Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books—-her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Pop Culture Page 1 of 38

“Vice” Is Not An Adam McKay Fun-Fest: Be Warned

Adam McKay’s new film “Vice” focuses on the Vice Presidency of Dick Cheney under George W. Bush. The director of “The Big Short” previously helmed “Anchorman” (2004), “Talladega Nights” and “The Other Guy.” McKay wrote and directed this film and is nominated as both Best Director and for Best Screenplay among the 6 nods from the Golden Globe awards.

The true wheat amongst the chaff here is Christian Bale’s amazing transformation from, well, Christian Bale, into the heavyset, overweight, middle-aged, follically challenged Cheney. Hats off to the make-up crew!

Amy Adams also received a Golden Globe nod for Best Supporting Actress and Sam Rockwell for Best Supporting Actor for playing a somewhat clueless George W. Bush.

Given the fact that McKay wrote for “Saturday Night Live” in 1975 and has a partnership with comic talent Will Ferrell (“Funny or Die” is their channel), this is more in the spirit of “The Big Short” than of his previously silly films, but is not nearly as story focused

THE GOOD

Obviously, when this many nominations are given for acting, the acting is great. (Not to mention the make-up.)

As for the screenplay, it is crammed with so much  that you will drown in numbers, figures, and much, much more. It was not the movie I thought I was going to see, as I thought that Hollywood directors had  this “FOCUS! FOCUS!” part down, (whereas my screenplay efforts are always accused of containing too much and being all over the place, even when they win awards).

For the “good” list, let’s just mention some of the superlative performers (besides those already mentioned above) who put in an appearance:

Steve Carrell – his wife was an early improv partner of McKay’s. He plays Donald Rumsfeld.

Alison Pill – she had a fairly large role opposite Sarah Paulson on the clown episodes of “American Horror Story.” She plays Mary Cheney (the gay one).

Justin Kirk – You will recognize Justin Kirk, who plays Scooter Libby, from “Weeds.”

Jesse Plemons – Kurt – Jesse was in both “Fargo” and “Breaking Bad.” I did not like the way in which his character was integrated (or not integrated) into the plot, and I was always told that “voice over” was lazy writing. So much for that advice.

Tyler Perry – Yes, THE Tyler Perry, plays Colin Powell

So, the cast? Uniformly good. I watched a documentary (Errol Morris) on Donald Rumsfeld called “The Unknown Known” at the 2017 Chicago International Film Festival and Rummy comes off as just as big an SOB here as he did there.

THE BAD

The acting cannot overcome the incessant barrage of facts and data, some of which are incidental to the story. We all know that there is a drug epidemic going on, but why do we see close-ups of a victim being treated with NarCan, for example, or forest fires in California? For that matter, why did Gerry Fraser photograph it in such a herky-jerky fashion that it was like rewatching Costa Gravas’ “Z”, (which pioneered hand-held camera work) or “The Blair Witch Project.” The close-ups were not fun for the audience.

There’s just too broad a net thrown over this whale. It may be nominated for Best Picture, but it was a disappointment to me, as we drove around on Christmas Day for an hour and fifteen minutes trying to get in to a 3:10 or 3:55 showing, only to ultimately give up.

The political implications and message did not offend me, a journalist (Yahoo Content Producer of the Year 2008 for Politics) who did not much care for George W. Bush and thought him incompetent, but Republicans won’t like it. As for me, the film is too jam-packed with too much detail to carry the plot of how Cheney became our “acting President,” (whether he ever earned the honorary title or not).

The “Manchurian” Mess We Must Address

Inside the Democratic National Convention of 2008 (Pepsi Center) in Denver, Colorado.

I drew back, apprehensive.

Was this guy at the Trump rally at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, Iowa, really going to hit me? He looked seriously angry and would have fit Hillary Clinton’s description of a “deplorable.” I had done nothing to him other than attend the same rally, as a member of the press.

It was Saturday, December 5, 2015.

Yes, I was wearing a Press badge, but SERIOUSLY?

I’m a 73-year-old retired English teacher, five foot two, and unarmed—except with a pen and camera. I routinely covered presidential politics in Iowa and beyond. I also review film (www.TheMovieBlog.com) and write everything from short stories to novels to screenplays to children’s books. As a result of this journalistic encounter, I no longer cover presidential political primaries in Iowa. Maybe I’ll change my mind, but I’d like to remain physically unimpaired.

I’d like to be as courageous as Marie Colvin, but I wouldn’t like to be as dead as Marie Colvin. I also want to keep both of my eyes, as I paid a fair chunk of change for cataract surgery this past summer.

I went home and said to my husband of 51 years: “This isn’t fun any more. It’s becoming downright dangerous.”

FAMOUS JOURNALIST’S WORDS OF WISDOM

A Private War: Rosamund Pike and Jamie Dorman.

I did review the film “A Private War” (Chicago International Film Festival, October), which told of the life experiences of courageous U.K. journalist Marie Colvin (portrayed by Rosamund Pike).

Colvin, despite losing one eye in Sri Lanka, continued to report on wars in far-flung places, saying: “I feel we’ve failed if we don’t tell what was done. There are people dying here, and nobody knows it’s happening… When you’re covering a war, you have to go places where you could be killed…You have to make that suffering part of the record…This is the rough draft of history.  You have to find it.  If you lose that, you’re not helping anybody. You’re just making yourself feel better.”

She was killed in Syria on February 22, 2012.

BACKGROUND

I started out covering presidential politics in 2004, traveling across the I-74 bridge from Illinois into Iowa and writing for the Howard Dean blog, www.blogforiowa.com. A Journalism major on a Ferner-Hearst Scholarship when at the University of Iowa, I felt this was something I could do for the cause of taking our country back (Howard’s slogan).

Taken during a McCain rally at the Cedar Rapids Municipal Airport during the 2008 presidential campaign. Cover of Volume II of “Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House.” (Available on Amazon in paperback and e-book).

I tried to give people on the blogs I wrote for who were not able to be there a firsthand view of the process of selecting presidential candidates. Volume I of my 2 books was about the run-up to  of the candidates. Volume two was about the campaign that followed. The books are filled with photographs of all the candidates, pictures that I took during this wonderful experience.

 

Starting in 2004, I continued to write for a variety of blogs until, in 2008, I was sent to the DNC and the RNC (and elsewhere) by Yahoo and named their Content Contributor of the Year 2008 for Politics. My pieces (over 1,000) were “hit” 3 million times. I’ve written two books entitled “Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House,” Vols. 1 & 2. (Available on Amazon in paperback and e-book).

But here I was facing a possible assault because I was Press.

TAKE-AWAYS

This is a watershed year for journalists and journalism. The number of journalists has dropped from 114,000 to 88,000 between 2009 and 2017, according to the December 31, 2018 “Time” magazine. That same issue reports that in 1983 there were 50 corporations controlling what most Americans see or hear, but now it is down to five.

A record number of journalists (262) were imprisoned in 2017 (*Committee to Protect Journalists). Fifty-two journalists around the globe were killed. Five of the Capital Gazette (Annapolis, MD) journalists were slain in their office on December 9th. White House reporter Jim Acosta was stripped of his credentials by a peeved Donald J. Trump on November 7, 2018 and a doctored tape from “Infowars” was used to justify this unprecedented action. Jamal Khashoggi, a member of the Washington Post press corps, was cold-bloodedly killed and dismembered by Saudi Arabian goons inside the Istanbul consulate at the direction of Prince Mohammed bin Salman on October 2, 2018.

Around the world: Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam: jailed for more than 100 days after criticizing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Sudan: freelance journalist Amal Habani arrested, beaten with electrical cords, and detained for 34 days. Brazil: Reporter Patricia Campos Mello- targeted with threats. Hong Kong: Asian news editor for the Financial Times forced out of Hong Kong because he invited an activist to speak at a press club event against the wishes of the Chinese government. The Philippines: Maria Ressa of the “Rappler” news site and her reporters were banned from presidential events and charged with tax fraud as a crackdown on “Rappler.” [That charge could send Ressa to prison for 10 years.]

Maria Ressa’s remark is worth repeating: “I think the biggest problem we face right now is that the beacon of democracy, the one that stood up for both human rights and press freedom—the United States—now is very confused. What are the values of the United States?”

Russian operatives in troll farms seeded Facebook (126 million reached on Facebook, alone, according to CNN on December 17th) with posts intended to help the Trump campaign. One USSR technique was to create a group called The Army of God, which enlisted those suffering from sex addiction(s). It is thought that the USSR hoped to blackmail some of these U.S. citizens into becoming Russian assets. The Facebook and Twitter and Instagram posts sought to sow unrest and dissension amongst the populace.

It worked.

Democratic National Convention, 2008, Denver.

A good friend of my son’s—his former neighbor in Texas—engaged me on my thread on “Facebook” and immediately took to name-calling. I was a “libtard.” He and his family would move to Cabo San Lucas if Hillary Clinton were elected. I had been in this young man’s house. I had been at numerous gatherings where he prepared brisket. His son played with my 9-year-old twin granddaughters. Now I was “the enemy” because I might have a different political opinion than his. I was to be called names and generally put down.

Did I respond in kind? No, I did not.

“Jimmy,” I said, “We are never going to agree on politics, so let’s not discuss it.”

Despite my polite request that we NOT talk politics (since we would never agree), he persisted, telling me he would say “whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, wherever he wanted.”

My response was to first beg my son to come throw cold water (figuratively speaking) on his fanatical friend, before the trip I had planned to Cabo San Lucas over Thanksgiving to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary at Sunset Beach (where Jimmy’s family would be vacationing at the same time as us in their time share), went down the tubes. My son did not see my e-mail(s).

A day passed.

Jimmy persisted, returning to my Facebook thread, growing increasingly more unpleasant and adamant, telling me how he was going to say “whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, wherever he wanted.” I finally said, “I don’t think that’s the way it works on Facebook, Jimmy,” and blocked him.

I allow anyone to speak their mind on either side of an issue on my Facebook thread, but there is to be no name-calling. Name calling is not allowed from either side of the aisle. That is MY “control.” Later, this good friend of my son’s texted my son to apologize to HIM. [Last time I checked, it was not my son who was called names].

I have not received an apology from Jimmy and the trip to Cabo rather pointedly left my husband and me out of the reunion with his family. They had moved to North Carolina before all this occurred—(a state I am sure is more in tune with Jimmy’s politics than Austin (Texas) was).

I like Jimmy and his wife and sons, and I regret that he could not treat a woman at least twenty-five years his senior, the mother of his close friend, with more respect. I regret even more that Jimmy is representative of the divide in this country that has been fostered by our president and social media.

This is what has overtaken our country in the wake of the election of 2016. I don’t think this country will ever be quite the same, unless certain controls that existed in the past are re-instituted or new ones are imposed.

CONTROLS

What do I mean by “controls”?

For one thing, money, politics and religion were always considered to be “off limits” as conversational topics in polite society in my day. We no longer have a polite society, largely due to the lack of decorum at the top. It is creeping into our schools and seeping into our culture. I even wrote a six-book series of Christmas books for children aged 3 to 10 to try to keep these virtues and values alive, “The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats.” The cats go about doing good deeds and helping other animals in distress. From ages 3 to 6 the granddaughters (twins, now aged 9) helped select the animals. We quickly moved through cats, rats and bats and, as their interest in the project waned in favor of their IPads and Minecraft, I selected deer and bear for the last two books. Next year’s book, “The Christmas Cats Flee the Bee” will have Donnie Drone scheming to take over the hive. Draw your own conclusions. The illustrations by Hallmark artist Gary McCluskey are wonderful. He says it is the most fun he has had at work.

Belmont Town Hall meeting on campus in Nashville, Tennessee, 2008.

This year, “The Christmas Cats Care for the Bear” has a promotion on e-book that enters the purchaser into an Amazon $500 give-away as they read this anti-bullying tract to their 3 to 10 year old charges. I said I’d do these books as Christmas presents for my granddaughters until they no longer believe(d) in Santa Claus. They turn 10 on January 11, 2019. Six books will remain to convey to them what I have tried to pass on about behaving the way I was taught to behave towards others. [Obviously, I was not very convincing in my conversation(s) with Jimmy on Facebook, but I do still have both eyes (in good working condition) and for that I am grateful.]

These are “throwback” books that try to teach young people to be helpful, to be polite, to respect all human life, not to be prejudiced, not to bully and to try to get along with others in rhyming Seussical quatrains, with interactive activities at the back for the little ones. (www.TheXmasCats.com). In other words, the books reaffirm all the pillars of society and values that, along with what I will mention next, will hopefully return, once we select a different leader.

The Federal Communications Commission enforced the Fairness Doctrine until 1987. It required stations to cover public controversies and present both sides of the controversy. That FCC doctrine was repealed in 1987. Fox News was founded in 1996; MSNBC four months prior. The years of polite decorum in debate would soon be under attack and possibly become a thing of the past in an Internet world. We, as a society, are under constant attack from all sides. It is not hard to conceive of a Putin or a Xi chuckling at how we are being destroyed from the inside out.

 I used to say that the 1962 movie “The Manchurian Candidate” was my favorite movie. Those of you who remember it will also remember that it disappeared for a very long time. That was because of the assassination of JFK. That was a “control” move, to keep anybody from thinking that a political assassination was a “good” thing.

We need to take similar action to rid ourselves or control all of the disruptive elements that are tearing us apart, and you can put the very reasonable concept of gun control in that category. I admired “The Manchurian Candidate” until fiction became fact.

I see children being torn from their parents at the border of this great land. These poor folks have dared greatly to reach a country that, previously, said, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door.” (Emma Lazarus on the base of the Statue of Liberty).

What does our country say to immigrants—to the world—to you— now?

“Give me your white only immigrants from countries like Norway? Don’t dare to hope that we’ll welcome you graciously, because now we are solely a Me First nation? Go back to your s******* country and leave us alone?”

Is that the new United States of America message to the world at large?

As I grieve the death of all the initiatives that our last president championed (Obamacare, solar power, LGBQT rights, good relations with our allies), I urge everyone in the field of journalism or right-thinking to stand up to  obvious falsehoods and untruths and misdeeds, seemingly committed to benefit those in power. Unprecedented abuses of our First Amendment freedoms occur and are occurring each day. Let’s restore this great country and save the entire planet from global warming before it’s too late. (A film at the Field Museum, “Antarctica on the Edge” says 2020 is the deadline; the film was made in 2014).

This assault on the freedom of the press may presage democracy’s last stand. Will you take an active part in helping maintain the United States as one of only 13% of the world’s countries that enjoy complete freedom of the press? Or will you side with someone who wants the satirical TV show “Saturday Night Live” prosecuted for making fun of presidents, (as the show  has done for decades?)

To me, it’s not a difficult choice.  I grew up in a very Republican state (Iowa) with a Democratic office-holder (my father, John Corcoran, Jr.) who only got the job as Buchanan County Treasurer after his Republican opponent died before being sworn in.  (“John—your opponent died. Do you want the job?”) I was tacking up political posters on telephone poles at the age of 5 and listening to my father say, “Don’t go into politics, Con. It’s a dirty business!” Nevertheless, he served four terms as County Treasurer of Buchanan County, Iowa before starting a bank in 1941, the Security State Bank of Independence, Iowa, which just celebrated its 75th anniversary.

I’m used to being considered out-of-step with those around me, politically, but I always extend respect and courtesy to those who differ from me in their beliefs. My godmother (Arlene Raymond) was a Republican lobbyist for chiropractors in the state of Iowa for years.

What I won’t do is swallow, wholesale, lies and untruths. You have to really stay on top of things in this day and age, reading BOTH sides of the aisle, especially since the advent of news organizations that are geared at presenting only one side of any argument. [Fortunately, my vision is 20/20, thanks to the miraculous surgery of Eye Surgeon Associates on July 27 through September 11th].

With candidate John Edwards at the Putnam Museum in Davenport, Iowa, during the 2008 caucus run (wearing an Obama sticker in the photo).

At one point in time during the 2008 presidential primaries, I was a John Edwards supporter. When the facts showed that he was lying to all of us and was not as represented, naturally I was crestfallen, but I did not continue to insist that it was the nasty news media that had made him into a philandering husband who fathered a child with a girlfriend while his wife was dying of cancer. It was a bitter pill for many of us to recognize that John Edwards truly had feet of clay, but we ate crow and admitted the facts. Rudy Giuiliani now says “Facts aren’t facts.” Au contraire, Rudy. Facts are what will set us free.

This will run before Christmas and I would like to end by saying, “Peace on Earth, good will towards men.” Help save our country by opening your mind(s) to all possibilities. No one is above the law and this great country needs to remain the beacon of hope it has always been for the entire world.

PG-13 | | DramaThriller | 24 October 1962 (USA)
The Manchurian Candidate Poster
A former prisoner of war is brainwashed as an unwitting assassin for an international Communist conspiracy. A Russian “asset” is intended to be placed in the White House by the manipulation of Angela Lansbury at a political convention.

Writers:

Richard Condon (based upon a novel by), George Axelrod (screenplay)

Cabo Return and “The Kominsky Method” on Netflix

With over 800 flights canceled out of O’Hare and Midway in Chicago, the trip back to the United States from Cabo San Lucas could have been a nightmare.

It wasn’t. Our plane was one of the few that “got out” of the airport and we arrived home slightly later than we anticipated, but not that late, really.

Since our return we’ve been watching Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin in “The Kominsky Method” on Netflix, which is clearly aimed at the “mature” generation. The themes include prostate problems, E.D., death of one’s spouse, children who are drug-addicted and require rehab, dating in one’s golden years, and failure to pay taxes.

Took this one while waiting for the tram to drive us back to 1711.

The durable Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin have some good lines in the series, with Nancy Travis as the love interest for Douglas. Episode 6 is the best of the series, but you have to learn the backstory of the characters to get there.

Steve Bannon is Profiled in “American Dharma” by Errol Morris

Errol Morris, one of the world’s foremost documentary filmmakers (“The Fog of War,” “The Unknown Known”), presents us with his latest film, “American Dharma,” a sobering peek into the mind of the man “Time” magazine dubbed the Master Manipulator, Steve Bannon.

Dharma means “duty, fate and destiny,” according to this past and present Trump advisor.  Before the film screened, the Chicago Cinema documentary chief (Anthony Kaufman) read a brief note from the filmmaker which said, “Who would have thought that Henry King, David Lean, John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, Michael Ritchie and Orson Welles would offer such fertile ground for Fascism.  This is my most despairing and horrifying movie.” Morris was referencing Bannon’s frequent allusions to films he has seen which have spoken to him, none mentioned more frequently than “12 O’Clock High” starring Gregory Peck, (directed by Henry King).

There is little doubt that Bannon (assisted by Reince Priebus and Kellyanne Conway), entering the Trump campaign at the eleventh hour with the financial backing of Rebekkah Mercer and family, saved Trump’s campaign. Bannon brought with him a game plan and what he refers to in the film as the Honey Badger spirit of never giving up. Bannon brought a first-rate mind and education (Harvard Business School, among others) to the battle, albeit a reputation for being “a stone-cold racist” and someone who is “doubling down on fear.” As Bannon says onscreen, “You need to be a blunt force instrument.”   He adds, “We just did it and now we’re gonna’ march on the Capitol.  We’re gonna’ drop the hammer.”

Bannon, who was Executive Chairman of Breitbart News under Andrew Breitbart said, “The medium is the message and he (Trump) understood that.”  Bannon described 15 to 18% of the voting public as people who didn’t like either candidate offered them in the presidential race, and notes that two-thirds of those people opted to vote for Trump over Hillary Clinton.

Bannon—who has been taking his show on the road covering the European circuit since his dismissal by Trump after Charlottesville— reminds the interviewer that “We had Brexit as the canary in the mineshaft.” Says Bannon, as campaign guru he felt the Trump campaign needed to convince the American voting public of 3 things:

  • That Trump would stop immigration.
  • That Trump would bring jobs back to the United States from overseas.
  • That Trump would get us out of foreign wars, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Referencing a cautionary speech by Hillary Clinton in her campaign, known as the “alt right” speech, in which Hillary warned of the dangers inherent in a Trump presidency, Bannon crows, “That’s when I knew we had her. They’d walked right into the trap. If they (the voters) see you as the instrument to get their country and their jobs back, they’ll vote for you.” His point: Hillary did not represent the change that the states of West Virginia and most of the Midwest wanted to see.

Citing quotes like “When the legend becomes more powerful than the truth, print the legend,” and “Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid,” Bannon pulls from Errol Morris an admission that Morris voter for Clinton “because I was afraid of you guys.  I still am.  I did it out of fear.”

Another favorite Bannon quote from Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is, “I’d rather reign in Hell than serve in heaven.”

Morris asks Bannon if he’s all abut destroying everything and Bannon basically acknowledged that he is, saying, “We have to clean out some of the underbrush” and “A complete rejection of the system is due,” which he predicts will come after another financial crisis and will be “like a scythe through grass. It is coming.”

THE GOOD

In addition to warning us all exactly how this administration thinks, the solemn, depressing, insistent music, courtesy of Paul Leonard-Morgan, adds immensely to the tone and impact of the film. The cinematography by Igor Martinovic, who frequently poses Bannon in profile against the horizon, is good. Setting fire to the hangar (Quonset hut?) where the interview takes place is both a great metaphor for Steve Bannon’s philosophy of “the Fourth Turning” and makes for great visual imagery.

THE BAD

Is there anything more depressing than listening to someone this close to power telilng us, “Revolution is coming. It will come, as night follows day?” Aside from the Steve Miller-crafted “American Carnage” speech, [which George W. Bush on Inauguration Day declared was “Some weird shit”], how uplifting is it to hear Steve Bannon tell say, “I’m saying if we don’t make changes we’re going to have an Apocalypse.” (Bannon also claimed that Trump wrote the speech himself and denied that Trump ever lies.)
Recommended, but have something uplifting awaiting you when you finish up watching this important 95 minute documentary from the master.

 

 

“Boy Erased:” Joel Edgerton’s Writing/Directing/Acting Oscar-worthy Tour de Force

“Boy Erased” (Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Lucas Hedges).

Lucas Hedges is having a banner year, with starring roles in two much-talked about films, “Ben Is Back” and “Boy Erased.” “Boy Erased” is the story of the son of a Baptist minister in Arkansas who is outed to his parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe) at age 19. As the voice-over tells us at the film’s outset: “I wish none of this had ever happened, but sometimes I thank God that it did.”

The film, written by Actor/Director Joel Edgerton (“Red Sparrow,” “Loving”) from a memoir of the same name written by Garrard Conley, deals with Jarred Eamons’ real-life experiences when he is forced to attend a gay conversion therapy program.  There are 36 states where such gay conversion centers are legal and over 700,000 “patients” have been treated in them.

I was immediately reminded of Michelle Bachmann’s husband Marcus in Minnesota, who, although not a licensed therapist with the state of Minnesota, ran such a Christian conversion camp. Bachmann, who ran for President (briefly) in 2012 (she dropped out of the race in January of 2012 after placing 6th in the Iowa caucuses) once proposed an amendment to the Minneapolis Constitution that would ban gay marriage, was anti-abortion and declared global warming “all voodoo, nonsense, hoakum, a hoax.” Bachmann also helped found the House Tea Party movement while serving from Minnesota, whose actions and mind-set we see in evidence on the national scene every day.

The American Psychiatric Association has repudiated such “Christian counseling centers” and, just like Marcus Bachmann, the leader of the gay conversion center that Jared is forced to attend is not a licensed therapist. (In fact, we learn at film’s end that he is now married to a man and living elsewhere.)

Garrard Conley (author of the memoir “Boy Erased”) in Chicago. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

This is an important step up for Lucas Hedges, although he has already appeared in several Oscar-nominated films —“Ladybird,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and he was Oscar-nominated for his role in “Manchester by the Sea.” It is a foregone conclusion that this role, or his role as Ben in “Ben Is Back,” will garner him another nomination for Best Actor. The scene in his dormitory room where Jared is essentially the victim of rape is extremely good, but he is good in all of his scenes in both films. I’d pick this role, because the film, as a whole, hung together slightly better than “Ben Is Back” and, quite frankly, 3 drug addict movies in, the gay conversion theme was a change of pace. (Not to mention that Timothee Chalamet is out there this year in “Beautiful Boy,” nailing the drug addict portrayal  nomination.)

(L to R) Joel Edgerton, Troye Sivan(Gary), and Garrard Conley onstage during the Q&A in Chicago following “Boy Erased.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Let’s not forget that 2 Oscar winners are portraying Jared’s parents. Nicole Kidman is wonderful as the courageous mother fighting for the son she loves and Russell Crowe is equally good in his scenes as the less accepting minister parent. Let’s also give a shout-out to Flea (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers), aka Michael Peter Balzary, a native of Melbourne, Australia, who does a good job playing creepy conversion camp character Brandon. In fact, with the exception of Lucas Hedges, Mr. and Mrs. Eamon, conversion therapist Victor Sykes  (played by Joel Edgerton) and Flea’s character of Brandon are all Australian.

Joel Edgerton and Troye Sivan (Gary) from “Boy Erased” onstage in Chicago. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

There were many “first time” directors appearing with their films in Chicago, but this outing by Edgerton, who both adapted the memoir for the screen, acted in the film, and directed the film, was far, far better than fellow actor Paul Dano’s maiden voyage in “Wildlife,” a very disappointing film. See it if you want to have seen at least one of the nominees for Best Actor on February 24th.

 

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” at the Chicago International Film Festival

“Can You Ever Forgive Me” is a nice change of pace for Melissa McCarthy, who reins it in nicely as Lee Israel, an author who was arrested for forging signatures of other more famous authors and selling them as authentic. Virtually a two-person ensemble, nice support is provided by Richard E. Grant as Jack Hock.

Aside from the two leads, who actually do the selling to unsuspecting buyers via bookstores in New York City that specialize in such matters, Dolly Wells plays one such bookstore owner (Anna), Jane Curtin (“Saturday Night Live”) plays Marjorie, Lee’s crusty agent, and Anna Deavere Smith (Gloria on television’s “Nurse Jackie”) portrays Elaine, Lee’s old friend and roommate, who has left her saying, “It’s not my job any more to talk you off the ledge. It’s exhausting.”

Lee is portrayed as a failed writer who specialized in biographies (“Estee Lauder: Beyond the Magic,” “Miss Tallulah Bankhead,” “Kilgallen”). She repeats several times that she is working on a biography of Fanny Bryce, a subject that her agent finds less than appealing.

Because Lee is not doing well in the business of writing biographies of other more famous writers, she and her only friend and companion, her cat Jersey (Towne the Cat) fall upon hard times and people say things to her like, “You’re a clever woman. Figure it out” or “You go out there and find another way to make a living.” And so she does, but she runs afoul of the law and ultimately is sentenced to 5 years probation and 6 months of house arrest. [Plus, Nora Ephron sends her a cease and desist letter telling her to stop impersonating her on the phone.]

THE GOOD

Melissa McCarthy really inhabits the sad life of this 51-year-old writer-turned-forger. Lenore Carole Israel (known as “Lee”) died on December 24, 2014 at the age of 75, leaving no mourners, no family and, in addition to magazine work which largely sustained her through the seventies, three books of unauthorized biographies of women whose fame had largely passed with the passage of time. After her apprehension for the over 400 literary forgeries, Lee wrote a best-seller, “Can You Ever Forgive Me: Memoirs of a Literary Forger,” which did well, and the film version, directed by Marille Heller (written by Nicole Holofcemer and  Jeff Whitty) was cast, originally, with Julianne Moore. Although Julianne Moore is an accomplished actress, the part seems more suited to Melissa McCarthy and she does a great job with it.

THE MUSIC

Those responsible for such great song selections include the overall Music Supervisor (Jack Paar), who selected songs like “I’ll Be Seeing You” and Paul Simon’s “I can’t run, but I can walk much faster” to give us the appropriate mood.  Six others assisted (Adam Bennati, Ted Caplan, John M. Davis, Brad Haehnel, Nicholas Neidhart and Areli Qurarte).

THE SCRIPT

Writers Nicole Holofcemer and Jeff Whitty have given us a very witty script, which is augmented by the funny letters that Lee created. When Lee meets an old acquaintance, Jack Houk (Richard E. Grant) in a bar and they begin sharing stories of their downward trajectory in the literary world, Jack says his agent, Julia Steinberg, died. Then, he adds, “Maybe she didn’t die.  Maybe she moved back to the suburbs.” One of Lee’s fabricated autographs, ostensibly from Fanny Bryce, says, “I have a new grandkid and he got my old nose.  Do I have to leave him a little something extra for repairs?” Lee and Jack continue meeting in bars throughout the film and, at one point, Lee shared that this is a celebratory drinking session, not a whining one. Jack responds, “It’s hard to tell the difference with you.” As she is about to reveal her new line of work forging famous people’s signatures, Lee asks Jack, “Can you keep a secret?” to which he responds, “I’ve no one to tell. Everyone I know is dead.”

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Brandon Trost was the cinematographer. He does a great job  depicting a hopeless, lonely, drab apartment and the dive-y bars that its occupant inhabits. He also did some interesting things with his camera, as in one blurry-into-focus shot in a bar. The moody sets, dimly lit, and the nice choice of music all play into giving the film a thoroughly authentic feeling of alcohol-fueled desperation.

THE BAD

I had overdosed on films about addicted teenagers, so this film was like a breath of fresh air. I will admit that I (also) took in “Flammable Children,” an Australian comedy featuring Guy Pearce and Julian McMahon to try to lighten the mood, but, after 3 drug addiction movies in a row, that mood was pretty low.

THE VERDICT

If you enjoy witty badinage and a well-written, well-photographed, script with great acting, this could be your guilty pleasure. It was mine, in Chicago on October 14th. You’ll enjoy seeing funny woman Melissa McCarthy in a brand new light. She is one of the four highest-paid actresses in Hollywood and is a native of Plainfield, Illinois.

“Beautiful Boy” Opens 54th Chicago International Film Festival

Opening Night of the 54th Chicago International Film Festival featured the Amazon film “Beautiful Boy,” directed by Belgian director Felix van Groeningen and starring Timothee Chalomet, Steve Carell, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan and Andre Royo (“The Wire,” “Fringe,” “Empire”).

The film is based on two books written by David Sheff (“Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction”) and Nic Sheff:  “Tweak:  Growing Up on Methamphetamines.” Both books were published in 2009. Their impact on director Felix van Groeningen in his first American film for Amazon, is what brought about the project.

Von Groeningen told me on Opening Night in Chicago, “It’s a real honor to be here. I’m very proud of the film and the fact that it is opening the Chicago International Film Festival.” When I asked him how excited he was, on a scale of 1 to 10, to have helmed this first American film, he replied, enthusiastically: “12!” Von Groeningen said, “I did another film (“The Broken Circle Breakdown,” 2012) that brought up a lot of controversial issues, and you just hope that this film will speak to people.”

Andre Royo (“The Wire”) in Chicago at the showing of “Beautiful Boy.”

Also present this night was Andre Royo, veteran character actor who plays Spencer, the sponsor of the drug-addicted Nic (Chalomet). The film recounts the heartbreaking and inspiring experience of survival, relapse and recovery  in a family coping with addiction that stretches over many years. Dede Robinson, of Brad Pitt’s “Plan B” production company was scheduled to attend, but did not. She has won Oscars for producing “Twelve Years A Slave” and “Moonlight” and is the only female producer to have won 2 Academy Awards. (She has also been nominated pretty regularly each year since 2011).

THE GOOD

The acting in this one is Top Notch, with Timothee Chalomet (“Call Me By Your Name”) in line for his second Oscar nomination as Best Actor in 2 years, and with the likelihood that co-star Steve Carell as his father will earn a Best Supporting Actor nod. Maura Tierney (“The Affair”) playing David Sheff’s second wife, Karen, is also strong, as is Amy Ryan as his divorced wife (and mother of Nic), Vicky. The acting in this one is superlative, and it is because of the actors’ commitment to finding the core conflict of their characters and conveying it realistically onscreen that the film has won such glowing praise, in Toronto and elsewhere.

The Message

There is no question that addressing the growing problem of drug addiction is an important and timely topic. A line onscreen at film’s end notes that drug overdoses are the leading cause of death among those under age 50. Chalomet, on Jimmy Fallon’s show on October 10th, said, “Addiction is not a recognizable face.  That’s what this movie hopes to address. That’s how we get through it, by talking about it.”

THE BAD

Plot

Whenever you enter a film that features an addict shooting up, you think, “This will not end well.” That is true of this film. It does throw us a bit of a curve ball in that regard.

    Music

This is the director’s first English language film.  I wondered if the individuals hired for areas like music were people he had worked with on previous films. I’m thinking particularly of the musical choices made by a four-person team, supervised by Gabe Helfer (Bob Bowen, executive in charge of music; Christoffer Franzen, composer; Henry van Roden). I found some of the musical choices odd, incongruous, too obvious or too cacophonous; I spoke with others who did, as well. Could it be cultural differences, or is there another valid explanation? 

What do I mean? Perry Como singing “Sunrise, Sunset” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” paired with a Nirvana song, “Territorial Pissing?”  “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young. Annoying loud jangly music at times that detracted from what was going on onscreen, rather than augmenting it or adding to it. Jazz for the snorting scene, for example. “Darling, I Need Your Love” as Nic walks into a diner (seemed  too obvious). Why do I pay attention to this stuff? My daughter’s college major at Belmont was Music Business. She worked helping put music in films like “Up in the Air” in internships and, later,  worked for Taylor Swift. She told me to pay better attention, so I do.

The Young Nics

There are entirely too many “young Nics” and some of them don’t look much like “teenaged Nic.” Their pictures are all over the walls. Why not use childhood pictures of the REAL Timothee Chalomet? Why use the one child (seen in the trailer) whose hair looks nothing like the wild curls of the teenaged actor? (His hair is straight, his face is the wrong shape, and I doubt if anybody is buying that this child grows up to be Timothy Chalomet.) One young actor who plays Nic as a 12-year-old is Jack Dylan Grazer, who plays Eddie Kaspbrak in “It” and co-stars in television’s “Me, Myself and I.”

The Poem

A poem by Charlies Bukowski is featured. It is read in part by the lead during a rehab session and in its entirety at the end of the film. Once would have been enough. It seemed more like something that an Indie film director would do…an “auteur” move. We’d already gotten the general idea from the short portion that young Nic reads in group.

    Length

The two filmgoers next to me—middle-aged women—both said, “This needed to be about a half hour shorter.” The film runs 111 minutes, but she was right that relapse after relapse after relapse begins to wear on you. I would definitely go for the stellar performances, bound to be recognized on February 24 (Oscar time) and hope that the message about how awful Meth, in particular, is for the human brain gets out there.

“Friedkin Uncut” in Chicago with William Friedkin on October 15, 2018

Anthony Kaufman and Francesco Zippel onstage at the North American Premiere of “Friedkin Uncut!” in Chicago at the 54th Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

William Friedkin, the Director of such 70s masterpieces as “The French Connection” (1971), “The Exorcist” (1973), “Boys in the Band” (1976), “Sorcerer” (1977) and “Cruising” (1980) was awarded a Career Achievement Award on Monday, October 15th, at the 54th Chicago International Film Festival.

Friedkin, who is now 83, was thought to be the youngest man to win the Oscar for Best Director when he won for “The French Connection” in 1971, at 36 years old. (This record is now held by Damien Chazelle, who won at 32 for “La La Land”). That proved wrong. However, William Friedkin is now the oldest surviving winner of the Best Director category for “The French Connection” in 1971.

I recently heard Friedkin speak before a showing of “The Exorcist” in Austin, Texas, and after a showing of his new, short documentary of an exorcism (“The Devil and Father Amorth”), which Friedkin filmed in Italy himself using only a GoPro camera.

This night, the audience was treated to the North American premiere of Francesco Zippel’s film “Friedkin Uncut,” where we heard from his actors and fellow directors, including Ellen Burstyn, Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Matthew McConaughey, Walter Hill, George Lucas, William Peterson, Philip Kaufmann, Gina Gershon, Willem Dafoe, Juno Temple, Francis Ford Coppola and many more. Dafoe and Peterson cited Friedkin’s “energy, passion, intelligence. One of the smartest people I’ll ever know, and he has balls that clank. “ Friedkin, himself, said that a filmmaker needs, “Ambition, luck and the grace of God. You have to go out and try to make your chances.” He cited Kathry Bigelow and Damien Chazelle as two of the best new filmmakers and said “The Babadook” was one of the scariest of the “new” horror releases.

Watching the uncut, uncensored William Friedkin (“Billy” to his close friends) talk about movies and movie-making onscreen was followed by the genuine article. And William Friedkin is a raconteur. He would have talked for another hour in Austin, had the showing of the 1973 film “The Exorcist” not been scheduled.

In addition to the stories of how he began in the mail room of WGN and grew up on the north side of Chicago, other directors paid tribute. George Lucas, alluding to Friedkin’s roots as a documentary filmmaker, marveled that Friedkin’s early documentary (1962) “The People vs. Paul Crump” caused the governor to commute Crump’s death sentence after seeing it. Coppola found this a powerful message and others, like Director Wes Anderson, shared that, “His films are built on something very solid.” Said one, “What ‘Star Wars’ was to science fiction, ‘The Exorcist’ was to horror.” (It was a bit of a blow to Friedkin that the phenomenal success of “Star Wars,” which was released very shortly before “The Sorcerer,” left his film in the red after the studio had spent $22 million making it.)

William Friedkin disposing of Michael Kutza’s notes.

Friedkin came out and joined retiring founder and Director of the Chicago International Film Festival, Michael Kutza, at the podium. Kutza reminisced that they had begun together 55 years ago. Kutza then began reading from the award that Friedkin was to receive, but, somehow, the award had Carey Mulligan’s name on it (she was to receive her award the next night) and that was all it took for Friedkin to riff and joke and, ultimately, throw all of Kutza’s notes on the floor.(See photo)

Friedkin worked that way when directing, also, and Gina Gershon told a story of his treatment of her while they were on-set and Friedkin was trying to evoke a certain reaction from her. She thought he didn’t like her, she said. He was just trying to provoke a certain reaction.

Friedkin, himself, told an amusing story about casting Max Von Sydow as the priest who performs the exorcism in that 1971 film. Because Von Sydow was an atheist, he kept having trouble saying the line, “The power of Christ commands you!” Said Friedkin, to laughter, “On a list of 100 things that could go wrong, Max Von Sydow blocking on a line was #100!”

Director William Friedkin and Chicago International Film Founder Michael Kutza.

Friedkin’s films illustrate his documentary origins, with their gritty realism and the premier chase sequences of “The French Connection” and “To Live and Die in L.A.” The director also commented on the continual battle between good and evil (in life and on film), mentioning Hitler and Jesus. Said his colleagues, “He’s always looking for people to put themselves out there. He’s in it. He’s passionate and he expects people to give 200% because he’s giving 200%.”

Friedkin  said, “Rehearsal is for sissies. Dummies. I’m a one-take guy. F***** bring it! I’m not looking for perfection; I’m looking for spontaneity.” He went on to say that 80 to 90% of a film’s success “is casting” and added, “My thing is to be real.”

I had gifted Friedkin with my book “It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now” in Austin. I went down after the showing of his documentary of an exorcism and gave him the book. He signed it and handed it back.”

“No…this is for you. Three of your films are in it.”

He thanked me.

This night, I joined a crowd that was much bigger, clustering around the famous man. I tried to find his wife Sherry Lansing and his son Jack, who were in Chicago with him, but they had disappeared in the mob. Many of the people were asking Friedkin if he remembered this person or that person from his Chicago days. (Philip Kaufman, director of “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” with Donald Southerland, was a classmate). I eventually had one second to ask him if he remembered receiving the book about seventies movies (“The New Hollywood”), which consisted of 50 representative films, 76 photos, and interactive trivia, and my reviews from the Quad City Times, painstakingly brought up to the pixel standards of today over a period of 8 years.

His response? “No. I don’t remember.”

Well, the man IS 83 years old, after all, but he seems as sharp as the proverbial tack. He also nearly died of a congenital heart defect way back in 1977. But he seems quite happy with his Auteur Emeritus status and shared that “acting and filmmaking are both jobs.”

Friedkin shared that his favorite films were “the great MGM musicals” and also said “They’re dead.” We learned that he has staged several operas, at the explicit urging of Zubin Mehta, and it was (now-retired) “Vanity Fair” editor Graydon Carter who urged him to film a real exorcism when he returned to Italy and to write about it for “Vanity Fair,” leading to his short documentary (which, quite frankly, is not  riveting.)

Friedkin thanked his wife Sherry Lansing, head of Paramount Pictures for many years, whom he married 26 years ago. Prior to that, Friedkin had been married three times, but none of his first 3 marriages lasted over 3 years (Jeanne Moreau, ’77-79; Lesley-Anne Down, ’82-’85; Kelly Lange, ’87-90.)

Director of the documentary “Friedkin Uncut”, Francesco Zippel said, “This film has been very important to me.  I had the chance to look back at all the films with him.  I tried to give him the chance to talk about himself and his career in a way that was closer to him. I thank William Friedkin so much for allowing me to do this.”

Of Chicago, in particular, Friedkin said, “This is the most beautiful city in the world. Chicago is not a city that brags about itself.  I got my sense of curiosity from Chicago. It is easily the best city in this country—but I do like Venice (Italy).”

Lewis Black and John Bowman Entertain Chicago on Saturday, October 6, 2018

Image result for lewis black pictures
Lewis Black (from the Lewis Black website)

Comedians Lewis Black and John Bowman came to the Chicago Theater on October 6th and performed to a full house, lampooning current events, politics, and life in general.

Black’s set reminded me of one I  attended by David Brenner years ago, in that he presents less of a polished monologue and more of a riff on current events and pop culture. When Brenner performed, he would actually set up a music stand and put various articles on the stand, read them, reference them, and then riff about them to the audience. That approach was the closest to Black’s this night, and, in fact, Lewis Black did read us an article from a newspaper about a gun safety class at a Methodist Church in the South where an 81-year-old man accidentally shot both himself and his wife.

Black’s lead-in act (John Bowman) spent more time poking fun at Donald Trump than Black did. Bowman came out attired in a blonde wig (which he later removed), sang a song (“Santa Trump is coming to town”) about how we now can refrain from using terms like “Happy Holidays” and go back to the more religious greetings of yesteryear.  In addition to making fun of Rudy Giuiliani, Gwyneth Paltrow and Pat Robertson, his remarks on television news these days led him to say, “I miss Ebola.” Bowen also noted, “I think we’re being whipped by the buckle end of the Bible belt.”

Lewis Black’s set mentioned Trump in passing, but did not dwell on the absurdity we are now facing in the political world. Black began with a marathon joke, since 45,000 people are in town to run in tomorrow’s event, went on to talk about how the psoriasis ads that feature celebrities are offputting (“Now I can’t listen to Cindy Lauper without thinking of her psoriasis and those pictures.”) and poked fun at the supposed memory-aiding drug made from jellyfish, Prevagen. [I was surprised that he didn’t mention how the benefits of this product have been debunked]. His prevagen comments about failing memory (he is 70) led him to talk about his elderly parents, both of whom are 100 years old. In his typically irascible fashion he said, “Remember the good old days, when I was young, and people had the common decency to die at 65?”)

Other topics that caught Black’s attention during his set:

Chicken McNuggets versus Chicken Tenders; children who don’t know that eggs come from chickens; Harry Potter’s influence; weather (“I think Mother Nature is a member of the MeToo movement”), Ben Carson (“He said his dining room set was dangerous and that’s why he needed a $33,000 new dining room set for his office. And he needed a $7,000 sideboard. I realized after listening to him that I could have been a brain surgeon.”); Kellyanne Conway and her “alternative facts;” Steve Bannon; John Bolton (“I think someone in Bolton’s family mated with a walrus.”) and his hospitalization last year in Cork, Ireland for pneumonia.  In addition to skewering the astronomically high costs of hospitalization in this country versus Ireland’s socialized medicine cost(s), he said he liked Irish nurses because they have his dark sense of humor. “One night, I said to my nurse, ‘ I don’t think I’m going to make it through the night.'” She responded, “You’re not that lucky, Mr. Black.”

The end of the evening is a “live” stream, where people in the audience are encouraged to send topics to him on their phones prior to the start of the show; he read the most interesting or amusing ones to an audience that streamed the show “live.”

Black’s main point regarding the Trump administration (“This guy. Wow. Unbelievable.”) was that there is too much material for him to keep up with the current occupant of the Oval Office. He also marveled at Trump’s cult-like followers (one of whom bellowed loudly at least 3 times), especially in the South, who are addicted to Trump’s brand of b.s. After that, the comedian remarked, “I think the Rapture is coming soon. Maybe next Wednesday.”

It was an enjoyable evening, but not as “finely tuned” a performance as my expectation for a Chicago Theater act that ended up setting me back about $70 after the upcharge to the $40+ tickets to be handled online. I had a seat in the second row (BB). I was directly in front of a woman celebrating her birthday who had flown in  from San Diego with her boyfriend or husband. (She was loud even then, talking about it, or I would not know any of this).

Apparently, this birthday girl (or woman) missed out on the opportunity to see Lewis Black when he was in her vicinity, so her boyfriend or husband flew her to Chicago as a special treat for her birthday. The problem was that she then seemed to feel obligated to be truly loud and obnoxious while reacting to ALL of his jokes, laughing hysterically, as though she HAD to to justify spending the substantial sum of money to hear the comic. (Not to mention showing off for her new seatmate friend, like your children sometimes do in the presence of their peers.)

Black’s wry remarks were amusing, yes. Some of them. But there were few that were laugh-out-loud funny. Most were moderately funny, at best. The loud braying of this woman, a constant high-pitched LOUD laugh seemingly staged for her date and an audience of one man to her left (a resident of Chicago with whom she had struck up a loud conversation about her celebratory birthday trip) was unfortunate placement, for me. She was truly annoying. I had just been thinking how great my seat was, only to wish I were far away from her as the evening progressed.

On the bright side, if you are that far down front on the main floor, there are side doors to the alley that you can exit and reach the street in time to be first to get a cab. For a woman alone, (who would otherwise probably have had to take the red line ell alone, since the cabs go fast) that was a real plus. This was the first time I’ve EVER been able to get  a cab after a performance at the Chicago Theater, and I’ve seen a lot of shows there.

 

Austin Revolution Film Festival, Sept. 17-22, Continues

The third day of the Austin Revolution Film Festival saw participants journeying to a high school to speak to one of the founder’s  classes and then on to Austin’s Salt Lick for Barbecue. Since I’ve been to Salt Lick, I was not among the tourists, but I spent the past two evenings watching shorts and a few feature length offerings culled from among 10,000 entries, we were told.

My script (THE COLOR OF EVIL), based on the first book in a novel trilogy I wrote, which has won 36 competitions as a screenplay, was a Finalist until September 12, 10 days from the end of this festival, when I received a short “Dear Con” letter telling me it wasn’t in the running any more. I’d have been upset if I had paid $500 x 2 per airplane ticket (the one-way fare from Chicago), or, worse, from Australia (a 17-hour flight). Not to mention the cost of a hotel room. Why tell people they are losers 10 days before the end of the festival? (Weird. Not the way it’s done in Vancouver, Chicago or San Antonio, but nevermind about that.) There was a mixer on September 12th. I went.  It was immediately after the mixer that I received my Kiss-of-Death e-mail, so I’m wondering, “Was it something I said?” (lol)

The Austin Revolution Film Festival

The first night (Tuesday, Sept. 18) began with thanks for the sponsors, including Uncle Billy’s Brewery and George Dog Music. The “prize” from this film festival is a gigantic belt buckle. (Does anyone actually wear it? No idea. Made me think of that ad that is currently running with the young    cowboy who keeps showing up with a bigger and bigger belt buckle.)

This was the 7th annual Austin Revolution Film Festival, not to be confused with the “regular” Austin Film Festival, which runs from October 25-November 2, or SXSW, which takes place in March. Organizers of this film festival are James Christopher, who shared that it is 13th year of film-making and his 15th feature film (“A Chance of Snow”) would close out the evening, and Lisa Belcher of JumpRock Pictures IShort: “Guest of Honor”). Christopher shared that the event grew out of neighboring filmmakers in the area wanting to join in a chance to show the films they had made and described it as a chance to provide networking, to help other filmmakers to build teams and a support system. One young man I met (Henry Young) had journeyed all the way from Australia to show his short, “Animal.”

THE BLACK MARKET CLUB

First short:  a van is shown crashing off a bridge. The van crashes over and over and over. The group in the van are apparently members of a rock band that has just played a gig. There was a guy with a weird mustache, shown in close-up and a song with the lyric “Falling like so many times before.” Interesting depiction of the van crashing although one member of the rock band who was about to die was incongruously seen smiling a bit.

REMEMBER ME

  • The next short focused on people who had suffered traumatic brain injuries and, therefore, were having trouble remembering things, much like Alzheimer’s sufferers. There is a support group for these troubled souls. A handsome young man meets a pretty young girl named Claire there and they both write things on their arms to try to help them remember things. The young man in this Avery Merrifeld-directed short didn’t have any trouble immediately asking the young girl to join him for coffee after the meetings, however, and those scenes, with a blonde waitress wearing a CoffeeShark shirt led to scenes at an ice skating rink (the girl’s passion). The skaters were quite good and the picture of me [and the woman who played the blonde waitress at the coffee shop, above, with me.] The problem with this piece, for me, is that I spent 20 years working with head injury patients. I know that the cast and crew did visit a head injury clinic, but my small Sylvan Learning Center (#3301) in Bettendorf, Iowa, became the “go to” facility for traumatic brain injury patients in the IA/IL Quad Cities and never did I see one write things on his or her arm. Our most extreme case was a young man who cardiac arrested in the parking lot of St. Ambrose University when he was entering to take classes to become an engineer. The cerebral anoxyia (lack of oxygen to the brain) he suffered wiped out his ability to read, write and/or do numbers. We worked with him for years and were able to restore the number knowledge faster than the reading, which never progressed beyond the 7th grade level. All higher level thinking skills were wiped out and his dream of becoming an engineer along with it. When he woke up in the hospital (after some Good Samaritan passersby performed CPR in the parking lot and saved his life) he did not remember his fiance (that engagement soon faltered), but he did remember things from when he was a child. He eventually was moved to a treatment facility in St. Louis, but, as they say, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” and A LOT of knowledge is a much more dangerous thing.

Networking.

APPLE SEED

This one was one of the more ridiculous premises, with a man who has the misfortune to have a bird leave its droppings in his eye causing him to turn into  a tree (think Groot).  Patrick Griney wrote and directed. The kudos really belong to the make-up people who had to make a tree take root in the lead’s ear realistically and, ultimately, take over  a human male’s body. The audience seemed to like it.

REX

This was one of my favorite shorts, dealing, as it did, with an old man’s encroaching dementia.  Andy Kasteler wrote and directed and  the actor did a good job of railing against his boss’s directives. The boss turns out to be his son, and the old man is white-washing trees. But, in reality, at one point he has painted a telephone pole (dementia evidence). I am not knowledgeable enough about why he was whitewashing trees to tell you what that had to do with anything [and I’m from farm country]. (Apparently it is something that is done to a grove to prepare the trees for winter?) All I know is that the main actor, who had a last name of Fyre, did a great job, and I wondered if the line “Everything about him was old except his eyes. They were the same color as the sea” was from “The Old Man and the Sea.” An anguished examination of the horror(s) of growing old, seen from the vantage point of both the elderly man and his young son.

DEATH (*& DISCO FRIES)

Denis Culo, New York City filmmaker and director/star of “Death” (& Disco Fries).

Dennis Cahlo of New York City wrote, directed and stars in this humorous examination of one man’s regrets as he learns he has only a short time to live. It’s played for laughs, as he answers the phone and is told by his old gym teacher that he is dead. Dennis is asked by old coach O’Halloran if he has any regrets and Dennis admits he’d like to eat disco fries, despite the fact that he has been a vegan all his life. The problem with disco fries? Nobody I talked to knew what they were. I’m from the Midwest, so maybe it’s an Eastern thing, but I literally asked people from all areas of the country if they’d ever heard the term “disco fries.” Nobody had. What are they? Apparently it’s a truly disgusting looking french fry dish where some sort of gravy is poured over the fries. (Ugh) It would have been more universal if Dennis had gone with a hot fudge sundae or even a steak, as disco fries were less-than-universal, (in my own admittedly limited experience).  They looked absolutely horrible. That didn’t change the sweet message about asking Veronica (Kate Vincent) to dance with him at the Prom. I liked it very much, but I hated the font used for this short and for the feature film that followed. It was a Gothic font that made it very difficult to even read the title of “A Chance of Snow” when  (also) used there. Dennis also has a podcast and we may chat about movies on it.

CLEMENTINE

Clementine appears and tells us how happy she is with her life and especially with her wonderful husband Jerry. (“My life is a dream”). With music by Matt Kidd and direction by Ross Wooten, Allen G. Hale gets the opportunity to play four different roles, a tour de force (think Peter Sellers in “Dr. Strangelove” or “How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb”…what? You haven’t seen it? Check it out!) Hale is Jerry, her wonderful, if boring, husband. He is Francine, Clementine’s best girlfriend (and a terrible girl he makes with the blonde wig!) He is Lonnie the mailman. He is Alfonse the yoga instructor.  He is Aunt Pearl. By the end of the piece, we learn that Clementine is crazy (“Her brain is disappearing”) and Jerry feels it necessary to provide her with a host of friends and acquaintances as she becomes loopier and loopier. A weird concept, but Alan had fun with it and so did we.

There was a picture of a hand putting a needle on a record and Santa entered a living room where two children were present. [Not sure this was really a complete short in and of itself, as it was immediately followed by the feature film.]

A CHANCE OF SNOW

Film goers taking their seats at the Alamo Drafthouse Mueller.

“A Chance of Snow” poster.

This feature film was put together by one of the festival organizers, James Christopher. The plot featured a blonde young man (Tyler) who has a new girlfriend now that he has left home for college. The new blonde girlfriend’s name is Holly. (She is gorgeous, but she was also in Arizona when the film screened.) Supposedly, Tyler’s family is really BIG on Christmas, and he went with a different girl named Noelle all of high school, but they broke up when he left for college and she failed to follow him there. There was a sister named Faith, with a boyfriend in “a third world country” that is never named (Iraq? Afghanistan?).  It takes about 2 minutes to realize that the boy should have stayed with his original girl friend and/or will somehow end up with her when all is said and done. Some of the dialogue was…odd. [“That really ain’t no fun for no one.” “At least you didn’t lift your leg.” “I don’t know what Yankees like to do.”] The best part of the film was Alejandro Patino’s (also a Producer) depiction of Noelle’s Hispanic father. He doesn’t really like Tyler and speaks Spanish to his daughter telling her so, but Tyler (and Holly), who are present, don’t speak Spanish, so the father has a chance to insult the boyfriend pretty thoroughly while Tyler remains clueless. One wonders why either girl would fall for him. His special Santa suit, worn at the end of the film, is the pits and I asked several people about the tag on is left sleeve that says OPPO (Nobody had any answer for me; maybe the rental place?).  Andy Bertelson’s  very country song by the Texas Renegade  worked in the idea  “All I need is a chance of snow and a chance you will love me.” Setting was Winter’s Hope, Texas. The black delivery guy has about 2 minutes of screen time; his delivery (pun intended) was priceless. Moral of the story: “You don’t know what you’re missing till it’s gone.”

On the second night, (September 19, Wednesday) the slate of shorts led off with Lisa Belcher’s short film:

GUEST OF HONOR

Lisa Belcher of JumpRock Films, one of the organizers of the Austin Revolution Film Festival.

The gallery filling up for the first night (4 hours) of films at the Alamo Drafthouse Mueller in Austin, TX.

Lisa Belcher, who is one of the guiding lights of the Austin Revolution Film Festival also co-wrote, acted and directed this short, which was quite good. Her co-star, Lukas Hassel, also earned a writer credit. Lisa appears, looking very sad, and we know something has happened to her son because she is boxing up his school trophies and mementos. (Lisa’s real-life son, who is taller than his mom, is used in the photos.) As the plot thickens, Belcher conveys the preoccupied sadness of a grieving mother quite well, and we learn that there is some sort of a celebration planned, with caterers coming. (The sets were lavish and  appropriate). At first, I thought the caterers might have been summoned for a post-funeral dinner, but it turns out that the couple is going to have a 21st wedding anniversary celebration, because their son, who recently was killed by a drunk driver, wanted so much to throw a big party for the couple’s twentieth anniversary (the year prior), before his tragic death. The father is shown at one point conferring with a slim young black girl in the street, who ultimately gets in his car with him, and I’m sure I wasn’t the first to think he was soliciting a hooker. But, no. The young girl has received the heart of the heroine’s dead son, and shows up at the party.  This one seemed very professionally done and the sound, in fact, was done in Los Angeles, if I remember the credits correctly. Lisa Belcher and her producing partner Christian Olteanu are an Austin force to be reckoned with.

LEARNING THE ROPES

Alyssia Rivera (“Noelle”) from “A Chance of Snow.”

Eric Goodman and America’s Academy of Pro Wrestling. Two words: “The Wrestler,” Mickey Rourke (should have won the Oscar, but Sean Penn beat him with “Milk”), directed by Darren Aronofsky, 2008). Why are all the people in this world so screwed up? Beats me, but it was a great film in 2008 and this short re-visited that real world with “Meatball,” an overweight wrestler who loves the sport, et. al.

PRENATAL

This one opens with a young girl climbing a mountain and collapsing after mumbling something about “angels come to me when I close my eyes.” As the plot thickens, her sister sells her baby to a con man from the Guiding Light Evangelical Mission, one of the sisters manages to get shot, and there is talk of the father being an alien. Real Rain Productions took off on this, with Bears Fone writing and directing. Ambiguous ending. Part of the time we’re wrapping our minds around an alien pregnancy (remember Hallie Berry’s short-lived series?) and part of the time we’re dealing with GNL Pharmaceutical Company which may profit from an alien baby, and the rest of the time we’re wondering if the sister who gets shot is going to live and, all-in-all,  lots to deal with here for a short.

LEECHERS

Not sure if the name of this was “leechers” but “leechers” are people who touch someone as they are dying and absorb their entire lives.  One word: “Fallen,” 1998, Elias Koteas as Edgar Reese, a convicted killer who touches Denzel at the moment of death and passes bad stuff on. [Not a totally new idea, in other words, but are there any new ones left?] In this particular treatment, we have a sister who wants to stop her brother from going on as a bad guy serial killer. [Do sisters usually shoot their brothers to save total strangers? Wrong question, probably.] He says he’s NOT a serial killer because “they were all still alive in my head.” Rushton Williams, Kelsey Pribelai, Timothy McKinny, J.T. Campos, “Cold Summer” productions, Linus Lau music and Kory Hill sound mixing. The young boy who started out as the younger brother was quite good, but did not look like he’d grow up to look like  the adult star of the piece. However, stranger things have happened…right?

JESSIE’S GIRL

Tracy Ely—who is about to be married—from “A Chance of Snow.”

This short was the perfect example of what, in psychology, is known as “a double approach avoidance” response. The textbook example of that was marriage and a wedding. As the wedding grows closer, the bride (and groom) become both more apprehensive and more excited. In this case, the bride has some pretty severe doubts about her intended. At one point she is holed up in the bathroom having an anxiety attack and her mother-in-law, Linda, is trying to lure her out.  The best line in the short, with great delivery, is: “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM THE DOOR, LINDA!” as the mother of the groom is pestering the bride-to-be to come out and rejoin the guests at her bridal shower. Unfortunately, her intended shows up and insists on singing  the song he wrote for her (“I hate that effing song!”) Best line that was written, rather than spoken: “No goldfish were harmed in the making of this film.” Nice surprise ending that probably wasn’t that big a surprise once you thought about the characters of Jesse and Ashley. Cassidy Freeman, Brady Johnson, Caitlin Norton. (Great hair throughout!)

Tracey Ely of “A Chance of Snow” (Faith).

ONE ACT PLAY

This 73-minute gem from Landry Gideon and company of Triadatx Media  proves that even a topic that sounds like it might be boring can surprise you. In this case, Landry and his crew tracked the progress of various thespians (actors) in drama classes throughout Texas as they move through the various competitions to be named the Number One troupe in the state, based on the one act play they present.

Landry Gideon (best name ever) pictured with his D.P. , I hope, on the right. If that is his D.P. his name is in the article (Andrew Miller) and he went to Cedar Rapids (IA) Washington High School. Apologies to all names I failed to scribble down in the dark fast enough. Landry is a sound expert who works on other people’s films’ sound and his wife, who is expecting, is just about to add to their family in the new house in Pfluegerville.

The schools were Salada High School, Rogers High School, Hempstead High School, Randall High School, Barbers Hill High School and their various drama teachers and students. It’s a bit like “Glee” on television, where the tension rises as the competition nears and the stakes get higher and the students proceed from Zone to Area to Regionals to winnowing down to eight and making it to State. Andrew Miller, Director of Photography, shot literally loads of film, as he told me;  the editing was great, as was the sound. Will Patterson was brought in to provide the heart-pounding music that propelled the tension, and the choice of Rogers High School to present “Kholstomer: The Story of a Horse” (a German play, translated) means that a field trip to a horse farm is included and the students have to pretend to be horses onstage. (Always interesting). Solado High School chose a war story (“Boys of Winter”), and the director commented that she likes war stories because the students’ grandfathers had often been in VietNam, (which means my generation.) “Black Angel” segments looked very interesting (Hampstead High School) and only “MidSummer Night’s Dream” seemed as though it was a weak choice (Remember on “American Idol” when the judges would talk about how important the right song would be? Well, it applies here.)

The expressions used by the directors reminded me of the University of Iowa’s head coach for many years, Texas native Hayden Fry, who used the term “high porch picnic” (no idea what that means; I’m from Iowa, but I think I was told it had to do with snakes and flooding the last time I asked) and, in this case, one of the coaches says, “I want to beat you up and then beat your sister.” (Surely a Texas idiom?)

I was active in drama in high school in the state of Iowa, and, in fact, one of the founders of my high school’s Thespians troupe, and I can tell you that it is nothing like this. As one individual says, “If it wasn’t for the one-act play, there are thousands of kids in Texas who would not be exposed to theater.”

As for me, I was amazed that that many able-bodied macho boys took part. (It is not that way in all high schools, for sure.) Another great line: “There’s douchebags sitting in the front row.” And “Judges are weird.”

The young girl who declares this to be “the largest interscholastic competition in the world” (and then wonders whether it is just in Texas or the U.S.) was precious. This one should apply for the Chicago International Film Festival, where it would stand a very good chance of admission. A great flick!

 

 

 

 

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