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.

“Misha and the Wolves” Is A Cautionary Tale at Sundance on January 31st

Sam Hobkinson, the London-born writer/director of “Misha and the Wolves,” spoke to us prior to the World Premiere showing of “Misha and the Wolves” today at Sundance (1/31) and said, “This was a story I needed to film.” He went on to add, “This was a story about memory and imagination…about themes of storytelling. It is a Holocaust film. It is a moral maize.  It is hard to define: a psychological thriller with shifting truth in story. Ultimately, it is a story abut truth, a story about stories.”

That it is, and so much more in today’s world.

Misha Defonseca began telling her neighbors in Millis, Massachusetts, the story of her nightmarish youth at the local Temple Beth Torah. As friend and neighbor Karen Schulman related, “Everybody there was completely entranced.”

Misha told the story of a 7-year-old girl in Belgium during the  Nazi Occupation whose father does not show up to pick her up after school. Another family takes her in, changing her name to Monique DeWael and telling the authorities that she is Catholic.  But little Misha cannot fathom the sudden disappearance of her mother and father.

Having been told that they have been taken to Germany—she decides that she will walk to Germany, which she has seen on maps. Little Misha does not realize the distance she will have to travel on foot, but sets off, anyway, equipped with food, water, a knife and a compass. (When the interviewers asked her about what she decided to take, I thought it “odd” that a 7-year-old would know what items she might need, but Misha showed absolute certainty when asked.)

Misha told an incredible story of avoiding humans, but being surrounded by wolves, who allowed her to feed from the remnants of their kills and became her nourishers and protectors. A local photo shoot at an Ipswich, Massachusetts farm called Wolf Hollow is dramatic when Misha does seem to have a special rapport with the wolves, one of whom puts her entire head in his mouth, but all of whom respond to her wolf-like howl.

Misha’s story is told to one particular admiring neighbor and friend, Jane Daniel, a small publisher. Even though other larger publishers told Jane that they thought the story sounded “fishy,” Jane persevered in getting Misha to write her experiences down and—Eureka!—  secured an appearance for Misha on Oprah Winfrey’s show to plug the book.

It is at that point that Misha began balking and would not agree to appear on Oprah’s television show, although an appearance there would virtually guarantee millions of books sold. Disney was also interested in the story, but Misha began backing out of commitments and, ultimately, lodged a lawsuit against Jane Daniels in August of 2001 in Middlesex, Massachusetts.

Misha appeared on her own behalf during the 10-day trial and, as Jane says, “She was a very good witness.” A $22.5 million judgment was levied against Jane Daniel, who was devastated, saying that she was cast as the “cruel exploiter of an innocent Holocaust survivor.” Jane added, “I wanted my life back.”

Jane Daniel, aided by researcher Evelyne Haendel (geneaologist and Holocaust survivor) in Germany and Belgium, began to research Misha’s story more thoroughly, realizing that if it was not true, this might let her off the hook for the court’s judgment.

A still from Misha and the Wolves by Sam Hobkinson, an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute.)

A photo lady, Sharon Sergeant, carefully pored over the photographs that Misha had shown others of her supposed adoptive Catholic family. Many discrepancies began to emerge, including a key one: in the French version of the book  Misha gave her adoptive family surname as Valle, but in the English language versions, she gave her “new” name as Monique DeWael. This struck Ms. Sergeant as strange. Others were brought in to find out who, exactly, Misha’s parents really had been, as she originally claimed not to know the surnames of the missing pair.

After extensive and thorough research and investigation, it was discovered that Misha was not a young Jewish girl at all. She was a young Catholic Belgian girl, whose Aunt Emma declared was “always delusional” and whose father, Robert DeWael (her real surname) was a resistance fighter who became a collaborator with the Nazis.

Robert and his wife were arrested not long after the Nazis occupied Belgium on May 10, 1940, and he turned in others to be able to see his wife and daughter again. Ultimately, Robert and his wife and 41 other resistance fighters were shipped to Brauweiler Labour Camp near Cologne. Monica/Misha became known as “the traitor’s daughter.” She never saw her parents again.

Prior to the publisher’s exposing the lie, Misha was appearing all over Europe, making money from telling her story. The copyright had been returned to her after the court trial and she seemed to revel in the attention. The movie had come out in Europe and Misha was appearing in support of it when the facts and the proof were finally revealed to the world.

When it was finally clear that nothing that Misha had said was true, she explained her fabrications this way: “My reality, my way of surviving, my attempt to exorcise the sadness at being called ‘the traitor’s daughter’ was to get into a bubble world of my own.” Misha described the mythical wolves as defending her against humans.

She did, however, admit that she had fooled many with her stories. 

A still from Misha and the Wolves by Sam Hobkinson, an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute.)

The publisher who had warned Jane Daniels not to go ahead with publishing the book in the first place said, “I think it was greed that motivated Jane AND Misha.”

Others in the film—mainly neighbors or scholars who had initially accepted Misha’s version of events said—“Misha created a world for herself…a world of her own belief.  She sought refuge in mythomania. She slowly became a character in her own story.”

Today, it was announced that all five of Donald Trump’s defense lawyers in an impeachment trial that is supposed to begin February 8th have quit or been fired.  The sticking point in their continued employment was the defense strategy. Trump insisted that they must continue to argue that the election was stolen from him, while the defense specialists wanted to argue procedural issues about impeaching a president after he has already left office.

Of Misha and her improbable tale of living with helpful wolves, her neighbors said, “We would like to believe that we were not so gullible, not so naïve, but it was all a fabrication.” Added another, “Nobody wants to admit that they were duped.”

Misha, herself, however, did step forward and offered if not sorrow, at least a feeble excuse for her lies. Some felt pity. Some felt revulsion. They were repelled by the thought that one—or both—women might have been motivated to make money from stories of the Holocaust—opportunism gone too far.

In the United States Donald J. Trump continues to refuse to admit that he lost the 2020 election. The evangelical far right (according to the newest issue of “Rolling Stone,”) continues to deny the truth. “By Thanksgiving, the lie that the election had been stolen from Trump had become an article of faith,” says the newest “Rolling Stone” edition.

The message that I came away with from this film with was that it is helpful when the liar—even  belatedly—-owns up to his or her lying. Others may not like the idea that they were duped, but the truth will set us free.

That ultimately happened in “Misha and the Wolves.” Is it likely to happen in the United States?

 

“Coming Home in the Dark” at Sundance on HBO Max: Engrossing!

Daniel Gillies as Mandrake in “Coming Home After Dark.” (Courtesy of Sundance Institute.)

The New Zealand offering “Coming Home in the Dark,” from Director James Ashcroft unleashes a fast, high-energy road trip with a family that is set upon by two psychopaths with a grudge. The short story of the same name, written by Owen Marshall, was altered by Ashcroft and screenwriter Eli Kent, who had already adapted another of Marshall’s short stories prior to this feature film premiere outing.

The 93-minute film never loses its edge and, despite the warnings about graphic violence, it was far from “Saw”- like. But, yes, there is violence.

As the director explained in a brief message to the press at Sundance, the two screenwriters, working together, tried to incorporate historic New Zealand issues as background for the main character, the father of twin boys, who has been a teacher in a variety of schools. These were touches that the original short story character lacked. Alan/Hoaggie, is well-played by Erik Thomson, but Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) is evil incarnate.

The film opens with a beautiful sunset in the New Zealand countryside. It is worth mentioning that the feature film comes full circle at film’s end with that same beautiful panorama, only at sunrise. The circularity of structure is something I’ve enjoyed in films by Spike Lee and Brian DePalma over the years, and use in my own writing on occasion. There are many deft cinematic touches like this, including the failure of wife Jill to take her husband’s hand in the car, after she has just learned some disquieting information about his past. She remarks, “There is a difference between doing something and letting it happen, but they live on the same street.” The shots through grasses by cinematographer Matt Henley were outstanding.

PLOT

James Ashcroft, director of Coming Home in the Dark, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Stan Alley.

The family of four—Alan, Jill and their twin teenaged boys, Jordan and Maika—are off on holiday when they stop alongside a gorgeous but remote New Zealand hillside in the Greater Wellington Region for a hike and a picnic. Ominously, two drifters appear on a cliff overhead and wave at the family below. It is not long after that a confrontation occurs.

Alan—known as Hoaggie—the father, and Jill, the mother, reassure their twin teenaged sons that it will be all right if they just give the men what they want. They promptly do so, divesting of their cash and valuables and every phone but one that Jill took from Alan and put in the glove box of their car when he began playing an annoying game on it while she was driving. But will it? Will giving the tall Maori-tattooed silent man known as Tubs and the shorter thug, who calls himself Mandrake, what they want save all their lives? At one point, a panel truck drives into the area where the confrontation is happening, and Mandrake instructs the family to wave in a friendly fashion, which they do. The paneled truck departs, honking back, and Mandrake remarks, “Later, this may be the point where you’ll wish you’d done something different.”

The film quickly spirals into a road trip to hell.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

The shots through grasses by cinematographer Matt Henley were gorgeous, as were the sunrise/sunset scenes over a glorious New Zealand landscape. I’ve been to New Zealand, and, yes, it really looks that beautiful (Great Wellington Region).

ACTING

The acting by Erik Thomson, as the father, and Miriame McDowell as the grief-stricken mother is matched in acting chops by the intensity of evil radiating from the two criminals, Tubs and Mandrake (Matthias Luafut and Daniel Gillies.) Ashcroft uses the taller of the two assailants, played by Matthias Luafut, to good effect and Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) is the worst thing you can encounter at a picnic in the wild: a polite psychopath.

Ashcroft, from Aotearoa, New Zealand, was the artistic director of the indigenous Maori Theatre Taki Rua from 2007-2013 and his native name is Nga Puhi/Ngati Kahu.  This is his first feature film, but he has plans to move in the direction of Blumhouse horror films. This is a great start.

The film is slated to stream on HBO Max. Check it out. It was the best of 5 feature films I’ve seen at Sundance in the past 2 days.

“Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided to Go For It” Premieres at Sundance on January 29, 2021

This 90 minute documentary, directed by Mariem Perez Riera traces the life of Latino icon Rita Moreno, from her birth in Humacao, Puerto Rico in 1936, to her upcoming role reprising “West Side Story” with Steven Spielberg. (Film is slated for a December release).

Along the way, such luminaries as Gloria Estefan, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, and Eva Longorio, among others, give testimony to the achievements of the 87-year-old singer/dancer/actress.

A still from Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It by Mariem Pérez Riera, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo: West Side Story copyright 1961 MetroGoldwynmayer Studios Inc. All rights reserved. Courtesy of MGM Media Licensing.

I’m of the generation that thrilled to “West Side Story” with Rita Moreno in the pivotal role of Anita when it premiered in 1961 as a film, based on the 1957 stage version. Watching Anita dance in the clips from “West Side Story” of the sixties is watching pure talent on the hoof.

Just to show that she is not a one-trick pony, the woman is one of only a very few to have won the EGOT: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony, and the first Latino to do so. She won her Oscar for “West Side Story,” her Grammy for the Electric Company album, her Tony for playing Googie Gomez in “The Ritz” and not one, but two Emmys, for the Muppet Show, which she starred on from 1971 to 1977.

When Gloria’s mother divorced her father and moved, with Gloria to New York City, she shares that they sailed on a ship, the S.S. Carabobo, whose name, in English, literally means Stupidface. Upon seeing the Statue of Liberty as a small child, she thought the green lady was the president and that she was holding an ice cream cone in her right hand.

Norman Lear and Linn Manuel Miranda teamed up to share with the world the story of a chameleon-like talent who “made herself into someone she wasn’t to please other people.” This was true, initially, of Rita’s career, which seemed mired in stereotypical roles as an accented beauty, whether the role was Latino or some other ethnicity. Rita also had to cope with sexual discrimination from the likes of Harry Cohn and, at one point,  attempted suicide after a failed romance with Marlon Brando that led to an unwanted pregnancy, a botched abortion, and an overdose of pills.

When she talks about Brando today, she says, “I think about it now and say, ‘What was there to love?’” But, at the time, Brando was the biggest star of the 50s and the two were together for nearly eight years. It was Brando who recommended that Moreno try therapy, of which she said, “Examining and finding value in yourself is the only way. And I chose therapy.”

Rita Moreno,1954. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute).

Married for 45 years to cardiologist (and, ultimately, her manager), Leonard Gordon, the pair remained married from 1965 until Lenny’s death in 2010. Their daughter, Fernanda Gordon Fisher, is the mother of Rita’s two grandsons and, as she admits, she is okay with living alone. In some ways, she says, felt liberated after the death of her husband, who was a bit of a control freak. She admits that there were times she thought of exiting the marriage, but stayed in the relationship for the sake of their family.

Now 87, Rita who began performing at age 6, has a role as Valentina in the re-boot of “West Side Story” planned for a December release. The cast will feature primarily Latino actors and actresses, although Ansel Elgort (“The Fault In Our Stars”) is of Norwegian, Russian, German and English ancestry. Another key fact of Elgort’s casting as Tony may well be the 5 years (ages 9 to 14) that he spent at the American School of Ballet, plus Elgort’s keen interest in music (he DJ’s as Ansolo). Elgort was named one of the Best Actors under 20 in 2014 and has been impressive in his film outings.

I

Rita Moreno. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute).

t will be interesting to see Rita Moreno’s career come full circle with her appearance in the same film, 60 years after she burst to stardom in it. The original budget for “West Side Story” was only $6 million; it went on to make $44,062,203 worldwide. The 2021 Spielberg effort has a $100 million budget with 144 cast members and is in post production.

Moreno is shown speaking and says “It’s interesting how we keep dragging our past into the present.  Damn the shadows and here’s to the light.” Morgan Freeman sums up this great talent’s career by saying, “Life is what it is—but it is what you make it.”

 

Director:  Mariem Perez Riera

Cast:  Rita Moreno, Gloria Estefan, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, Eva Longorio, Justine Machado, Karen Olivo.

Cinematographer:  Pedro Juan Lopez

Composer and Music Supervisor:  Kathryn Bostic and Maureen Crowe

 

 

 

Trump’s Lawless Masses Breach Capitol, Endanger Lawmakers

I’m watching CNN “live” and listening to the voice of Manu Raju, Senior Congressional Corespondent, as Vice President Pence is being escorted from the building.

The Trump protesters have breached the building and the Vice President of the United States has been evacuated.

Both chambers are now in recess and one U.S. female representative said she had been told to evacuate her office because of a pipe bomb. You can see the protesters inside Statuary Hall, carrying their Trump flags and draped in American flags. They are just walking through, carrying their cell phones, but soon they begin breaking windows and climbing into the interior of the Capitol building.

“This is an incredibly dangerous situation that is unfolding.” (Jake Tapper) Trump is on Twitter complaining about Pence’s unwillingness to go along with his plans to wrest control of the election process.

One yo-ho is waving a U.S. flag outside of the roped-off walkway. The CNN commentators are remarking that “this is beyond anything I’ve seen in covering the Capitol for 20 years.” One tweet: Shame on POTUS for not doing anything to stop it. Jim Acosta says that, like Nero fiddling while Rome burns, the current president is “pouring fuel on the fire.” This is “a bonfire of the insanities” that has been going on for weeks now. “And now, this is what we’re left with.”

Acosta: “And, Jake: what is the plan to get these people out of there? This is just bedlam. What is Trump’s plan to get these people out of there?”

Manu Raju: “Very very tense. There is an armed stand-off at the front door of the Capitol. The D.C. Mayor is ordering a 6 p.m. curfew.”

“Bee Gone: A Political Parable”

House members are sheltering in place in their offices, but they are being told to evacuate. Pence has been evacuated. The protesters are all over this building.”

The protesters all look like yo-hos. They are attired in MAGA hats and plaid that makes them look like they’ve all just wandered in from plowing the north 40. The members of Congress are being given gas masks because tear gas was used in the Rotunda of the Capitol. Chief Ramsey (P.D.) is being asked how the members of Congress can perform their Constitutional duties today? He says, “You’ve gotta’ force them out. This is absolutely ridiculous.” Transit police can be seen walking outside, on the steps of the Capitol. There are people climbing up walls and tromping around. The president is stirring the pot and has unleashed something he cannot control. The Chief of Police says: “It never should have gotten this far.”

Charles Ramsey, the former D.C. Police Chief, says “He stirred them up. This is as close to a coup attempt as this country has ever seen. This is sedition. This is attempting to undermine the rule of law by using force.”

An unattractive man has just given the middle finger to the cameraman while shouting obscenities.

Jake Tapper is asking why more steps were not taken to insure that the Capitol would be safe. It seems pretty clear that the man in charge (Trump) has encouraged this. “I haven’t seen anything like this. This is the United States of America. This is the American Capitol!”

Tapper points out that this is Charles Ramsey’s “worst nightmare” and he mentions “major demonstrations in the city.” But, he said,  “We never had anything that came close to coming this far. They’ve got to take the gloves off and maintain control.” Ramsey seems quite perturbed that more force is not being used against the protesters who are storming the Capitol.

Tapper: “I don’t know if anything has happened like this since the days of the Vietnam War.”

I lived through the days of the Vietnam War. There was no disrespect shown to the Capitol during the anti-war protesters. “I haven’t seen anything like it since then. It doesn’t go that far even then,” said Charles Ramsey. (Very true).

The real question is when law enforcement is going to show up, in force.

There is at least one woman in critical condition after being shot in the chest on the Capitol grounds.

 

January 6th: History Is Made on Capitol Hill During Ceremonial Meeting to Certify Election

BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE

Texas politicians have been involved in the contesting of the presidential election results far more than those of other states including: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (recently reported by his staff for taking bribes in the service of a wealthy realtor), U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert. The “Metro & State” portion of the Austin American Statesman, today, had an entire story entitled: “Four Texas Republicans Who Have Humiliated Us.”

Cruz is going to contest Arizona’s election returns today—in just a few moments, in fact, inside Capitol Hill on the Senate Floor. (See some of those remarks at the end of this article.) Gohmert has had various legal actions thrown out of court. Former Ken Paxton aides reported him to the FBI and then began resigning in droves. An anti-trust lawsuit against Google was underway, but now, because Paxton’s former deputies are all accusing him of crimes in the service of wealthy donor Nate Paul (an Austin real estate investor), Paxton is seeking $43 million to go forward with the Google lawsuit with outside legal help. Paxton hired outside firms to conduct the suit, saying, “The legal services cannot be adequately performed by the attorneys and supporting personnel of the attorney general’s office.”

This was not true before Paxton was reported for misconduct in office, as the Attorney General’s office had thousands of employees and Deputy Attorney General Darren McCarty was leading the investigation, prior to Paxton’s misconduct in office.  Mateer, McCarty and Ryan Bangert, another senior lawyer involved in the case, all resigned after reporting Paxton to the FBI. All 8 of Paxton’s accusers have quit or been fired and 4 alleged in a lawsuit that the attorney general created a hostile work environment, including deploying armed guards, to force them out.

Google, of course, has assembled “the best lawyers unlimited money can buy.” Now, Texas tax-payers are being asked to foot the bill for hiring outside counsel to the tune of millions. The allocated amount to pay the monthly bills is $43 million, if approved by the Legislature.  If Google doesn’t end up paying those charges, Texas will try to recoup its costs in court. A second firm (Keller Lenkner) has laid out a similar payment plan. Texas has the largest Republican-controlled state attorney general’s office in the country.  With roughly 750 lawyers and 4,000 total employees. It’s  for the state to hire outside counsel. Paxton most recently hired outside lawyers last month, for his failed suit seeking to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election.

Today, in the Austin American Statesman opinion piece (see below) entitled “Cruz’s Stunt Shows Contempt for Voters’ Will” the newspaper had this to say about all the shenanigans ongoing today on Capitol Hill:

“The Electoral College challenge planned by Senator Ted Cruz and other Republicans reeks of an audacious stunt, a desperate act to keep Donald Trump in the White House.

But this is no political game.  Something far greater is at stake here, something Americans hold dear: our nation’s standing as a democracy, the legitimacy of its government coming from the consent of the governed.

Cruz, a dozen other senators and about 140 Republicans in the U.S. House—including newly elected Rep. Pete Sessions, whose district includes a swath of northern Travis County, and Williamson County’s Rep. John Carter—plan Wednesday to stymie the confirmation of the Electoral college results.

They won’t succeed in preventing Joe Biden from being sworn in January 20th as president.  But they risk inflicting lasting and unspeakable damage, cratering the public’s confidence in our elections and deepening the partisan divides that make it harder for Americans to confront the pandemic, achieve an economic recovery and tackle other pressing challenges.

“The Christmas Cats Flee the Bee,” sixth book in the Christmas Cats series (www.TheXmasCats.com).

No kidding. It’s amazing that number isn’t higher, given the barrage of disinformation from Trump and conspiracy theories on social media.  Equally disingenuous, Cruz says “the unprecedented allegations of voter fraud” demand Congress’ intervention, ignoring the lead role he and other GOP officials played in amplifying those baseless claims.

Cruz would have Americans believe that a new “Electoral Commission” is needed to scrutinize the elections administered and certified by the states, opening the door for legislatures to pick a different president than the people did.  Nevermind the fact that at least 86 judges across the political spectrum have heard—and dismissed—all claims of election irregularities.  Or the fact that former Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department found no widespread fraud that would change the outcome of the election.  Or that a national coalition of election security officials, including some appointed by Trump, said “there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

Cruz’s crusade is not about election security  It’s about pandering to a diehard Trump base that he hopes will propel him to the White House in 2024.  It’s about the flurry of fundraising emails from Cruz, Carter and others seeking campaign donations to “join the fight”—as if it costs them anything to show up Wednesday and raise objections on the floor of Congress,

To no one’s surprise, Trump has handled defeat the same way he’s managed other political setbacks:  Spread lies and conspiracy theories.  Pressure key officials to bend the rules.  The appalling audio of Trump’s hour-long phone call last weekend with Georgia elections officials shows the leader of the free world demanding a “recalculation” of the votes to keep him in power–as if the results of an election were negotiable.

Trump’s antics have tested our nation’s commitment to self-governance and created a rift within the Republican Party.  Our democracy still stands because others within the GOP—from local elections officials to Republican-appointed judges—have shown their fidelity to the Constitution and the will of voters.

Laudably, a growing chorus of Congressional Republicans, including Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Chip Roy of Hays County, have refused to take part in challenging the election results on Wednesday.  In a statement with 6 other members of the U.S. House, Roy said taking such an action would “unconstitutionally insert Congress into the center of the presidential election process…(and) would amount to stealing power from the people and the states.”

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).

Plenty of issues, from tax policies to judicial nominees, are fair game for partisan fights.  But the underpinnings of our democracy, the very notion that voters decide the elections must be sacrosanct.

Honoring the will of the voters should not be a Republican or a Democratic norm, but an American one.  The efforts to subvert that, first in failed lawsuits by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Rep. Louie Gohmert, now in the charge led by Cruz, are nothing short of seditious.

Cruz’ gambit on Wednesday will fail, too.

But what a shameful spectacle!

*******

“We cannot simply declare ourselves a national board of elections on steroids!” (Mitch McConnell) If we overrule the election results, we damage our democracy. This election was not even unusually close The electoral college count was almost identical to what it was in 2016.

If this election were overturned by unsupported allegations from the other side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. Every 4 years would be a scramble for power. If we overrule the voters, we can damage the Republic forever.

The effects would go even beyond the elections themselves. Self government requires a shared commitment to the truth and a shared respect for the ground rules of our system. We cannot keep drifting apart into 2 separate tribes with a separate set of facts with nothing in common but a respect for the common institutions we share.

Every time since 2000, said McConnell, such a dispute took place. Republicans condemned those baseless attacks back then, said McConnell. “There can be no double standard.” We must not imitate and escalate what we repudiate,” said McConnell. It must not be “an endless spiral of partisan venom.”

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

“Honor the people’s decision,” said McConnell. “Show that we can still muster the patriotic fervor not only in victory, but in defeat.”

“It would be unfair and wrong to overrule the voters on this extraordinarily thin premise.”

I will vote to defend our system of government as we know it”

(The above from Mitch McConnell)

******

From Chuck Schumer:

The Congress does not decide the outcome of elections; the people do.

American people elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to be the next Pres. and VP of the U.S. And yet a number of our colleagues have organized an effort to challenge our free and fair election. They have no evidence of widespread voter fraud to change our election. That’s because there is none. They know that President Trump and his allies have lost no fewer than 62 legal challenges, rendered by many Republican judges appointed by President Trump.

In the process of objecting, they will embarrass themselves, their party and the United States of America. Merely accepting the results of an election is considered an act of political courage.

Barack Obama in Davenport, Iowa (River Center) during the 2008 caucus season.

That anyone, much less an elected official, would be willing to tarnish our democracy in order to burnish their personal political future, senators of good will from both sides of the aisle will explain why these challenges must be dismissed.

What message will we send today? What message will we send to every dark corner of the world where elections are stolen? What will we show those people? Will we show them that truth matters. There will always be a stronger coalition ready to push back, ready to defend everything we hold dear.

Let those words ring in the ears of every Senator. Let us do our duty to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help us God.”

(From Chuck Schumer)

****

Biden on the caucus campaign trail in Iowa prior to the 2008 presidential race. Don’t worry: I’ll be back to politics by the end of the week.

From Ted Cruz:

We have seen and will continue to see a great deal of moralizing from both sides of the aisle. We are gathered at a time when democracy is in crisis. Recent polling show that 39% of Americans believe that the election was rigged. That is a profound threat to this country and any administrations that will come.

I believe that there is a better way. Let me be clear: I am not arguing for setting aside the results of this election.

The Hays-Tilden election of 1876 appointed a 10-day investigatory commission. (Cruz wants to establish such a commission).

 

 

Podcast of December 17th: Christmas Book(s) for Sale!

“The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats,” Book #1. (www.TheXmasCats.com for all 5 in the series, currently).

I posted the scheduled appearances for the rest of 2020 previously. This Thursday (Dec. 17) will, in fact, involve telling the audience about  books for sale, but whether it will be Sean Leary’s book or not remains to be seen. The evening will focus on the six-book series “The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats” if previously scheduled guest Sean Leary cannot make it, [due to a soccer game this time]. Always have a “Plan B,” when preparing a program, whether it is a radio show, a podcast, a television show, or something else. I’ve done very little talking about my own books on the 38 programs so far. Maybe this is the week—a week before Christmas—to talk about a 6-book Christmas series? I guess we’ll know by Thursday. One way or the other, you’ll get to hear about an appropriate literary purchase for the holiday ahead.

On December 24th there will be a replay of a previous program, and on December 31st (New Year’s Eve) that will happen again.

There are six books in “The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats” series, all of which can be seen by going to www.TheXmasCats.com. I would urge potential listeners to go out to the website while they are listening to me talk about how the books came to be.

Again, this is not a “for sure” program listing, as perhaps Sean will be able to join us to talk about his new book “Subliminal Cartography.” Maybe. Maybe not.

If not, you’ll hear the story of the newest book (“The Christmas Cats Flee the Bee”) first, as it is the newest release. I’m on schedule with completing the series for my granddaughters, as I always vowed to discontinue the series when the girls had outgrown Santa Claus. Their twelfth birthday is January 11th; the final book is out, and all six of the books are available on Amazon in time for Christmas gift giving, if you hurry.

So, what are the books and what were the ideas behind them?

Book #1: The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats

This book came out of the non-stop fighting between our two cats, the older cat and a new arrival, who joined us from the ravine as winter came on. They had to learn how to get along, and that is the “moral” of Book #1.

Book #2: The Christmas Cats Chase Christmas Rats

The girls were three when I began the series and they were selecting the next animal that the Christmas Cats, a gang of do-gooders, would aid. Rats came up next. Among other morals of this book it includes an admonition against prejudice and a plea to be helpful and kind to others.

Book #3:  The Christmas Cats Encounter Bats

Living here in Austin, as I am currently, this one should be a big seller at Book People, but, alas, it has no “spine” and I learned the valuable lesson that books in Book People (the largest independent bookstore in Austin) must have a spine, so that readers can read the title as they browse in the store (not that there is much “browsing” during the pandemic.  The moral: do not fear or destroy animals simply because you are unfamiliar with them. There is a “master plan” for every creature and that bat or insect or snake also has a reason for living.

Book #4:  The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer

Inspired by the deer kill staged at Scott County Park in Scott County, Iowa, the Christmas Cats rescue the hapless deer in the park and hustle them to the North Pole, where they learn to help Santa in his annual delivery of gifts. The illustrations by Gary McCluskey for this one are outstanding, and it is one of my two favorite books in the series. For the first time, a hard cover edition was available, although it is not listed on Amazon, which doesn’t help.

Book #5:  The Christmas Cats Care for the Bear

This one should be one of the most popular, as it is an anti-bullying tome. The little bear is being bullied because he has funny fur and is chubby. The good lesson to be learned:  bullying is wrong.

Book #6:  The Christmas Cats Flee the Bee

Donnie Drone wants to take over the hive because he doesn’t like the Queen Bee. He colludes with a less-successful hive to wrest control of the hive. All the worker bees in the hive begin to realize that they could all die if Donnie Drone remains in power, and they unite to drive him off. A timely political parable for our current time(s).

Podcast Guests in December Limned

Tonight’s guest on the 7 p.m. (CDT) Weekly Wilson podcast is Dylan Kai Dempsey, a New York-based writer/filmmaker and film critic.  He covers all the major festivals and his reviews have been published in “Vanity Fair,” “Variety,” “NoFilmSchool,” “Nonfiction.fr” and “IonCinema.com.

In addition, Dylan is developing a graphic novel, #LikesforLukas” plus a TV series based on his own award-winning pilot script.

Dylan has also taught film, both at Tufts University, his alma mater, and in Paris.  He began hi career as a development intern for Bona Fide Productions in Los Angeles and Rainmaker Productions in London.

Tune in “live” tonight (Thursday, December 10th) as Dylan and I discuss the future of cinema: “Can the movies survive the pandemic?” “If they do, what will the theaters of the future be like?”

On December 17th, the guest will be Quad City author Sean Leary, talking about his newest book.

On December 24th and December 31st, since those dates are Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, respectively, you can expect re-runs of some of the previous 37 interviews done since February of 2020, with the replays available, as always on the blog and on the Bold Brave Media Global Network blog.

January will see some more political discussions as a new president is sworn in. What will happen between now and January 20th? Stay tuned for further developments and discussions.

“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.

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