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 29)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

THE GOOD

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

THE MUSIC

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

THE SCRIPT

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

CINEMATOGRAPHY

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

THE BAD

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

THE VERDICT

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

“Beautiful Boy” Opens 54th Chicago International Film Festival

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

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

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

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

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

THE GOOD

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

The Message

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

THE BAD

Plot

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

    Music

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

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

The Young Nics

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

The Poem

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

    Length

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The Austin Revolution Film Festival

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

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

THE BLACK MARKET CLUB

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

REMEMBER ME

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

Networking.

APPLE SEED

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

REX

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

DEATH (*& DISCO FRIES)

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

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

CLEMENTINE

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

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

A CHANCE OF SNOW

Film goers taking their seats at the Alamo Drafthouse Mueller.

“A Chance of Snow” poster.

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

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

GUEST OF HONOR

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

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

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

LEARNING THE ROPES

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

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

PRENATAL

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

LEECHERS

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

JESSIE’S GIRL

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

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

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

ONE ACT PLAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

“FEAR:” Chapter 3 – Refining Trump’s Tactics

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Steve Bannon (Image courtesy of NationReview.com)

In Chapter 3, newly-appointed campaign manager Steve Bannon travels to Trump Tower and—lo and behold—meets the ONE person in “the war room,” Andy Surabian. In his typical fashion, he asks, “Where the fuck is everybody?” and learns that this is a typical day in “the war room.” Bannon finds out that Ivanka and husband Jared are off gallivanting around on David Geffen’s $300 million yacht (one of the largest yachts in the world) off the coast of Croatia, on vacation with Wendy Deng (former wife of Rupert Murdoch).

BANNON MEETS MANAFORT IN TRUMP TOWER

Surprisingly, at this point, Manafort asks Bannon to come up to his residence in the Tower. Rather than being adversarial, Manafort says, “I really want to thank you for trying to step in.” He defends the drubbing he has just taken at Trump’s hands and tongue by saying, “That’s just Donald.  This is the way he acts all the time.”

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Paul Manafort and Michael Cohn (Image courtesy of TheGuardian.com)

Manafort then hands Bannon a copy of a draft story that the New York Times is going to run entitled “Secret Ledger in Ukraine Lists Cash for Donald Trump’s Campaign Chief,” because, (says Woodward’s book), Manafort has heard that Bannon is “good with the media.”  It shows $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments from the Ukraine pro-Russian political party. Bannon is, to put it mildly, shocked and  asks questions (“When is this coming out?” “Does Trump know anything about this?” “How long have you known about this?”)

It comes out that Manafort (who pleaded guilty today, September 14, and is now cooperating with the Mueller investigation, despite Trump’s having praised him for not folding as quickly as his lawyer, Michael Cohn) has known about the investigation for 2 months, although his wife apparently knows little to nothing about it, as she is startled to hear Bannon’s explosion upon reading about 10 paragraphs. (“It was a kill shot. It was over for Manafort.”)

Manafort shares that his lawyer told him not to cooperate, and Bannon remarks, “You should fire your lawyer,” which I found an amusing reaction. (Manafort responds that he’s “thinking about it.”)

Bannon’s reaction is listed as:  “You’ve got to call Trump…go see him face-to-face.  If this comes out in the paper, and he doesn’t know about it, it’s lights out for you.  How do you even take $12.7 million in cash?” Bannon, in typical Trumpian fashion, says he “had expenses.” He blames it on “the guys.” Bannon calls Jared Kushner and tells him he has to get back to Trump Tower immediately. The New York Times article ran online that night and in the paper the next morning; The Donald was not amused.

Trump alerts Priebus that Bannon is in (and Manafort is out). Priebus stresses that they need 90% support from the GOP party apparatus, not the 70% polls are showing. Bannon tells Priebus he wants to see  Katie Walsh, who supposedly has data on every likely Republican voter in the country from the Republican database. The pressing issue was to make sure that the RNC was not going to abandon Trump, since he didn’t have much of an organization of his own. The unprintable version of what Bannon accomplished during this time was: “I reached out and sucked Reince Priebus’ dick on August 15 and told the establishment we can’t win without you.”

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Steve Bannon & Reince Priebus (Image courtesy of charismanews.com)

Priebus, an attorney from Wisconsin, had just spent a few years overseeing a massive effort to rebuild the RNC into a data-driven operation. They borrowed from Obama’s winning campaign strategy and poured in more than $175 million into analystics and big data that tracked individual primary voters and divided neighborhoods into “turfs” staffed with a multitude of volunteers.

The RNC was effectively the Trump campaign staff, and Bannon knew they could not afford to lose them.

Step #1: get an absentee or early voting ballot to those deemed pro-Trump who had scored 90 above on a scale of 0 to 100 in the national database. (Example: In Ohio, out of perhaps 6 million voters, 1 million would score 90 or above). That 1 million would be targeted for early voting ballots, with follow-up.

Step #2: Field staff would move to persuade those who scored 60 to 70, to convince them to vote for Trump.

Bannon told Trump:  “I have metaphysical certitude you will win here if you stick to this script and compare and contrast with HRC. Every underlying number is with us.” Bannon, who was announced as the new leader on August 17, realized that he was “the director and DJT is the actor.”

ENTER KELLYANNE CONWAY:

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Donald Trump & Kellyanne Conway (Image courtesy of spin.com)

Kellyanne enters the fray and says:  “Their message (the Dems) is Donald Trump is bad, and we’re not Donald Trump.  The rest of the message was race, gender, LGBT.” She is conveying this from attending four days of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia in July. This will underscore what analysts have said was one of the Big Flaws in the Democratic campaign. It had no message. Bernie had a message, but Bernie was derailed.

Much of the media, says Woodward, did not buy the hidden Trump voter line, but the database that Katie Walsh and Reince Priebus had access to, would tell what beer they drank, the make and color of their car, the age and school of their children, their mortgage status, the brand of cigarettes they smoked. Were they NRA supporters? Conway, said, by contrast:  “There’s not a single hidden Hillary voter in the entire country.  They’re all out and about.” Kellyanne said, “HRC doesn’t seem to have a message….All I can see  from her so far is not optimism.” Add to that the fact that Clinton had not cracked 50% in 8 key states that Obama won two times with over 50% and Conway and Bannon agreed that if they could make the race about Hillary, not Trump, they would win the hidden voters who hated her. (Certainly running Russian troll ads about how she was running a sex ring out of a pizza parlor in New York was one tactic that Trump had help with to smear Hillary’s years of experience in the field, versus his lack of any experience and his questionable personality traits under pressure.)

REPRISE:

Image result for google images of Archie Bunker

Bannon again felt that Trump was  literally Archie Bunker, and he added a comparison to second century (B.C.) Roman populist Tiberius Gracchus, who advocated transfer of land from the wealthy patrician landowners to the poor. (Robin Hood style). Bannon took one look at the various “theme weeks” that had been scheduled (“Education Week; Women’s Empowerment Week; Small Business Week”) and said, “Throw this shit out.”

THE NEW PLAN

A 3-stage plan was formulated:

#1) The 6 weeks from Mid-August to September 26th (first debate): get within 5 to 7 points.

#2) Three weeks of debates. (“He’s so unprepared for the debates. She’ll kill him because she’s the best at debating and policy. We’re going to call nothing but audibles in these debates. That’s the only thing we’ve got, where he can walk around and connect.” His private opinion was that the Trump campaign was going to get crushed during the debates (and, quite frankly, that is exactly what it looked like to me. But I digress).

#3)  Final 3 weeks to election day (from Final debate to Nov. 8th) Trump was going to have to pony up some money for his own run.

Bannon suggested that winnable states were: Ohio, Iowa, Florida and North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. It is noted “It all seemed like a giant fantasy” and Bannon privately says, “This is Gotterdammerung.”

Manafort leaves on August 19 and “Time” runs a cover of Trump on August 22nd entitled “Meltdown.”

San Antonio Film Festival, August 1-5 in San Antonio

The 24th Annual San Antonio Film Festival kicked off at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts at 100 Auditorium Circle, San Antonio, Texas, on August 1st, 2018.

Longtime director Adam Rocha, who has led the group for 24 years, did not greet us as we drifted in to get our credentials, and my badge, listing me as a Screenplay Finalist for THE COLOR OF EVIL, was MIA. (I was given a VIP badge, instead.)

Most of us waiting for the 6 p.m. kick-off films were directed to a small café across the street called Pharm Market that was heavily in to health food(s). There were literally no soft drinks (like Coca Cola or 7-Up) but there was a table serving free alcoholic beverages (beer and wine) and many strange delicacies that I did not have the time nor inclination to sample.

We headed over to the opening film(s) at 6 p.m. selecting between “Tecumseh, the Last Warrior” directed by Alvarez Studio and Larry Elikann or “They Call Me King Tiger,” directed by Angel Estrada Soto.

6:00 p.m. Premiere Showing was here.

My husband chose the latter film, which had this synopsis:“In June, 1967, the court of Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico, was assaulted by armed men under the command of Chicano leader Reies Lopez Tijerina.  The outcome of such bold action was the largest manhunt in the recent history of the United States.  Tijerina managed to survive prison, a psychiatric hospital, and several assassination attempts.  The Chicano movement faded away, and everyone thought the same of Tijerina.  People spoke of him as a saint, a man illuminated, a man that used violence looking for a fair cause.  They called him King Tiger.  King Tiger is alive and he wants to tell his story.”

Some of this was misleading, as King Tiger recently died at age 88 (and insisted that he be dressed in his coffin as a Muslim to illustrate his conviction that he was a prophet; people had to be flown in from Chicago to accomplish this).

The story as told by Director Larry Elikann had a meandering documentary quality that did not serve the  extraordinary story well. There definitely was feature film potential in the story of King Tiger, but this treatment, witnessed by only 9 people sitting on hard-backed chairs, was probably not it.

San Antonio, Texas, Aug. 1-5, 2018

For one thing, this was the Premiere of the film and the Director was not present.

For another, as we moved into the main substance of the story, it was still unclear what injustice, exactly, King Tiger was trying to rectify. It purports to be the story of New Mexico’s Hispanic peoples losing their land to “the gringos,” much like the Indians lost their land to European settlers. Quote:  “These lands were robbed, and we want them back.” The 1848 Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty was at the bottom of much of the dissent, but the terms of that treaty are never spelled out for the viewer.

There were allusions to such historic figures as Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez and Malcolm X, but King Tiger’s followers never numbered more than 14,000 to 20,000, from the film’s reckoning, and, when he was a handsome firebrand of a man who had “boundless courage because he was always living in some other realm” he didn’t exercise his power as skillfully as MLK.

A conversation is recounted that supposedly took place between Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy and Chicano leader Reies-Lopez Tijerina. Bobby Kennedy supposedly said, to the firebrand leader, “There was a war.  You lost it and we won it.  Go home.”

Tobin Center for the Performing Arts

A Treaty of Hidalgo is constantly mentioned, supposedly transferring one-half of what was then Mexico’s land to the United States.  The statement is made:  “They lost their lands through diverse legal movements, so he (King Tiger) led a campaign to reclaim those lands.”

How devoted the followers were seemed to be one problem. A friend and acquaintance of Reies’ recounted a rally at which Reies asked how many of those present “will fight like a she-dog fights to protect her puppies” to get back the land. He asked them to stand up, if willing. One-third of the men present stood up. Reies then told his followers that those who didn’t stand up should be among the first killed. This took me back to a horrifying documentary I saw at the Chicago International Film Festival about just such neighbor purging neighbor that happened in the Philippines, when the U.S. encouraged the removal of Communists and atrocities were perpetrated, neighbor upon neighbor.

Interior of Tobin Center for the Performing Arts

The film consisted largely of interviews with the extremely elderly (age 88) Reies himself, who wandered on about dreams and angels and was a shadow of his former firebrand self. If anything, it was an object lesson in how death comes for us all and the most dynamic among us will be weakened and withered by time, as Reies definitely had been. His three wives are interviewed and many of his numerous children, some of whom recount beatings at Reies’ hand. The prettiest daughter from his first marriage was incarcerated after Reies formed a small band of armed men and marched on the courthouse.

He then was arrested in a manhunt (2,000 National Guardsmen were searching for him) that was not as dramatic as the program claimed. He said he was in the back seat of a car on the way to Coyote when he was apprehended. Reies is quoted as saying, “I’m chewing up the gringos no matter who is in the middle.”

One of his wives—a second wife who left him—said, “He wanted to be fighting, fighting, fighting. I didn’t want to do anything.” His son by a second marriage remembered that Dad told him: :You are nothing.  You are never going to be a man like I am.” The prettiest daughter, Rosita, who went to prison after the attack Reies engineered on the courthouse, said, “I don’t want to talk about or remember any of that.  I think that people saw him as a terrorist.  All my 6 brothers and I were beaten by him.”

So, not overwhelmingly positive as a leader and Man of the People.

The English subtitles were also rife with errors. Example:  “”Take this (sic)  pills, please.” This was in reference to what was said to be psychological torture that Reies underwent in prison. His first trial, when he defended himself, he was found innocent, but the film suggests that he was a victim of double jeopardy or that various trumped-up charges  kept recurring. One of his wives, Maria Escobar, had a house that was attacked and Reies swears that the attack was by thugs from the government.

Tobin Center for the Performing Arts

As nearly as I could determine from the meandering plot and lack of  focus, Reies was declaring that all those lands were taken illegally by District Attorney Alfonso Sanchez and that they were taken from Mexican and sold to white people and Sanchez was the person they hoped to get when they marched on the courthouse.

Just before his death, Reies told the interviewer, “What happened, happened, my friend.” His wife said he asked for forgiveness before he died.

The Awards Ceremony for the San Antonio Film Festival will take place at 7 p.m. on Saturday night and the world premiere of “Stella’s Last Weekend,” a new comedy from writer/director Polly Draper (“Thirty Something”) will follow at 9 p.m.

Formerly of “Fame.”

A debut film from Director Jesse Borego (“Fame”) “Closer to Bottom,” will screen on Sunday, August 5th.  It deals with two brothers who are coping with the death of their father when both fall for the same girl.

The San Antonio Film Festival began on August 1st and will conclude with the showing of Boreo’s film on Sunday, August 5th.

Windy City Film Festival Opens in Chicago on July 12, 2018

The second year of the Windy City Film Festival kicked off on July 12th at the Victory Garden Biograph Theater in Chicago. This is the very same theater made famous by John Dillinger’s assassination outside it after viewing “Manhattan Melody” in the 1930s.

Windy City Film Festival

As a Finalist in the Screenplay Category, I was fortunate enough to be able both to see the interior of the remodeled theater at 2433 Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, a feature length film (“Double Major”) and a series of 8 short films.

We were all warmly welcomed and the choice of hors d’oeuvres was the best and most innovative of any festival I’ve attended as a critic (and I’ve attended a few). Plates of candies  are what they serve at the Oscar gala were arrayed, along with grapes, and the bar offered a discount to those of us who were Festival Finalists. Still, with a glass of wine reasonably priced at $7 that 20% discount wasn’t totally necessary. Bravo to the organizers!

After the opportunity to chat with fellow contestants, I was fortunate enough to chat at length with an actress in one of the selected films,  Jen Buhrow, and, later, had conversations with other contestants, including 2 directors of the shorts that we watched for 2 hours, Thom McCloud and Brad Riddell. All of the films were shot in Chicago.

THE SHORTS

Windy City Film Festival organizers Josh Hope and Mindy Fay Parks .

First, let me compliment the film festival organizers, Mindy Fay Parks and Josh Hope, on the truly great opening credit sequence that introduced several short films. They were as good (or better) than those shown at the opening of the much-larger (and 25 times older) Chicago International Film Festival.

SHORT #1:  RUNNER (Grade: “A”)

This was a riveting short piece featuring Clare Cooney and Shane Simmons. Clare is a runner and, while jogging down an alley in a suburb that had alleys that resembled those in Bridgeport, where my son lived for years, she is an eye witness to a murder. The murder appears to have been an accident caused by an argument between a young couple, when the young man shoves the girl and she falls and hits her head. Still, when the murderer then begins chasing Clare, everyone senses the danger she is in, and when the murderer later turns up at a gathering at a local bar and follows her home, the stress level goes even higher. This one was terrific! Clare Cooney not only acted in it, she directed it. Watch for her in the future.

SHORT #2:  TEN MORE (Grade: “A”)

DePaul Screenwriting Instructor and Windy City Film Festival Finalist Brad Riddell on July 12 at Opening Night.

This was my second favorite of the night. I told Director Brad Riddell that I could relate to it more easily, because, based on a roughly autobiographical brain injury he incurred, it leaves the viewer thinking about his (or her) own mortality and was not aimed exclusively at a young audience. Another huge plus for this film was its star, a local Chicago actor who looks as though he could be Adrien Brody’s brother (if Adrien Brody had a brother, which he does not). The actor’s name was David Tasques and it opens with Tasques playing the piano (which also summoned memories of Adrien Brody’s 2003 Oscar win at age 29 for “The Pianist.”) Puzzled by the water dripping through his ceiling from the floor above and the apartment of the old lady who usually bangs on the floor with her cane when the concert pianist is practicing (causing him to yell “Ten Minutes More”), Tasques’ attempts to find out what is going on leads to a surprising discovery. Director Brad Riddell has written 4 feature films and is currently working on a feature film for a Hollywood studio, as well as on a podcast. He is both a faculty member at DePaul and a working screenwriter.

SHORT #2:  MARGARET AND THE MOON (Grade “B”)

A chubby little girl is watching the film “Danse pour la luna”  that predates cinema as we know it, going all the way back to the Lumiere days and the Man in the Moon. We then see the girl being bullied at school by two young classmates and a lesson about true friendship is learned. Trevor Morgan, who made the film, circled back to the Man in the Moon  film for a sweet ending.

SHORT #3:  SPACEMAN (Grade “B+)

This one was light-hearted, as we follow the adventures of  a young man named Rupert Madursky who refuses to let NASA’s demise stop him from wanting to become an astronaut. As one character reminisces, “Becoming an astronaut was pure and American. We all wanted to grow up to be President or an astronaut.” Christopher Olva wrote, produced and edited this gem, with lighting and lenses by DePaul University. I think one reason I related to it as well as I did is that my husband and I toured Cape Canaveral when they were dismantling one of the towers and having the last NASA manned flight and it was a bittersweet thing to think of this nation’s space program being mothballed. (It still is). The film also had the advantage of being humorous in spots, as when Rupert ticks off a Russian cabdriver by saying to him (in Russian), “Cosmonaut is for second place,” when the driver asks if he is training to become a cosmonaut. (Rupert is fond of wearing NASA gear at all times.) The driver unceremoniously dumps his fare in the street.

SHORT #4:  STEP ONE (Grade: “B”)

Written and directed by Thom McCloud, who is primarily a local Chicago actor, a stressed man in a car is shown sitting near a railroad track and practicing the “Hello, I’m _____” speech that normally means the individual is going to be attending an AA meeting.  As the film opened, the car’s positioning near the railroad tracks immediately made you wonder if the driver intended to join a meeting (he has said his wife will leave him if he doesn’t attend) or if he is suicidal enough to drive that car onto the tracks. Speaking with McCloud later, he shared that the film is autobiographical and that it was shot in one day. Asked about the difficulties of making it, he singled out Pre-production, saying that raising the money to fund it was largely done through crowd funding and by him pitching in his own funds.  It was a thought-provoking piece.

SHORT #5:  CHEESE SHOP (Grade: “B”)

The director of “Cheese Shop”

The director of “Cheese Shop” shared, from the stage after the viewing, that Director Sammy Zeisel also had experience at working in a cheese shop, and learned how difficult things that are seemingly simple can be. The out-of-work actress who takes the job in the cheese shop learns that everything from wrapping wedges of cheese to mopping floors can be difficult. Cheese Shop is a bitter-sweet, funky little film…like a simple wedge of cheese, says the write-up, and it is.

SHORT #6:  BLAKOREA (Grade “B-“)

This film was also an autobiographical story of the marriage of a black G.I. suffering from PTSD and his Korean bride. Two young children are in the middle of their parents strife and are ultimately left with their black grandmother, Pearl.  Christine Swanson, its director, cast the film well and the actors all deliver. The reason it was slightly less appealing for me was difficulty with understanding the Korean battered wife. The film almost needed subtitles for some of her dialogue. I winced when the black grandmother served watermelon to her Asian/American grandchildren on a visit that turns into a permanent placement. Not sure that plays well in the P.C. world of today, but this was obviously an earnest effort and it was well done. The child actors were outstanding and the picture of the real Pearl with her granddaughter at the film’s finale was priceless.

SHORT #7:  MICKEY’s PETS (Grade:  “B-“)

Mickey’s Pets star is fourth from the right.

Ashley S. Brandon made this short documentary about Mickey’s pets, and the real Mickey, multiple tattoos covered by a lovely green dress, was present onstage following the film. She is shown with her pts, saying, “I’m never lonely and they never judge me.” Mickey is working on stuffing a peacock to enter in the 45th Annual National Taxidermy Competition in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. The winner of the title Taxidermist of the Year will take home a $1500 prize. Mickey Alice Kioapte certainly stood out in the room full of exclusively male animal stuffers (if that is a term). Side bar: I had a boyfriend in college (Frank Cornwell) who used to be in to taxidermy, and, of course, we all know that Norman Bates was. Of course, Frank also used to work for the phone company and randomly climb a telephone pole outside my  apartment window to phone me, so THAT was odd, too, and so is this nice little film.

SHORT #8:  COME TO LIFE (Grade:  “C”)

The plot here is that, when a young man’s wife leaves town for a few days, he is lonely and so creates talking creatures, made from pillow cases and socks to keep himself company. The first problem was that the sound and the lip movements were “off,” (which I was later told was because the film was being “streamed” from a computer.  The second problem, for me, is the current insistence that all marriages onscreen must be inter-racial. If that isn’t true, then there has to be a LGBQT character or somebody has to be handicapped. [This is based on recent reviewing at SXSW and not on these shorts, but it’s getting to be a bit much.] I’m sure many of the viewers were really intrigued by the concept, but, plot-wise, I was not. I do understand that creating them onscreen must have been quite an accomplishment, but the idea that this grown man was so lonesome for his wife because she left for 2 days that he resurrected characters (from his youth?) who he said had been hiding in the attic just didn’t work for me. It sounded incredibly juvenile, since he is depicted as an adult, not a college student.

Still, impressive work from all. Go Chicago! It is an honor to have a screenplay being considered amongst the 24 others (25 total) and I have no illusions of grandeur for what is only my second solo outing in screenplay writing.

Amy Schumer’s “I Feel Pretty” Sets Off Controversy

OK…So, I went to see Amy Schumer’s new movie “I Feel Pretty” (and received a button that says “I Feel Pretty Awesome,” which I wore all day).I liked it—the button AND the movie.

There, I’ve said it. I liked it.

I thought it was insightful and funny and I liked lines like, “I met this baby the other day that was wack as hell.” [You can see the meeting with said baby in the clip I just posted of the movie trailer]. The trailer contains the best parts of the film, and, no, it isn’t a laugh-out-loud funny movie, because Amy is trying to make the point that (to quote a line from the movie):  “This line/movie is for every girl who is ready to believe in herself.” Or, “I think a lot of people are all confused about themselves…You doubt yourself over and over. What if we didn’t care about how we looked?” 

The premise is that, when Amy hits her head, she suddenly sees herself as perfect. She no longer has the crippling insecurities that beset her prior to being hit in the head. It takes another blow to her skull to turn her back into insecure Amy. One of the lines spoken to her boyfriend in the film (Ethan, well played by Rory Scovel) is: “She is awesome. She is the complete package. Your girl can handle herself in a knife fight!” Or, as Ethan says to Renee, “You know who you are and you don’t care how the world sees you.”

The movie  makes a plea for “The strength and wisdom to say ‘I’m better than all that. We are real women.”

Why is she being pilloried on social media for making such undeniably positive statements? The answer seems to be that some think she is too pretty to be saying these things? Is that it?  Amy is too pretty to make a statement that benefits all women everywhere? (Sheesh) Get over your bad selves, nit-pickers. And, to the newly-wed Amy: YOU GO, GIRL!

I couldn’t help but empathize with what she must be thinking and feeling as people hurl brick-bats at her for articulating the undeniable truth that most of us are insecure in some way and that it can often become almost a debilitating disease, if it inhibits us too much or prevents us from becoming our true, authentic, best selves. The film also gets the point across that TOO MUCH confidence is, well, too much.

That is probably what the uproar is all about: mid-movie Amy briefly becomes a jerk to her friends (played by Aidy Bryant of SNL as Vivian and Busy Philipps as Jane) and we want to LIKE Amy and empathize with her. If she’s confident and thinks she’s great and is enjoying herself, well, we can’t have THAT now, can we? How dare she!?

If you watch the trailer (above), you’ll see the funniest parts of the movie, complete with Amy’s attempt to win a bikini contest (she doesn’t), but, mainly, you’ll see her becoming a jerk as she gives in to her uber confident inner self,  confidence which was triggered by a fall from a Soul Cycle bike that dumped her on her head.  I’m thinking that her in-your-face confidence was just too much for some females to stomach. Be reassured: she doesn’t STAY a jerk.

Girls always seem to accept other girls, or women other women, only if they are sweet and malleable and supportive and “nice,” as my husband euphemistically terms it. It still isn’t acceptable in society to be sassy and funny and irreverent, if you’re female. You still get labeled as “a bitch” if you display any of those characteristics, even though Amy Schumer rose to fame because of  the irreverent salacious humor of her stand-up act (and, yes, I HAVE seen her act, “live”). [It can’t be the men who are complaining and giving the film a thumbs down on YouTube, can it?]

I thought the opening sequence where she is participating in a Soul Cycle class with model-thin women and her bike seat gives away and she experiences a jarring blow to her vagina was note-perfect. She hobbles out with her pants torn and in pain. Have none of you (females) who are giving it a thumbs down on YouTube never experienced the crushing pain of falling onto the metal part of a boy’s bike? No? [Okay, then. It must be just me.]

I’ve also been involved in exercise classes where it was quite obvious I did not belong. My favorite story is the one where, somehow, I ended up LEADING the class and had NO idea where I was to “lead” them. It was a lot like the scene in “Animal House” where the marching band marches into a brick wall. I also remembered my husband once commenting  that I was only equipped to compete in the Olympics in the “400 yard roll” or some such joke. (He WAS kidding, but his humor was lost on me at the time.)

I actually wrote several humorous essays about exercise classes I have known and published them in “Laughing through Life, so if you want to hear all about the types of things that befall Amy in her class, but happened, IRL, to me, you can order a copy on Amazon.

But that’s not the point.

The point of the movie as written and directed by Abby Kohn (“2009’s “He’s Just Not That In To You”) and Marc Silverstein (husband of *BusyPhilipps,”How To Be Single”) to me, was that Amy wants each and every one of us who is female to feel comfortable in our own skins. So what if we have too much junk in the trunk? Forgetaboutit. So what if we are not rail-thin?  Move on. Get over it! Be confident.

BUT, and this is important, do NOT lose good friends because you become an insufferable ego-maniac.

Other good things about the movie:

Michael Andrews selected the music (“This Girl Is On Fire” for one) and it is great. Michelle Williams plays the daughter of a cosmetics icon who has a very soft voice like Jackie Kennedy’s (okay, you’re too young to remember how Jackie’s voice was very soft and not forceful at all, and Marilyn Monroe’s was the same way, so just work with me here) and, therefore, has a hard time being taken seriously. She also is involved in some serious sibling rivalry with her handsome brother, Grant LeClair (Tom Hopper), who comes on to Amy at one point (Amy remains true to Ethan, so why did the haters not note THAT?)

Many critics praised the appearance of Lauren Hutton as Gramma LeClaire (Lily LeClaire) in “I Feel Pretty,” who founded the cosmetics company, which is attempting to turn out an affordable cosmetics line suitable for sale in Target stores.

Lauren appears as a retired model, which she really is. She made her film debut in 1968 in “Paper Lion” and still works as a model, apparently because she is still reed-thin.

Lauren definitely has been out in the sun too much for too long and she has done nothing to diminish the age-related wrinkles caused by too much sun exposure. I actually looked up her age, after the film, since I was hoping she was older than me. She was…but not by that much.

For someone who is listed as 74 (birthday: Nov. 17, 1943) she is thin, but, aside from that, she might consider whether the path she wants to take is the one taken by Jane Fonda, or the one taken by others, which doesn’t have to mean plastic surgery, but does mean trying to diminish age-related deterioration. Yes, I know. This is in direct opposition to the message of the movie, but the message of the movie for a young woman is quite different than for a “mature” (don’t say “old”) woman: society has not moved forward enough to accept prune-like visages that could have remained recognizable if the owner of the face had taken the slightest precautions.

To me, since we are only given one face, it is irresponsible not to at least try to keep it looking halfway decent. While that also applies to our bodies, I agree with Amy that a woman in today’s society ought to NOT have to be reed-thin to be considered attractive. We women have to bear children and cook and clean and, usually, also work,and genetics will get you every time, so not all of us will remain emaciated in our golden years. Lauren is reed-thin, so she gets to keep modeling. She looks like hell, facially, but nevermind that, as long as she is thin.

That, to me, was the message for we “mature” types and, yes, that was a contradiction of the first magnitude, which I blame(d) on the age difference between the character Amy is playing (Renee Bennett) and the one that Lauren Hutton is playing (Lily LeClaire).

And probably something that the writers never considered, either, since the male writer (Marc Silverstein) is also the husband of Busy Philipps, [whois supposed to be getting a talk show this fall] and Abby Kohn might have tried  for Jane Fonda for the Lauren Hutton role—or any other mature actress who has not thrown caution to the winds and abandoned her face to extensive sun damage.

 

 

Zayn Allen (A DC Comics Fan) Says: Get It Together, D.C.

     Guest post from Zayin Allen with some snarky Siskel/Ebert Treatment

(*With the usual snide remarks from the adult in the room who would like the never-ending barrage of these things to quietly go away and leave us with good films. C.W.)

Let’s talk about DC Comics films. After Man of Steel the world was in their hands. Then came the release of Batman V Superman. Although critics savaged the film and  it received little praise,  the film was honestly not that bad, (IMHO). Wonder Woman was a beautiful film, and  the gorgeous and talented Israeli actress Gal Gadot nailed the role effortlessly.

Everything was set up: Zack Snyder was the leading front runner to direct Justice League. After the unfortunate death of his daughter, DC was left in the dark. Justice League was taken over by Joss Wedon and that was the day DC films fell. The budget was too high for the film to look the way it did. The film seemed rushed, the lines came off  as forced, and the storyline was butchered (compared to what it could have been). (*Having just written a script based on THE COLOR OF EVIL, one never knows how many “experts” weighed in on the script and, as one screenwriter said, to me, “After they get done pissing all over your script, you won’t recognize it, anyway.” Perhaps that is what happened? Don’t know. Just guessing here.)

DC fans want real justice: the legendary Snyder Cut. Before the untimely death of Snyder’s daughter, he had completed half of the film, the rest being deemed “unwatchable” by Snyder himself.

Joss Wedon, with only this to work with, had to pick up the torch. A once beautiful DC film concept (which would tie up questions from Batman V. Superman), turned into a bubble gum Marvel movie of sorts. (*Connie says: nearly ALL of these things are bubble gum movies for serious film buffs, with a few notable exceptions, like “Logan”)

That’s is what I feared after the film’s late arrival. This is not the same as the mixed reactions to Man of Steel, which resulted in a full-on DC Comics cinematic universe. WB,  the home of movies like American SniperGravityInception, and It, wanted Justice League to fit a certain mold (*You mean, they wanted it to be good? Just asking. C.W.). Justice League, which was supposed to be a two-part movie, didn’t fit the mold in Snyder’s hands.

Basically I’m saying it’s a damn shame (*That those who like this kind of D.C. Comics or Marvel Comics stuff. For the rest of us it’s just a damn shame that they started making them to begin with, pushing out the good movies of yesteryear. C.W.) must witness the destruction of a universe because of just one movie.  At this point. to me it seems as though getting a new WB movie is like throwing spaghetti at the wall: they’re trying to see if anything sticks. 

The next film set to release in late December, 2018 is James Wan’s  Aquaman. Fans are still patiently waiting for a trailer to see if the same mistakes are going to be made. The release for Shazam! is to follow in April 2019 under the direction of David Sandberg. The other movies that were listed on the DC Film slate were: Wonder Woman 2, Suicide Squad 2Flashpoint, and The Batman, Green Lantern Corp, and Man of Steel 2. (*Yikes! Will these things NEVER end? C.W.)

The future of DC Films is up in the air. I have my doubts that James Wan’s Aquaman will be just fine and that Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 2 will triumph. My positive side thinks that focusing on stand-alone/single-hero movies for the moment is the best thing to do. (*Or, just for a change, maybe do something other than rip off comic books, like get a good, original concept. C.W.)

Man of Steel and Wonder Woman were beautifully done,  as well as Batman V. Superman, which featured the trinity (Batman, Wonder Woman, And Superman).

How I feel is beside the point. (*Yes. And how I feel is not even addressed.  Point? There’s a point? Is it that D.C. makes bad comic book movies? Just guessing here. C.W.)

DC fans feel micromanaging these movies to the point where the budget is too high and the audience walks out of the theater disgusted is a bad call.  Let the various directors execute their visions— except Joss Wedon. He already had his chance.

(*As for Connie, she will be eagerly awaiting “Haunt” by the writers of “A Quiet Place,” Scott Beck & Bryan Woods. It is in post-production now and they are also DIRECTING this one. I saw “Wonder Woman.” Meh. Pretty, but….Not much of a fan. C.W.)

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