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 2 of 41

“Pet Sematary” Re-Imagined at SXSW Premiere 30 Years After Its 1989 Predecessor

Jason Clarke and Jete Laurence, who plays his daughter Ellie Creed in “Pet Sematary” are interviewed on the Red Carpet for “Pet Sematary” at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

In the 1989 original  film“Pet Sematary” pets buried in a spooky backwoods cemetery come back to life. When a tragedy befalls a child of Louis and Rachel Creed (Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz), the lure of having their dead child returned to them by reburying the body in the Pet Sematary is too great to resist. [*Don’t watch the trailer if you don’t want to know one of the movie’s major plot twists in advance; it’s a “spoiler” moment].

As the plot for the Stephen King 1983 novel and the original film, (released almost exactly 30 years earlier to the day) put it: “With dreams of a better life, a young doctor, Louis Creed, and his family—wife Rachel, their 9-year-old daughter Ellie, and their 3-year-old toddler, Gage—move to their new home in the small rural town of Ludlow, Maine, alarmingly close to a busy highway.  However, when Rachel’s cherished tomcat, Church, is inadvertently killed in an awful accident, a desperate Louis will reluctantly take his friendly neighbor’s advice to bury it in an ancient Micmac graveyard—a mystical burial ground imbued with re-animating powers.  Despite the terrible results and insistent warnings, a tragedy-stricken Louis in the wake of the death of his child, goes back to the Indian cemetery, hoping that, this time, things will be different. But can the dead return from the grave?”

Despite the lure of having a loved one come back from the dead, the tag line for this movie is, “Sometimes, dead is better.”

Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer with John Lithgow, shooting “Pet Sematary.” (SXSW Photo).

There are changes in Matt Greenberg’s treatment of Stephen King’s original concept. As the directors told the audience, onstage, following the World Premiere as the closing film of SXSW, “I was a big fan of the original. You know it exists. It was an influence on us.  There were homages, but there comes a time when you have to start making your own film out of it.”

Jason Clarke had not seen the finished product until this night. He described himself as “very proud and very freaked out” and said, “I enjoyed the experience” commenting on the thrill of seeing a film at the theater in a large group. When Jete Laurence, who plays Ellie in the film, was asked if she found playing her part frightening, she answered, “It was really cool.  I wasn’t that scared because I was one of the scary ones.”

One audience questioner wanted to know why there wasn’t more gore shown in the child’s death scene. Answered the directors:  “You gotta’ be really specific about how you show blood.  With the child’s death, the horror is reflected in the looks on Jason’s and Amy’s faces.”

(L to R) Hugo and Lucas LaVoie, who play Gage Creed in “Pet Sematary.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Q:  How did the 3-year-old twins who played Gage (Hugo and Lucas Levoie) deal with the scary stuff?

A:  With them, it was all just playing—like it’s a game. They thought it was a game and had a great time.

Amy Seimetz remarked, “I think what’s interesting about this is that it’s a meditation on the source material.  We’re all gonna’ die, so we can all meditate on that.” She added, “Having been in a lot of genre films, it is everything I want in a genre film.”

The film respects the essence of the 1983 novel, but refreshes it for a new generation. As one of the directors said, “Let’s get under the skin of what’s happening with death.” The directors said they have heard that Stephen King appreciates it when other artists bring their own artistic visions into play and added, “It was validating to hear that he was a fan of the film.”

Jete Laurence (Ellie Creed), “Pet Sematary”, on Red Carpet in Austin. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Jete when asked if she had seen the original 1989 film version of “Pet Sematary,” said, “I think if I saw the original, I might not have as many creative ideas.”

THE GOOD

The mood of the piece is appropriately creepy. Music by Christopher Young is relied on heavily and it delivers.Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer seemed to know what they wanted to achieve; their previous film “Starry Eyes” (2014) was a bit of a Faustian rip-off, so refashioning an older tale is not new to them.

With actors as good as John Lithgow and Jason Clarke, you know that they will do a good job. The children are also up to the task.

One producer was asked about his fears when doing the remake, “Well, you know what they say about filming with children and animals. (laughter) Also, dogs train well. Cats—not so much. But we had such great child actors.”

That last statement was definitely true. Young Jete and the twins who played Gage did a great job, alongside three seasoned veterans (Clarke, Lithgow and Seinmetz). The cat from hell was appropriately diabolical, as well.

Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

The set that represented the pet cemetery was well done, although you really had to wonder how the actors could climb the wall of sticks and brambles that were supposed to keep the bad vibes in or out without injury.

The end of the piece will leave you pondering. There are film endings that provoke thought; this is one of them. What will become of this family? What will Louis Creed’s co-workers reaction be when he shows up for work at the clinic ? Or Ellie Creed’s fellow students at her elementary school? (Another film, perhaps? Maybe even a dark comedy?)

THE BAD

Amy Seimetz (Rachel Creed) and Jason Clarke (Louis Creed) at SXSW for “Pet Sematary.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

While the music was good, it might have been relied on  too heavily at times, to produce “jump” scares. You know the kind: the teenager is going to the basement or the attic. The adult is approaching a large wardrobe or closet or door and we are all waiting to find out what is behind the door.

The heavy fog was so thick that it made me think of the 1971 Academy Awards  when the theme from “Shaft” was played onstage as a nominated song and the performer singing it (Isaac Hayes) completely disappeared. There’s fog in low swampy places and then there’s Major League Fog, all the time, everywhere, as in this Pet Sematary. (*Odd thing I noticed in the film: when Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) types in Pet Cemetery to his computer, he misspells it–again— as Pet Cemetary. It’s all e’s all the time.)

Jason Clarke (Photo by Connie Wilson).

