

A later brief absence on Henrietta’s part caused one of us to feel that Henrietta may have gone off on the spacecraft and sent a Replicant back to live with Junior-the-robot. This could be, although I’ll leave that up to you as you watch this on Amazon.

I think I need to read the book in order to completely understand the symbolism of the bugs and other plot points. Why it is called “Foe” is another good question. I can offer some possible reasons for that title, but it doesn’t seem like the strongest fit.

The acting was good. Saiorse Ronan is good in everything and I looked forward to this film. Paul Mescal was a fine counterpart, but not someone whose work I was familiar with;he rose to fame in England in a television series. Some felt the accents were off. I honestly did not notice any break-through Irish accent problems.

We enjoyed the film.  Drop a line and we’ll thrash the plot out together.


Saoirse Ronan as Henrietta

Paul Mescal as Junior

Aaron Pierre as Terrence


Writer (based on the book by)





“The Herricanes” @ Nashville Film Festival on October 1, 2023

“Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and make a trail.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) That quote appears at the beginning of the documentary “The Herricanes,” which played at the Nashville Film Festival on Monday, October 1, 2023.

Olivia Kuan’s Mom played football. Olivia thought it was something any girl could do. Upon learning how unique her mother’s experience was, the young filmmaker decided to document her mother, Basia Haszlakiewicz’s, participation in the female football leagues of the seventies. Basia played for the Houston Herricanes in the NWFL (National Women’s Football League.)

Ms. Kuan’s excellent documentary traces the origins of female contact football. She interviewed many members of several teams; she has done a great job of labeling each interview subject onscreen. Olivia Kuan’s research and editing team did an even better  job gathering and assembling the interviews into a coherent whole.The archival production team consisted of Kelsey Carr and researcher Chris Morcam.  Still photographs and film footage from the actual games take us back in time.

The documentary embraces the concept”it’s okay for women to be whole people.” Another truth the film underscores is: “It’s important to create a world that welcomes everyone.” Interesting timing. Olivia Hill, the first trans-gender woman to hold office in Nashville, was sworn in this very day as one of 5 council-members at large for the Metro area. (Meanwhile, the state of Tennessee has banned drag shows.)

Title IX

The entire idea of letting women play contact football grew out of the cultural shift of Title IX in 1972. Title IX said that no school could discriminate on the basis of sex in extra-curricular offerings in public schools. Today’s youth don’t remember what a sea change this was.

Olivia’s mother, Basia Haszlakiewicz, played for the Houston Herricanes in the seventies. To the argument women “don’t want to play contact sports” the rebuttal was,”They’ve never been given the opportunity to see if they want to play football.” Today, one of the early  supporters of female football runs Gridiron Girls camps.

Be the Revolution

As the film emphasizes, it is not easy to be first.

Four National Women’s Football League teams were founded in 1974. Among the teams participating over the years were the Toledo Troopers, the Dallas Bluebonnets, the Los Angeles Dandelions, the Dallas/Ft. Worth Shamrocks, the Oklahoma City Dolls, the San Antonio Flames, and the Houston Herricanes.

There were initially 14 teams with 3 divisions. The power team was Oklahoma City. In fact, the Oklahoma City Dolls didn’t lose a game until their sixth season.  The Dolls put a real beat-down on the Herricanes in their first meetings. Oklahoma averaged 35 points a game and routinely beat the early versions of the Herricanes by scores as lopsided as 40 to 0 and/or 56 to 0.

Director Olivia Kuan and her mom, Basia Haszlakiewicz.

But the Herricanes steadily improved and were competitive near the end of the league’s existence. The players had to buy their own equipment ($88,15 in Olivia’s Mom’s case) and it took $50,000 to keep a team afloat. There were more people on the field than in the stands. This did not help the financial situation of the league. The comment is made that parity for women in any sport is yet to be achieved.

The documentary also made it clear that support for women’s contact football in Europe is much stronger, citing the 2019 World Championship in Leeds, England. Teams thrive in countries like Sweden, Finland, New Zealand, Germany and England.

As for the original NWFL teams, they began to fold in ’78 (Los Angeles Dandelions) and ’79 (Toledo Troopers, Oklahoma City Dolls, Houston Herricanes,) Some (the Dallas/Ft. Worth Shamrocks) had folded earlier. The 1979 Championship game was canceled.

“The Herricanes” was a highly entertaining and engaging trip back in time. It has a great message for the future about inclusivity. One of the best documentaries here at the 52nd Nashville Film Festival.

“Minnie Pearl: Facing the Laughter” at Nashville Film Festival

“Minnie Pearl: Facing the Laughter”, directed by Barbara Hall, an 89-minute 7-year labor of love, screened at the Nashville Film Festival on Monday, October 2nd, 2023. Those singing the praises of Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon were a Who’s Who of Country Music.  Minnie Pearl as a character appeared on the Grand Ole Opry from 1940 to 1991. She was invited to become a member after her very first appearance on the show. She appeared on the television show “Hee Haw” from 1969 to 1991. Her early education at Belmont College and her years spent traveling a rural circuit in 7 rural areas and performing for as little as $50 a week, often with Roy Acuff, were described.

Who was Minnie Pearl? What was her “brand?”

Today’s youth—[much like those who have no idea who Shere Hite of “The Hite Report” was]—-don’t know Minnie Pearl. We learned this from an instructor at Belmont during the Q&A. However, her unique branding of the straw hat with the price tag still attached remains. Some in their tributes to what a nice person she was said they felt she would be better recognized than Carol Burnett or Mary Tyler Moore. They quantified that comment, saying she would be better identified in profile, with the omnipresent price tag still hanging from her hat. Comments that she didn’t want the same kind of fame as those better-known female pioneers should be taken with a grain of salt.

The Minnie Pearl of the Grand Ole Opry was described as “a transformative figure.” Barbi Benton (better known as Hugh Hefner’s long-time girlfriend), who knew Sarah from appearing with her on “Hee Haw” said, “She was a woman who had absolutely no style.” That was meant in a flattering way. Minnie Pearl gave voice to country women who were ordinary looking and considered hillbillies. She was a pioneer for future female comedians, using racy, sexual innuendo and dressing her intelligence and beauty down with a hearty “How-dy!” greeting, while attired in the plain cotton sun dress and straw hat that became her tademarks.

Minnie Pearl as a “Real” Person

What came through most clearly is that Sarah/Minnie was a very nice person. She was inclusive when it was not the norm. She comforted other country performers when they were at their lowest. One, in particular, who choked up when offering his opinions on the woman was Dwight Yoakam. Garth Brooks also seemed to have forged deep bonds with Sarah/Minnie.

Among the more interesting testimonials was that of the recently deceased Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman), who pointed out that Sarah and he had alternate personas. The fame of her alternate persona Minnie Pearl sustained her for decades. The filmmakers said that the problem was not getting famous people to sing her praises, but trying to accommodate all of those who wished to participate. She was described as having “befriended everyone” and praised as someone who showed  many other people how to be genuine, sweet and amazing. Paul Reubens, in particular, cited Minnie Pearl’s “realness, believability, and genuineness.”

Barbara Hall, Director of “Minnie Pearl: Facing the Laughter” at the Nashville Film Festival.

The real Sarah was said to exhibit elegance, grace, kindness and humility. Her longstanding marriage to a pilot, Henry Ripperton, was covered, with director Barbara Hall saying, “It’s so hard to tell a whole life in 90 minutes.” Ms. Hall added, “I felt she was really an open book about her life and there were really no deep, dark secrets.” She described her part in the production as being “an honor” and said she was “very grateful” to have been part of the project.

Interesting Things Learned Accidentally

Paul Reubens—better known as Pee Wee Herman—was a close friend of Minnie Pearl’s. Also, Paul Reubens has a sister in Nashville who is a prominent civil rights attorney.

Dwight Yoakam gave praise for as long as 2 hours. Many Kleenex helped him through his emotional testimony. Indeed, he paused so long at one point in his effusive memorial to Minnie Pearl that we thought he had fallen asleep.

Garth Brooks really, really liked Minnie Pearl. He said that, from her, he had learned how to treat his fans. Not sure if Garth is held in as high esteem in country music circles since the beer can female impersonator incident (look it up), but he was very eloquent in his praise of Minnie Pearl as a female pioneer.

Other luminaries offering praise:  Amy Grant (who named her daughter Sarah after Minnie Pearl); Dolly Parton; k.d. lang;Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson; Tanya Tucker; Reba McEntire; Brenda Lee; Ray Stevens; Roy Acuff; Barbi Benton and many, many more.

Sarah’s only education was at the finishing school in Nashville known then as Ward-Belmont School. Belmont had a strong drama program, and Sarah’s original goal was to be a dramatic actress. It is known today as Belmont College and is my daughter’s alma mater.One of Sarah’s early instructors at Belmont told her:  “You’ll bruise the tips of your fingers on the tips of stars, but you won’t ever be a star.” [So much for the prescience of his or her crystal ball.]

Later Years

Sarah’s health declined as her career wound down, with a breast cancer diagnosis and strokes. She donated the money to found the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute. The documentary makes the statement that she was one of the few, aside from Betty Ford, who allowed her name to be used to help others with their disease. I immediately thought of several others who have done the same: Olivia Newton-John, Danny Thomas and celebrities like Michael J. Fox, Mary Tyler Moore, Nick Jonas, and Halley Berry who have lent their name or star power to helping others suffering from the same disease. Not every celebrity started an actual hospital (although Olivia Newton-John did) but there are many instances of famous folk supporting research aimed at their disease.

The Verdict

Well-done archival footage that will help introduce younger generations to a pioneer female comic. Interesting and entertaining. I am old enough to remember Minnie Pearl and rural enough (Iowa) to feel her brand of humor was aimed at me, but I was more of a “Laugh In” girl. It is a well-done puff piece, in large part because so many celebrities  sincerely liked the real person.

Minnie Pearl’s advice to other performers (“Love them and they’ll love you back.”) is much needed today.


“Remember This” Documentary at Nashville Film Festival Stars David Straithairn

David Straithairn as Jan Karski in “Remember This” at the Nashville Film Festival.

Academy Award nominee David Straithairn portrays Polish Underground hero Jan Karski in this 95-minute documentary from the Nashville Jewish Film Festival. Straithorne will be better known to audiences as Tom Cruise’s convict older brother in “The Firm” or as the Oscar nominee for 2006’s “Good Night, and Good Luck.” More recently Straithairn was the male lead opposite Frances McDormand in the Oscar-winning Best Picture of the Year, 2021’s “Nomadland.”

In this Jeff Hutchens and Derek Goldman directed tour de force one-man show, Straithairn is onstage with just a table and a chair and must carry the entire story of the Polish war hero and the Nazi genocide without benefit of anything but some accompanying music. It’s a tall order with Straitharn, an actor in his 70s, portraying over 30 characters. It is the spare black-and-white no frills approach that kept the budget to $500,000.

The film is based on the play “Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski” by Clark Young and Derek Goldman. As a play, it ran with Straitharn “live” at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. The film was shot on a Brooklyn soundstage in July of 2020 at the height of the pandemic, and was completed in 2022. The play was originally prepared for the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics at Georgetown University.

Karski was a Polish Catholic with a photographic memory; he was a true Polish patriot. Said Karski, “I am a 28-year-old machine.  I am an insignificant little man.” He volunteered to become a sort of human tape recorder, documenting the genocide of the Jewish population of Poland and Germany. Captured at various points in his perilous journey, he narrowly escaped death at many points, attempted suicide at least once, and maintained that he was an ordinary man until the end of his life. We see a short snippet of the real Jan Karski, and he breaks down while trying to recount his adventures.

Throughout the film about World War II a viewer cannot stop thinking of the Ukraine/Russia conflict that is ongoing. Repeated throughout the film is the question, “What can we do?” The only suggestion during the film consisted of hunger strikes to publicize the atrocities.

The seeming indifference of the top leaders of the Allied powers in the UK and the US is underscored, with Supreme Court Chief Justice Felix Frankfurter flat-out telling Jan during their meeting that he does not believe him. Likewise, President Roosevelt was being urged by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to do more for the beleaguered Jewish population. She wanted him to allow more Holocaust victims to flee to the United States, but he followed the lead of Sir Anthony Eden of Great Britain, who said only, “The matter will take its proper course.”

Meanwhile, as Karski is told by his Superior in London, Szmul Zgielbojm (Polish government in exile), “Tell them in London and the U.S. that we are dying.  Remember this.” Repeatedly Karski is told, “Perhaps this will shake the conscience of the world.” The message that echoes throughout: “Governments have no souls.  They have only their interests.  Individuals have souls.”‘

While Straithairn does what he can with the part, this is no “Schindler’s List.” The filmmakers did insert some sound effects and music that aids a bit, but it is truly up to Straithairn to convey the horror of a systematic attempt to wipe out three and one-half million Jewish residents of Poland and 6 million throughout Europe. The numbers of Jewish survivors in Poland are reduced to a few thousand survivors.

The letter to Roosevelt and Churchill that laid it out quite baldly said, “The surviving Jews of Poland beg you to find a way to save them.  The greatest crime in human history.  Force the Nazi murderers to stop the systematic extinction of our people.”Karski also had meetings with the top diplomats of the U.K. and the U.S., including Roosevelt  I recently completed Robert Dallek’s biography of FDR entitled “Franklin Delano Roosevelt: A Political Life.” That comprehensive history of FDR’s years in office confirms the stories that Jan Karski tells about the slow pace of world leaders; those leaders would later claim that they had not been told of the full extent of the Holocaust.

One of the most telling historical stories depicted in the film is that of Szmul Mordeko Zgielbojm, the member of the Polish government-in-exile in London to whom Jan Karski reported.  Zgielbojm was a Polish Socialist politician and Bund trans-union activist. He and Karski sought every avenue to publicize to the world the atrocities being committed in Poland, Germany and throughout Nazi-dominated Europe. On May 11th, 1943, after the brutal crushing of the Polish Warsaw Rebellion by units under the control of SS-Brigadefuhrer Jeugen Stroop, Zbielbojm committed suicide to protest the inaction of the western Allied powers.

The testimony is important for history, especially in an age when there are still Holocaust deniers. Straitharn does what he can with a bare bones production. Checking out some of the original recordings of Jan Karski (the Shoah Project) is a worthwhile pursuit. You can find some links at RememberThisKarskifilm.com.

Page 2 of 149

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén