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: Reviews Page 1 of 32

“Yesterday” Offers 17 Beatles Songs & Ed Sheeran

The second “sleeper” film of the summer, after “Late Night,” is “Yesterday,” an upbeat story of love and the Beatles.

Helmed by Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “Shallow Grave,” “Trainspotting”) from a script by Richard Curtis (“Notting Hill,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Love Actually”) “Yesterday” has an improbable plot that presents as fact the idea that everyone in the world has forgotten about the Beatles, except for Jack Malik (Himesh Patel of the BBC’s “Eastenders”).

Don’t get hung up on why the knowledge of the Beatles and their song catalogue has disappeared. It’s not just their music, as Oasis (the band) has disappeared, as well, along with Coca Cola, Harry Potter and cigarettes. It all seems to have happened during a 12-second world-wide blackout, during which our hero is on his bicycle and gets hit by a bus that cannot see him because its headlights have gone dark.

Starring alongside new-comer Himesh Patel as Jack is Lily James as Ellie, his first manager and long-time admirer. Lily is recognizable from “Baby Driver” and her appearance in “Mama Mia.” She has just the right combination of fresh-faced admiration and loyalty to make her the perfect grade school teacher (which she is) and, eventually—although he is slow to recognize this fact—the girl of Jack’s dreams.

Along the way we are treated to a small appearance by Ed Sheeran as himself, a part he got after Chris Martin of “Cold Play” turned it down. Sheeran hears Jack sing a Beatles song on television and pops around to his Suffolk home to give him a shot at stardom (Sheeran really is from Suffolk). The scene with Jack’s father in the kitchen is pure Curtis and very realistic, as are Jack’s parents’ reactions throughout his climb from unknown to world-famous singer of Beatles songs.

As the press kit for the film put it, “Ultimately, this film is a great example of the power of song…To reconnect with the power of music is a fantastic treat.” One of the amusing points made by the film is the difficulty of remembering all the lyrics to a favorite song. In this film, that song is “Eleanor Rigby.” It proves to be one of the most difficult to re-construct from memory, after all Beatles tunes have disappeared from the globe.

Jack has been struggling to make his name as a singer/songwriter for years, but his own composition, “Summer Song,” just isn’t up to Beatles standards. As the villainess of the piece (Kate McKinnon of “Saturday Night Live”) put it, “I hated it, but I wasn’t interested enough in it to listen to it again to figure out why.”

Now that Jack has pinned down his failure to thrive to his songs, but not his singing, armed with the Biggest Hits of the Sixties and beyond, he completely blows the competition out of the water. There is even an impromptu song-writing competition with Sheeran where Jack’s contribution of “The Long and Winding Road” is judged the winner. He seems to compose it in 10 or 15 minutes. (An interesting side note: the song that Sheeran wanted to contribute at that point was initially received with great enthusiasm—until his record company stepped in and said they needed it for his next album, at which point Sheeran composed another original work that runs at film’s end.)

Another role in the film is that of Jack’s roadie, Nick (Harry Michell). As the plot put it, “Nick is famously a world-class moron.” In real life, Michell was initially considered for the lead role of Jack because of his musical ability. When he auditioned he was ill and barely able to sing, but he was good enough that the part of Nick—comic relief—was his.

In part, the film is a hymn to the power of marketing. The scene where Jack is meeting in a board room with the marketing team that will decide how to present “his” songs to the world featured a dynamite monologue from the actor playing the lead marketer, who is, in reality, a well-known comedian. LaMorne Morris, the marketing guru, knocked it out of the park in shooting down such esoteric titles as “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in favor of “One Man Only.” The room used was loaned to Boyle for one day’s shoot because of his affiliation with WME and Cooper Wave Louise in L.A. and the W Hotel also makes an appearance. The rooftop scene of Jack performing at the Pier Hotel (a real Suffolk hotel) conjures up images of the real Beatles performing “Get Back” and “Don’t Let Me Down” on the roof of Apple Records.

Patel does all his own singing and glowing references to his audition, when he sang “Back in the U.S.S.R.” were made, with the comment that “Danny’s approach is all about the performance; that’s what we were there to catch.” In other words, no lip-syncing.

One small criticism. The film is a bit over-long. As it goes on past 2 hours we meet John Lennon. I wondered if removing the John Lennon meet might have brought the film in at 120 minutes or less, because that would have improved it, and the meeting with the doppelganger for John is not really that central to the plot until they give him this line: “Tell the girl that you love that you love her and tell the truth to everyone whenever you can.”

In other words, not a good movie choice for Donald J. Trump.

Rolling Stones Rock Soldier Field on Friday, June 21st, 2019

The Rolling Stones on June 21st, 2019 at Soldier Field.

 

The Rolling Stones played for the 8th time at Soldier Field on Friday night, June 21st, beginning at 7:30 p.m. with the lead-in act, St. Paul and the Broken Bones from Alabama.

Before arriving at the venue, we were told not to bring large purses. Specific dimensions were sent and a suggestion was made that we use quart-sized plastic bags. All metal objects had to be placed in trays as we went through metal detectors up front. I was able to get my plastic bag contents down to cash, one credit card, my cell phone, my small camera,

We were waaay up in the stadium and these were taken with a Canon PowerShot with a 40 zoom.

and opera glasses (that turned out to be useless). Tickets in the nosebleed section were $69.50 and we climbed a long time. (I told my husband, “I’ll just keep climbing until I pass out.”)

The booths selling shirts and the like ($45 for a regular tee shirt; $85 for a hooded sweatshirt) were set up in a particularly problematic way. You  could barely walk through to get to your section because of the presence of several tables selling merchandise.

Mick Jagger.

Finally, we climbed to the 18th row in the highest section. The night was cool and rain threatened, but the four things that amazed me most about the concert this night were as follows: (1) Mick Jagger definitely is in amazing shape for someone his age (75, born July 26, 1943) (2) Jagger is back from the heart surgery that had originally postponed this concert date, but was re-programmed for the original date shortly after he had stents placed in his heart (3) my new small camera (Canon Powershot) with a 40 zoom did a pretty fair job of getting pictures from this far away and (4) how far other concert-

Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood.

goers had come to hear the Rolling Stones. We heard Germany, England, New York, Cleveland, Minneapolis and St. Louis and everyone around us was from out-of-town. In fact, following the concert, we had to provide directions to a gentleman who was to meet his friends at Scout bar on Wabash and Michigan and had little idea how to get back there.

Mick shared that the Stones had played Soldier Field 8 times and Chicago 38 times over the years since 1964. Only 2 of the songs were from later than 1981. Which, as the Chicago Tribune noted, is exactly what the vast majority of fans paid to see.

Other musicians assisting the band included keyboardist Charlie Leavell and Chicago born bassist Darryl Jones ably backing the Stones (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood).

The Rolling Stones, June 21, 2019.

Since 1998, the stones have produced only 2 studio albums, yet they play their hits differently each night. I can vouch for this, having seen them for the first time in 1982 in Cedar Falls, Iowa, at Northern Iowa University and, after that, during the Steel Wheels tour, the Bridges to Babylon tour (2x), the VooDoo Lounge tour, the Tattoo You tour, twice inside the United Center (one of them the No Security tour) and at the Indianapolis Speedway in 2015, as well as tonight’s No Filter tour. Mick had never danced more and I had never seen Charlie Watts AND Keith Richards smile more onstage.

Mick Jagger.

To me, tracking the band in person for 37 years, Keith Richards looked the most changed. Something about the expanse of forehead looked very different. The joke about Keith is that he has looked like he is at death’s door for at least 40 years. He really did look different to me, tonight, and his comment when he spoke was, “I’m happy to be anywhere.”

Keith (Richards) and Mick Jagger onstage.

The Stones have weathered sixties drug busts, seventies heroin addictions, the Jagger/Richards split during the eighties, Keith’s brain surgery after he fell out of a tree in 2006 and, now, Mick’s heart surgery (stents) in March. They sound as good as ever, and Mick danced more, if possible, than I’ve ever seen him, in a “Look! I’m still standing!” move. It was a great show! Even the weather cooperated. The downside was that it took us a full hour to walk across the street from the stadium.

Their play list this night was as follows:

1) Street Fighting Man

2) Let’s Spend the Night Together

3)  Tumbling Dice

4)  Sad Sad Sad

“Brown Sugar,” Mick Jagger.

5)  You Got Me Rocking

6)  You Can’t Always Get What You Want

7)  Angie

8)  Dead Flowers

9)  Sympathy for the Devil

Charlie Watts.

10)  Honky Tonk Woman

11)  You Got the Silver

12)  Before They Make Me Run

13)  Miss You

14)  Paint it Black

15)  Midnight Rambler

Mick Jagger.

16)  Start Me Up

17)  Jumpin’ Jack Flash

18)  Brown Sugar

Encores

19)  Gimme Shelter

Ronnie Wood.

20)  I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Mick, center stage.

Keith Richards

Mick, far left.

 

The Dead Don’t Die: Observations from the Theater

An Irish illustrator, John Rooney, sent me his work on “The Films of Bill Murray.” Since I just took myself to see “The Dead Don’t Die” in Chicago at the AMC Theater, I told him I’d run his artwork with a few observations about the film. It’s not really a “review,” but simply some observations after my viewing of same.

The Dead Don’t Die film was exactly what I had anticipated: an oddball display of Bill Murray at his hipster best, playing a small town Sheriff with a deputy, played by Adam Driver of “Star Wars” and “BlackKlansman.” Zombie fare has been hot for a while now and this is a bit like “The Walking Dead” in that the principal characters (Murray, Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton) are told to “aim for the head.” Carol Kane also has a brief bit as a corpse who “changes” while in police custody.

Steve Buscemi plays a racist who is not mourned when he bites the dust (or, more accurately, when the zombies bite him). He is featured at a local diner drinking coffee while wearing a hat that resembles the Trump red hat with the words “Make America White Again.” Seated next to him is Danny Glover, who, at almost 73 years of age, seems to be taking just any old role these days. I saw him in a movie about the Ebola virus at the Chicago International Film Festival of 2017. It was pretty bad. Here, he only has a few lines, but the one that Buscemi speaks to him about the coffee is something along the lines of, “That’s too black for me,” which he immediately doubles back on, saying, “I was talking about the coffee.”

At one point, when Murray and Driver are trapped in their car in a cemetery and Adam Driver keeps saying, “This will not end well,” Murray freaks out and tells him to stop saying that. Murray then demands to know WHY Driver keeps repeating the line, and Driver says, “I read the script.” Murray has a momentary outburst of outrage over the fact that Writer/Director Jim Jarmusch (renowned for his “quirky” films) didn’t share the entire script with him. It’s that kind of “inside joke” film.

Tilda Swinton plays a very strange mortician. Her finale in the film is the kind that cannot be predicted, because it is fairly illogical. But, then, this is a Jim Jarmusch film. It really plays like a  long commercial for the song of the same name, which is pretty good, but an entire film about the song? Really?

The horrible ending to the film, for me, was when I was charged $39 to park for 2 hours in the AMC parking lot under the theater. I was supposed to have had my ticket validated, at which point my charge would have been a mere $17. I spent 4 days trying to reach Tiara, who oversees 6 different parking lots, they told me. I did finally reach her, only to be told that she could not put the $22 differential back on my charge card. (Sigh)

 

My Paul McCartney Concert Experiences To Date

Sir Paul McCartney onstage at the Taxslayer Center in Moline (IL) on Tuesday, June 11, 2019.

My first “live” Paul McCartney concert experience was in 1965 at the San Francisco Cow Palace when he played and sang with a little group called the Beatles. My boyfriend of the time and I had cut class  at Berkeley and drove up on his purple Czechoslovokian motorcyle. We had no tickets. We got there and were able to purchase 2 seats on the end of the 7th row on the floor for $7 apiece. That concert was a classic and deserves its own column, so, moving on.

My second “live” Paul McCartney concert experience was when he was singing with “Wings” and played in Ames at the Hilton Colisseum. By the luck of the draw, my name was drawn first for tickets in the state of Iowa in a drawing that took place outside the Younkers entrance at Duck Creek Mall. Paula Sands (KWQC anchor) came over to me and asked me to purchase 4 tickets (there was an 8-ticket limit) and sell 4 to she and husband, David Sands,which I did. It was a great concert and we were very close to the front.

My third “live” Paul McCartney concert experience was at Wrigley Field a few years ago with my daughter. We were in the upper bowl, but the seats were tiered and were good. I knew every song he played and the fireworks at the end were great. The concert was well worth the money. Interestingly enough, all of the anecdotal stuff he mentioned in concert in Moline he had (also) mentioned in Chicago. He also had exactly the same band with him on Tuesday as he had at Wrigley Field.

Pictures of the Beatles and of Paul in younger days were projected in the background throughout the concert.

My most recent “live” Paul McCartney experience was at the TaxSlayer Center (previously the Mark of the Quad Cities) ,on Tuesday night. I’ve seen so many glowing accounts of the concert—most of which I agree with—that I thought I’d throw in “another country heard from.” I sat down when I reached home and wrote this account of Tuesday night’s concert—where I knew 75% of the songs, as opposed to 100% at the others—to my son and daughter, to let them know how the concert went. So far, no comment from them. [Perhaps they, too, have had to put up with a Bobblehead who just won’t quit and semi-ruins their concert experience.]

I got in on a pre-sale for concert tickets, so our tickets in Section 213, row 11, seats 3 and 4, cost us $213 apiece. While this is not “cheap,” our upper tier seats were definitely not the ones that people were paying thousands of dollars to secure. We climbed 45 stairs to reach the 11th row in the upper bowl. As luck would have it, the 2 seats next to us remained empty and we moved over into seats 2 and 3, leaving a seat on each end (1 and 4), which made us feel less like sardines.

Getting into the venue was not that difficult. We were “wanded” and purses were checked, but it did not take that long and it was not that onerous.

The first sign of trouble came with the realization that a First Class Bobblehead was going to sit directly in front of me for the entire concert. A bobblehead, as you all probably know, is someone who never sits down, screams loudly all the time, is constantly waving fists and arms in the air, and generally seems to have not received enough attention from his or her parental unit as an infant. The one in front of me resembled a small creature that might live on the back of a rhinoceros, to make an animal allusion, because of the size differential between him and the man on the end of the aisle. I say this because the gentleman on the end of the row in front of us (Row 10) was really, really large. He had a very hard time making it up to his seat. I say this with empathy, as I have a bad left knee and am no Birdwoman, myself. He was a red-head and fair and overweight and the SHAKING of his entire body was really concerning, to me. I am not joking about this; he was in distress.

This was my view of the Paul McCartney Concert on June 11th , for 3 hours.

I was very concerned that the man on the end of Row 10 was going to have a heart attack, as he was beet red, sweating profusely and shaking. He immediately began blotting his face with a napkin and guzzling water from a bottle someone in the row below handed up to him, but he was really distressed.  I honestly thought we might need to administer CPR. I looked around for someone to assist us, who might be in an official capacity, but there was no one

The Bobblehead, wearing glasses and his baseball cap backwards  seemed over-caffeinated, went into high gear immediately and never once let up. He seldom sat down and emitted ear-shattering hoots and hollers throughout, singing along loudly to the point that it was hard to hear Sir Paul. My husband cautioned, “Just ignore him” and, as God is my witness, I did. That is why most of my pictures have his arm or hand in them. He did leave once, giving me a clear view for about 10 minutes.

Mid-concert a blonde girl, clutching a beer bottle, came to our row and leaned over and began hugging and kissing Mr. Bobblehead. To do this, she occupied the empty aisle seat, which she soon announced, very belligerently, she intended to sit in for the entire concert. I asked her, “Don’t you have a seat and a ticket for that seat somewhere?”

She admitted that she had a seat “way over there,” (throwing her arms around in a random fashion.) As politely as I could, I suggested that, if she had a ticket for a seat, she should probably occupy her own seat. She didn’t seem to like that logic, but it was pretty obvious that if she were to move into the row we were in, my husband and I would be subjected to even more extreme aggravation that would be IN OUR ROW. We already were having difficulty seeing over Mr. Bobblehead’s appendages, at times, and hearing the concert, at times (Mr. Bobblehead liked to sing along, loudly). With this blonde person in our row it would be a double whammy. She was not very smart about how she threw out this idea, declaring it as a “fait accomplis” without any attempt at asking nicely or explaining why allowing her to shove her way into our row would be a “good” thing for all of us. She did not ask if she would be an acceptable addition to our row or if we would mind. She simply loudly announced that she was going to move into our row and our seats, while sloppily guzzling something from a pink can. She was also very loud.

The blonde clutching the beer bottle left—for a while—but, of course, decided to come back later and pretty much ruin the concert during the Grand Finale number (“Live and Let Die”), which was song number 32 (of 36). At that point, she was truly drunk. When I objected to her inserting herself into a row she did not belong in and SCREAMING as loudly as possible in my left ear, she called me every name in the book, gave me the finger, and then hit me. On the nose. I suggested that she might want to “Go away” or I’d have to find a cop who might escort her somewhere, and that I would press charges if I had to miss the rest of the concert to find an officer of the law.

The original photo had Paul nestling his new-born child within his sheepskin jacket. I wonder if the child was Stella McCartney? Did Annie Leibowitz take the photo? A wonderful picture.

This was RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF the biggest number of the night (“Live and Let Die”) when various flash pots were detonating down below. I missed most of it because a drunk blonde person assaulted and insulted me. Her friend (Mr. Bobblehead) now climbed over the BACK of his seat to get into our row. This put him in between Blonde Drunk Girl and me. If you’re keeping score, there are 2 seats there, and now we have 3 people occupying them. I’m thinking, “This can’t be good!”, but I’m also glad that there is someone between the young girl who had just assaulted me and her.

I believe I said, more than once, “Keep her away from me.” Since she had already hit me once, I didn’t think a repeat performance would be any more enjoyable.  Since I was trying to film the Grand Finale number, I may even have some film footage of this intrusion into our personal space. It’s pretty erratic, but if I can find it, I will post it later.

It was pretty clear that there were not going to be any security officers rushing to my aid. My husband was sitting closer to the stage (seat 4), looking to his right, and  was engrossed in the pyrotechnics going off down below, so he did not notice all of this until it was almost over. When he did, he asked the duo to calm down (both were drunk) and stop.

Mr. Bobblehead, perhaps realizing that his drunk friend (wife? girlfriend?) had gone too far, did take her “away from me” shortly after she assaulted and insulted me. I was able to enjoy songs #32 through #37 in peace. Too bad that the first 31 were ruined by this pair. Good thing that my nose is Irish and small and pug-nosed, as a Grecian honker might have been broken by the blow.

So, when I’m asked (by my husband), “Which concert did you enjoy the most?” I can’t say it was the one where 2 young rude people did their best to ruin it for me (and all those around me). I also enjoyed the Wrigley recent concert more because he played nearly all songs that the audience knew well. I’d have to rate them in order chronologically and say that this was the fourth concert and #4, through no fault of Sir Paul’s.

There were three factors for my rating, beyond the inexcusable  rude behavior of two young drunk concert-goers:

1) Paul played more recognizable songs at the other 3 concerts

(2) My tickets at the Cow Palace for the Beatles and at the Hilton Colisseum for Wings were better (Wrigley was a draw) and cheaper.

(3) Nobody wants to have to put up with rude behavior from two strangers that they in no way have instigated. And I DID pay $426 for these tickets, so…. (In the age of Trump, don’t expect courtesy may be the name of that tune).

Bill Duke: An Autobiography Worth Reading

Bill Duke: My 40 Year Career On Screen and Behind the Camera

Bill Duke: My 40-year Career On Screen and Behind the Camera

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, 193 pages, plus index and photographs (15 pages)

Amazon: Print – $16.47. E-book: $13.99.

 

Bill Duke, with his 62 directorial credits, 17 as a producer, and 4 as a writer, is a face on the screen that movie-goers have recognized since the seventies. It was 1976, in fact, when his breakthrough role as Duane/Abdullah in “Car Wash,” paired with such luminaries as Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Otis Day, Antonio Fargas and the Pointer Sisters gave him his first big break in the 40-year career he writes about in “Bill Duke: My 40-year Career Onscreen and Behind the Camera.”

For me, one of his most memorable roles was as Leon, the gay pimp in “American Gigolo.” His movements were sinuous and catlike; he was an unforgettable character in this story of lust and greed, which focused on Gere and his romance of Lauren Hutton as a neglected politician’s wife and a murder suspect.  Paul Schrader (Oscar-nominated this past year for his script for “First Reformed,” which Schrader directed) was the director. The music by Giorgio Moroder imprints the film on my mind.

Duke admits, “I found it to be one of the high points of my acting career with one of the leading roles of the film. It was outside of my comfort zone, but it was a growing experience. I loved the character I played, and I loved working with Richard Gere.”

Duke goes on to say that “Richard Gere was meticulous with every movement of his character, like the movement of his eyes, the face, the lips, the hands, and the legs.” I would add that this attention to detail and movement goes double for Bill Duke in his roles. Leon was, indeed, a high point of Bill Duke’s acting career, and one I remember well.

I would also say that Duke’s praise of his fellow actors and directors and co-stars is universal throughout the book. “Never is heard a discouraging word.” If you are looking for a “tell-all” book from a Hollywood insider that will open the floodgates on unsavory doings, this isn’t it. Bill does allude to a low period in his own life when he gave in to the temptation of drugs, but the story of the seamier side of life in Hollywood is not this book’s mission.

BACKGROUND

When I was teaching junior high school students in a small town in Illinois, I was happy to find that the local library had a series of 16 millimeter After School Specials.  I could rent these and show them to my students. I selected those where Bill Duke and Kevin Hooks were involved because they would be quality productions with good messages and the length was perfect to show to a class on a Friday afternoon late in the year. I was then (and am now) a film critic. I pay attention to who is in a film, and also to who is directing, writing and producing a film.

Duke has appeared in too many television series to list them all, including stints on those After School Specials as well as on “Cold Case” (2008), “Lost” (2006), “Battlestar Galactica” (2006), “Starsky & Hutch” (1978), “Kojack” (1976), “Falcon Crest, “Fame,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Knott’s Landing,” “Dallas,” and “New York Undercover.” He is still active on “Black Lightning.”

Bill Duke’s feature credits include the two films mentioned (“Car Wash,” “American Gigolo”), which really launched him, as well as “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit,” “Get Rich or Die Trying,” “Deep Cover,” “Hoodlum,” “Predator,” “Menace II Society” and “Not Easily Broken,” to name just a few. He has won NAACP Image Awards and been a nominee for a 1991 Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or with “A Rage in Harlem.” Sundance Film Festival awarded “The Killing Floor” (1984) a Special Jury Prize and a Grand Jury Prize.  More recently, the Northeast Film Festival recognized “American Satan” with a Best Ensemble Prize and, in 2018-2019, Bill Duke can be seen as Agent Percy Odell in the television series “Black Lightning.”

Reading about how this 77-year-old African American actor/director/producer/writer rose from humble origins in Poughkeepsie, New York and how he continues to open the door for so many other talented black entertainers was interesting, educational and amusing. He seems to write from the heart with sincerity, although there are a few areas that he treats “once over lightly,” including his own bouts with drug addiction and his personal life.

When Duke talks about Leon, his desire to excel shines through. “Playing that role gave me an opportunity to show other sides of my acting ability.  I was seen by many casting directors as the big, tall, angry black man.  I wanted to show that I could be more than that.  The character of Leon was a soft-spoken brilliant sociopathic businessman, and I wanted the opportunity to let casting directors know that I had more range.”

Duke shares the trials and tribulations of being a television series regular. (“A television series is the hardest work for an actor on the face of this Earth.”) He thanks all those who have helped him along the way and does not speak ill of anyone, but does tell readers that, after appearing on a television series called “Palmerstown,” he could not find work as an actor for 2 years.

He explains, “In those days, they had something called a TV Q score, which was a way to measure how familiar audiences were with an actor, TV show, and so forth.  If you were on a television show that garnered a lot of publicity, you could be considered ‘overexposed,’ which could make it difficult to get hired for another television show or feature because your Q score went down.” He adds that the experience made him depressed and angry and convinced him that he had “better learn how to do more than just act.”

Thus began a career move towards producing, writing and directing and this quote:  “Once I figured Hollywood might typecast me as the police officer, I turned to directing.  That way, I could wait until an interesting project came along.” Duke has also moved into the job of Chairperson of the Department of Radio, Television and Film at Howard University, as of 2000.

[*As an aside, I once interviewed the man responsible for the Q Score system. He had headquarters at that time in Marion, Iowa. At that point in time, he was tasked with making a television star spokesperson out of top model Cheryl Tiegs, something that never really worked. The man had worked for Gallup and took his knowledge of polling into the world of television and movies with the much-vaunted “Q Score” that Bill Duke mentions as having given him two years of idleness, sadness and depression. The Q Score Big Boss didn’t like what I had to say about the Q Score, so the article never ran.  I was paid a “kill fee” after I interviewed him in his Marion, Iowa, offices.]

Duke scored a collaborative job with Joel Silver on “Commando,” which introduced him to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mark Lester (the director) and led, later, to his role as Mac in 1987’s “Predator.”’

PREDATOR STORY

One of the best stories in the book involves “Predator” and the unknown and inexperienced stuntman/actor hired to play the title creature. The actor was dressed in heavy black felt for the filming in the jungles near Puerto Vallarta. The heat and humidity were intolerable, causing the stuntman to pass out at least two times early on.

The director strode over and said, “If you pass out again, I’m going to have to fire you.” The original Predator creature (which did not appear in the film), was a smaller, more nimble creature that flew through jungle trees with speed and flexibility and fully packed laser guns. That Predator was also invisible and could strike his prey at any time. The bodysuit, including placement over the head and face, was originally used to insert computer-generated special effects over the actor’s body in post production. Unfortunately for the actor within the suit, he did pass out again.

At that moment, Joel Silver marched over to him and, as the actor awoke, suffering from exhaustion and dehydration, Silver said, “You’re fired.” The acrobatic, multitalented martial artist flying through the trees in a felt suit in one of his first jobs in America was Jean-Claude Van Damme.

ENCOURAGEMENT

One of the best things about the book is its “never say die” encouragement of young actors, in general, and African American actors in particular. While giving props to all of the heavyweights who have gone before (Sidney Poitier, Spike Lee, etc.), Bill Duke, himself, has proven to be a shining example of an actor who has paved the way for others. His work in Hollywood earned him an appointment to the Board of the California State Film Commission, as well as an appointment to the National Endowment of Humanities under President Bill Clinton. The Directors’ Guild of America honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Tribute. The reader may get the feeling that the author sometimes feels he has not received his fair share of recognition, and his Bill Duke Media corporation may be an attempt to rectify that by producing a great deal more quality film output.

As an unconventional actor—-not known for good looks, but renowned for good performances—Duke has had a career that has had many highs and lows. He shares that, “It’s all about relationships in the industry.” That remark could probably be expanded to any line of work. It may be intensified in Hollywood, but it seems true of many corporations, businesses and industries.

Quote: “Nobody else in this world is like you.  There may be similarities, but nobody is just like you.  You have value, and if nobody has validated that for you, it is time for you to validate yourself.  Let your soul and your spirit out in your writing.  Tell the truth of your experience in life through your writing.  Writing forces you to love yourself and let out your truth.  It takes courage, but the payoff is something that you cannot spend.” (p. 190)

“I wish I could say that writing this book was inspired by me and my courage, but the truth is that it was not.  For many years, people told me that I should tell my story because of all that I had gone through in Hollywood, but I never believed that I had anything important to say.  I thought a lot of people had gone through what I had gone through.  I didn’t think there was anything special about bill Duke in Hollywood. However, when I reached my seventies, I wanted to leave something for those who come after me to benefit from.” (p. 190)

POETRY

Duke shares his poetry with us throughout the book. After reading of his humble origins in Poughkeepsie, New York, and the events that shaped him over the years, including a history of family violence, his poetry reveals a deep, sensitive soul, who arranges the poems on the page in vertical fashion. Lines like: “Nobody really cares. Nobody seems to really care about the other’s pain. For we must laugh and dance and sing and not remind us of anything that resembles fears that we’ve secretly tried to cover by pretending to be devoted lovers of everything except ourselves. “

What came through, for me, was that Bill Duke, at least early on, suffered from self-loathing. Was it his appearance? Was it because of remarks made to him when he was young? Was it because of his father and mother’s sometimes violent marriage? The source is difficult to pin down, as it often is in life.

WOMEN

Related image

Bill Duke during 1987’s “Predator” filming

It sounds as though Bill Duke doesn’t trust women. The reason for this is hinted at: a girl he had a crush on in college led him to believe that she’d spend time with him if he traveled to her school. He did (travel to her school). She didn’t (spend time with him). That seems to be one of the reasons why he stopped trusting ALL women. He had some sexual mistreatment by an early babysitter that also may have affected his views.

He frankly admits (p. 27): “I thought of sex as a game of pleasure from that day on, and maybe the reason I’ve hurt so many women in my life was because I always focused on the act, not the person.  I liked having sex with different women, but I never went beyond that and made emotional connections.  I simply enjoyed the physical act.  Maybe it’s because of the way I learned about sex; I’m not sure.”

On page 171, Duke adds, “One of the many reasons I never got married was that I always thought I was ugly, and I didn’t want to have children that looked like me.” He goes on to say, “After my first love betrayed me, I used that as an excuse to become a scoundrel when it came to women.”

At least this sensitive, introspective man realizes it is an excuse and admits he has, at times, been a “scoundrel” when it comes to women.

TRUST

While Bill Duke trusts himself (“Trusting what is inside you is key”, p. 189) he doesn’t seem to trust many other people. He talks of loneliness this way (p. 178): “You have a couple of friends who are with you throughout your life.  Some stay and some go, but when you’re not successful, not making money, and your career is not going well in our industry, there aren’t many people who flock to you.  That shouldn’t be a shock, because they are hustling and trying to do what they have to do.  If you can’t do anything for them, you are of no use to them.”

The book is good. The stories and experiences are fascinating and interesting. I always liked any film Bill Duke was associated with and that has proven to be prescient. If you’re interested in the film industry in any capacity as a career, this is a good read.

(Connie Corcoran Wilson, www.TheMovieBlog.com, www.ConnieCWilson.com)

The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville & Low Cut Connie, Redux

Earlier in the festivities I did a review of a wonderful new documentary called “The Bluebird,” which is a visit to the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee, which is (apparently) the subject of a television show starring Connie Britton. (I’ve never watched it).

I attended the Bluebird documentary, however, taking many pictures of the director and others on the stage of the Paramount in Austin, Texas, at SXSW on Thursday, March 14th at 6:30 p.m. (It showed again at the Lamar at 11:00 p.m. on Friday, March 15th).

Later on, I received a phone text message informing me that the daughter might be singing back-up for one of her singer/songwriter friends who was going to be appearing onstage at the Bluebird Cafe on their Monday songwriters’ night (featured heavily in the documentary). Lest you think this is unimportant, it launched the careers of both Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift and, although the daughter wasn’t certain she would have a role, I look forward to her ringside seat report of her friend’s performance.

I asked the daughter, who went to school in Nashville and lives there now, to send me a picture of the exterior, but when I went to press, somehow that picture (and a few others she sent) had disappeared, not to be found.

I’m still trying to figure out how to get a small bit of film sent me by the son of Low Cut Connie performing at Lucy’s Fried Chicken in Nashville on Saturday, March 16h, to post on my blog. The file sent me came through as IMG-5643.MOV (5.2 MB) but how does one get THAT to post? In place of it, I shall post the link of Adam Weiner (who is “Low Cut Connie”) appearing on Seth Meyer’s late night show and the 2 pictures of the Bluebird that I now have located.

I am posting the Low Cut Connie link because he and his band will be performing at The Rust Belt in East Moline (IL) on April 18th. I’ve been told that the Rust Belt is somewhere on 7th Street, but look it up and check  it out. (I’ll be in Mexico). I’m hoping that www.QuadCities.com will run a notification when it is closer.

I missed Low Cut Connie when he hit the Raccoon Motel in Davenport, but Craig wanted to be present here in Austin for his birthday celebration with son Scott and daughter Stacey at Lucy’s Fried Chicken. They got to hang with the band afterwards, as one of the guitarists was someone known to the Nashville daughter.

The van at Camp Sandy.

I was covering “Pet Semetary” with stars Jason Clarke, et. al., (that piece has also run previously), so I missed the hilarity (and the chicken) and the music, but I’m doing my best to drum up a record crowd for you, Low Cut Connie (i.e, Adam Weiner) if only because my name IS Connie. The picture to the left represents the van that Low Cut Connie was supposed to play in at Camp Sandy. INSIDE the van. You sit outside and watch the performances on the screens you see mounted on the exterior of the van.

I’m not thinking this would be optimal for an act that is Jerry Lee Lewis Redux times 100. However, I did drive out to catch him there (since I couldn’t be present at Lucy’s Fried Chicken on Saturday, March 16th). There were problems at Camp Sandy, but the Turtle Wax people have reached out and are sending me vats of Turtle Wax to East Moline. Thanks, Eden Zaslow of Zenogroup! That was not necessary. 

Low Cut Connie WAS present on the 16th and, if I can figure out how to post the 5.2MB piece of film sent me by my son, you will be able to see it here some time in the future.

“Us” Film Rakes in $70.3 Million in Ticket Sales

Jordan Peele’s film “Us,” his follow-up to the popular “Get Out,” which premiered at SXSW on March 8th, has opened well above forecasts, raking in a 94% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes and marking it as the largest debut for an original horror movie and one of the highest openings for a live-action original film since “Avatar 10 years ago.

The only original horror films that challenged the debut were the “It” remake and last year’s “Halloween.” “A Quiet Place” did unexpectedly well, but didn’t have the “name” recognition that Director Jordan Peele is now commanding to boost its opening.

The distribution chief for Universal Pictures put out this statement:  “Peele has really crafted an extraordinary story that I think once again is going to capture the cultural zeitgeist. He is recognized as just an amazing talent.  He crafts films that make you think, that are extraordinarily well-acted, well-written and are amazingly entertaining.”

More good news: “Us” took over the top spot at the box office from “Captain Marvel.” In today’s franchise-driven spandex movie world, it is encouraging to realize that a thoughtful, original movie can still compete and dethrone those from the comic books wearing the costumes.

Following the top two films were “Wonder Park” and “Five Feet Apart,” which each made about $9 million in their second week of release. “Us,” by ontrast, doubled (and then some) the 2017 Oscar-winning “Get Out” debut, which grossed $235.4 million on a budget of $4.5 million. Since “Us” cost only $20 million to make, it’s already a huge hit for Universal Pictures.

Audiences other than the Rotten Tomatoes raters have given it a relatively low “B” CinemaScore. There are various explanations for this. One is that, as Paul Dergarabedian said, film goers are shell-shocked when they emerge from the film. Others would say that the improbable plot explanations have both confused and dampened the enthusiasm of some movie-goers. Those that enjoy thinking and talking about the meaning of a film will enjoy it; those that want it spelled out for them will not.

One thing that will emerge from this in all probability is that the 40-year-old director has now vaulted himself to the ranks of such filmmakers as Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Brian DePalma, M. Night Shymalan, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, making his name as the director as important as who is appearing in the film.

The Meaning of “Us,” Jordan Peele’s New Film

 

I saw “Us” here in Austin, where it premiered on March 8th. Don’t read any further if you don’t want to have plot details ruined (spoiler alert).

I’m still letting my thoughts on “Us” and its meaning percolate. Here are 10 possible explanations for plot points in “Us.”

  1. It has been pointed out by someone other than me that “Us” is, basically, “U.S.”, i.e. United States.
  2. There seems to be a rather large not-very-veiled message about racism in America. This isn’t surprising, since the main cast is African American. I’ve read that Jordan Peele admires Spike Lee, who is outspoken in his films and in his life, and speaks and writes bluntly about the black experience in America. It’s clear that Spike feels that the black race has been put down and short-changed; I’m not arguing with him. (I actually heard him speak “live” once at Augustana College and just a quick look at his films will support me here. Personal observation: I think it’s one of the reasons Spike Lee didn’t even get an Oscar nomination until this year and didn’t win for Best Picture (although the script did snag an Oscar). Spike’s been making movies—-some of them terrific—-for 30 years or so, but has never been recognized until this year, and he is a somewhat prickly character known for a few famous feuds. He was even prickly during his speaking engagement and “does not suffer fools gladly.” In fact, I remember reading that Spike Lee got the assignment to do “BlackKKlansman” because it was first offered to Jordan Peele, hot off of “Get Out,” who suggested it would make a great Spike Lee joint film. A line from late in the film (when what passes for an “explanation” of the doppelgangers is being given): “Your people took it for granted. We’re human, too, you know.” Given the United States’ history with slavery, the concept of a “race” of people relegated to living in subterranean squalor while those above ground live the good life seems to fit, historically. Here’s a line that Lupita Nyongo’s character speaks: “The tethered saw that I would deliver them from their misery.” And the Lupita Nyong’o double says, to the girl who encountered her in the fun house all those years ago: “You could have taken me with you.” Here’s another line regarding the red-robed figures who seem to have risen up in some sort of terrorist overthrow of the city of Santa Cruz (and beyond, judging from the uninterrupted line of them, holding hands, that we see stretching into the distance of the mountains with helicopters hovering overhead): “I didn’t need to just tell you but to make a statement that the world would see. It’s our time up there.”
  3. There is much made of a Bible verse in the film: Jeremiah 11:11 (King James Version) “Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.”Not only is the verse held up by a random man on a placard at the beginning AND the end of the film, at one point Lupita’s son points to the clock in his room, which is on 11:11 at that time. Fits in with Point #2, as to how African Americans, who were brought over on slave ships and forced to work in the cotton fields of the South and treated inhumanely, feel it is “their” time. It also has a nice duality.
  4. What about the rabbits? [We have to assume that they aren’t just left-over props from “The Favorite.”] They’re white. One of the doppelgangers cuts the head off a small white rabbit doll. Draw your own conclusions. Here in Austin, on the Red Carpet, Jordan Peele claimed that he finds rabbits very creepy, with eyes like a psychopath.
  5. As has been said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
  6. What about the “hands across America” 6.5 million strong of May 25,1986? It was largely a symbolic gesture, since it raised $84 million, but, after expenses, only $15 million was actually donated. In this way, it falls in line with a lot of other “symbolic” but largely ineffectual gestures that we, as Americans, participate in, like the record “We Are the World.” (Remember, at one point, Lupita’s red-robed character says, “We are Americans.”)
  7. There is also the matter of the house of mirrors changing, by film’s end, from having an American Indian atop it with the words “Shaman’s Vision Quest:  Find Yourself” to a Wizard figure with a different name. Treatment of American Indians goes into the “shameful” category, along with slavery and Japanese interment in WWII. In this way, the use of the Indian imagery but the change later seems to “gloss over” America’s crimes of conscience in the same way that hyped “feel good” events like “We Are the World” or “Hands Across America” were ineffectual gestures that did little to solve real problems or stop real abuses, but were offered up by the PTB (usually, white men) as stop-gap feel-good largely symbolic and self-congratulatory gestures.
  8. The red-robed killers remind of nothing so much as “The Handmaid’s Tale” on Hulu, outfits which signal repression and injustice; both sexes wear these red outfits. Supposedly, like the pods in “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” movies, there is one red-robed thing for every inhabitant of the U.S. [This seems extreme and unlikely. What does a doppelganger do all day underground? How does a doppelganger secure sustenance beyond raw rabbit meat? Unlikely that this movement of this magnitude could be kept secret and one of the weaker plot points,—-if that is, in fact, a plot point.] The speculation centers on the U.S. government having had some sort of “pilot” experimental program to duplicate every citizen, which was scrapped when it was discovered that the person’s “soul” could not be cloned.
  9. The doppelgangers who have been “kept down” have lost their voices entirely or are barely able to speak in a whisper. They aren’t heard. They aren’t listened to; they are essentially inarticulate. There is speculation that the reason Lupita’s character does all the for the group of four in a hoarse croak is that she “remembers” how to speak from before. (If you don’t know what I mean about “from before” think of the twist ending of the film.)
  10. Now, how does the “surprise” ending of the film fit with Point #2, above? As I was walking to my car, a young man was talking and said, “How does all of this fit, now that we know that the bad one is the good one and vice versa?” How, indeed. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you about “spoilers.”)
  11. It has also been pointed out that the main message of the film doesn’t have to be racial, but can also be simply “haves” vs. “have nots.” Very true.

So, see it and figure out what YOU think it all means and let me know.

“The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” on HBO Reveals $9 Billion-Dollar Start-Up That Didn’t

Image result for Images for Elizabeth Holmes Elizabeth Holmes

(youtube.com)

The documentary about Theranos, directed by Alex Gidney, showed March 8th, 10th and 13th at SXSW and is now streaming on HBO. It focuses on a $9 billion-dollar start-up in Silicon Valley headed by a 19-year-old Stanford drop-out, Elizabeth Holmes. Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney was responsible for “Taxi to the Dark Side” and “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Beliefs.”

“Fortune” magazine did a June, 2014, cover story on Holmes and Theranos.  Much of the talking about Holmes onscreen is done by Roger Parloff, who wrote the “Fortune” piece. The  lying by Theranos officials  led to 9 charges of wire fraud and 2 counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud against Holmes and her Chief Operating Officer (and former lover) Sonny Balwani. (Holmes had fired Balwani by that point.)

As you listen to the list of heavy hitter investors who were so impressed by a 19-year-old college drop-out that they committed millions to her idea for Theranos, you have to shake your head. The list reads like Who’s Who. Some of them even speak on camera, like Tim Draper, who appears wearing a purple tie adorned with Bit Coin symbols and says he knew Elizabeth from childhood on and was a first investor in Hotmail, Skype and Tesla. General James Mattis bought into the idea. Henry Kissinger was favorably impressed. Warren Buffett was said to have invested $100 million. Famous faces like Maria Shriver, Katie Couric, the Obamas, Serena Williams, George P. Schultz and a host of others are shown with the Golden Girl.

As one Professor at Stanford says (a female), “She aligned herself with certain powerful older men who seemed to succumb to a certain charm.” (Meow). The statement is true, however. Attired in black at all times (black turtleneck, jacket and pants) with long blonde hair and an unnerving stare (she rarely blinks) from preternaturally large blue eyes, she was referred to by her partner, Sonny,” as “the most important inventor of our time” in a reverential, deferential tone.

The concept was that the needle-phobic Elizabeth was going to make it possible for a single finger prick—like that a diabetic would use to test their blood—to take the place of drawing large vials of blood in a lab. The small drop of blood would go into a mini-vial that would, in turn, go into a machine dubbed Edison, appromixately the size of a computer modem.

Inside Edison the blood would be tested, could detect infection and dispense antibiotics. Holmes seems to have envisioned herself to be the Apple of medicine and vowed to have the access to such Edison labs within 5 miles of each person’s home in America, which was going to happen through a partnership with Walgreen’s.

Holmes also alluded to her “invention” in what Parloff referred to as “comically vague” ways, saying, “What, exactly, happens in the box is treated as a state secret.” She also said that she wanted to remain a private company (initially, the company had 700 employees in a modern building with a secret third-floor lab, where, alas, the blood testing was actually being done using more standard methods by hand.

This was because Edison didn’t really work as advertised. When asked about taking the company public, Holmes said she preferred to remain private because, “It’s allowed us to not have to talk about what we’re doing, until it’s done.”

When the testing began to be done at Walgreen’s stores, the Edison was still non-functional, so routine blood draws were done by Walgreen personnel who had to be trained by phlebotomist Serena Stewart to do those traditional blood draws, despite the Big Come-On of a relatively small drop of blood being able to work in an Edison mini-lab. Holmes successfully lobbied the state of Arizona to allow patients to order their own lab tests in HB2645 and also managed to get FDA approval for Edison to do one small test for the herpes virus, but the 200 tests advertised never really got off the ground.

And, what is more disturbing, patients who had chronic conditions and showed up for routine bloodwork at a Walgreen’s store experienced incorrect results, which then had to be double-checked using routine labs and routine lab practices. There were also challenges to the patents.

Dr. Ian Gibbon, a Cambridge PhD with “a wealth of knowledge” whose name appeared on the patents (below Elizabeth Holmes’ name) was going to have to testify in the patent case. He was so distraught that he committed suicide. His wife, Rochelle, said “He was so distraught over the patent misappropriation case that he killed himself.” Mrs. Gibbon never heard anything from Holmes or Theranos after her husband’s death, other than a request  to drop the papers involving his work off at the front desk.

As the lab equipment malfunctioned and those in the tile world of the lab watched the start-up sliding towards failure, some of them became extremely disillusioned with the paranoia and secrecy. The workers were fudging results and re-running data until they got the results they wanted. Also, the tests for such diseases as hepatitis, prostate cancer and syphilis that were not being accurately diagnosed, put those patients at risk The results were not matching up with the results of other more traditional laboratories.

Finally, lab associate Erika Cheung decided, “Enough is enough” and went in to talk to COO Sonny Balwani. She was basically told “Just sit down and do your job.” She quit, got another job, moved and was very distressed when she was served papers that threatened her if she spoke about her time at Theranos. Since she had little money, her only recourse, ultimately, was to write a letter to the supervisory group that had control over the Theranos labs. That group was CMS. CMS then did a surprise inspection and withdrew the Theranos lab’s permit to do tests.

Another disillusioned former employee was George P. Shultz’s grandson, who had joined Holmes and was working in the laboratory. He quit and began talking to a “Wall Street Journal” reporter, John Carreyrou, who had received a tip that the Theranos Edison project was faltering.

The 94-year-old George Schultz, who served 3 presidents in 4 Cabinet posts, including Secretary of State, was a fervent admirer of Holmes and, initially, when his grandson expressed skepticism, had said, “They can’t tell me you’re stupid, but I think you’re wrong.”

By the end of the younger Schultz’s time, George Schultz commends his grandson for his attempt at transparency and relates an almost comic scene when a hard-nosed lawyer (once in charge of hushing up Harvey Weinstein’s women) tried so hard to lean on his grandson that Schultz separated the attorney from his grandson, sending them to different rooms in his house and acting as intermediary. George P. Schultz said he was afraid that his wife would hit the attorney with the fireplace poker, as he was acting “like an animal” towards their grandson.

The younger Schultz said he had incurred $300,000 to $400,000 in lawyer fees. The mounting bills had his parents thinking about selling their house to pay it. But, as Theranos secrets and lies unraveled further and the truth was revealed, the pressure on young Schultz waned as the house of Theranos cards came tumbling down.

I wondered, “What has happened to Elizabeth Holmes since this documentary was made?”

The Internet says she settled with the SEC, was handed a $500,000 fine, and there is a condition that she cannot be the officer of a public company for 10 years. Now living in the San Francisco Bay area in a luxury apartment, she is engaged to her 8-years-younger fiancé, Billy Evan (heir to a hotel fortune), according to “Vanity Fair,” and may be shopping for more investor cash. She and Sonny face some additional court appearance, supposedly in April.

 

One quote that particularly struck me, because it could have been spoken by any number of convincing liars was this one from Roger Parloff, who watched with amazement as Elizabeth Holmes, rather than going on the defensive against the expose article that the “Wall Street Journal” ran detailing how the scam worked, went off to a Board of Fellows Honorary Ceremony with the Harvard Medical School. Said Parloff, “This was real lunacy.  What was coming out of her mouth (on television) was not adding up to reality as you and I know it…She was a zealot, blind to the reality of what was happening.”

The question at documentary’s end remains this: Did Elizabeth Holmes lie intentionally, with cold, calculating intent, or was she just trying to ‘fake it till she made it?’”

Image result for Images for Elizabeth Holmes

“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.

 

 

 

 

 

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