There was  a lot of graphic violence during the last one-half hour, as opposed to a relatively bloodless first two-thirds of the film. Audiences today may demand such graphic gore; I always admired the Hitchcock touch. Hitchcock gave the impression of a knife being used to dispatch Janet Leigh in “Psycho’s ” shower scene but, through clever cutting of the film, the knife never is really shown being plunged into the victim. A little less plunging and twisting is  fine by me.

I didn’t feel that there was anything excitingly original or new being shown us in this film, but the end result was a perfectly acceptable genre film, buoyed by the good performances of the cast.  Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, from the stage, sarcastically called the movie,  “The feel good movie of 2019.”

If this film were a baseball game, nobody would be saying it was “a home run.” But the movie was a good solid hit—at least a double—maybe even a triple. For me, the all-around superlative performances of every actor involved– child or adult—carried the film through familiar territory that we all have covered before, since the original film thirty years ago and the novel 36

Jason Clarke (Louis Creed), on the Red Carpet for “Pet Sematary” at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

years ago. The attempt(s) to secure a new “twist” or ending were successful, (although I kept wondering what Dr. Creed reporting for work the next day at the clinic would be like. Or Ellie Creed’s return to school. Maybe another movie?)

VERDICT

As genre horror movies go, this one is superior to most. It’s no “A Quiet Place,” but it’s good. It opens wide on April 5th.

 

 

 

 

 

“Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins:” Documentary on the Journalist at SXSW

(*Named an Audience Favorite Documentary at SXSW)

Documentary “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins” at SXSW. (SXSW Press Photo).

“Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins” showed at the Paramount Theater in Austin as part of SXSW. It premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January. Director Janice Engel has culled footage of the legendary Texas wit and journalist to entertain and inform us of her skill as a humorous columnist, a talent which was often compared to that of Mark Twain.

Ivins’ column was carried by 400 newspapers through syndication at the time of her death from cancer in 2007. Ivins, the former co-editor of the Texas Observer, who also put in time at the esteemed New York Times, was known for calling George W. Bush “Shrub” and telling her public that Dan Quayle was so stupid that if his brain were transplanted into a bumblebee, the bee would probably fly backward.

She wrote about Texas politics and Texas politicians and was a close friend of famous Texas Governor Ann Richards. Ivins once described a particular politician as having an I.Q. so low, “if it gets any lower we’ll have to water him twice a day.”

Ivins grew up in River Oaks, went to St. John’s and was a child of Texas oil and gas privilege. Much of her character was formed in conflicts with her strait-laced Republican father, who was known as General Jim or Admiral Jim because of his stern authoritarianism.

Ivins enrolled in Scripps College in 1962 but was not happy there, and transferred to Smith College in 1963. She became romantically involved with Henry “Hank” Holland, Jr., a family friend and student at Yale whom she later referred to as “the love of my life”. After he was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1964, her friends said that she never seemed to find anyone else who could replace him. They suggested it was why she never married. She spent her junior year at the Institute of Political Science in Paris and received her B.A. in history in 1966, earning a master’s degree from Columbia University‘s School of Journalism in 1967.

Her first job after college was with the Minneapolis Tribune.  Molly Ivins became the first female police reporter at the paper. Ivins joined the Texas Observer in the early 1970s and later moved to The New York Times. The New York Times was not a good fit and Ivins moved back to Texas, becoming a columnist for the Dallas Times Herald in the eighties and then the Fort Worth Star-Telegram when the Times Herald was sold and shuttered. The column was subsequently syndicated by Creators Syndicate and carried by hundreds of newspapers nationwide.

The new documentary contains footage from Ivins’ numerous appearances on television, but also interviews with many of her longtime friends and acquaintances. Her witticisms are front-and-center, as when she said, “I’m not anti-gun; I’m pro-knife” or “You got to have fun while you’re fighting for freedom, ‘cause you don’t always win.”

Janice Engel, Director of “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins” at SXSW. (SXSW Press Photo).

Director Engel told interviewer Charles Ealy in an Austin American Statesman piece: “She’s not only a prophet; she’s the voice of now. She is more relevant today than she probably was when she was alive.”

The struggles of Ivins to go it alone in what was then substantially a man’s world and to overcome alcoholism and cancer are part of this engrossing documentary. As Ivins herself said of her fierce battle against cancer: “Having breast cancer is massive amounts of no fun. First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that.”

This one is both poignant and hilarious at the same time, and well worth a watch.

Olivia Colman in “Them That Follow” Is Snake-Handling Pentecostal in Appalachia

 

Alice Englert, 25-year-old lead of “Them That Follow.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

 

“Them That Follow,” from Directors Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage, is described in the SXSW program this way:  “Set deep in the wilds of Appalachia, where believers handle death-dealing snakes to prove themselves before God, “Them That Follow” tells the story of a pastor’s daughter who holds a secret that threatens to tear her community apart.”

The film benefited mightily from superb casting, scoring Olivia Colman, fresh off her Oscar win for “The Favourite,” and the always charismatic Walton Goggins, previously known for playing Boyd Crowder in 74 episodes of “Justified” between 2010 and 2015. “Them That Follow” has just been selected by the Chicago Critics Film Festival as one of the first seven films to be shown at its film festival slated for May 17-23 at the historic Music Box Theater.

(L to R) Kaitlyn Dever, Thomas Mann and Alice Englert, who are Dilly, Augie and Mara in “Them That Follow” at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Walton Goggins’ preacher, Lemuel, is “in” to snake handling and his young daughter is an ardent follower of his church. However, she has fallen in love with Augie (Thomas Mann), son of Olivia Colman’s storekeeper and ardent church-going woman of the Pentecostal faith.

Olivia’s husband is played by Jim Gaffigan as Zeke. It is certainly true that  comedian Gaffigan must be one of the most ubiquitous actors working, as he also turned up in “The Day Shall Come” at this year’s festival and at “You Can’t Choose Your Family” at last year’s SXSW. I have to admit that I hadn’t really ever thought of Olivia Colman and Jim Gaffigan as man and wife, but they give it their all.

The fanatical preacher (Walton Goggins) has no pesky wife to interfere in his stewardship of his daughter Mara (Alice Englert), but Mara has a best friend, Dilly (Kaitlyn Dever), who brings new meaning to that old cliché, “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”

Thomas Mann (Augie) and Alice Englert (Mara) are the young lovers of “Them That Follow” at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Mara’s proposed marrying off to Garret (Lewis Pullman), despite her unprofessed love for the unbeliever Augie, is what sets the plot in motion. As you can imagine, there are many scenes of snake handling and tests of faith when Lemuel (Walton Goggins) learns that Mara is pregnant and, relying on the Bible (“Woman—Eve—is the first sinner and she must be cleansed!”) subjects Mara to a test of faith and a cleansing by way of the poisonous rattlesnakes the Congregation uses in its worship services.

Lead actress Alice Englert, the 25-year-old Australian-born Mara in the film, and  directors Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage provided much insight into the film and its origins in the Q&A that followed its showing.  Said Poulton, “I’ve had a lifelong fascination with Pentecostal evangelism and snake handling.  I felt an incredible sense of urgency.  This was an attempt to take audiences on a journey of empathy and understanding. I grew up in a religious family in The Church of Latter Day Saints. It wasn’t easy for me to discover me.  As you take steps towards your own identity, the pressure on you is intense.  How do you, in this world, reconcile faith and coming of age and coming into your own self?  I was fascinated by the YouTube videos of snake handling. I was bitten (laughter from the audience). It was electrifying to me.”

L to R) Dan Madison Savage (Director); Kaitlyn Deaver (Dilly); Thomas Mann (Augie); Alice Englert (Mara) and Britt Poulton (Director) of “Them That Follow.”

This was the duo’s first feature film and they were asked, “What was it like to have such a great cast?”

A:  “It’s a miracle. Such a gift.  We leaned on them so much.  We were so lucky to have this experience with them. The friendships forged in the woods were so incredible.  That is why I think the families feel so real.”

An audience member asked the directors this question. Q:  “It’s almost like a horror movie.  Did you want to take it to this extreme level?”

The answer from the directors was, “We wanted to show some of the consequences of this kind of extreme faith.  They’re really wrestling with the conflict between the faith and the extraordinary stakes of their lives. These are people making choices that put their lives on the line.”

A second audience question about music listened to by the actors as they prepared went nowhere, but the film’s Mara shared that she did a great deal of research, as she was from Australia and all of this was new to her. She read “Salvation on Sand Mountain” by Daniel Covington about a journalist who got deeply involved in the practice of snake-handling and, also, “Hillbilly Elegy.”

Said Alice, to audience laughter, “I’m from Australia. I had to do some homework.”

The cast did share that the rattlers are not REAL rattlesnakes (“Those snakes were friendly. Stumpy was a delight.”) but relatively harmless snakes who have, over the years, changed their appearance to mimic the dangerous rattlers for protective camouflage purposes.  The cast also worked with a dialect coach, Judy Dickinson.

See it. It’s good, and well worth the investment of time and money.

“Shrill,” New Aidy Bryant Series on Hulu, Out March 15th

Aidy Bryant, Chicago’s Columbia College graduate and “Saturday Night Live” cast member, is the star of Hulu’s new series “Shrill,” released March 15th, produced by Elizabeth Banks. (SXSW Photo).

Aidy Bryant’s new Hulu series “Shrill” drops today (March 15th). To promote it, Chicago’s Columbia College alumnus Aidy Bryant, her producer Elizabeth Banks (“30 Rock,” “The Hunger Games”), author Lindy West (“Notes from a Loud Woman”), writer Ally Rushfield, and co-star Lolly Adefope were in Austin at a SXSW screening of the first two episodes of “Shrill.”

There are few comedy frontiers left for writers. Jokes about ethnic groups are out and, (other than President Trump), making fun of the handicapped is verboten. Midgets, once comic fodder, are now “Little People.”

But fat people and old people are still fair game.

With Ms. Bryant as the lead, this serio-comic series focuses on how overweight people cope with the constant barrage of negative remarks and actions they are subjected to in real life. But it’s not played solely for laughs.The “Shrill” material is both funny and touching.

It helps that the main character’s Annie’s mother is played by comic pro Julia Sweeney (after 18 years away from performing) and that her sickly father is played by Daniel Stern, who has been acting since the age of 17 (45 years). [Stern first earned kudos as Cyril in “Breaking Away” (1979) and in Barry Levinson’s“Diner” (1982)].

Elizabeth Banks (“30 Rock,” “The Hunger Games”) directs a remark to the author of the “Shrill” source material, Lindy West.(Photo by Connie Wilson).

Special praise should go to Annie’s (Aidy Bryant’s) best friend, played by Lolly Adefope, who was great in the two episodes we saw. Aidy, herself, brings a vulnerability and poignancy to the role that reminds of Melissa McCarthy in her Oscar-nominated turn this year in “Can You Ever Forgive Me.” Annie (Aidy) has the likeability to make you want to root for her; her visual reactions to indignities like her boyfriend asking her to sneak out of his apartment the back way to avoid meeting his roommate brothers: heartbreaking, but all too human.

The opening episode cuts right to the chase. Aidy becomes pregnant by her sometimes boyfriend. She has been using the Morning After pill, but the pharmacist failed to tell her that the pill would be ineffective if the woman weighed more than 175 pounds. (“Oh, yeah…that guy,” says a co-worker at the pharmacy. “He’s very bad at his job.”)

The write-up in the SXSW program says: “From Executive Producer Lorne Michaels and Elizabeth Banks comes Shrill, a comedy series starring Aidy Bryant (Saturday Night Live) as Annie, a fat young woman who wants to change her life—but not her body.  Annie is trying to start her career as a journalist while juggling bad boyfriends, a sick parent, and a perfectionist boss.”

(L to R) Janelle Riley, Editor of “Variety;” Aidy Bryant (“Saturday Night Live”); Writer Ally Brushfield; Producer Elizabeth Banks, and author Lindy West at the Q&A following “Shrill.”

Following the screening of Episodes #1 and #2 from “Shrill,” Janelle Riley, editor of “Variety,” moderated a panel consisting of the author of the source material, Lindy West, whose book of essays “Notes from a Loud Woman” served as the inspiration for the series;Elizabeth Banks, actress and producer, was onstage with writer Ally Rushfield and Aidy. The first question was, “What was your first job?”

The author responsible for the concept (Lindy West) admitted that she had not had much of a goal in life of becoming a writer. “I wasn’t one of those who wanted to be a writer. My first real writing job was for “Where” magazine in Seattle.” She described the task of trying to make the Space Needle fascinating in every issue as difficult.

Aidy Bryant, who married her boyfriend of ten years on April 28, 2018 (she met him when they both were part of Annoyance Theater in Chicago), described her first job as “musical improvisation in Indiana and Ohio, which nobody wanted to hear.”

The writer in the group, Alexandra (Allie) Rushfield said her first job was, “A video store, because I’m middle aged.” She also admitted to a stint with the Groundlings Comedy troupe.

Elizabeth Banks, known to audiences for her role as Effie Trinkett in “The Hunger Games” and for her continuing role as Alec Baldwin’s girlfriend on “Thirty Rock,” has a production company with her husband, Max Handelman. Her first-job answer was, “I was a latch-key kid and my first job was when I  played Pontius Pilate in ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar.’” She then regaled us with a few bars from her big musical number.

Elizabeth Banks (L) and Lindy West (“Notes from A Loud Woman”) during the Q&A after the new Hulu series “Shrill.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Moderator Janelle Riley, mentioning that “Notes from a Loud Woman” was “a great collection of essays,” wanted to know how or when they were envisioned as a series. Elizabeth Banks answered that it was “pretty quickly after the book came out and there were a lot of option meetings.” We were told  that Aidy was actually the first person considered for the role.

Aidy (Bryant) said, “It was the first time I ever saw myself in a piece solo. They let me be involved in the writing and producing, which was huge for me.”

The big question many of us had was this: How much personal experience did you bring to the character?

The cast  noted that they were initially referring to the main character as “Lindy” (the author’s name) but changed the character’s name to Annie, since it is not a bio-pic. One noted that the series was “the child of many mothers.”

The cast members railed against Twitter (“Please all quit Twitter and put it out of business and make the world a better place.”) where random strangers gather to hurl insults. “What a joy to be called a fat disgusting pig constantly,” said Aidy Bryant. She shared that an incident in the first episode actually happened to her.  A thin, beautiful trainer grabs her wrist and comments on what a small frame she has, saying, “There’s a thin person inside of you trying to get out.”

In the episode, Aidy laughs and responds, “Well, let’s hope she’s okay in there.”

She also shared that, when she has played Sarah Huckabee Sanders in skits on “Saturday Night Live” half of the viewers who sent messages called her “a fat, disgusting pig” and half said, “Aidy shouldn’t be playing this strong, independent woman.”

All agreed: “People are not used to seeing fat people do anything on camera.” (One possible exception to this might be the character on “This Is Us,” Kate Pearson, played by Chrissy Metz). Elizabeth Banks said, “I think this is very revolutionary.  I think our entire cast and crew wanted to empower women and get rid of the people who are always telling you you aren’t good enough.”

Lindy West, the author, said, “You never see fat people doing anything except being fat.  The world intrudes on you and tells you constantly that you aren’t living up to its standards. Society reminds us all day, every day, that if you’re a fat woman, there’s something wrong with you.”

One aspect that the second episode touched on was the “very complicated relationship with your mother and her body. That represents a lot of love and pain for many women.” I can certainly attest to this.

I had a mother who harped about my weight gain after I gave birth to my son. She never missed an opportunity to insert a diet or recipe reminder in her letters. Then, after I fasted for two full months on liquid protein and lost 72 pounds, and showed up at home at exactly the same weight I had been when I graduated from high school, she never made a single positive comment. I have a good friend (and former college roommate, Pam) who has told me how uncomfortable it was for her to be around and hear her mother say things like, “Why can’t you be thin like Pam?” or, on other occasions, “Why can’t you be thin like your sister?” My mother, like Lindy West’s, is of Norwegian (and Dutch) heritage. Is that a clue?

Said writer Allie Rushfield, “The deal in the writing room is that we would find the universal themes…that period in one’s late teens and early twenties when it’s all about appearance.” Aidy, the series lead, said, “I remembered how much I hated my own guts then. I felt sad for myself—for all the time I wasted when I was sold the bill of goods about how I was worthless unless I was thin.”

Added the writers (Alexandra Rushfield, Lindy West, Aidy Bryant): “I feel like the entire world is shifting, too.”

Let’s hope so. In the meantime, I ordered up Hulu for my husband’s March 21st birthday, primarily because of this series—[although, let’s face it, I’ve not been able to see Elisabeth Moss’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” either, and obviously that is required viewing in the age of Trump].

So, how much did I like “Shrill”? At least $72 worth, minimum, and that’s probably on the low side (depending on whether you opt out of the commercials or not).

I also want to thank the publicist who got me in and let me sit in the Reserved seating area. Thank you very much. I never did gain admission to “NOS4A2,” despite writing repeatedly and once interviewing Joe Hill. That’s all I’m going to be writing about that other new series for a loooong time.

 

“Bluebird” Is SXSW Documentary about Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe Launching Pad to Songwriting Stardom

Director Brian Loschiavo of “Bluebird.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

“Bluebird” premiered at SXSW on Thursday, March 14th, with Director Brian Loschiavo and many of the crew in attendance, including the now-retired owner of the 1,000 foot café in Nashville on 16th Avenue, Amy Kurland. Director Brian Loschiavo, a Philadelphia film school graduate, spent 10 years in Los Angeles as a freelance screenwriter and Senior Producer with Disney, ABC, and other TV networks, until signing up to be involved in the show “Nashville,” which made him into a believer. He moved to Nashville permanently and was soon tapped to film this documentary about the Bluebird Café.

The Bluebird is a small café in Music City that helps provide a place for songwriters to perform their songs and has launched the careers of megastars like Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift and Faith Hill. Other well-known names (Trisha Yearwood, Maren Morris, Vince Gill, Jason Isabell, Steve Earle, Connie Britton, Charles Esten) appear, but the magic of the place is that the unknowns behind famous songs—those who actually wrote the words and lyrics—have a place where they can perform and become known for their talent.

Amy Kurland, founder with daughter Barbara of the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

As Thom Schayler called it, “The Bluebird is a place to come and be found.” Owner and founder Amy Kurland, with her daughter Barbara, did not originally intend for the Bluebird to be a music venue. It opened in 1982, not in mid-town, not in downtown, but in a strip mall next to a beauty shop and a dry cleaners, featuring all kinds of music.

Owner Amy described it, originally, as “A place for women to come to eat after they had their hair done. Minnie Pearl came to eat at the Bluebirt after she had her hair done.” She added, “When we first opened, it was all kinds of music,” and shared that they would sometimes put on the Talking Heads at max volume to drive out those lingering over a late lunch.

Said Amy, “The goal was to hear not a star, but a great songwriter.” Over time, the proscenium stage gave way to playing in the round in the center of the small room. Thom Schuyler described it as “The most fun I ever had with my clothes on.”

Brian Loschiavo of “Bluebird.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Snippets of the greatest Nashville songwriters of the day are heard, performed in some cases by the artists who made them famous, but more often by the songwriters who initially poured their heart and soul into the song to create the piece. Over the years, the Bluebird became known as a place to give aspiring songwriters a chance. Said one veteran: “They nurture the songwriter as an artist. I learned in that room that being a songwriter is a legitimate job.  Sometimes the performance by the writer of the song is more intimate than the famous version.”

With Open Mike on Monday nights, 60 singer/songwriters audition on Sunday night. Garth Brooks was one such aspiring singer/songwriter who had been turned down by every major label but was discovered by someone in the audience at the Bluebird. Taylor Swift was another who joined forces with her manager in that space, as he was just starting out with his own label and she was an 8th grade songwriter from Pennsylvania. (*Full disclosure: my daughter, a music business graduate of Belmont in Nashville, worked for Taylor Swift for 2 years.)

After the screening, talent producer Shawna Strasberg, who had to line up all the famous folk to appear, said that it “took six months to a year to figure out Taylor Swift’s schedule.” She added that most artists said yes “because it was the Bluebird.”

Props were also given to the elaborate set recreating the interior of the Bluebird, built for the TV show “Nashville,” which has popularized the place. The goal was to make you feel like you were in the room. Previously, as one cameraman said, “The opening scene was shot under a table, through someone’s legs with a handheld camera the whole time. It’s a challenge to shoot music.”

Founder and former owner Amy Kurland, who was present the night of the premiere, described herself as someone who grew up on Broadway musicals. She was so dedicated to having the Bluebird remain a place for up-and-coming songwriters to potentially get their shot that she signed over the café to the NSAI Nashville Music Association to make sure that it remains a launching pad for talent now that she has retired.

She looked back over her time since 1982 and said, “Those first few years I knew we were legitimate when Don Everley agreed to come play there.” Given a standing ovation by the appreciative crowd, Amy said, “I didn’t take a salary for a long time. If you’re in it to make a killing, I’d have been better off with a sports bar” to laughter.

It was the success of the TV show “Nashville” that took the struggling café from break-even to money-maker. Now, large crowds gather outside and, while approximately one-third of the café’s revenue comes from merchandise sold, there are routinely 200 to 300 people in the parking lot seeking entry to the small 90-seat venue. (A $25 cover charge is mentioned by the doorman at one point.)

“Bluebird” musicians close out the March 15th World Premiere showing at the Paramount Theater at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Director Brian Loschiavo acknowledged during the Q&A that “The hardest decision, hands down and a great challenge, was that we had to be stewards of the story.  A lot of cutting room stuff we had to lose.” With former owner Amy Kurland smiling and saying, “I really didn’t expect it to be so lively. I’m so grateful” a six-piece band onstage serenaded us as we departed.

Truly a heart-warming, entertaining, and informative film—especially if you dream of becoming a songwriter and wonder how to go about getting your big break in Music City (Nashville).

Celebrities Hit the Red Carpet for “The Beach Bum” at SXSW in Austin, TX

Isla Fisher at the premiere of “The Beach Bum” at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Jimmy Buffett at the premiere of “The Beach Bum” in Austin, Texas, at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Star of “The Beach Bum” Matthew McConaughey with wife Camille and his mother on the Red Carpet at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Jimmy Buffett and Martin Lawrence at the Red Carpet for “The Beach Bum” at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Harmony Korine, Director of “The Beach Bum” on the Red Carpet at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

While the flow of movie stars to SXSW continues, the Red Carpet opportunities seem fewer than in previous years.

Nevertheless, there have been some names showing up and here are a few of the celebrities who walked the red carpet for “The Beach Bum.”

Much of the action this year seems to be in the Convention Center for panels involving politicians who all seem to have a goal of running for President in 2020.

Here’s a rogue’s gallery of a few famous faces that have appeared for films like “The Beach Bum” (Matthew McConaughey, Jimmy Buffett, Martin Lawrence).

And then there was Scott Rogowsky for H.Q. trivia “live,” for the first-time ever.  Camp Sandy in the Hill Country pitched us with a free Uber ride, a free Turtle Car Wax if you drove your own car, and Music in the Van. (I went out to Camp Sandy for Low Cut Connie and Wyclef Jean, but the other Connie had lost his voice singing outside in the rain. He performs again for free on Friday night outside in downtown  Austin.)

“The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story” Premiering on Wednesday, March 13th at SXSW

“The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story”: in the good old days. (Photo used by permission of YouTube, Pilgrim Productions & Lance Bass Productions)

The Boy Ban Con: The Lou Pearlman Story is a You Tube Original documentary, presented by Pilgrim Media in conjunction with Lance Bass Productions.  It premieres at SXSW on Wednesday, March 13th, 2019 at 3 p.m. at the Paramount Theater.

Lance Bass is onscreen discussing Pearlman’s defrauding of the boy bands he formed, as is Bass’ mother and Justin Timberlake’s mother and several members of the boy bands N’Sync and The Back Street Boys, including A.J. McLean, Ashley Parker Angel, Chris Kirkpatrick, J.C. Chasez, Johnny Wright, Lynn Harless (Timberlake’s Mom), Aaron Carter, Nikki DeLoach and Diane Bass (Lance Bass’ Mom). Justin Timberlake does not appear in the film, except in old footage. Director Aaron Kunkel paints a picture of a very bright, but very dishonest man.

Pearlman used falsified Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, AIG and Lloyd’s of London documents to win investors’ confidence in his “Employee Investment Savings Account” program. He used fake financial statements created by the fictitious accounting firm Cohen and Siegel to secure bank loans for his Airship Enterprises, Ltd. (Essentially, an airline without any planes). Trans Continental Records followed. The Backstreet Boys became the best-selling boy band of all time, with record sales of 130 million, hitting gold, platinum, and diamond in 45 different countries. Pearlman  then repeated this formula almost exactly with the band *NSYNC, which sold over 70 million records globally.

Lou Pearlman is presented as a consummate ponzi scheme artist, with little emphasis in this documentary on the pedophile claims that came to light later, revealed in a Vanity Fair article, “Mad About the Boys” by Bryan Burrough (August 21, 2016.)

Pearlman died in prison 3 days before the article appeared, but he had denied such accusations of sexual impropriety in a 2014 Hollywood Reporter interview from prison. Pearlman’s death was caused by surgery to replace a heart valve, which he had undergone a week before his death. He developed an infection of the lining of the heart valve.

Defrauding people of over half a billion dollars through various schemes is what sent Pearlman to jail for 25 years, where he died at 62 on August 19, 2016. His tentative release date from prison would have been 2029.

The judge offered Pearlman one month off each year of his 25-year sentence for every million dollars recovered, but only $38 million dollars was ever recovered, most of it from the sale of Church Street Station, a historic train station in the heart of Orlando which Pearlman had purchased in 2002. That sale, alone, recouped $34 million.

Here, with Lance Bass shepherding this 99 minute project as Executive Producer and one of the principal talking heads exploring the Lou Pearlman phenomenon, the documentary is focused almost exclusively on how an overweight, relatively friendless man started two boy bands between 1993 and 2006. Other less successful bands followed.  (Pearlman even asked the Judge, after his sentencing, to allow him Internet access from prison so that he could continue to manage. The judge declined).

After viewing “Finding Neverland” the idea of a rich, powerful and/or famous man in a position to advance the career(s) of young talent(s), causing naïve and gullible young people to be victimized, is not difficult to believe. It has occurred many, many times. Hollywood coined the term “the casting couch” for the promises made to innocent young actresses.

Lou Pearlman had been custom-fitting airplanes for famous bands to travel and became aware of the tremendous amounts of money these artists were making. He immediately set his sights on forming such a band and becoming a promoter.

The way in which he got the seed money to be able to underwrite expenses for the venture is pure Lou Pearlman: he defrauded an insurance company of $3 million by insuring a blimp he bought for $10,000. Pearlman painted the blimp gold to be used as advertising for Jordache. McDonald’s was another signed advertiser.

When the blimp crashed, Lou had his seed money; he used it to audition a $3 million-dollar talent search and form the boy bands that were then supplanting the Seattle grunge scene as those bands (think Kurt Cobain in “Nirvana”) fell victim to their own successes.

The members of the Back Street Boys and NSync fell victim to Lou Pearlman presenting himself as a paternal father figure, but also insisting that he was “the sixth member of the band”( much like Billy Preston was once dubbed “the Fifth Beatle.”) In Lou’s case, this meant a monetary cut equivalent to the young men who were practicing their dance moves 16 hours a day, but also cuts as the producer, marketer, etc. Lou Pearlman was triple-dipping. Pearlman presented the boys with a lavish party house for them to “bond” in and paid for the recording studios and, also, for lavish meals in eateries like Lawries.

The climax of the film seems to come when all of the boys are invited to such a dinner and told to bring their parents. It is far into the group’s success; they are pulling down millions. An envelope appears on each boy’s plate. They can only dream of the riches they now will receive for their hard work, since the per diem allowance to date has only been $35 a day, plus their comped food and living expenses.

When the checks were for only $10,000, Lance Bass says he went home and tore his up.

Lawsuits ensued, with the boy bands finding out that the contract(s) they had signed were very very good for Lou Pearlman but very very bad for them.

Then Lou went a step further and ultimately defrauded investors in Trans Continental Airways of half a billion dollars, of which only $38 million was ever recovered. Over two hundred investors lost all of their money. Some are interviewed in the film. Most are elderly couples who could not afford to lose their only inheritance.

Lou’s sole childhood friend, Alan Gross, had been a model plane assembler as a hobby. Pearlman took one such plane, painted a logo on the side of the model, and held it up with his hand against a backdrop of mountains to make it appear that he had an airline, Trans Continental. He didn’t.

Ultimately, Lou Pearlman died in disgrace at age 62 on August 19, 2016.

H.Q. Trivia Goes “Live” in Austin at SXSW with Scott Rogowski—And You Are There!

The inimitable host of H.Q. trivia, Scott Rogowsky, hit SXSW in Austin, to conduct a first-ever “live” version of H.Q. on Sunday, March 11th at 90 Rainey Street in Austin Texas at 4:15 p.m.

An avid player, I made certain to get in to the small bar, where we were given tickets good for 2 free drinks. I nailed down a seat right in front of a large-screen TV to watch Bohannon (of Iowa) take his final shot against Nebraska which was blocked in overtime, resulting in a 93-91 loss.

Over 2,500 of us were playing, after we entered in a special “code” that was handed out on site. (You had to be there to win).

Scott Rogowski, Host of H.Q. Trivia, “live” in Austin at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Scott Rogowski, “live” from SXSW at 4:15 p.m. on March 10, 2019. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Scott Rogowski congratulates one of the 72 winners of the $10,000 prize on March 10, 2019 at SXSW in Austin. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Scott Rogowski, host, and one (of 72) winners of the first-ever “live” game of H.Q. in Austin, Texas at SXSW on March 10 at 4:15 p.m. CDT. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

The prize money was $10,000 for answering 12 questions in 10 seconds or less, per question. Having just attained Level 7 during the season that ended on February 28th, I was feeling pretty lucky—but, then, I’ve never won (although I won The Cash Show 7 times and then they folded and never paid me my $20!)

As always, the first three questions were the easy ones.  (Q1:  Where is SXSW held? A1: Austin, Texas. Q2:  What song did Phoebe on “Friends sing to her cat? A2:  Smelly Cat. Q3:  What did the soup Nazi on “Seinfeld” yell at his customers on occasion?  A3:  “No soup for you!”

Then, things got interesting. And difficult.

Had I known there would be a question about which chef had not been a judge on a cooking show, I would have paid more attention when trapped in the nail shop in Chicago where that is all they ever have on TV. Or, I would have phoned a friend. And who knows what the MS in MSNBC stands for?

The rest were right up my alley. Q6:  What famous actress does George have a date with on “Seinfeld?” A6:  Marisa Tomei, of course.

Q7:  Which Saturday Night Live performer has amassed the longest tenure?

A7:  Kennan Thompson

Q8:  Which one of “The Office” cast members was not in its first episode, Jan, Kevin or Andy Bernard?

A8:  Andy Bernard, of course. By this time, 566 were still in the game.

Q9:  In the mid 70s which one of these acts appeared on the first “Saturday Night Live”:  Paul Simon, Billy Preston or the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band? I KNEW this was Billy Preston, but only 183 others did. (Most said Paul Simon, who got 328 votes and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band got 56.)

That one was declared a “savage” question and I temporarily forgot to write down what was asked next, but I can tell you that the final question, with 943 competitors in attendance, was: “Which of these shows did not appear on NBC: Today, Tomorrow or Late Show?” I was positive it would be the Late Show, and it was—although my 2 much younger seat mates were not in agreement.

Seventy-two winners split the prize (one is pictured with Scott Rogowski, the host) and took home $138.89 apiece.

Carry on, Garth.

Texas Film Awards Held on March 7, 2019, with Stars in Attendance

Director Richard Linklater (“Dazed & Confused,” “Boyhood”) at the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards on March 7, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

The Austin Film Society was founded in 1985 by filmmaker Richard Linklater (“Dazed & Confused,” “Before Sunrise,” “Boyhood”). Its mission is to empower the community to make, watch and love creative media while shining the national spotlight on Texas filmmakers. The Texas Film Awards followed.

The Texas Hall of Fame awards were founded  by Evan Smith and Louis Black in 2001 and the award is given to those who have made a significant contribution to the advancement of the Texas film and creative media industry.

Now in its 19th year, the Texas Film Awards bring together legends of cinema and television and inducts industry icons into the Texas Film Hall of Fame. Proceeds from the evening benefit the artistic and educational programs of the Austin Film Society, a 501c3 nonprofit.

(L to R) David Herman, Gary Cole, Mike Judge and Richard Linklater at the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards on March 7, 2019. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

The Texas Film Awards brought out a star-studded crowd, which included many of the cast of “Office Space,” who reunited on the 20th anniversary of that 1999 cult classic. Present from “Office Space” were David Herman (Michael Bolton in the film), Gary Cole (Bill Lumbergh) and Writer/Director Mike Judge (“Beavis & Butthead”).

Also an honoree was John Lee Hancock, the writer director who guided “The Blind Side” film about a black football player nurtured, in the film, by Sandra Bullock’s character, a role for which Ms. Bullock won an Oscar as Best Actress in 2010.

(Below) Oscar-winner Kathy Bates.

Present to cheer on the honorees (including actress Brooklyn Decker, Writer/Directors John Lee Hancock and Mike Judge, Actors Gary Cole and David Herman) were Oscar-winner Kathy Bates (“Misery,” “American Horror Story”), Marc Maron (“Glow”), and Brooklyn Decker and June Diane Raphael, who play the daughters of                                                                                        Jane Fonda on the TV series “Grace &                                                                                    Frankie.”

Director Richard Linklater (“Boyhood,” “Dazed & Confused”) with his 14-year-old twin daughters at the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards on March 7, 2019. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Austin Film Society set for the dinner and awards ceremony on Thursday, March 7, 2019 in Austin, Texas.

Richard Linklater (referenced as “Rick” by the locals) was accompanied by his 14-year-old twin daughters and many volunteers and donors to the Austin Film Society were in attendance at a dinner party and an awards ceremony held at the AFS Cinema on I35 North of Austin, Texas.

 

 

 

What Does the Cast of “Office Space” Look Like 20 Years Later?

“Office Space” is that rare film that grew from a less-than-stellar opening to become one of the most loved (and rented) films in history. It has gained fans around the world, its popularity spreading via word-of-mouth, since the unfortunate “Big Bird” poster advertising the film was considered a major faux pas at the time. (It depicted the character Milton with yellow post-it notes all over his body.)

OFFICE SPACE SPECIAL 20th ANNIVERSARY SCREENING

Ron Livingston (Photo by Connie Wilson) at Office Space reunion.

On the occasion of “Office Space’s” twentieth anniversary and also in conjunction with inducting Director Mike Judge (“Beavis & Butthead” creator) into the Texas Hall of Film Fame, the main cast assembled in Austin, Texas, at the Paramount Theater on Wednesday, March 6th, to screen the film to a devoted audience and reminisce about the film’s history.

RON LIVINGSTON

Although the press was told not to ask questions, I couldn’t help but tell star Ron Livingston that my sister taught in Marion, Iowa, his home town, at Lin-Mar High School. He was very gracious and immediately introduced me to his father, pictured with him below.

[Ron Livingston and his father at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas on March 6, 2019 for the Office Space reunion. (Photo by Connie Wilson.)]

Livingston also had a number of appearances on episodes of “Sex and the City” and now appears as the pivotal character in the television drama “One Million Little Things.” My last time seeing him “live” was stumping for John Kerry in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 2004.

Ron Livingston (Photo by Connie Wilson). Shown at the Office Space 20th anniversary reunion showing in Austin, Texas on March 6, 2019.

One of the humorous stories involving Livingston’s involvement in “Office Space” was the phone call he got on the Friday before they were to start filming. The studio asked him if he could fast until Tuesday, when he would report to the set. As he said, “I think I jumped rope all day on Saturday and then quit.”

Producers wanted “name” stars like Matt Damon or Ben Affleck for “Office Space” but Judge did not agree. Since Ben Affleck demanded $5 million in salary and the entire budget was only $2 million, Judge got his way and knew, instantly, from his audition, that Livingston was perfect for the lead role of Peter.

GARY COLE

Gary Cole (Photo by Connie Wilson). Office Space’s

Ron Livingston (L) and Gary Cole chat at the Paramount Theater before a showing of “Office Space” on March 6, 2019. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Gary Cole’s Bill Lumbergh is a boss in “Office Space” whose constant request for TPS Reports and his smarmy mannerisms have been immortalized, Much of Lumbergh’s casual insouciance was Cole’s improvising.

Cole has a new series, “Fam,” as the lead, Freddy, and has had multiple appearances in “Veep” and “The Good Wife.” I met him first in Chicago at an Opening Night of the Chicago Film Festival, playingthe second lead in “The Last Rites of Joe May,”  with the late Dennis Farina in the lead role of a convict released from prison and trying to re-adjust to society’s changes. Farina was rather dismissive of all print and digital press people and streaked past us, headed for the TV cameras, but Gary Cole was very kind and gentlemanly and chatted with all of us. He seemed to enjoy chatting with Ron Livingston this night.

 

David Herman of “Office Space.” (Photo by Connie Wilson). 

DAVID HERMAN

David Herman played the unfortunately named Michael Bolton. Years later, the real Michael Bolton commented on the film in a bemused fashion, and, as one of the cast members explained his choice for the same-named singer in the film, it was felt that, at the time Michael Bolton was “taking himself very seriously.” He has lightened up in subsequent years. [Bolton has actually commented on the film in a positive way in interviews.]

David Herman was someone that Director/Writer Mike Judge wanted for his role from the beginning.  Herman was one of the 8 original cast members of Fox’s late night MadTV. He still does voice-over work for “King of the Hill” and other films and has worked with Judge since 1999.  He was the loosest of the bunch and, also, the most changed in appearance.

MIA

Missing this night were Jennifer Aniston (Joanna) and Stephen Root (Milton), the stapler guy.

Although Judge was very specific that he wanted a red stapler for Milton’s scenes, at the time Swingline did not make a red stapler, so several staplers were painted red for the scenes. Now, if you begin a career with the stapler company, a new employee is given a red stapler—  a result of the popularity of “Office Space.”

AJAY NAIDU

Ajay Naidu of “Office Space.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Ajay Naidu’s impromptu break-dance move when the trio is trashing the hated copy machine in a field is now the stuff of legend. If you watch closely, you will see that Ajay almost got hurt in the “Office Space” scene, when he broke free and tried to run back to stomp on the copy machine some more. (Livingston and Herman, fortunately, had Ajay’s arms and pulled him from the wreckage). Thirteen copy machines were taken apart and loosely glued back together, so that the trashing scene in “Office Space” would go smoothly.

Filmed in Austin, one critical event that took place during filming was the (temporary) loss of Jennifer Anniston’s dog. She was, at the time, dating Brad Pitt, and he flew in to visit her about the time the dog went slipped away and went missing. Radio stations all over town were asking people to try to find the dog and the dog was, indeed, found, by a hotel concierge, who, many years later, introduced himself to Mike Judge saying, “You won’t remember me, but I’m the guy who found Jennifer Anniston’s dog.”

STEPHEN ROOT

Stephen Root (IMDB photo).

Stephen Root’s myopically thick glasses did not fail to make an impression on anyone who saw the film. Actually, his eyes were not bad and the glasses were so thick that he could barely see. He had to wear contact lenses to correct the distortion of the coke bottle thick lenses. Root has gone on to become “the man in the High Castle” in Amazon’s series as well as many other character actor parts, including one in Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.”

He will always be Milton, the stapler guy from “Office Space”, to most of us.

 

Page 2 of 41

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén