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 27)

What does Black Panther bring to the table?

First of all, it’s Black History Month and time for Black Panther, the film.

February is  the month with the fewest days, but  African-Americans rise to the

occasion by celebrating the achievements of their ancestors in February.

This film is more fit for the occasion because it is the only film in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) to feature a predominately African American cast, an African American director, and great role models for African American children. T’Challa of Wakanda, aka The Black Panther ,made his debut back in 2016 in the heavily  hero populated film Captain America: Civil War.

Now his awesomeness has his own film. It’s not just a blockbuster film.  It’s a movie that’ll feed the culture, the culture being everything that African Americans stand for. Most films either feature African Americans as slaves, maids, or as silly creatures. This is a film where they  got the culture right tying the roots of the film s back to African origins. This film goes beyond the comic book movie cliches of fantasy, explosions, science experiments gone wrong, love triangles, or training montages.

Creed’s director Ryan Coogler who was snubbed at many awards ceremonies. He set

  the film in the fictional country of Wakanda, a hidden kingdom in Africa, one of the

most secretive and technologically advanced countries in the MCU mainly because of

its reserves of the world’s most useful but rare metal, vibranium.

Aside from setting the film in Africa. Coogler and Chadwick Boseman

considered what they could do to make Wakanda and its people more authentic.

Via Youtube /©Marvel Studios 2018

One thing about Marvel is that their stable of characters is diverse. The revolutionary

Stan Lee creator of Black Panther said, “He’s an interesting character that is going

to be such a different a things for the audience to see on screen.”

T’Challa was last seen in Captain America: Civil War  giving the business to everyone that stood in his way but also coming to grips with his father’s death and the knowledge that he has to assume leadership of his country. That is what makes him such a complex character . That is why Black Panther is on a whole other level. He’s not just a hero. He’s a leader of many.

Boseman who has portrayed many African American heroes on screen in the past, will not be alone in this step forward for African Americans in cinema. Michael B. Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker are among many others who are helping carry the weight of this film.

It is not just the names that make the movie stand out. It is the message the film is sending. One message is that women of color are fully capable. The women of Wakanda explained what makes the country so special. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly Angela Bassett explained that “It’s a nation that respects and reveres women. They think of us not just as Queens but as the Queen Mother. Mother is the nurturer and the first teacher. That position is embraced. She’s not someone who is off to the side.”

Photo Credit: Entertainment Weekly/ Kwaku Alston/©Marvel Studios 2018

Via Youtube/ ©Marvel Studios 2018

The film is already sold out in pre-order tickets. Advance reviews are positive.  The cultural appreciation is on point. This is a movie that Marvel fans have been waiting for like dinner on Thanksgiving Day.

Black Panther definitely has a lot to bring to the table. I hope everyone is ready for the release February 16th.

Thoughts on This Year’s Oscar Race

Nominations for the 2018 Academy Awards on March 4th were just announced and, to no one’s surprise, the Best Picture nominees are:

  • “Call Me By Your Name”
  • “Darkest Hour”
  • “Dunkirk”
  • “Get Out”
  • “Lady Bird”
  • “Phantom Thread”
  • “The Post”
  • “The Shape of Water”
  • “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

I confess to having missed one out of that list, which I plan to rectify in the upcoming weeks before the March 4th ceremony. The one I have not seen is “Phantom Thread,” but it is playing near me at the Lamar Boulevard Alamo Drafthouse and contains what is rumored to be the last performance by Daniel Day Lewis, who announced that he was going to stop acting. (Of course, Cher announced her final tour how many times?)

I heard Richard Roper, the film critic for the Chicago Sun Times, say on WGN radio that “Three Billboards” has the inside track now for Best Picture. It is about an empowered woman seeking justice for her daughter’s rape and murder. Empowerment and women’s rights being all the rage now with the “Me, Too!” movement, he could be right. It is a darkly original well-written script directed by its writer, Martin McDonagh (“Seven Psychopaths,” “In Bruges”). Frances McDormand (married to a Coen Brother and star of the original “Fargo”) is always a force to be reckoned with and she certainly is in this film.

The cast for “Three Billboards” is uniformly great, including Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson, both of whom were nominated for Best Supporting Actor. I saw “Three Billboards” twice, once in Chicago at the film festival and once when I took my husband to it, because I knew he would enjoy it. It was a true original and I think my assessment on The Movie Blog.com at the time was “original and bad-ass,” both of which still apply. At the time, I was being chastised for ranking movies too high (I only go to movies that I think are going to be good, if possible). I had to find a “bad” thing to point out about the film, I commented that Frances McDormand’s character was unremittingly negative, to the point that it was difficult to “humanize” her, even though an attempt was made in a scene with a deer, and that, in real life, many of her actions would have gotten her arrested and thrown in jail. I also did not like the ending as much as the rest of the film.  I wonder now if the plan was, even then, to potentially have a sequel?

If I were to rank order these films in terms of how much I enjoyed them, rather than alphabetically, as above (“Phantom Thread” excepted, of course), the rank order, for me, would be:

#1: “The Shape of Water”

#2:  “Lady Bird”

#3:  “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

#4:  “Get Out!”

#5:  “The Post”

#6:  “Darkest Hour”

#7:  “Dunkirk”

#8:  “Call Me By Your Name”

I’m a former HWA (Horror Writers’ Association) member and that means that the idea of the monster getting the girl appealed to me (“The Shape of Water”). When you read my detailed review of the film elsewhere on this blog, you, too, will appreciate the achievement that “The Shape of Water” represents. It was the closing film of the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival and I was blown away when I read through all of the press notes about how much care and effort went into making it. It truly deserves its record number of nominations (13, the most) and I would love to see it win as Best Picture of the Year. I also remember meeting Guillermo del Toro at a previous Chicago International Film Festival, when he was being given a special award, and a nicer man you cannot find.

Because of my connection to writing horror, I was also very happy to see “Get Out!”, directed by one-half of the Key & Peele comedy team, make it onto the list. It was truly a good film and the lead actor, Daniel Kaluuya was great in the lead part and got a nomination for Best Actor. I particularly enjoyed the Golden Globes opening, when host Seth Meyer described the film as being “a black man finds himself surrounded by a group of rich white people who don’t want to grow old.” Then, in alarm, Meyer looked at Kaluuya in the audience of Hollywood actors and actresses and said, “Oh, no! GET OUT!”

“Lady Bird” is another well-written script. It has the distinction of being a film written by and about women by Greta Gerwig in her directorial debut.  It was clever, capturing the essence of the mother/daughter relationship growing up, and much of it was based on Gerwig’s own upbringing in Santa Barbara, California, although she denies being much like Saiorse Ronan’s character of Lady Bird, when she was a teenager. (Saiorse Ronan received a nomination for Best Actress and Laurie Metcalf received a Best Supporting Actress nod playing her mother.)

I took a close friend (who also has a daughter) to the film, telling her it had a good chance of being nominated for Best Picture, and we both enjoyed it (for the second time, in my case).  Laurie Metcalf is great in her part as the mother and Tracy Letts,  a Chicago native and the playwright responsible for “August: Osage County”, came to our screening. He is perfect as the father (who always gets to be “the good guy”), although, in real life, he admitted he had no children. (Something I read he was rectifying right now.) It would be nice to see a small film triumph, but I’m thinking the fine acting in it and the screenplay has a better chance of getting the kudos.

Timothy Chalamet

Interesting side note: Timothy Chalamet, who is nominated as Best Lead Actor for “Call Me By Your Name” also has a part in “Lady Bird.”

 

 

Michael Stuhlbarg: Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (aka, Dmitri) in “The Shape of Water.”

His double play  may only be surpassed by Michael Stuhlbarg, whom I met and chatted with on “The Shape of Water” Red  Carpet in Chicago. He portrays Chalamet’s father in “Call Me By Your Name,” has a role as a Russian scientist in “The Shape of Water,” and played the owner of the New York Times (Abe Saperstein) in “The Post,” so he is in three of the nine nominated films.

 

Quite the coup for this versatile actor, who shared with us that his next project was supposed to be playing Gore Vidal’s long-time homosexual partner opposite Kevin Spacey in a bio-pic. (One wonders what has happened to that planned picture now that Kevin Spacey seems to be persona non grata in Hollywood?)

(L to R) Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Shannon and Cinema Chicago founder Michael Kutza in Chicago after the screening of “The Shape of Water.”

 

 

This picture was taken just as Michael Kutza (founder of Cinema Chicago 53 years ago) said to the two Michaels onstage, “Why doesn’t Spacey just come out of the closet and admit he’s gay?” Both of the actors cracked up laughing. At the time, it was a fairly brave remark, as Spacey had not fallen out of favor and the proverbial s*** had not hit the fan.

Gary Oldman

(Anthony Harvey for Getty Images)

 

Since it seems a foregone conclusion that Gary Oldman will (finally) get the Best Actor statuette for his outstanding portrayal of Winston Churchill in “The Darkest Hour” I’d like to add that the film is actually very good, as well. It’s not just a case of a good acting job in an otherwise ho-hum film. Oldman truly deserves this honor, after so many, many good roles, and I would be surprised if any of the other actors in the category (Timothee Chalamet, Daniel Day-Lewis, Daniel Kaluuya, Denzel Washington) give him any real competition for the gold statuette.

Image result for gary oldman gallery

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour”

I would also be surprised if the make-up artists (Kazuhiro Rsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick)  for “The Darkest Hour” didn’t cart off the award for Best Make-up and Hair, since their competition is “Victoria and Abdul” and “Wonder.”)

LEAD ACTRESS

Sally Hawkins as mute cleaning woman Elisa Esposito in “The Shape of Water.”

The nominees are Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water”); Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”); Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”); Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”); and Meryl Streep (“The Post”).  Streep has just announced she will join the cast of “Big Little Lies” next season, playing the mother of Alexander Skaarsgard.

THE SNUBS

This brings me to the snub of both Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks for “The Post.” Maybe the Academy just feels they have been honored enough, but this was a truly fine and enjoyable film, and an important one in these times, since it deals with attempts to suppress the free press and focuses on the publication of the Pentagon Papers. I was also sad to see that Ridley Scott’s re-shoot of “All the Money in the World” got short shrift and that Jeremy Renner’s turn as Corey Lambert in “Wind River” didn’t get a closer look, but I think it was released too early. The Academy seems to have a short memory for films that aren’t released closer to the date of the actual ceremony.

 Right now, all the momentum is definitely with “Three Billboards” and Frances McDormand, but I am an admirer of “The Shape of Water.” If I may remind viewers, however, Sally Hawkins (previously known for playing the meek sister of Oscar-winning Cate Blanchett  in Woody Allen’s 2013 film “Blue Jasmine”) had to play her role without speaking, as she portrays a woman who is mute. All of the actresses I saw were good (haven’t yet seen “I, Tonya” performance yet) but, for my money, having to play your role completely without words makes Hawkins’ task that much harder and her achievement that much greater. I wouldn’t mind seeing Frances McDormand win because women’s empowerment is today’s buzzword, but I’d really like to see Sally Hawkins be recognized for such a fine job, working under adverse conditions.

SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Image result for richard jenkins images

Richard Jenkins

Image result for sam rockwell images

Sam Rockwell

This category is one of the most difficult to predict. The nominees were Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”); Woody Harrelson (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), Richard Jenkins (“The Shape of Water”), Christopher Plummer (“All the Money in the World”) and Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”).

First, let me say that having two actors from the same film (“Three Billboards) nominated for that film is always detrimental to one of them, but Rockwell, who has labored long and hard in the indie film field, has carted off SAG and Golden Globe honors already and certainly has a quirky, comic role that deserves recognition. But so do the others. Woody is equally good as the long-suffering and fatally ill Sheriff of Ebbing, Missouri. Christopher Plummer, playing J. Paul Getty in the had-to-be-shot-over-from-scratch “All the Money in the World,” is an old pro who does a great job for Ridley Scott, replacing the disgraced Kevin Spacey. The entire film was great and Ridley Scott, who pulled off an impossible task, at the ripe old age of 80, deserved more nominations for this film. Some said Michelle Williams would get a nomination as Best Actress for her role as the mother of the kidnapped grandson of J. Paul Getty, but she did not. I’d really like to see Richard Jenkins win, because he has been so good for so long (played the dead undertaker father in television’s “Six Feet Under“), but has never received the recognition he is due. It also would not bother me to see Christopher Plummer, a veteran actor, get the nod. Having said all that, it seems this is Rockwell’s year. Saw “The Florida Project.” The child actors—especially Brooklynn Prince as Moonnee—-were impressive, but it was not Willem Dafoe’s finest hour or strongest part in a storied career. 

SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

Saiorse Ronan in “Lady Bird”

Nominees are Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”); Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”), Lesley Manville (“Phantom Thread”), Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”) and Octavia Spencer (“The Shape of Water”). I have not yet seen either Allison Janney, Lesley Manville, or Mary J. Blige, but I’m a big fan of Steppenwolf product Laurie Metcalf, better known to TV audiences as RoseAnne’s television sister. She was terrific as the Mom in “Lady Bird” but somewhat snubbed at earlier awards shows, in favor of Allison Janney, who plays Tonya Harding’s mother. It was interesting to learn that, although both Letts and Metcalf came out of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater, they had never shared a stage before “Lady Bird.”

DIRECTORS:

Image result for guillermo del toro photos

    Guillermo del Toro

Nominees are Christopher Nolan for “Dunkirk;” Jordan Peele for “Get Out”; Grets Gerwig for “Lady Bird”; Paul Thomas Anderson for “Phantom Thread”; and “The Shape of Water” for Guillermo del Toro. Again, notable snubs to Ridley Scott for “All the Money in the World” and to Steven Spielberg for “The Post.” My heart is with “The Shape of Water.” It was quite the achievement; read the review posted here earlier.

Playwrght/actor (“August: Osage County”) Tracy Letts, at the showing of “Lady Bird” in Chicago.

Without mentioning ALL the categories, I’d like to see “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” triumph for Steve James and Kartemquin Films in the documentary category. They are headquartered in Chicago (40 years and counting) and this is their second nomination for an Oscar this year, along with “Edith & Eddie” in the Best Documentary Short Subject category. I’d also like to see “The Square” win for Best Foreign Film, “In the Fade” (which I also saw) from Germany seemed to have the inside track, but was another notable snub.

ODD FACTS:

Another interesting odd fact concerns the Best Actor/Best Supporting Actress categories where the one-time former husband/wife team of Gary Oldman (for “Darkest Hour”) and Lesley Manville (for “Phantom Thread”) were both nominated. Oldman has been married 5 times. Lesley Manville was his first wife, whom he married in 1987. He left her in 1989, 3 months after their son, Alfie, was born. In 1990 he married his most famous wife, Uma Thurman but that only lasted two years. He also had a drunk driving arrest in 1991 while out with Kiefer Sutherland (his blood alcohol was 2x the legal limit in California) and has made numerous unfortunate statements that caused him (some say) to be blacklisted in Hollywood for a while. (One was a “diss” of the Golden Globes, which, this year, he seemed genuinely thankful to receive for playing Churchill). His most recent wife is writer and art curator Gisele Schmidt, whom he married in September of 2017, so Oldman will be a newly-wed with about 6 months of matrimonial bliss to his credit in his fifth marriage by the time the awards are televised. Met him during a Chicago showing of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” in 2012, for which he was also nominated as Best Actor.

“Black Lightning” on the CW Premieres for DC Comics Fans

by Zayin Allen

(Episode 1, “Resurrection” trailer.)

The CW has sparked the attention of many DC comic book fans and their new show (debuted January 16th) “Black Lightning” has electrified the entire network.

The first African-American superhero in DC Comics, Black Lightning debuted originally in 1977 and defined an era of social injustice in the United States. Creators Tony Isabella and Trevor Von Eeden showed the world that an African American man can have power.

The decision to have the television show premiere the day after the Martin Luther King holiday was a strong move on the CW’s part, because it filled viewers’ screens with an extra jolt of soul power.

Black Lightning tells the story of Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams), father of two, teacher of few, and activist of many in the city of Freeland. Pierce struggles with finding balance in his life after retiring his superhero alter-ego. Following the divorce from his wife Lynn Pierce (Christine Adams), Jefferson is called back to fight for justice after his daughters, Anissa and Jennifer Pierce (China Anne McClain and Nafessa Williams) are threatened by the rise of the 100 gang, led by their leader, former politician Tobias Whale (Marvin Jones III).

The casting of the show is amazing. China Anne McClain said, in an interview before the show’s debut, that, upon arrival she “knew very quickly that they would be able to play a family easily.” The passion of Jefferson makes viewers understand that he wants better for his family and nothing will get in his way. Black Lightning is not just about a man who can glow like a light bulb and walk around shocking people. The show tells a deeper story about conflict and living in trying times. Cress does not tell this story alone.

Nafessa Williams and China Anne McClain set the standard for strong independent African American women, and that is what the show needs. Anissa is an open member of the LGBT community, and is als an educated teachers who takes after her father in more ways than one. Jennifer is an intelligent high school student who is stressed by the pressures of school, but has a strong family dynamic to support her. Between the love of her overprotective father and her sister she stands her ground, but she’s still a teen growing into adulthood.

Everyone in the cast meshes well together, including Tobias Whale. It is declared early on within the show that Whale is not a force to be taken lightly. Even with 1000 plus volts and the ability to step walk on air, Jefferson still has things he has to battle with, things that he cannot combat with his incredible strength alone.

The discussion of race is what sets this show apart from others. It deals with issues like the struggle of trust between a community and law enforcement, the destruction of a community from within, and gang violence. This show is different because it talks about real world issues. These issues need to be seen by viewers in the comfort of their own homes to fully understand what is happening in the world around them. I, personally, applaud the CW for recognizing diversity, and I want to applaud the director, Salim Akil, for having enough understanding to make a show about the struggles and triumphs in the African American community, depicted by a predominantly African American cast of actors.

All in all, the show is amazing. It offers action, drama and humor all rolled into one. The casting is spot on and the issues are relevant. Like all superhero shows on the CW, the fight scenes are long and drawn out, no matter how fast or spectacular they look. However, this was only the first episode and the actors take you to a place beyond the comic book.

There is more to be seen, and judging from this week’s premiere, the voltage is definitely high.

Game Village

http://www.bingoaffinity.com/

“12 Strong” Is One Long Boring Movie That Wastes A Great Cast

The trailer looked impressive and, as someone wrote beneath the trailer on Youtube: “Michael Shannon? I’m in!”

Image result for pics of Michael Shannon

Michael Shannon

I sat through an advance showing of Jerry Bruckheimer’s latest Blow-Em-Up Shoot-Out at the Afghanistan Corral, “12 Strong,” which opens wide January 19th, and all I can say is, “Boy! They must have paid Michael Shannon a s—load of money to make this!”

It isn’t just Shannon who is wasted on this supposedly “declassified true story of the horse soldiers” in Afghanistan. (*Potential spoiler: All of them live to tell about it, and we get to see the REAL soldiers at the end of the film in a group shot.)

Image result for michael pena pics
Michael Pena

Other cast members who lend their talents to this thing are everyone’s favorite Hispanic All-Around Actor, Michael Pena, and the heartthrob from Down Under, Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”), as well as Taylor Sheridan (Brian), Rob Riggle (kept waiting for the funny stuff) as Colonel Max Bowers, and a cast of zillions of stuntmen and more explosive charges than I can remember since “Apocalypse Now.”

Image result for chris hemsworth pics 2017
Chris Hemsworth.

THE BAD

Image result for images for William Fichtner

Character actor William Fichtner, WITH hair.

Another actor in this Nicolai Puglsig directed movie based on the Doug Stanton book (script by Ted Tally and Peter Craig) is the always dependable William Fichtner, who has been a character actor par excellence since as far back as 1987. The 62-year-old actor has about 7 films in production in 2018 alone, but what, in heaven’s name, was the idea behind having him SHAVE HIS HEAD for his role as Colonel Mulholland?

Image result for =William Fichtner bald in "12 Strong" picture

Ugh. Fichtner has a nice head of hair, as seen during his appearances recently on the TV series “Mom” (and elsewhere) and his is not the kind of head one should have to see shorn nude. He has a typically schmaltzy dialogue exchange with our hero, Chris Hemsworth (Captain Mitch Nelson) where he gives him a piece of iron from the Twin Towers that melted down during the 9/11 attack and tells him to carry it into battle to remember why he is fighting or some such.

Whatever Fichtner said, I was too focused on his bald pate to care or remember. It was a bad look. I hope his hair grows back. (At 62, shaving one’s head might be “the end of hair as we know it.”)

Of course, as someone else pointed out, perhaps it was a “skinhead” wig. I certainly hope so, because it was a truly awful look for Fichtner and for the film.

Image result for pictures of Rob Riggle
Rob Riggle

And the casting of Rob Riggle—who, I believe, actually WAS a Marine—as Colonel Max Bowers was— odd. When you see Rob Riggle, you think “funny” and this is not a funny film.

Nor was it, for me, an entertaining one. I needed a stiff drink immediately after it was over; it was long. It’s difficult to tell you how long. I searched fruitlessly for a mention of the length of this film. It seemed like it went on forever. (Actually, it was 2 hours and 10 minutes, which is still much too long.)

If you enjoy watching things blowing up and hearing an endless series of huge explosions, by all means run, do not walk, to the nearest theater where this thing is showing.

If you enjoy schmaltzy, seen-before, not-that-original war stories: ditto.

If you just want to see Hemsworth lift that hammer. Oh, wait. Wrong movie,

[Chris Hemsworth does not hammer anything in this one, although he is our lead and the All-Around Wonderful Loving Husband and Father who leads the charge on horseback, no less, against tanks and insurgents of the Taliban.]

THE GOOD

The cinematography by Rasmus Videbaele was sometimes quite impressive, with three Chinook helicopters lifting into the sky against a sunset horizon. The explosions, as well, would have required technical expertise, so good job of not blowing anybody up for real.

Image result for Navid Negahban pictures from 12 Strong

Navid Negahben (General Dostum)

Two actors who portray natives fighting alongside our boys should be singled out for mention, Navid Negahben as General Dostum and Fahim Fazli as Commander Khaled. They turn in credible acting jobs, as do the others packed in this piece of war propaganda. General Dostum goes on to become head of the country, we are told.

Image result for Fahim Fazli pictures from 12 Strong
Fahim Fazli as Commander Khaled with Chris Helmsworth on location.

This film, with its 16 producers and its non-stop deafening roar, reminded me of movies going back to “the old days” that featured the likes of Aldo Ray, Audie Murphy, and, at one point, the recently-deceased Don Rickles in a dramatic role, fighting battles of World War II,

Only now there are infinitely more explosions. Be warned.

 

Observations on the January 7th Golden Globes from Zayin Allen

Image result for google images of Oprah Winfrey at the Golden Globes, 2017
Oprah at the Sunday, January 7th, Golden Globe Awards
During the Golden Globes, the big moments are not about the ceremony and awards themselves,.
It’s more about what the nominees and winners have to say. especially with everything  happening leading into the new year with the “Me, Too!” movement..
Image result for google images of Natalie Portman at the Golden Globes, 2017

Natalie Portman was strong to subtly voice her opinion on the “All male nominees” for the best director category.

Image result for Google images of Guillermo del toro at the 2017 Golden Globes

Guillermo Del Toro took home the Best Director award for “Shape of Water.”  This act basically called out the elephant in the room with a loud speaker, especially since Barbra Streisand recalled being the last woman to win the award for Best Director and that was in 1984. Portman laid the ground work for the biggest moments of the night, but Oprah’s remarks (which she had been asked to shorten, but refused) were the cherry on top of the sundae..

Who else is there better to steal the show with grace and status than Oprah herself?
 After Oprah accepted the 2018 Cecil B. DeMille Award, Winfrey, the first African American woman to receive the award, went on to use the outlet and addressed the sexual misconduct scandal happening in Hollywood.  During her acceptance speech she stated that “speaking your truth is the most powerful tool you all have.”
Among all the speeches, none of them made the audience form eye puddles like Winfrey’s.  Going on to call out to the young girls at home, Oprah said, become the leaders“I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon!.. And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they  who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say, “Me too” again.” The hashtag #MeToo began to spread like wildfire all over the internet, basically questioning whether or not Oprah was locking in her run for President in 2020.
Yeah, it was that big.
That was not the only huge moment of the night.  Sterling K. Brown’s performance as Randall Pearson  in NBC’s drama “This is Us” was noteworthy. Brown won the Golden Globe award for best actor in a TV series, drama. While the show is heavy in certain moments enough to make a grown man cry.
With most of the talk of the night centering around gender, Brown went on to address something of a different caliber: being one the first African American actors to win the award for the best actor in a TV drama. In his brief acceptance speech he went on to thank the show’s creator, Dan Fogelman  “for a black man that can only be played by a black man…… I’m being seen for who I am and being appreciated for who I am, and it makes it that much more difficult to dismiss me or dismiss anybody who looks like me.”
fter Brown’s speech, the applause filled the room and the internet had a field day with the 75th Golden Globes.The night itself was a momentous occasion with many actors, directors, and films going on to claim awards and the female nominees wearing black in a show of solidarity.

And So the Adventure Begins: Welcome, Zayin Allen

My name is Zayin Allen and I’m a senior at Delaware State University looking for writing opportunities relevant to my interests to boost my portfolio.  I have written for my school newspaper in the past, but, mostly current events articles. My interests lie with covering/reviewing movies and TV.  I am a self-motivated, outspoken, opinionated writer and person.  I am looking for opportunities to hone my craft and build a career as an entertainment writer.

Any time I see a film or a TV show, whether I love it or hate it, the first thing that I have to do is tell someone about it and discuss the hits and misses, the visuals, the dialogue, and every little detail.

I would love the opportunity to do that in an environment where I can better find my voice, hone my craft, and gain experience.  I understand that I have to start somewhere. I am willing to put in the work and, since I already read your site, for me there is no better place.  I am willing to do written pieces and video reaction/reviews for the site.

I can e-mail you some of the articles that I have written for my college paper, and I can send you some spec reviews that I wrote about “Punisher” and “The Runaways” to show you what I am capable of.  I am available to start writing for you immediately and am open to fill in gaps in TV and film reviews. I love comic book-related TV and films.  I also like horror and some action.  I really hope that I am able to join your staff or at least intern.

Thanks for your time,

Zayin Allen ”

(Who can resist? Zayin is going to put together some thoughts on various film and TV movies and shows from a slightly less “mature” POV, and we might have a little “Point/Counterpoint” going on, as I am more than happy to leave the World Of Marvel to Zayin’s observations. Right now, I’m waiting for a head shot of the budding journalist to accompany his bio, which I seem to have lost in my IPhone (Where does it go after you read it on your phone? Do elves eat it? What?) I’d put a graphic in here with the piece we both have written on the Golden Globes, but that piece, too, has gone up in smoke for the moment, as I am en route to various locations by car and my opportunities to write on a “good” computer have been severely impacted. Not only that, but I swear that AOL is now equivalent to the U.S. Post Office. It takes days for mail to appear, if it does appear.)

Bear with me, Zayin and Public, and we’ll get some interesting “new” impressions. And welcome. 

 

 

“Porto” Film Is One of Actor Anton Yelchin’s Final Performances

 

I recently attended the Oakton Community College Pop-Up Film Festival, organized by Film Instructor and Director Michael G. Smith in Des Plaines, Illinois.

One of the films viewed by the crowd was “Porto,” a film directed by Gabe Klinger, who flew in from New York to answer questions from the crowd, which contains one of Anton Yelchin’s very last performances. Having just seen Yelchin in the very enjoyable “Thoroughbreds” (in a small part as a drug dealer), here was a chance to see Yelchin take center stage as the male lead in this story of romance remembered.

I was warned, going in, that it would be “intense.”

Normally, I would simply describe the plot and give the “bad” and “good” of it but after reading the harsh and somewhat inaccurate review in the November 27th “New Yorker” magazine, I’ll be doing a bit of quoting and rebuttal.

ANTON YELCHIN’S FINAL ROLES

Line two of the “New Yorker” review: “Yelchin’s character, Jake Kleeman, is an American scholar in Portugal who begins a relationshp with Mati Vargnier (Lucie Lucas), a French archaeologist who followed her professor (Paulo Calatre) there from Paris.” The character Yelchin plays is not accurately described as “an American scholar.” Jake explains that he and his sister were dragged around the globe by their American soldier father and, after enjoying their time in Portugal more than most of their father’s previous nomadic military postings, they decided to “leave the tour” at that point and quit relocating to a variety of cities. Actually, he says his sister made the decision to stay in Portugal, which they both liked, and he stayed in support of Sis’ decision. Jake is long past the “student” stage when the film opens, looking as if he is at least thirty, and, in fact, admits that he will take any job to keep body-and-soul together. We see him with a wheelbarrow, hauling rocks and stones in a quarry. We see him helping the gorgeous Matie (Lucie Lucas) haul boxes to her new apartment. He appears to be pretty down-and-out. You soon get the impression that Jake is closer to bum status than to “scholar,” although he does mention having once been a “scholar.”

Either I watched a different film, or whoever wrote that description for the New Yorker was paying more attention to the character’s talking about his early days when he was able to attend colleges overseas.

CITYSCAPES: LISBON, PORTUGAL

The next New Yorker observation is this: “The director, Gabe Klinger, plants Mati and Jake in lavishly photographed cityscapes but burdens them with a drama that plays like a lonely man’s wet dream.”

     REBUTTAL: I would agree that the cityscapes are lavishly photographed. I would not agree that the leads are “burdened” with the remembered romantic tryst that plays out more than once.

THE SCRIPT:

The New Yorker: “The script (which Klinger co-wrote with Larry Gross) is a hollow batch of cliches, starting with Mati’s hot come-on in a recurring cafe sequence in which Jake glowers and leers carnivorously at her before they grunt and heave gamely in a long bedroom sequence (an icky fantasy of phallic expertise.)”

REBUTTAL: Where to start with this one? What I saw was a Mona Lisa-like gorgeous creature (Lucie Lucas) who would rival Sophia Loren or Ava Gardner in their primes, sitting in a picturesque cafe where Jake (Anton Yelchin) is mesmerized by her beauty. Yes, he stares at the beautiful brunette with the Mona Lisa smile, as any red-blooded heterosexual man would. Ultimately, Jake works up the courage to approach Mati and ask if he may join her at her table. He does and they remain there briefly before Mati asks Jake to assist her in moving many boxes from her car to her apartment.

He agrees and we see him hauling box after box from her car to Mati’s new place, followed by her unrolling the primitive “bed” on the floor, which the couple soon puts to good use. Mati tells Jake that she is involved with her Professor right from the start, but that does not stop the smitten lad. The graphic sex scene (replayed from memory more than once) displays all of Luci Lucas’ charms in full frontal shots that prove that she is truly gorgeous. Unfortunately, we see only Yelchin’s back and his receding David Letterman-like hairline, neither one of which is particularly attractive.

POST ROMANTIC TRYST:

In the morning, Jake (Yelchin) awakens alone in the bed on the floor. He begins assembling one of Mati’s bookcases and arranging some of her belongings on it, when Mati and her amorous mature Professor lover return to the scene of the romantic crime. It is obvious that the older man very quickly sizes up the situation, but he does not seem particularly angry or aggressive. (He goes to the refrigerator, in fact, and changes the subject). He’s French, after all.

Later, we see this romantic scene played out more than once. The bad thing about the repetition of the scene is not the nudity or the sex, but the fact that the scene is badly out of focus in the replay. It really bothered me to see the fuzzy, blurry images.

Director/Writer Gabe Klinger (R), of “Porto,” during the Q&A at the Oakton Community College Pop-Up Film Festival in Des Plaines, Illinois with a college film instructor.

It was only after the film was over, during the Q&A with director Gabe Klinger, that the audience is clued in that the fuzziness and out-of-focus images were intentional, meant to show that memories, too, can shift in and out of focus with the passage of time. Unless this is run as a disclaimer at the start of the film if I were cinematographer Wyatt Garfield, I would have advised against this ploy to show that memories can (also) be fuzzy. It’s just incredibly amateurish-looking, as though my dad shot this film—-the guy who always cut the heads off all of his subjects.

TIME SHIFTS

The New Yorker:   “What’s more, Klinger plays coyly with the time scheme, as if to mask the lack of substance with tricks of form.” 

REBUTTAL: I’m not sure that the playing around with time and shifting of time was “coy,” but it did have the effect of being slightly confusing. However, when we see Lucie with a small child and her obviously-now-ex older husband enters to leave his daughter a gift, it is pretty obvious that Mati followed through with her intention to marry the better choice between the two. Time has passed—and a lot of it. Mati has married, given birth, and become estranged from the Professor. As for Jake, he was always just a one night stand, although he had a much more romantic view of their encounter and seems incapable of moving on.

PHYSICAL ABUSE:

The New Yorker:   “A gratuitously ugly scene of Jake’s physical abuse of Matti is a casually checked-off plot point.”

REBUTTAL: The only “physical abuse” I observed took place in the street in public when the frustrated Jake tries to physically restrain the gorgeous Mati by grabbing her arm. She rebuffs him and runs away. It was more of a glancing blow to her arm in his attempt to keep the beautiful creature from leaving him. But, quite frankly, he has no job and no prospects of a job and she was quite honest during their one-night stand about her intentions, so the fact that she doesn’t plan to continue screwing the unemployed (and not that attractive) admirer doesn’t seem to be much of a shock to anyone but Jake.

 THE BEST SCENE?

The New Yorker:   “With Francoise Lebrun, in the movie’s one well-imagined scene , as Mati’s mother.”

In the scene the New Yorker apparently liked, Mati asks her now old and weathered mother if she still desires men in her life. Mom answers that she does, in a rather world-weary manner, and even offers up her last sexual encounter with a stranger for her daughter’s consideration. So, you’re never too old might be the right way to sum that bit of wisdom up, which is comforting.

 I enjoyed the movie and the Q&A and one of his final films is dedicated onscreen to Anton Yelchin.

 

 

 

 

 

New Amazon Review of THE COLOR OF EVIL Series (Boxed Set)

on November 15, 2017
Do I like scary clowns? No! Did the cover of the new box set “The Color of Evil,” by Connie Corcoran Wilson, scare me? Yes! Did I want to read this book anyway? Of course I did! And boy am I glad I did. From the fantastically creepy cover, on the box set as well as each individual book contained within, this is one shivery read. At first, I felt that the action was a bit slow to get started; however, I’m glad I stuck with it, because for a book that is supposed to be geared towards a younger audience, this definitely had some scary and troubling moments.

There are three books in this set and each one delivers the same amount of thrills and chills, however, each are also distinctly different in various ways, even though a common theme and storyline run throughout. The main idea, that Tad McGreevy can see colors around people, auras if you will, that allow him to determine what type of person they are, I found to be very unique. I was almost just as horrified as he was each time he saw someone with the dreaded gray-green color surrounding them.

Yes, there are unexpected twists and turns you won’t see coming. And yes, I definitely recommend this set to anyone who enjoys good, old-fashioned horror. And by that I mean, back in the golden age of horror, when Dean Koontz was writing as Leigh Nichols, and Stephen King was just getting started, along with the likes of Ramsey Campbell, Doug Clegg and Clive Barker. If you are nostalgic for some no-holds-barred, white-knuckle ride, keep-the-lights-on horror novels, then rejoice with this set, because you have three that you’ll want to read one right after the other. And keep an eye on this author, because I can tell she’ll have many more thrills to bring us in the future.

Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” Closes Out the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival with a Tribute to Michael Shannon

The closing film for the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival was Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” which seems destined for many Academy Award nominations this season. It also served as an opportunity to pay tribute to Michael Shannon, one of the actors in the film, who was present to accept the award and answer audience questions, along with co-star Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays a Russian scientist spy (Dr. Robert Hoffstetler, aka Dimitri) in the film.

The idea for the story of a romance between a creature like the Creature from the Black Lagoon film of 1954, [directed by Jack Arnold and starring Ben Chapman (on land) and Ricou Browning (underwater)] was part of the film’s appeal for del Toro, a well-known fan of horror movies, whose television series “The Strain” is now entering its fourth and final season. It was “Pan’s Labyrinth” in 2006 that vaulted the Mexican director to the ranks of top talents, however, as the film went on to be nominated as one of the Best Pictures of the Year and to win 3 Oscars for Cinematography, Art Direction and Make-Up. “The Shape of Water” has the potential to take home the golden trophy for all of those categories, plus snag acting nominations for cast members.

ACTING:

Sally Hawkins as mute cleaning woman Elisa Esposito in “The Shape of Water.”

It is difficult to select just one actor who would deserve an Oscar nomination, but it seems a foregone conclusion that the female lead, Sally Hawkins, will be up, as she has to play her entire role without words. (She is mute—but not deaf— in the film). Jane Wyman (first wife of Ronald Reagan) won the Oscar as Best Actress in 1948 for playing a deaf mute in “Johnny Belinda;”  Oscar loves lead characters with disabilities (think “My Left Foot” for a more recent example.)

Sally Hawkins was Oscar nominated for playing the ordinary sister of Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” and this part was written especially for her by Guillermo del Toro. It’s going to be hard to argue that she doesn’t deserve to win when she had to play the entire role without speaking.

Then there is the wonderful Richard Jenkins, so good in everything he appears in. He played Nathaniel, the dead patriarch, on “Six Feet Under” but has been working steadily since 1974 (80 films to the much younger Shannon’s 40) and is always believable and good. In this film he play Giles, a gay man who is ostracized in the Cold War era because of his sexual preferences and also because his craft of painting commercial panels is being supplanted by photography. (*Small sidelight: Jenkins is from DeKalb, Illinois and has been married to his wife since 1969).

All the characters are fighting “aloneness.” Giles (Richard Jenkins) is one of them.

I have always loved Richard Jenkins in Ben Stiller’s comedy, “Flirting with Disaster,” one of the best comedies ever made. But we can’t forget his work in the television series “Olive Kitteridge,” for which he won an Emmy as lead actor, nor his film roles in “Killing Them Softly,””Norman,” “Burn After Reading,”  “Fun with Dick & Jane,” “Me, Myself and Irene,” “Step Brothers” or “LBJ,” to name just a few.

Closing night Tribute to Michael Shannon, along with showing of Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water.” (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Michael Shannon, whom Warner Herzog has called “arguably the best actor of his generation” (Shannon has worked with Herzog three times) is terrific, as always, as Richard Strickland.  When Shannon is onscreen, he commands your attention and you can only really concentrate on him.

I had the opportunity to speak with Michael Shannon on the Red Carpet and asked him these 2 questions: Citing such films as “Revolutionary Road,” for which he was Oscar-nominated in 2008, as well as “Bug” in 2006, “Take Shelter” in 2011, “The Iceman” in 2012, and “Nocturnal Animals,” [for which he once again earned an Oscar nomination in 2016], how does he bring himself down to a more normal performance as an ordinary guy, as in the film “Mud”, which was also directed by Jeff Nichols, (with whom he has worked 5 times?)

Shannon’s answer was this: “It’s a job. I’m an actor.  I just show up and do it.” He would repeat that answer from the stage during the Q&A.

Tribute to Michael Shannon at the Chicago Film Festival. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

When asked what his favorite film was, he said “Take Shelter.” I was surprised to get an answer from him, as often that is a question that actors don’t like to tackle, considering it a bit like naming their favorite child. However, it was clear from his joking-around demeanor that Shannon doesn’t necessarily behave exactly like other actors on the Red Carpet or elsewhere. (He even said as much from the stage later, commenting, “I wasn’t a normal person before I got there, and I wasn’t after I arrived.”)  [The character actor who comes closest to Shannon in tone or style, for me, is probably Bruce Dern in his prime, in films like “Black Sunday” and “Coming Home.”]

Onstage at the AMC Theater in Chicago accepting his Tribute award and thanking benefactors on closing night of the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival on Thursday October 26, 2017. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Shannon was very humble in thanking both his agent, who had flown in from Los Angeles, and his best friend from the age of 14 on, as well as his stepmother and shared how proud his father would have been (Dad taught at DePaul in Chicago, and although Shannon got his start here, he now lives in New York City).

Cast member Octavia Spencer, an Oscar winner for “The Help,” is also an actress who is always good, just as she was in “Hidden Figures” and “Small Town Crimes” recently. She said, in Toronto, that when she heard that Guillermo del Toro had written a role just for her in this film, she said, “Oh, Lord! I’ll play anything he wants. I’ll be a tree if he wants me to be!”

There are no bad performances in this film, so take your pick of who you think will wind up with Oscar nods. Certainly Sally Hawkins and possibly both Shannon and co-star Michael Stuhlbarg, the most decent man in the film, (even if he is a Russian spy.)

The script, written by del Toro with the assistance of Vanessa Taylor (who has worked on “Game of Thrones” and also scripted the “Allegiant” installment of “The Divergent” series) was written with each specific actor in mind all of whom joined the cast. Shannon joked, from the stage, that it was “A little like being indoctrinated into a cult” and said that the experience was “epic and overwhelming and very moving at times.” He added, “Guillermo has such a big heart and it was never more on view than in this film.”

Said del Toro of the project, “I wanted to create a beautiful, elegant story about hope and redemption as an antidote to the cynicism of our times.  I wanted this story to take the form of a fairy tale in that you have a humble human being who stumbles into something grander and more transcendental than anything else in her life.  And then I thought it would be a great idea to juxtapose that love against something as banal and evil as the hatred between nations, which is the Cold War, and the hatred between people due to race, color, ability and gender.” He added, “I like to make movies that are liberating, that say it’s okay to be whoever you are, and it seems that at this time, this is very pertinent.”

Kraus, a Chicago native who collaborated with del Toro on his children’s series “Trollhunters”, suggested the idea that forms the basis of the story to Guillermo over breakfast. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

The basic story was suggested to del Toro over breakfast in 2011 by another of his collaborators, Chicago native and author Daniel Kraus, who has collaborated with del Toro on the children’s series “Trollhunters.” It was a concept that Kraus had been mulling for some time. When he shared his story with del Toro, the director decided that would be his next film. The script was then crafted with certain actors in mind.

Sally Hawkins plays a mute cleaning woman (along with best friend on the cleaning staff Octavia Spencer) in a government lab who falls in love with a sea creature that has been captured somewhere in South America and brought to the lab for study. When it appears that the evil government scientists are going to kill the creature, cleaning woman Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), aided by her good friend Giles (Richard Jenkins), cleaning woman Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer) and Michael Stuhlbarg’s scientist conceive a plan to smuggle the creature from the laboratory and, eventually, release him back into the ocean. The fact that an inter-species love affair begins to emerge between Elisa and the creature is an original idea that I’ve not seen portrayed  before. (The only previous similar story I’d ever seen involved the real-life prosecution of a human male who kept sneaking into the dolphins’ pool to have sex with the female dolphins—not quite the same vibe as depicted here.) Del Toro had said he wanted the monster to “get the girl” this time, after seeing so many films (“King Kong,” “Frankenstein”, etc.) where that doesn’t ever happen.

The Sea Creature becomes a huge part of the plot, of course, and it was important to del Toro that a real actor play the creature in the suit. Doug Jones, who has worked with del Toro for 20 years (and played a key role of The Ancient from 2014-2016 on television’s “The Strain”) was tapped to wear the suit—which meant that he faced grueling hours in the make-up chair each morning and each night. Even getting the suit on was quite the chore. Jones was the first on set in the morning and the last to leave at night, with at least 4 hours of make-up each day. Del Toro said of Jones:  “We’ve been working together for 20 years and he’s done some of the most crucial roles in my movies.  He is one of the few guys who does creatures who is also a full-fledged dramatic actor.  Often those are two separate gifts, but Doug has them both.  He’s a fantastic actor, with or without makeup.”

THE CREATURE

The theme of being alone comes in with the creature, because he is the last of his species. “He’s also never been outside his river, so he doesn’t understand where he is or why. He’s being tested and biopsied all because the government thinks, ‘We’re going to use this thing to our advantage, somehow.’”  And the Russians want him, too, if only so that their arch-enemies (the U.S.) don’t have him. The Creature was revered as a god in his original homeland and has some superhuman qualities, such as the power to reflect people’s desires back at them and the power to heal wounds more quickly.  “He comes into people’s lives and he seems to expose and amplify whatever is going on inside a human being,” said Jones. Physically, del Toro told Jones that the creature should have the bearing of a sexy, dangerous toreador, but with the fluidity of the Silver Surfer. To make sure he was attractive enough for a human female to fall in love with him, del Toro said, “Every night, I took it to my home and got the female vote: enough ass or not enough ass? Enough abs or more abs? Shoulders bigger or slimmer? It just had to be a creature you could fall in love with.”

Guillermo had encountered Mike Hill at a horror film convention and del Toro set him on a mission (at his own expense ahead of filming) to create a model of the sea creature this way: “He said he wanted me to give the creature a soul.  He wanted it to be something a woman could fall head over heels for in every way.  So I started sketching a handsome looking version of a fish man, giving him kissable lips, a square jaw and doe eyes and I went from there.”  Real-life fish like the tropical lionfish were used as a model for how the creature might eat and for its translucent bioluminescence.  Work began on the creature’s facial elements, especially its eyes.  “One of the early conversations with Guillermo was that he wanted the eyes to be changeable on set in order to change the mood or look of the creature. Since you can’t take Doug’s makeup off to change them, we ended up coming up with a magnetic system to interlock the eyes.  It was the only solution.  Once we were shooting, we would change the eyes 4 or 5 times a night.” A working set of gills was especially challenging because “we were dealing with a lot of water in some scenes. The gills give the creature an additional way of reacting without words, and we could use Doug’s breathing to enhance emotions like excitement, anger or affection.”

Finally, four spectacularly intricate suits, each capable of becoming waterlogged, were made for the production by the team at Legacy in Canada. Said Jones, “The suit is super tight and inside it there are actual corsets to make it even tighter.  But we segmented the abdominal plates so that they do give and move a little bit. It’s not solid, so it can create the graceful motions the story demands of Doug.”

It took 4 people to hoist Jones into the suit and in some scenes Jones was entirely blinded by his prosthetic eyes. The film’s visual effects supervisor, regular del Toro collaborator Dennis Berardi, began by creating an exacting digital double of Doug Jones in the prosthetic suit.  “We got to the point where we could do a digital version of the creature that could match up with Doug’s beautiful performance,” he says, adding, “Our hope is that the audience can’t distinguish at all between the digital version of the creature or the Doug Jones version.” (I’d say they completely succeeded.)

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (aka, Dmitri) in “The Shape of Water,” as played by Michael Stuhlbarg (Photo by Connie Wilson).

“The Shape of Water’s” shadowy atmosphere drops the audience into the depths of the story and Dan Laustsen’s creative cinematography was essential to achieving del Toro’s vision. During the Q&A following the film, Michael Shannon commented that, “The cinematography is off the charts.” He said that, in his 40 films, he had previously been a Deakins fan, but that the work of Laustsen, a product of Denmark, was essential to the film’s look.  Working with monochromatic tones of color, they meticulously shifted light and texture to craft a more modern, yet desaturated look, full of deep-sea tones.  Del Toro explained, “I knew I wanted the film to be monochromatic, so most of the palette is blues and greens with amber as a counter-balance.  Red only comes in as the color of blood and love.”

Del Toro said, “Dan is a genius with light.  He was able to light the film as if it was 1950’s black and white, even though we used color.  The light is very expressionistic and full of shadows and I think feels very classic.  For some of the underwater sequences, Laustsen harked back to the technique of shooting “dry for wet”, creating the illusion of water.  This involved using heavy smoke, wind machines and projection to create a dripping, pulsating atmosphere akin to water, while allowing the actors to work with their eyes open, vital to their expressions.” Said del Toro, “We did a lot of research on how to do dry for wet well, from how many frames per second to use to how you can create floating particles.  We knew the key was to create a video projection of caustic light on the characters that is very operatic.” Laustsen put the much-loved Arri Alexa digital camera to work and used Arri/Zeiss Master Prime lenses, which allowed for maximum precision. “Guillermo wanted lots of camera movement, and he likes very precise movement, so we worked with all kinds of cranes, dollies and Steadicams. It was very exciting.”

Dan Laustsen has shot more than 40 feature films, television movies and documentaries, both in his native Denmark and internationally. He has won (the Robert Award (Denmark’s version of the Academy Awards) for Best Cinematography 3 times and was nominated for the Swedish Academy Award (Guldbagge) for Best Cinematography. He shot “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “John Wick: Chapter 2.” This was Luastsen’s third collaboration with del Toro, following “Mimic” and “Crimson Peak.” It seems inevitable that this film will and should be nominated in the Cinematography category at Oscar-time.

(*Note: The scene I snapped above with “the 3 Michaels” onstage together came about when Michael Kutza (far right), Cinema Chicago founder asked about each star’s next project and learned that Michael Stuhlbarg is going to play opposite Kevin Spacey in a bio-pic about Gore Vidal. Stuhlbarg said he would be playing Vidal’s gay lover of 52 year.  Kutza remarked, “Why doesn’t Spacey just come out and admit that he’s gay?” The 2 actors cracked up. A few days later, amidst some rather unsettling sexual harassment charges from years ago involving a 14-year-old male co-star of Kevin Spacey’s, he did, indeed, admit that he is currently living as a gay man, but said he  has, at times, been bi-sexual.)

EDITING:

Sidney Wolinsky, ACE (Film Editor), a graduate of Brandeis University and San Francisco State University, has been an editor on “The Sopranos,” “Rome,” “Ray Donovan,” “House of Cards,”  and David Chase’s film “Not Fade Away.” He also edited the pilot episodes for “Sons of Anarchy,” “Blue Bloods,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Ray Donovan,” “The Strain” and “Extant.” He received 2 Eddies for his work on “The Sopranos” and an Emmy for the “Boardwalk Empire” pilot.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

Paul Denham Austerberry, with credits on such films as “The Three Musketeers” and “Amelia”, as well as “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” was brought in to design the sets, including the period apartments of characters Giles (Robert Jenkins) and  Elisa (Sally Hawkins). Del Toro said, “I fell in love with the fact that Paul has a very strong opinion of design, meaning he could counter anything I talked about with new ideas.  But even though Paul has great ideas, he’s also very practical, and that was important because this film had such a big scope, with complex sets and underwater shooting. He had to be able to orchestrate and manage all that.”  Sally Hawkins said, “The sets were like stepping into a painting. That’s what it felt like, to me.” In both cinematography and sets, I was reminded of Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo.”

Another important area for production design was the laboratory where the creature is housed.  “We didn’t want a lab that would come off as too sterile and bright. We want you to feel lots of unsettling things have gone on in there and it has some dark history.” The creature’s room is a maze of pipework, ducting and cylindrical chambers. “For the creature’s compound,” said del Toro, “I wanted it to feel almost more medieval than modern, to add to the fairy tale feeling.”

Interestingly, the pipes that you see that look like heavy cast iron pipes are really all done out of Styrofoam.  Said Austerberry, “That set was such a complicated jigsaw puzzle.  We were working on it right down to the wire.  On top of everything else, we had to design everything to endure lots of water and steam and for a huge lighting job as well.” He had in mind Brutalist architecture, the concrete-heavy, function-based style that flourished from the fifties to the seventies.

Then there was the capsule, which was described as an iron lung in the script. “I pulled lots of historical references to iron lungs. There was one in particular that Guillermo loved.  He loved the color, the shape and the language of the materials.  It was one of the first things we designed actually, because it took over 8 weeks to make.  The idea is that the chamber is on wheels so it can then be attached to the larger pressurized cylinder in the laboratory to transfer the creature.”

The ”command center” where Michael Shannon’s evil boss Strickland looks down from above was researched from fifties wall murals.  His office floats above the command center, overlooking the minions who work for him through the glass via an early closed-circuit camera system that was based on 1960’s TV studio set-ups.  “When you see Strickland behind this wall of images, it really speaks to how he sees himself as above everyone and privy to all information he can take,” Austerberry reflects.

Several scenes take place in the laboratory’s bathroom and locker room. These were shot in Toronto’s massive Hearn Generating Station, an old power station that has become an icon of a bygone industrial age.  “We looked at Hearn because it has tiled rooms. Unfortunately, the tiles in Hearn are cream and Guillermo was like, ‘We can’t have that color in this movie,’ so we ended up still using the location but hand-painting every tile to be in our color palette,” Austerberry relates.

The apartments that Austerberry designed for Elisa and Giles sit atop a classic bijou-style movie theatre.  To forge the exterior, he used Toronto’s Massey Hall, a designated National Historic Site of Canada, which was designed in neoclassical tradition by architect Sidney Badgley in 1894.

Austerberry said, of the apartments of Giles and Elise: “Their apartments are like two hemispheres of the same globe, but we lit each half differently.  With Giles, even if the scene was at night, we lit it like sunset in very warm tones.  The color coding of Elisa’s apartment is aquatic, with cool lighting and lots of cyan.  Hers is corroded by water, while his is not corroded at all. His is full of wood and golden  light, very grounded colors because he is the grounding for Elisa, whereas Elisa’s apartment has the magical light of the cinema below it.”

Austerberry shares:  “Guillermo brought us an image he had from a photograph competition in India with an old lady in a darkened room with a really aged textured and a cyan blue wall in the background and that became a big inspiration. We talked a lot about the idea that once this was a grand room but, at some point there was a fire and it never got repaired, so it looks very aged with that patina that Guillermo loves.”

The walls were a major focus, and an exhaustive quest led Austerberry to a vintage Anglo-Japanese wallpaper pattern featuring little curves that subtly resemble fish scales, similar to an ancient Japanese engraving.  He then merged that pattern over a faded cresting wave reminiscent of 19th Century Japanese artist Hokusai’s iconic woodblock print, ‘the Great Wave off Kanagawa.’

“We had a scenic artist paint a beautiful version of the Great Wave in textured plaster and then we just layered and layered and layered over it until it’s basically gone, but you still sense there’s this shape of water on this wall. Guillermo wanted the wall to be stark and subtle, but to tell a little story, if you knew what you were looking for.  So, that’s how it became so finely detailed.” All of the walls in the apartment were created as “wild walls,” meaning that they were all on quick releases so that they could be moved at a moment’s notice to accommodate a roving camera.  In addition, the windows each had to be plumbed for the deluge of rain that leads up to the film’s climactic moments.

The most challenging set of all was the modest retro bathroom, which is Elisa’s oasis from the world and becomes the creature’s refuge and the site of their deepening romance. “Our sets are generally made out of wood, Styrofoam and plaster.  But for this one we had to make everything out of aluminum and Bondo, instead of plaster, because it all would ultimately be submerged in a tank.  At one point we actually lowered the sets slowly into the tank so that you can see the water rise.  It was all very, very tricky to pull off, Austerberry describes.

With this kind of attention to detail, does anyone doubt that an Oscar nomination will follow?

THE MUSIC

Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat is noted for his collaborations with some of the world’s best filmmakers, including Wes Anderson, George Clooney (currently on display with his score for “Suburbican”), Stephen Daldry, David Fincher, Stephen Frears, Tom Hooper, Ang Lee, Terrence Malick, Roman Polanski, and Angelina Jolie. He has garnered 8 Academy Award nominations.

Among his film scores are “The Girl with the Pearl Earrings,” “The Queen,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The King’s Speech,” “Argo,” “Philomena,” “The Imitation Game”  and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” which won the 2015 Oscar for Best Score.

His more recent work includes Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken” and “Florence Foster Jenkins”, as well as “The Light Between Oceans and “Suburbican,” out now.

COSTUME DESIGN

Luis Sequiera has worked with Guillermo on 3 successful seasons of “The Strain” on television. His feature film work includes “Charlie Bartlett” starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Hope Davis, “Mama,” produced by Guillermo del Toro with Jessica Chastain, “The Thing,” “Breach” with Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe, “Carrie” with Julianne Moore and Chloe Grace Moretz and “Thomas & the Magic Railroad.”

With this amount of background on the technical difficulties the cast and crew faced in making “The Shape of Water,” I’ll formulate something resembling more of a review next, but it should be clear that it’s going to be a very positive one for this film that easily could win it all in March.

Closing night of the Chicago Film Festival…26 days of non-stop movie watching, viewing over 40 films and still behind on the reviewing, so stop by as I keep on keeping on. And don’t forget that THE COLOR OF EVIL boxed set series is currently (through November) on sale for half-price as part of the boxed set virtual tour in E-book! Thanks for stopping by; please leave a message about anything you’ve read.

 

 

“Lady Bird” Is The Name That Saiorse Ronan Gives Herself

“Lady Bird” is the name that Saiorse Ronan gives herself (in the film of the same name), rather than her given name of Christine. The Greta Gerwig-helmed indie film was smartly written and gives Gerwig an impressive directorial debut with an equally impressive cast, including Laurie Metcalf as LadyBird’s mother, Tracy Letts as Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein as Julie, Lady Bird’s best friend, Lois Smith as a nun with a sense of humor,  Lucas Hedges as Christine’s first boyfriend (who turns out to be gay) and Timothy Chalemet as Kyle, the boyfriend who deflowers Lady Bird in what she hoped would be a special experience for both of them.

I first became aware of Greta Gerwig in the Rebecca Miller-directed “Maggie’s Plan,” where she co-starred with Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore (2015). However, her first “big, breakthrough” role was in “Frances Ha” in 2012, which she co-wrote with Noah Baumbach, with whom she has had a personal relationship since 2011. She showed up again as Abigail “Abbie” Porter in 2016’s “Twentieth Century Women” with Annette Bening. Now she is both acting, directing and writing. She has said, Creating projects is really what’s happening these days. The chance to participate in your own career is a lot more exciting than just hoping that it all works out.”

THE GOOD

Judging from “Lady Bird,” Gerwig has a great sense of humor and a lot of natural wit. The “Lady Bird” script showed that. Set in 2002 Sacramento there are autobiographical touches from Gerwig’s own growing up in Sacramento that ring true.

For example, when Christine (aka, Lady Bird) mentions that Alanis Morrissette wrote the song “One Hand In My Pocket” in 10 minutes, her sarcastic mother (Laurie Metcalf,  RoseAnne’s sister on that TV sit-com) says,  wryly, “I believe it.” There is Lady Bird’s first boyfriend Danny (played by Lucas Hedges, who also turns up playing Frances McDormand’s son in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), who is from such a large Irish Catholic family that he says, “It’s hard to find a girl to date who’s not my cousin.”

Sacramento—where Gerwig really grew up—is knocked as “the Midwest of California” but, later in the film, we get the impression that she really enjoyed growing up there.

One scene involving an anti-abortion speech by a well-meaning volunteer has the opinionated Lady Bird unimpressed by the woman’s earnest speech explaining how she was a child whose mother nearly aborted her, but did not. Lady Bird says, “If your mother had had the abortion, we wouldn’t have to sit through this effing assembly.” Of sex, in general, (after her first sexual experience), Christine says, “I found when it happened that I really like dry humping more.” She is also crushed to learn that her partner, with whom she thought she had a “special” relationship, has been with six other girls. He nonchalantly reassures her, “You’re gonna’ have so much unspecial sex in your life.”

Laurie Metcalf and her husband, played by playwright (“August: Osage County”) and Chicago actor Tracy Letts, are always struggling financially, so Lady Bird’s hopes of going to an East coast school are not supported by Mom. However, Dad helps his daughter secretly fill out applications for a variety of schools on the East coast and Christine does, indeed, gain entrance to one.

Laurie Metcalf’s Mrs. Hedges has been so hard on her daughter—and they are both such strong personalities—that Mom cannot even bring herself to walk her daughter to the gate to fly East to college. But Lady Bird/Christine recognizes that her mother does truly love her and, in a touching scene near the end of the film, calls home to tell her mother that she loves her.

THE BAD

There are no IMDB fact sheets or trailers for this film yet. Suffice it to say that all the actors mentioned above do a great job and the script is top notch. It will move on to the Austin Film Festival next, which runs from October 27-November 3rd.

Playwrght/actor (“August: Osage County”) Tracy Letts, at the showing of “Lady Bird” in Chicago.

Tracy Letts, who plays Christine’s father in the film, joined us for a Q&A at the end of the movie and shared that the crew shot “mostly in L.A.” He said, “Sacramento means nothing to me. It had zero meaning for me.” As the rock of the family, Lucas Hedges, Letts said that the cast didn’t meet each other until the film premiered at Sun Dance.  He added, “This is the movie I thought we were making when we read the script and that is not always the case.”

Letts had high praise for Gerwig’s work as writer/director, saying, “She was so sure-handed. She knew exactly what she wanted.” He went on to say that he had known Laurie Metcalf, who plays his wife, for 30years, from the Steppenwolf Theater, but they had never worked together. He said, “Her script was fantastic.”

When asked about rehearsal time, he said, “When making a movie at this budget level, there’s no rehearsal.  You make yourself available to the chemistry,” and, he noted, despite not being a father himself, “We just clicked from day one,” meaning Saiorse Ronan of “The Lovely Bones” and Letts as her father. He repeated, “If there’s a better algorithm than the script, I don’t know it. It was all on the page. The script was great.”

Letts had a bit of criticism for Lucas Hedges (his character), saying, “I didn’t identify with that abdication of the father.  When the trouble starts, he steps out of the room.  The idea that he suffers from depression? Depressed? Who isn’t?” While Letts didn’t identify with the opinionated controlling mother and the father who likes to play the softie and do very little disciplining, I could relate to it on a personal level and I know many other folks who have lived that scenario in their own lives, too. The good news is that the daughter realized her mother’s genuine caring and concern for her welfare and it did not lead to permanent alienation.

VERDICT:

As Letts says, “She’s (Greta Gerwig) really a very attractive person because she’s so smart and magnetic.  She’s gonna’ make many other good films.” I agree and enjoyed this first one.

 

Genre:  comic drama

Cast:  Saiorse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, Timothy Chalemet

Length:  93 minutes

Writer/Director:  Greta Gerwig

Cinematographer:  Sam Levy

Music:  Jon Brown

 

 

Page 1 of 27

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén