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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Any trends or popular fads may be described, whether it would be something like the hula hoop or the pet rock or simply new slang.

“Drowning” (2020): Mom Obsesses Over Son’s Service

“Drowning” is a Melora Walters film, produced by Sergio Rizzuto’s Potato Eater Productions, in conjunction with Room in the Sky Films, Eight Trick Pony and Hero LA . Walters wrote, directed, and stars in the film. She has 110 credits as an actress, including “Boogie Nights,” and “Dead Poets’ Society.” She has 3 credits as a writer and 4 as a director.

This film premiered in North America in Austin, Texas, at the Austin Film Festival on October 29, 2019 after its World Premiere in Rome. The log-line is “A mother deals with the grief associated with her son going off to war.” It is based on Walters’ own life. Sometimes, when we are very close to the story, we need someone who isn’t integrally involved to step up and give us honest feedback. Stay tuned.

The cast in this one is quite experienced. They all do a fine job.  Since Melora Walters is Mira Sorvino’s best friend, we even have a few minutes onscreen of the 1995 Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner (“Mighty Aphrodite”). Others include Gil Bellows as her boyfriend Frank (produced “Temple Grandin,” acted in “Ally McBeal,” “Shawshank Redemption”), Jay Mohr as Henry (“Suicide Squad,” “Last Comic Standing”) and Joanna Goings as Catherine (“Search for Tomorrow,” “Another World”). Goings plays Ms. Walters’ therapist; interesting side-note, both women were once married to Dylan Walsh (“Nip Tuck”). Also, Sergio Rizzuto as Charlie, the son, and Jim O’Heir in a brief part shown on a television screen.

Here’s the problem with the film (and some suggested fixes):

After we establish that Rose (Melora Walters) is concerned to the point of obsession about her adult son’s going off to war (Iraq and Syria), her concern becomes quite tiresome very quickly. Here’s one line from the script, “It just feels like I can’t breathe until he comes home.” I have a friend who once said, as her son was getting married, “I don’t know what I’ll do if I can’t see him every day.”

Advice: Get over it! He’s getting married. He’s an adult now. (Yes, I have 2 adult children).

Another scripted line, “We have no control. We cannot even protect ourselves We want to say it will be all right, but we can’t.” A well-meaning casual acquaintance tries to counsel Rose, telling her, “Everything about you says you’re sad.  I’m talking about the will to live.”

Rose’s boyfriend, played by Gil Bellows, wants her to move to New York with him, but she repeatedly turns down his invitation to the point that her nervous worrying about her adult son in the Army (“You sound like a parrot over and over and over.”) causes Frank (Gil Bellows) to finally say, “You just need to calm the fuck down, Rose.”

Unfortunately, that never really happens and there really isn’t any more to the story.

That much is for sure. Rose tries therapy, but the photography and swimming lessons with Jay Mohr don’t seem to be helping much.

I have these suggestions for ways in which the script could have been transformed from one long whine fest to something more dramatic. We might have had 82 well-acted minutes that actually go somewhere:

  • During the swimming lessons, Rose seems to have a suicidal moment, and there is a similar moment (pills?) when in her apartment. Why not let one of these attempts come close and put Rose in the hospital, where she has a Eureka Moment and realizes that—among other unresolved plot lines—she supposedly has a daughter in college studying chemistry that she should continue trying to stay alive to mother (in addition to her adult son)? Maybe it will sink in, as scripted, that the young soldier had drug abuse issues before he enlisted, so his enlistment was all for the best (Rose’s boyfriend, Frank, tells her this.) The Eureka moment could involve (a) Rose’s boyfriend, Frank (b) Rose’s hitherto not-heard-from college-age daughter and/or (c) the mysterious guy with the hat who stops by in a restaurant and calls her a “beautiful, sad woman” while quoting Schopenhauer. (“The only salvation is to live life.”)
  • Why not have son Charlie (Sergio Rizzuto) actually get injured while in Iraq? There any number of dramatic opportunities that could occur if Charlie had some sort of injury. (Not saying that Charlie should die, since Rose would probably not survive that. Just a scare, perhaps, that makes both of them aware that life is a gift and we should all make the most of it.)
  • Why not have Rose accept Frank’s offer to re-locate to New York City? It could be presented as a break-through moment. The Schopenhauer quote could be worked in somehow. One way to show that Rose is turning the corner on her fixation over her son’s service obligation would be to have her quit being so obsessed with answering her phone. Watching someone answer a phone is almost as exciting as watching someone driving. Both of these pursuits dominate a lot of screen time.

These plot suggestions are just the most obvious ones. It could be something totally off-the-wall like an unexpected romance with one of the much younger men who enter the bookstore where Rose works. Example: Rose is working and Peter (who is actually Mira Sorvino’s husband, Christopher Backus) comes in and flirts with her and, even though he is 17 years younger than Rose, they become a couple.

Again, the carpe diem refrain is no matter what the age difference, as Woody Allen once famously said, “The heart wants what it wants” and at least Rose would be advancing towards something other than lying on her fabulous green velvet couch eating potato chips. Maybe she could start up with the pool guy (Jay Mohr).

Whatever is decided upon from the options above, I’m available, if they want to work on getting an ending for this character study shot in and around Los Angeles. [And, yes, I’ve written 3 award-winning screenplays that will probably never see the light of day.] This one can be seen on YouTube.com.

 

 

 

“One of These Days:” A Snapshot of Small-town Texas Life at Hands On Contest

 Bastion Gauthier (Writer/Director) takes the topic of an annual endurance contest (Hands On) in Texas to win a pickup truck and turns it into a small-town tragedy. The contest promises thrilling entertainment to spectators and the chance of a lifetime for the participants, but it ends in real tragedy.

The contest organizer, Joan Dempsey, well-played by Carrie Preston, will be remembered by fans of television’s “The Good Wife” for playing Elsabeth Tascioni, a slightly off-beat but brilliant attorney. Carrie played the part in 14 episodes from 2010 to 2016 and won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outtanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series in 2013. She was nominated again in 2016. Joan is organizing the competition for Boudreaux’s Auto and Truck Dealership and she is very believable as a small-town employee of that car dealership.

The central contestant role is played by Joe Cole as Kyle Parson. Kyle and his wife and infant child are struggling, financially, and, as the script says, “He really needed a win.”

The rest of the cast of competitors who show up to try to win the truck by outlasting the others is a motley crew, with 20 people who seem to fit the bill often described as “poor white trash,” one of whom declares that what they are doing “isn’t rocket surgery.”

THE GOOD

In addition to Carrie Preston, who is always good in her roles, the “bad guy,” Kevin, played by Jesse C. Boyd, becomes a central figure. There are a variety of types that we can recognize from small-town life, whether it is the completely self-absorbed ear-bud wearing guy beating rhythms to the song that only he can hear on the truck’s chassis or the Bible-quoting Fundamentalist who occasionally requests that they all number off. We get a pretty good idea of the twenty competitors still standing, during the 119 minute movie, and there are those we root for and those we’d like to see quit or be disqualified—perhaps just on the basis of general nastiness.

The film won a special mention at the Zurich Film Festival and was a nominee for awards in Nashville.

THE BAD

Three things really detracted from the film:

#1) Cinematographer Michael Kotschi felt it would be a good idea to have the camera action be jerky at times, shooting forward down streets without any real attempt to focus. We can’t really call it “cinema verité (“Z”). It’s Cinema “F” as in “Failed.” The effect did nothing to enhance the film, but it did a lot to detract from it. I gave my GoPro camera to two eleven-year-olds to film a wedding over Labor Day; they did a better job of filming. The only good thing is that Kotschi did this hand-held herky-jerky treatment primarily on shots of streets, not when we were focused on the inter-action of the contestants in the parking lot of the Hands On contest. My advice to Michael Kotschi: STOP THAT!

#2)  For reasons I do not understand Writer/Director Bastion Gauthier ended the film and then added 20 to 30 minutes of additional background on our male lead, Kyle Parson. The information conveyed to us at the END of the film, (when Kyle is no longer a factor in the competition to win the truck), helps us to understand the plot’s events.. Adding the information at the end of the film was an odd and not very logical placement. It definitely belonged in the film, but chronological order would have been a better choice than tacking it on at the end.

#3) We never learn who won the truck.

I found the film to be interesting, aside from the three complaints mentioned above, but it had the potential to be more.

“On Fellini’s Footsteps” Retraces Fellini’s Career

Frederico Fellini

Meandering through Rome and Cinecittà, Gerald Morin, who worked with Fellini for over a decade, creates a touching portrait of the man, enriched by anecdotes from Fellini’s most important collaborators. The write-up on IMDB says it  “throws us back to an era that is engraved in our collective memory.”

I’ve been reviewing film non-stop for 50 years, so, yes, I have the era “engraved in my collective memory.” I still remember the Anita Ekberg scene in the Trevi fountain in Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita”, and I recall that Fellini’s films were dream/nightmare fantasy experiences.

Fellini was a visionary who “saw” exactly what he wanted to put on film, but he often didn’t “see” it util he arrived on set,  in a free form sort of creative inspirational style, of which one cameraman said, “We don’t know, the day before, how we will shoot. His mind is like a camera.”

Sometimes, Fellini would change the actors’ lines while they were filming. It was all in the service of inspiration and, as Fellini himself told a “New Yorker” interviewer (Lillian Ross):  “I am trying to free my work from certain constrictions—a story with a beginning, a development and an ending. It should be more like a poem with meter and rhythm.” It was Fellini’s devotion to being “in the moment” that often saw him go to bed with one idea and wake up with another.

Still, “8 and ½” (so named because that was how many films Fellini had made to that point) was named one of the 10 Best Films Ever Made and he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in April of 1993, his 5th Oscar.

A talented artist, Fellini was constantly making sketches of both his sets and the costumes he wanted the actors to wear. Said Norma Giacchero, his script supervisor, “His sketches were very helpful.” His set designer said, “Fellini’s world was his own. The real world didn’t interest him.” Cameramen who worked with Fellini talked about his use of the zoom, which he employed while the camera was moving. He did this to change the focal distance and width of the shot. He worked by sequence and used the zoom in unusual ways, going from 50 mm. to 250 mm. long range.

Among the adjectives that his co-workers used to describe him were charming, obsessed, never satisfied, impatient, prompt and demanding. Still, many of his long-time collaborators mention his sense of humor and his “desire to dominate matter.”

“8 and ½” began shooting May 9 of 1962 and completed shooting October 14, 1963. Stumped by the plot he wanted to film, Fellini finally decided it should be about a director who no longer knows what film he wants to make. He described it as having past, present and conditional (fantasy) elements and it was soundly condemned by many, who considered it immoral. Still, it was nominated for the Palme d’Or and received 12 Oscar nominations, 4 of which it won, including Best Foreign Language Film and Best Costume Design in Black and White.

During this documentary, which was shot in 2013, a glimpse is shown of an ecclesiastical fashion show (red-robed Cardinals) where nuns and priests roller skate past shipwrecks of cobwebbed skeletons, scenes from 1971’s “Roma.” As a former colleague put it, “Nobody touches Fellini for bringing dreams to life.”

Although the film does not allude to Fellini’s fascination with and dabbling in LSD and Carl Jung-ian psychiatry after he fell into a depressive period, the films after 1963 often reflected those interests.

Fellini tried working with Hollywood stars (Broderick Crawford, a stand-in for the ailing Humphrey Bogart in the unsuccessful 1955 film “Il Bidone” and Donald Sutherland as Casanova in that film.) His collaborations with Marcello Mastroianni are best remembered. Antonio Bardini, his barber, said, “Marcello wanted to be Fellini and Fellini wanted to be Mastroianni.”

Fellini died at 73 of a heart attack one day after celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary to  wife Gulietta Messina in 1993.

“A Good Man” Is French LGBQT Film from Denver Film Festival and Cannes

“A Good Man” is a LGBTQ French film directed by Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar. It is a Cannes Official Film Selection and the film had subtitles, but the trailer does not. (Dust off your French from high school or college.) Noemie Merlant, who was so powerful in last year’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” plays the lead of a trans-man. There is some controversy over the fact that the part of a trans man is not being played by a real trans man.

I thought a better title for the film might have been crafted based on the scene where a nurse, leaving the hospital room of the new mother after her shift, bids the patient good night with the farewell phrase, “Good night, Sir/Ma’am.”

Noemie Merlant

The farewell causes the new mother/father to smile, as he/she has just given birth to a baby boy, a sacrifice that Ben/Sarah made so that he/she could achieve his/her goal. That goal is stated in the film as, “I want to be me and have a normal life.”  Ben tells his older brother, Antoine, “I want the same as you. No more. No less.” The script also contains the advice, “The management of truth is the key to a rescue.”

THE GOOD

I’m all for people of any sex and/or ethnicity seeking “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Freddy McConnell, a trans man, gave birth to his own son, Jack, and the “Guardian” journalist made a film with Director Jeanie Finlay about it called “Seahorse,” so the topic of a trans man giving birth to his own child IRL has been done before. The performances of the two leads (Noemie Merlant and Soko) are excellent.

The opening ocean panorama of the main character looking out at the sea from the Cote d’Azur is gorgeous. There are many other beautiful cinematic shots within the film, including some spectacular sunsets. But most of us want a story, as well, and there is definitely a story here.

Ben, the central character, was born Sarah Adler on April 28, 1990. The conflict comes when Ben’s love, Aude (Soko, who played Samantha in “Little Fish”) —after his decision to bear their child because they cannot adopt and Aude is infertile— tells Ben, “Right now, I don’t exist.  You play every part.  You play them all. I need to find mine.”

And….Poof!….Aude’s gone.

Another conflict is between Sarah/Ben’s mother, who mourns the loss of daughter Sarah and has difficulty accepting that Sarah has become Ben. There is also conflict between Ben and his male friends, whom he has kept in the dark. Some of Ben’s friends are more accepting than others.

THE BAD

Director Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar

It’s really difficult to follow who is whom and whether the apparently female girl at the bar (Sarah) does, in fact, turn out to become “Ben” later in the film. There is frequent jumping back and forth in time, between the present and the past. While audiences are savvy and will do their best to keep up, it can become difficult to figure out exactly who is whom, then and now.

The departure of Aude, Ben’s love, while understandable, seems very selfish. It reminded me of someone I know who—while his wife was delivering twins—-began an affair with a co-worker and left his wife, who had to go through childbirth alone. There is something about bringing new life into the world that mitigates for a united front to support that new life.

Poor Ben is forced to go through most of the pain, suffering, and confinement of delivery on his own, endure being viewed as a freak by some and suffering the loss of the support of the person closest to him, for whom he has sacrificed a great deal. The departure of Aude does set off a nicely done rapprochement with his estranged mother, however. Mom, watching the new-born baby attempting to suckle, says, “You think it’s a matter of instinct, but it’s not at all.”

The end of the film is slow, although cinematically beautiful. It reminded me of the famous painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat. We also get a quick glimpse of the reunited couple strolling through that scene with their baby.

I felt very sorry for Ben/Sarah, who had to give up the new life he had carved out for himself, reveal his previous identity to the world, and go through childbirth without the woman of his dreams by his side. While I understood Aude’s feelings of being “left out,”  Ben might wish to  re-consider their relationship in light of the loyalty he has shown, versus that demonstrated by Aude.

“A Perfect Enemy” Is a Film To Intrigue from Director Kike Maillo

The intriguing film “A Perfect Enemy” starring Tomasz Kot (Cold War), was directed by 45-year-old Spanish-born director Kike Maillo. Maillo helmed the 2012 film “Eva,” when 37, and it won him the Best New Director award from the Cinema Writers Circle Award in Spain and an award for Best Special Effects (2012). This time out, the basis for the complicated story is a novel by Amelie Nothomb, “Cosmetique de l’ennemi,” but the script was written by Maillo, aided by screenwriters Cristina Clemente and Fernando Navarro.

Architect Jeremiasz August has just concluded a lecture about architecture (“Perfection is when there is nothing left to take away.”) and is in a cab on his way to the airport.

Furthermore, it is an airport that Jeremiasz actually designed, with a beautiful model of his work in the center of a spacious waiting area.

Amidst a deluge outside the lecture hall, a young blonde traveler asks if she can share a cab with the architect. Tessel Textor (Athena Straites)—a petite blonde—does clamber inside the cab in the downpour and begins a pretty much non-stop barrage of information about herself. The Good Samaritan act of allowing her to share the cab causes both the architect and the young blonde to miss their flights, so their conversation continues—more or less—-in the VIP lounge of the airport.

August appears to be growing very tired of the non-stop chatter. There is some symbolism overtly explained. When Tessel first enters the cab,she explains that her name can mean “weaver of words,” although she is not a writer. (August tells her it’s not too late to start.)

There is a third character—a beautiful woman named Isabelle, who was married to August but disappeared  twenty years earlier. We see Isabelle (Marta Nieto) primarily strolling about a charming cemetery and, later, in her apartment. Her relationship with August is confirmed further along in the film by photos of the couple that adorn her apartment.

Things begin to become very surreal and fantastical at the airport. There are clear signs that Tessel is “not right in the head” (if she is even there) and her annoying monologue is beginning to irritate the reserved architect. There are several trips to view a model of the airport. Each time,  airport model has small changes occurring involving splotches of blood, etc. (Take note). The exchanges in the rest room(s) are even more central to the plot and even weirder.

Ultimately, August is on his flight. We anticipate that violence will occur at any moment, especially since Tessel followed August into the men’s lavatory and spends a fair amount of time playing with a knife throughout the film.

Now, August is on his flight. Tessel says to August, “Lower your voice.”

“Why?” asks August.

“Because you’re still on the plane,” responds Tessel. That was not where we thought August was when he raised his voice, so settings are shifting and mysterious things are occurring; the endless stories that Tessel tells are beginning to form a mosaic of sorts, coming together to form one tapestry.

The best comparison, for the viewer, to capture what may be going on in this film is to mention “Fight Club” and how it dealt with reality.

I enjoyed the film. First of all, it was well acted, (although Tessel would have been more convincing if she hadn’t been wearing 10 pounds of colored eye make-up in every scene plus what looked like camouflage pajamas).

Aside from that faux pas on the costuming, the principals carry out the somewhat confusing exchanges of dialogue proficiently, the music is good (Alex Baranowski), the sets are great, the cinematography is above average (Rita Noriega)  and the ultimate resolution of the plot is clear.

Another plus: the actors are all speaking English. I finally gave up on the subtitles of an Iranian film that was supposed to feature a burning theater. Did not make it through to the end of that one. Gave it my best shot; that’s 2 hours of my life I’ll never get back.

 Enjoyed this one all the way through to its thought-provoking conclusion.

“Kubrick by Kubrick” Entertains at the 56th Chicago International Film Festival

 

Stanley Kubrick, “A Clockwork Orange,” 1971.

Stanley Kubrick was a legendary perfectionist whose demands for more and more takes for a scene in one of his movies would nearly drive the actors to drink. This documentary, showing at the 56th Chicago International Film Festival, discusses that facet of Kubrick’s work and personality.

Sterling Hayden, interviewed in the documentary “Kubrick by Kubrick,” admitted that he had lost it the day they were shooting “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” There had already been 38 takes. Hayden notes that Kubrick’s response to his apologies for repeatedly messing up his lines was, “The terror that is in your eyes may just give us the quality we want.”

The foremost authority on Kubrick’s life and works, Michael Cement, guides the viewer of this documentary on Kubrick’s works, aided by the taped interviews of the Master, himself. As Roger Ebert says, in one filmed segment, “He worked entirely on his own schedule. It was kind of inspiring.”

was referencing the fact that Kubrick shot almost all of his films within 25 miles of his country estate in England and had a complete studio with the necessary sound systems and cameras, so that he could turn out such films as:

 1999 Eyes Wide Shut

1987Full Metal Jacket

1980The Shining

1975Barry Lyndon

1971A Clockwork Orange

19682001: A Space Odyssey

1964Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

1962Lolita

1960Spartacus

1957Paths of Glory

1956The Killing

1955 Killer’s Kiss

With just 13 films in 43 years Stanley Kubrick cemented his reputation as one of the greatest directors of all time.  Whether it was the 7 months spent shooting “A Clockwork Orange” or the 5 years he spent directing Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in Kubrick’s final film, “Eyes Wide Shut,” Kubrick was a perfectionist, “quintessentially a perfectionist,” according to his set designer Ken Adams.

The stories involving 105 and more takes on a single scene abound, and yet, as Malcolm McDowell (“A Clockwork Orange”) said, “If he trusts you, you’re all right. If not, watch out.”

With clips from nearly all of Kubrick’s feature length films and his own recorded remarks, this documentary directed by Gregory Munro with music by Vincent Theard is totally enjoyable for the Kubrick fan.

It ends with Tom Cruise reminiscing how he was called in the middle of the night with the news that Kubrick—who was then directing “Eyes Wide Shut” with Cruise and Kidman—had died in his sleep at age 70. Cruise pronounces the news unbelievable. Even today, it is.

Kubrick seemed a fierce force to be reckoned with forever.

Rachel Brosnahan Plays Jean in “I’m Your Woman,” an Amazon Original Film at the 56th Chicago International Film Festival

Rachel Brosnahan

Rachel Brosnahan, familiar to television audiences as Mrs. Maisel, has a different role as Jean in the feature length film, “I’m Your Woman,” an Amazon original movie now showing at the .56th Chicago International Film Festival and a nominee for the Golden Hugo award.

The film unfolds a bit like peeling back the layers of an onion. Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) is married to Eddie, who is a professional thief. It’s the seventies and they live in a very seventy-ish house, with Jean basically a bird in a gilded cage—a bird who can’t cook. Although she knows that Eddie (Bill Heck) is a thief—she knows almost nothing about his associates or the true nature of his job or, apparently, anything about the true nature of the man himself.

Much of the film concerns Jean’s “coming of age” as a woman. She is suddenly gifted with a small child, courtesy of Eddie, whom she names Harry. Later, we hear a story about how “Harry” (played by Jameson and Justin Charles) came to  Eddie and Jean’s house in the first place, but we never know if it is the truth or another example of the things we’ll never know for sure.

Enter Cal (Arinze Kene), an associate of Eddie’s who appears at Jean’s house in the dead of night and insists she and Harry must flee. Cal is Black and, later, we meet Terri (Marsha Stephanie Blake), who is his wife and the mother of his son Paul.

From there, things get interesting.

One of the strongest things about the Julia Hart directed film, (which Julie Hart and Jordan Horowitz wrote), is the fact that you don’t feel as though you’ve seen this film a million times before. It’s an original way to tell the story. It unfolds slowly at times, more quickly at others, with exciting chase scenes involving 70s autos and more and more revelations that will keep the viewer enthralled.

In addition to the theme of Rachael Brosnahan’s growth into full womanhood, there is plenty of action, mystery and suspense. Good performances, an interesting tale, and lessons to be learned all contribute to the appeal of “I’m Your Woman.”

“Bleeding Audio” Relates the Story of “The Matches” Band at Denver Film Festival

Chelsea Christer’s documentary about Oakland’s “The Matches” rock band tries to answer the question, “What was ‘The Matches’ downfall?” In doing so, it may just open up a second chance for “Matches” stardom.  The 91-minute documentary is currently playing the Denver Film Festival and doing well at other film festivals, nationwide.

Tattoos with the message “May your organs fail before your dreams fail you” abound amongst the die-hard fans of “The Matches.”  This American pop punk band was formed in 1997 in Oakland, California.

The band is composed of vocalist and rhythm guitarist Shawn Harris, lead guitarist and backup vocalist Jonathan Devoto, bassist Justin San Souci, and drummer Matt Whalen. The Matches have released three studio albums and are currently unsigned after their contract with Epitaph Records expired.

On July 9, 2009, the Matches announced that they were taking a “hiatus“, saying that, “our time to start new projects has come”. On June 17, 2010 Shawn confirmed  that he had left the band.

The Matches announced a one-time reunion show with the original lineup in May 2014. The show sold out, as did an additional eight shows and a following tour in Australia.] The band announced additional reunion dates and new songs in 2015. They performed additional reunion shows in 2018.

Now, the documentary “Bleeding Audio” is putting “The Matches” of today out there with the logical question, “What is next? Is the band back together for good?”

I hope to cover that question and others in a “live” interview with Director Chelsea Christer TBA for my Weekly Wilson podcast, but, from the sound and look(s) of the band, it was not a lack of talent that derailed their success.

The band worked hard for 10 years, performing roughly 300 dates a year and touring continuously. They took their jobs seriously. Like other artists struggling to break through, they soon learned that “We had to learn how to be promoters now.” That led to the realization that there was so much more work to do, as, before, they were trying to win over a small community, but now they were trying to win over the world. They were fortunate that the members were creative and one member of the group has mad artistic illustrator skills.

As the documentary digs into the reasons for the band’s “hiatus” in 2009, several disconcerting facts emerge.

The band’s manager did not register all of the band’s songs with BMI. Only 4 albums were registered with BMI (the manager’s job). The reason the band members had no money much of the time was directly attributable to this lack of attention to duty. [Think of Trump’s actions on stopping Covid-19: Trump fiddled while the nation burned, and I was just diagnosed with Covid-19 on Sunday.)

In this case, band manager Miles Hurwitz had become a Big Brother figure who interfered in the creative process overmuch, but did not attend to his duty to register the creative output of the band with the appropriate agencies so they could be paid. Band members had only a $10 per diem walking around allowance. They were approaching 40 years of age “and we’re still crashing on people’s floors.” [I had such a band crashing on my apartment floor in Chicago during Lollapalooza one year, so I can relate.]

It was this lack of progress that caused Justin to burn out and quit the band. Dylan replaced Justin. Justin said, “It’s really scary to admit that this dream or passion you’ve had for ten years isn’t what I want.”

As one of the band members put it, “We were so naïve.” In fact, drummer Matt Whalen, when the band breaks up, begins to study intellectual property law because of the many ways in which the band now feels they were taken advantage of by the industry and by those with whom they worked. “We were naïve.”

One of the artists in the group, Justin, turns to his art talent to support him and, upon getting a gig illustrating a book, said, “My first paycheck was more than I made in 3 years with the band.”

This is a “feel good” documentary and the band seems to have real potential, despite some health issues for their virtuoso guitarist. Long may The Matches burn!

Showtime “Belushi” Documentary Features Closest Friends’ Testimony on Comic Star

The Opening Night Film of the 56th Chicago International Film Festival on Wednesday, October 14th, was the World Premiere of the documentary “Belushi.” It not only showed at a drive-in on Throop Street in Pilsen, but was streamed to those of us at home.

John Belushi—one of the 7 original members of the “Saturday Night Live” troupe in 1975 and a Wheaton, Illinois native—lived fast and died young. During life, he knew no limits. Born on January 24, 1949, Belushi died March 5, 1982, at the too young age of 33.

One amazing thing about this documentary was how many dead voices who knew Belushi well speak to us about his lack of caution and restraint. He died from a combination of cocaine and heroin (a “speedball”) injected by a woman named Cathy Smith. Smith, who was extradited from Canada, admitted to administering the speedball to Belushi at the Chateau Marmont. She served 15 months in prison for involuntary manslaughter.

During the documentary, we hear the voices of such now-deceased close friends as Carrie Fisher (herself a drug addict), Penny Marshall, and Harold Ramis. Their testimony is thanks to oral history interviews recorded by Tanner Colby.   Richard Zanuck, who produced “Neighbors,” Belushi’s last film, and the others repeat that, “John didn’t have a limit on anything.”

A parade of still-living celebrities and close friends also talk about Belushi, including Candice Bergen, Dan Ackroyd, Jane Curtin and Michael Apted, the director of “Continental Divide,” one of Belushi’s post-SNL films.

Ultimately, we are left wondering why someone who could make so many people happy could not make himself happy. He had a loving wife and close friends, but Belushi himself wrote, “I may be on a natural course of self destruction that no one can control. I’m too far gone.”

A close-up, complete look at a comic star in this R.J. Cutler film for Showtime. The oral interviews plus pages from Belushi’s own journals make this one the definitive word on John Belushi’s life and death. He was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame posthumously in 2004 and was voted “the greatest Saturday Night Live star of all time” in 2015 by “Rolling Stone” magazine.

“Infidel,” Starring Jim Cavaziel, Entertains While Subtly Preaching

The film “Infidel,” backed by notoriously conservative producer (and convicted felon) Dinesh D’Souza, opened September 18th with lead Jim Cavaziel portraying Doug Rawlins, the husband of a U.S. state department employee (she deals with trade matters) who is kidnapped in Egypt while on a speaking tour. Doug makes the bad mistake of trying to sell Christianity to the assembled predominantly Muslim crowd.

It falls to Doug’s wife, Liz, to spring into action and travel to the Middle East to try to rescue Doug, much like Angelina Jolie, playing the part of Daniel Pearl’s wife Mariane, tried to rescue her husband Daniel, the kidnapped journalist who was captured in Pakistan and ultimately beheaded.

I attended a lecture by Mariane Pearl, following the events that were portrayed cinematically in that 2007 film. This movie reminded me very much of the 2007 bio-pic, except that Mariane seemed to have a better plan when she set off for what turns out to be Lebanon (and, ultimately, Iran). Liz had interpreters lined up, state department assistance at nearly all points, and didn’t simply wander out of her hotel room and nearly become a captive herself, simply because, as she put it, “I couldn’t stay in my room.”

No, you can’t simply “stay in your room,” but have you lined up any guides or interpreters? Do you have a plan? I think we have all seen how things can go horribly wrong when there is no unified plan for running big enterprises. We have 200,000 dead American citizens because we have no unified national plan. Surely this savvy State Department employee could demonstrate a better plan than is shown in the film.

THE GOOD

First, Jim Cavaziel is a good actor. He has been turning in fine performances in generally good films for a long time. Like the character he portrays in this film, his outspoken uber-Catholicism shot his career in the foot.

After portraying Jesus in 2004’s “The Passion of the Christ” there was at least one instance when Cavaziel refused to play a love scene with his onscreen wife because it violated his Catholic morals. He must have been fairly vocal about it, because it seemed to slow his career down to a snail’s pace. (I would point out that there are other actors who achieve the “no sex scene” rule without being quite as upfront. If you want an example, how about Denzel Washington—who rarely has onscreen nudity in any of his films.)

Cavaziel is probably best known for the television series “Person of Interest” (2011-2016), where he played John Reese for 103 episodes. As mentioned, he also portrayed Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ,” and IMDB says that a second film entitled “The Passion of the Christ: Resurrection” is afoot. [Mel Gibson being the other extremely Catholic Hollywood figure, that sounds plausible.]

Cavaziel was great in 2000’s “Frequency” as the son who makes contact with his long-deceased firefighter father via the radio and, going further back, had a breakthrough role in “The Thin Red Line” in 1998. I saw Cavaziel portraying Jimmy Bierce (the bad guy) in “The Ballad of Lefty Brown” (2017) at SXSW. While that film had beautiful cinematography, the Bill Pullman-starring vehicle was underwhelming in most other respects. (The $8 million-dollar film made less than $8,000 worldwide, while “Infidel” cleared $1,384,296 opening weekend and has grossed roughly what it cost to make, with a $2,674,599 worldwide take as of yesterday).

Others deserving praise for their acting are Claudia Karvan as Liz Rawlins (Cavaziel’s wife onscreen), Hal Ozson who played Ramzi, and Aly Kassem who plays Javid, the man who betrays David Rawlins and is guilty of an Honor Killing.

DIRECTOR

The director of “Infidel,” Cyrus Nowrasteh, both wrote, directed and produced this film, which was shot in Jordan. It opened on 2,400 screens in 1,724 locations, a welcome relief from the drought of original films not being released in the near-empty cinemas open in the United States. “Infidel” was originally intended to open on 9/11. The xenophobia is masked by a thrilling rescue film that portrays Cavaziel as a true believer who isn’t a super-hero and is very lucky to have such an enterprising, well-connected wife.

Nowrasteh is the child of Iranian immigrants who was born in Boulder, Colorado and attended school in Wisconsin, transferring to the University of Southern California to study film. With a cast of 17 and 38 total people, including an outstanding turn by Hal Ozson, portraying Ramzi, Cavaziel’s British interrogator, Nowrasteh has pulled off an entertaining and well-paced film that didn’t make me want to rise to my feet and yell at the woman across the aisle from me, who was applauding after “Obama’s America,” another D’Souza-produced film that was a shameless attack on President Barack Obama. (There have been other D’Souza projects that have been just as one-sided and inflammatory, but Nowrasteh, while certainly critical of the Iranian prison and court system in this one, keeps the focus on the recue attempts, which is good.

Nowrasteh has made one previous film with Cavaziel and, since he is paired with Conservative icon Dinesh D’Souza, seems to have managed to be criticized by liberals and conservatives alike. When Nowrasteh made “The Day Reagan Was Shot”, which starred Richard Dreyfuss as Alexander Haig, liberals criticized him for it and Nowrasteh responded by saying: “’The Day Reagan Was Shot’ provides the first-ever dramatization of a constitutional crisis and government cover-up (both amply supported by facts) and the threat they pose to a nation when a president becomes incapacitated.  This is important and relevant and raises issues that should be discussed openly.”

Nowrasteh was attacked by Liberals for an alleged “conservative bias” in his controversial ABC docudrama The Path to 9/11, which he wrote and co-produced. Nowrasteh describes himself as more libertarian than conservative or liberal.

Nowrasteh’s film “The Stoning of Soraya M.” (2009) was condemned and banned by the Iranian government but thousands of copies were bootlegged into the country and it became an underground hit in Iran, forcing the government to put a temporary moratorium on stoning as a punishment, most notably in the Sakineh Ashtiani case. On this morning’s Fahreed Zakaria program (9/27) the Iranian Ambassador to the U.N. was asked about the recent execution by hanging of  27-year-old Navid Afkari, 27, who was sentenced to death over the murder of a security guard during a wave of anti-government protests in 2018. Afkari said he had been tortured into making a confession.

MUSIC

The music by Natalie Holt is very good. Likewise, the cinematography by Joel Ransom was top-notch.

CAVEAT

It is important to watch this film—produced on a modest budget—and remember that it is hammering home points-of-view that are straight out of the Conservative playbook. Rescuers in the film turn out to be Hezbolleh (where women have a more equal status) but xenophobia reigns in this one.

All that being said, that doesn’t keep the escape portions of the film from being exciting and well-done, nor the acting from transcending the ordinary.

 

  • Production: A Cloudburst Entertainment release, presented in association with D’Souza Media, of a New Path Pictures production. Producer: Cyrus Nowrasteh. Executive producers: Dinesh D’Souza, Debbie D’Souza. Co-producer: Aaron Brubaker.
  • Crew: Director, writer: Cyrus Nowrasteh. Camera: Joel Ransom. Editor: Paul Seydor. Music: Natalie Holt.
  • With: Jim Caviezel, Claudia Karvan, Hal Ozsan, Stelio Savante, Isaelle Adriani, Bijan Daneshmand, Terence Maynard, Aly Kassem.
  • Music By: Natalie Holt

 

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