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 28)

ssuu.com/shelfunbound/docs/shelf_unbound_april-may_2018

“Shelf Unbound” magazine has named THE COLOR OF EVIL boxed set to its list of the BEST INDIE E-BOOKS of 2017. (p. 44).

All 3 books are currently touring as a boxed set in e-book formatbut the  also are available in paperback and audio book.

 

Type in The Color of Evil by Connie Corcoran Wilson to go to the Amazon ordering site for the 753 pages that comprise “The Color of Evil” (Book 1), “Red Is for Rage” (Book 2) and “Khaki = Killer” (Book 3).

In the Notes from the Author section on page 44 of “Shelf Unbound,” Connie mentions that the inspiration for the series came from a short story that appeared, originally in Volume I of her short story series “Hellfire & Damnation” (Books 1, 2 & 3).

For trailers and reviews of each of these series go to www.TheColorOfEvil.com and www.HellfireAndDamnationTheBook.com. Enjoy!

The Impact of “Black Panther” in Film and Society

                                      Guest post by Zayin Allen

(A La Siskel & Ebert here….)

Marvel’s Black Panther is historic and iconic all at the same time. The film has brought in nothing but positive reviews, and the conversation concerning the film’s importance has been further increased by positive social media. This  happened even before the film was  released. (*Generally, this means that the P.R. machine of the studio was working in high gear and working well.)

Under the expert direction of Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed), this film is more than a superhero blockbuster; it has become a movement all its own. Director Coogler deserves kudos for touching on some tough topics, like the incarceration of people of color and the gentrification of their neighborhoods.

The film acknowledges everything from the traditions of African societies to debatable topics pertaining to the African American community. (*Connie wonders what the ‘debatable topics’ might be, since she has not yet seen the film. Debatable by whom? Who is debating what?Black Panther is a film filled to the brim with power and extolling the beauty of black women who aren’t pushed to the side but are a key element to the nation of Wakanda.

The all-female protection squad, Dora Milaje, make their power known through their chant  “WAKANDA FOREVER,” followed by the strong and culturally iconic X emblazoned across their chests.

Tennis player Sachia Vickery crosses arms on chest in celebration of victory (L). US athlete Tommie Smith raising his fist in protest at the 1968 Summer Olympics (R)

All in all, Wakanda, which is an eyegasm (*Connie says: W-H-A-A-T?)  for audiences, isn’t the same film for white viewers as the film black viewers see. Seeing modern day African American kings and queen gives  African Americans in this country a certain measure of  cultural comfort. (*I wonder if that is a true statement with Jeff ‘Beauregard’ Sessions as our Attorney General and Donald Trump as Agent Orange, but let’s not get off on politics here. CW)

Africa has often been viewed as  an eye sore, especially in the American media (*or when Donald Trump trashes the entire continent, actually referring to it as “a s—hole.”). Past generations viewed the second largest continent in the world as chaotic, impoverished, and savage. (*Probably past and present. Who knows about the future?) Today’s generation will envision Wakanda when asked about their perception of Africa.

(*Connie says she doubts this, because there are plenty of other films about Africa that are not as glowingly positive about this FICTIONAL country in this particular film. It’s like saying that we should all move to the country where “Wonder Woman” was shot, if we are female. Welllll, there IS no such country, is there, now?  I think the film will be good, but I don’t think I’ll regard it as a travelogue look at the REAL Africa. Especially not after I watched that horrible 2016 turkey “93 Days” that Danny Glover was in (Chicago Film Festival offering) about the Ebola virus in Africa. You can only watch so many people bleeding to death onscreen before you say, “Uh….book me to a different country/nation/continent, Ma’am.”) 

Black Panther  offers a positive look at the African American experience. (*Except that it’s not a real country and that might make it a bit dubious. It’s like saying: ‘Avatar offers a positive look at Jupiter.’ (or wherever that was supposed to have been in the sci-fi film by James Cameron. Total fiction, in other words. But I digress and this isn’t  Zayin. This is a bit like Siskel & Ebert here. Old vs young? Marvel Comics fan versus really good movie fan? Something like that. I’d also point out that Black Panther’s “rating” on IMDB is 7.8; “A Quiet Place,” which has not opened wide yet, is 8.4 and rising.)

Black Panther has been doing so well at the box office for the simple reason that it is different. (*Connie says it is also because of its terrific cast, but....) The film offers a powerful image of the culture. It’s what’s behind the shine of Wakanda; it’s what is behind the message of Killmonger. It’s what is behind T’Challa’s 16- year old genius Shuri, whose intellect surpasses Tony Stark aka Iron Man.

(*Connie was not impressed with Iron Man’s intellect after film #1 and is glad to hear that the great actor Robert Downey, Jr., might quit being Iron Man after one more film and go back to actually good roles. First one was fun. Others? Not so much.)

These messages and visuals  on the screen are what make Black Panther a successful film.  (*Again: many reasons why it is a successful film, including a good script, good cinematography, good acting, good directing, etc., but okay.) It’s a film where African Americans can step outside hatred and judgment and be unapologetically black.

(*O…..K….Connie will review the film, no doubt positively, at a later date and, no doubt, differently than Zayin. I thought Chadwick Boseman should have gotten an Oscar nomination for “Get On Up” (which, by the way, Mick Jagger produced/financed) but Boseman didn’t, because the studio released it at a really stupid time of the year. Boseman was also very, very nice when in Chicago at the Premiere of “Marshall” and If I have a picture of him there, I will use it when I am done here.

Chadwick Boseman at the Premiere of “Marshall” in Chicago. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

“Roxanne Roxanne” Was Long Overdue and Deserves More Attention.

Guest Review by Zayin Allen

Writer-director Michael Larnell tells the true story of Lolita ‘Roxanne Shanté’ Gooden (Chante Adams) in “Roxanne, Roxanne.” She was a young teen who journeyed from the battle rap queen of Queensbridge, NY, to shattering the glass ceiling with her iconic freestyle “Roxanne’s Revenge” over the beat of Untouchable Force Organization “Roxanne, Roxanne”.

Afficionados of hip hop will have fan moments over the subtle hints of hip hop gems along the way. The film is refreshing because it offers a new perspective, a woman’s perspective.  Executive-Producer Roxanne Shanté herself made sure that the film was centered around music, bur it also had moments where viewers understood the other side of music.

Roxanne Roxanne revolved around a young girl being immersed in an adult world too quickly. It’s a similar  situation with most talented artists who become famous too fast.

The film was well acted by Hollywood’s finest Nia Long (Boyz N The Hood) and Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) . The real breakout star has to be Chanté Adams who, in her first role after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, s a newcomer captures the essence of Roxanne Shante.

                                      Roxanne Roxanne/Netflix

You’ll be drawn to the intensity and chemistry of Nia Long and Chanté Adams on screen. The mother daughter dynamic between the two is powerful. Nia Long’s performance will hold your attention. It is as though she’s trying to teach a life lesson to the viewer.

Shanté’s story was a story that needed to be told, but it was more suited to be on Netflix rather than be released as an actual theatrical release like Straight Outta Compton or Notorious. As a fan of the Hip Hop genre I’m quite disappointed with myself for previously missing out on a performer as talented as Roxanne Shante. This is why more Hip Hop biopics such as (NOTORIOUS, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON) should be done PROPERLY. It helps to highlight the story of under-appreciated rap pioneers all while complementing the message that not everything comes easy and a mother is usually right.

ROXANNE ROXANNE is rushed but well put together story about a young African American teen girl who, although struggling against great odds, opened a door for many to follow in the hip hop industry.

That, alone, is noteworthy.

**************
(I know almost nothing about rap music, but I did see the recent Tupac Shakur docu-pic, which came out at the same time as ‘Wonder Woman.” I confess that after Slim Shady and Eminem and a brief shining moment when L. L. Cool Jay was my son’s hero (in his high school years) and, as a result, he and a friend went into a studio and made a rap record with their own money, I haven’t given rap music much thought since. I’ve heard the names, of course, but I’ve tried not to hear the rap ballads/albums. This is a good area—along with Marvel movies—for a young man like Zayin to follow. My one comment is that it seems sort of hypocritical that this film wasn’t helmed by a woman. The thing that is all the rage this year at film festivals: flicks directed by women. It’s the coming thing, and it’s about time. Here is a movie about a female rapper, but it’s directed by a man. Does anyone else find that odd in the year of “Lady Bird” (nominated as Best Picture and directed by Greta Gerwig) or Miranda Bailley’s film at SXSW or the fact that 40% of the films at the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival were helmed by women? I’m just asking, not telling. C.W.)

Avengers Infinity War Anticipation: Will It Live Up to the Hype ?

Guest Review by Zayin Allen

Coming off the hype of “Black Panther,” the top-grossing super hero movie of all time, Marvel Studios has a hard act to follow. “Black Panther” offered both a step forward for the culture and a much needed change within the superhero genre. “Black Panther”  changed the momentum of the Marvel Universe. A different villain who was right, is, in a sense, a different hero, going in a different direction.

“Avengers Infinity Wars” will have to change its dynamic altogether. As much as I hate to say it, Marvel has the superhero movie genre locked down right now. DC needs to be better coming off its recent flop.

The problem with Marvel was the villain, but “Black Panther” succeeded where the last 12 MCU films failed. This means the highly anticipated arrival of a villain who can tie together all MCU films has to be great.

*cue Thanos*

Josh Brolin will be reprising the role, having previously voiced the Mad Titan. Although his stature and demeanor are menacing, his true power has yet to be unveiled. His goal is to collect the Infinity Stone and take over the universe. We last saw him in the post credit scene of Guardians 2 proclaiming after many failed attempts he would get them himself.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has offered  fans at least three of the five Infinity Stones. The Space Stone ( Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers), The Reality Stone (Thor: The Dark World) The Power Orb (from Guardians of the Galaxy) and The Time Stone( Doctor Strange).

The last remaining stone The Soul Stone has yet to be revealed in the MCU. More than likely in ” The Avengers: Infinity Wars”, at which point Thanos will either collect or know the whereabouts of the stones and use them for the Infinity Gauntlet, which will grant him unforeseeable power. Each individual stone has great power on their own, but with all of them together, that represents  the call of action for all seen and hopefully unseen heroes in the MCU.

The proper formula for a superhero movie calls for a good villain, a sacrifice, and a triumphant return. (Hence, “Dark Knight,” “Black Panther,” “Alien”, and what should have been “Justice League”).

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige himself said that Thanos, within the first five minutes of “Infinity Wars” will prove why he’s a sinister and destructive force. Both Chris Evans (Captain America) and Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) hinted that the fourth “Avengers film” would be their last. [*To which this old person says, ‘We can only hope and pray.'”]

Someone is going to go out in a devastating way in “Avengers: Infinity Wars” but who and how is why seats will be filled April 26th.

(The review opinions above are from Zayin Allen, a college student in Delaware, who is enthusiastic about these movies. May I simply say: JUST SHOOT ME NOW if I have to watch any of these movies,— with the possible exception of “Black Panther.”)

“Write When You Get Work” Is A Nicely Written Romantic Film

“Write When You Get Work”, written and directed by Stacey Cochran (on right) had its World Premiere at SXSW. It is a romantic caper of thievery, money, and access, shot on Super16 in New York.

When the film opens, we see Finn Wittrock and Rachel Keller in a passionate embrace at the beach. The chemistry is so hot that it might melt the ice in your drink. It is 9 years before the main plot, and this couple are not only gorgeous, but obviously deeply in love with one another.

Stacy Cochran, Writer-Director of “Write When You Get Work” and co-star Andrew Schulz in Austin at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson for WeeklyWilson.com and TheMovieBlog.com)

However, Jonny Collins (Finn Wittrock) is a bad boy who is never going to stop being a bad boy. He gets his lady love into all sorts of trouble when they are young. (“Four convictions in one year as a minor!” says her employer at a private school that has hired her, Guy Brinckerhoff (Scott Cohen).

Rachel Keller, a St. Paul, MN, native who appeared in the 2014 “Fargo” TV series is trying to go straight. She has gotten her life together, and she is not in any mood to have it wrecked again by Jonny, who reappears in her life and seems unwilling to stop showing up.

Finn Wittrock, who appeared as a psychotic clown Dandy Mott from 2014-2016 on “American Horror Story” is a Julliard graduate who hopes that theater work will continue to find him. He says he “caught the acting bug from my dad,” who is an actor and voice teacher. Although only 5′ 9″, he is a handsome, charismatic leading man and his pairing with Rachel Keller was wonderful.

Stacy Cochran, Writer/Director of “Write When You Get Work.” (Photo by Connie Wilson for WeeklyWilson.com and TheMovieBlog.com)

Playing Jonny Collins’ best friend, Sticker, otherwise named Mitchell Mullen Vegas was Andrew Schulz, who showed up at SXSW. He is a producer and actor known for “Sneaky Pete” (2015). The plot is propelled forward by the fact that Sticker is married to an African American policewoman and they have a darling little girl who is about ready to start pre-school.

Much of the story centers on how getting into the “right” pre-school is uber important in New York City. The figure $35,000 is thrown out for the cost of one student to attend the prestigious Luscinia School, which Rachel Keller’s character has recently joined as its Director of Admissions.

The film had a very nice “twist” ending which I won’t ruin for you. It’s a nice film and a pleasant surprise. See it if you get the chance.

“Galveston” Premieres at SXSW with Ben Foster & Elle Fanning

 

“Galveston,” based on the novel by Nic Pizzolatto, World Premiered here last Saturday (March 10th). Although I was assigned Red Carpet duties for “Galveston” and Ben Foster, its star, was supposed to attend, along with Elle Fanning,  it would have meant missing out on an interview with the screenwriters for “A Quiet Place.”  I saw it at the end of the festival, instead, without Ben Foster or Elle Fanning.

The brief plot summary for “Galveston”: “After surviving a set-up by his criminal boss (Beau Bridges), a hitman rescues a young prostitute and flees with her to Galveston, Texas, where the two find strength in each other as dangerous pursuers and the shadows of their pasts follow close behind.”

The novel the film was based on (“Galveston”) was written by Nic Pozaletti,  novelist-turned-screenwriter who wrote 22 episodes of television’s “True Detective” series.  Directed by Melanie Laurent, she also scripted it, and it wasn’t as strong as the source material. Producer was 74-year-old Jean Doumanian, better known for producing many of Woody Allen’s best-known films, [before he sued her over “The Jade Scorpion,” when she announced that he had 2 days to find alternative financing and Allen said she had been skimming]. [Interestingly, Doumanian also had a brief, troubled tenure running “Saturday Night Live” in 1980-1981 before Lorne Michaels returned. The credits for “Galveston” read “Jean Doumanian Productions, in association with Storm Outside.” Low Spark films appears as the company that helmed this and, later, when a motel used in the production is named Emerald Shores Motel, it is noteworthy that the company mentioned is Emerald Shores LLC. It is also true that the Motel’s desk woman, Nanee Covington, is well played by C.K. McFarland.]

THE GOOD

                                                                     Ben Foster (Pinterest)

Nobody can put sheer intensity and emotion onscreen better than Ben Foster, the Fairfield, Iowa, native who has studied Transcendental Meditation since the age of 4. Foster dropped out of high school in his freshman year and flew to Los Angeles, based on the strength of an audition tape, to be cast at 16 in a TV show called “Flash Forward.” He never looked back and came to the attention of the public, in general. for his superb work in “Hostage” with Bruce Willis, playing a character named Marshall “Mars” Krupcheck, in 2005.

By that point, I was watching him portray Russell Corwin on “Six Feet Under” (2003-2005) and admiring his acting intensity.  Of this quality, he has said, “That is source, that is art, that is spirituality.  And meditation is a way to defy fear and experience that source.” It seems to have served him well. He has racked up some impressive roles in films like “The Messenger” in 2009, opposite Woody Harrelson, portraying Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, whose task it is to tell soldiers’ families that their loved one has died in combat. Before that, there was Charlie Prince in “3:10 to Yuma” in 2007 and “Alpha Dog” as Jake Magursky in 2006.

Foster, selected in surveys when very young as an actor to watch, has said, “The heat around young actors burns out.  Natural ability and magnetism only get you so far.  The rest is hard work.”

Foster’s co-star in “Galveston,” Elle Fanning, is another young actress who knows all about starting young. Fanning began working on film as the younger version of her older sister, Dakota, at the age of 3, in “Taken” and “I Am Sam.”

Only 19 now, she was just as intense as Foster in her scenes as a young girl from Orange, Georgia, trying to escape a troubled past that included sexual abuse by her stepfather that results in a child, Tiffany (played as a child by Tinsley & Anniston Price and also by Lili Bernhart as a 23-year-old). She upped her game because Foster brought out the best in her, perhaps.

The acting in this film is over-the-top good.

THE BAD

The plot , script and direction: not so much.

The overall tone and setting of gritty reality was done well, and the costume design by Lynette Meyer to portray Elle as a trashy young thing was excellent, although to dismiss her character of “Rocky” as “a prostitute” is to shortchange that character. She is more an innocent with no other way to support herself than a true professional lady of the evening.

Rocky (Raquel/Fanning) shows up in the plot when Roy Cady (Ben Foster) is sent to rob a house which, in reality, is a set-up by his evil boss (who runs a laundromat), Stan Pithco (played by a decidedly portly and greasy Beau Bridges).  When Roy manages to survive the hit, he notices a pretty girl in a red dress tied to a chair. Almost on impulse, Roy cuts her loose and takes her with him— not as a hostage, but more as an act of mercy.

The script, in fact, spells this out in dialogue between Fanning and Foster, when she asks why he is kidnapping her. He responds, “I saved you. Be clear on that.”  Later, Foster goes to the wall for the young girl and her sister/daughter (think “Chinatown”), telling the now-grown-up Tiffany, “All this time I was your friend. You weren’t abandoned.”

There is a story line that involves Cady’s incorrect assumption that he is dying of lung cancer, his drinking (“You look like hell and you smell like it, too”) and his altruistic act(s) in defense of “Rocky”, whose real name is Raquel Arceneaux (Elle Fanning). Never do we get the impression that the 40-year-old and the 19-year-old are sexually involved, (although they do have one memorable date that might have led down that path, had the path been slightly longer.)

There are storms and rain and approaching hurricanes throughout the film (think Shakespeare) and the end made very little sense, except as it evoked a literary novel. By the denouement, the entire film will leave you marveling at the acting while feeling like you really need a stiff drink to recover from the many godawful things that have just happened to the characters.

VERDICT

I enjoy watching Ben Foster work. He has the same ability that Michael Shannon has to completely dominate the screen with his  intensity. Elle Fanning also has come a long way from  previous films. She  did a stand-out job opposite Foster. Maybe his excellence brought out the best in her?

I originally selected this film for Red Carpet duties because I met Foster once before, in Chicago, when he appeared there with “The Messenger” in 2009. He is nothing if not intense, but he is also a good interview and not at all like the almost psychopathic types he occasionally inhabits onscreen. Then the opportunity for interviewing the screenwriters from “A Quiet Place” loomed, in conflict with those duties, so I finally caught the film today at its last showing, and I’ve given you Elle Fanning’s comments (above).

Perhaps Foster will mellow even more as his daughter with Laura Prepon (“The Hero”) approaches one year old this August, and his years (2014 and 2015) with Robin Wright  (Penn), 14 years his senior, fade into oblivion.

See “Galveston” for the acting, but don’t try to make too much sense of the ending, nor of the scenes with Roy’s former African-American girlfriend, Lorraine (Adepero Oduye), which could have been omitted completely without harming the plot.

This is a French person’s script and  take on life in the South (shot in Savannah, Georgia and elsewhere in Georgia with many references to Austin, where Pizzolatto was once a bartender). That could account for some of what I found unsatisfactory about the film. My roommate was a French major in college, so, one year at the Chicago Film Festival (she accompanied me), we watched nothing but films that were in French with English subtitles. Fun for her. For me? Not so much. [ If you’ve  watched many French films, you’ll know what I mean.] I think the movie might have been better served in the Director/Writer area by utilizing a more-experienced U.S. director of either gender .

 

“A Quiet Place:” If You See Just One Suspense Thriller, Make It This One

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 09: Director/Executive Producer/Writer/Actor John Krasinski attends the ‘A Quiet Place’ Premiere 2018 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Paramount Theatre on March 9, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

I’m here at SXSW Film Festival (for the 3rd year) and the Opening Night film, “A Quiet Place,” written by two Hitchcock-loving Bettendorf, Iowa, 34-year-old filmmakers, (with some contributions from Director and Star John Krasinski of “The Office” fame), is wowing the critics and the crowds.

I was fortunate enough to grab a few minutes to speak to Scott Beck and Bryan Woods about this big-budget Paramount film the day after it premiered. It is not difficult to see how these two young Iowa graduates, who have been collaborating since junior high school (and throughout college at the University of Iowa) have helped create a suspenseful thriller that is destined to become a classic. It’s the start of something big, career-wise. Their next film “Haunt,” currently in post-production, is one they both wrote and directed.

 

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 09: Emily Blunt and Director/Executive Producer/Writer/Actor John Krasinski attend the ‘A Quiet Place’ Premiere 2018 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Paramount Theatre on March 9, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

The filmmakers were articulate, congenial, diplomatic and enthused about the audience’s 100% Rotten Tomatoes response to their film about a family of four that must remain totally silent in order to keep some scary underground-dwelling creatures from killing them. They’ve  survived in a dystopian world (no further explanation) where any loud noise will bring these “things” down on the family of Krasinski, his wife Emily Blunt, their deaf teen-aged daughter Millie (played by a lovely young actress, Millicent Simmons, who is deaf in real life), a son of about 10 and a younger boy who looks just about ready for kindergarten in a normal world.

But, when the film opens, they are not in a “normal” world, but are searching for drugs in a ruined drugstore, where the youngest of the brood finds a noisy toy that he’d really like to keep. You know this bodes ill for the family, which has resorted to using sign language to communicate, has sound-proofed their dwelling and has an extensive camera and light set-up to try to protect themselves from the blind, armored creatures in an attempt to try to stay alive. There is also a tower that the father (Krasinski) lights a fire atop at night. We see two other fires in the distance, so we know there are at least a few other survivors. The set design and special effects are extraordinary, reminding of the “Alien” days, (when we finally see this threat—which isn’t for a long time). Marco Beltrami’s score is great and–most importantly—the acting from all is terrific.

(Left to Right) Scott Beck, Connie Wilson and Bryan Woods at SXSW (Austin, TX) on March 10, 2018.

The log line for the film is: “A family lives an isolated existence in utter silence, for fear of an unknown threat that follows and attacks at any sound.” That is an original premise that has not been done before. It leads to one of the most spare scripts in Hollywood history. Not only do the actors seldom speak (they sign or whisper or mouth the words), we don’t get to “see” the monster(s) until quite late in the film. And they are “Alien-” quality when we do.

There is not one “down” or boring scene, always the goal for a screenwriter, but difficult to achieve. No unnecessary exposition or wordy speeches. Just good old-fashioned Hitchcockian suspense from a screenwriting team that mentions “Vertigo” as one of their favorite movies and have been making films since they were six years old.

 

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 09: Writers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck attend the ‘A Quiet Place’ Premiere 2018 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Paramount Theatre on March 9, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

I met up with them at a Starbucks the day after the film and wrote a piece giving the local ties to the Quad Cities of Iowa, which appears above this one. To achieve that, I  had to embarrass myself and climb over about 8 other movie-goers in my row to go to the microphone during the Q&A.  Where, exactly, were these two talented young men? Fortunately, my willingness to go that extra mile led to a brief but informative meeting the very next day.

The film’s extraordinary quality is leading to this recommendation: if you like suspenseful, well-acted, well-directed films, beautifully-shot films where you care about the characters and root for them to escape, even against overwhelming odds, you’re going to love this movie.

Bryan Woods (left) and Scott Beck at SXSW in Austin (TX) on March 10, 2018.

Most of those present on Opening Night did, and the remark I heard made most often in the lobby following it was, “This was so much better than last year’s Opening Movie.”

Last year’s opening film was Terrence Malick’s “Song by Song” with Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman and some other “A”-list talent. Perhaps Malick should have hired Beck & Woods to script the thing, as that renowned filmmaker’s work, which was often wonderful, was not well-received because of its meandering storyline.

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 09: (L-R) Actors Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe and director John Krasinski attend the Opening Night Screening and World Premiere of ‘A Quiet Place’ during the 2018 SXSW Film Festival on March 9, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

The film opens wide in the U.S. on April 6th and, yes, it IS that good. Take it from someone who’s been reviewing film for 47 straight years.

Beck & Woods Conquer the World: Quad Citians Script Opening Night Film “A Quiet Place” at SXSW

https://images.sxsw.com/txr5Jy7uqnAWEdS-8Oche5yI0x8=/229x0:2787x1827/x/images.sxsw.com/45/48759c2a-f8af-4ef7-9cfc-8584c2da23a1/a-quiet-place-127650Emily Blunt in “A Quiet Place,” the Opening Night Film at the 25th SXSW Film Festival, which is now SXSW Festival and Conference(s).

How in the world did two young men from Bettendorf, Iowa, wind up scripting the Opening Night film of one of the most prestigious film festivals and conferences in the country, SXSW, with a blockbuster film (“A Quiet Place”) from Paramount Studios? I asked the pair exactly that question in an interview conducted at a local Starbucks the morning after their film triumphed at the SXSW Opening Night Premiere on Friday, March 9th, 2018.

(Left to Right) Scott Beck, Connie Wilson and Bryan Woods at SXSW (Austin, TX) on March 10, 2018.

 

The two filmmakers, thirty-four year old Scott Beck (the redhead) and his childhood friend Bryan Woods have been making movies “since we were six years old.”

They told me this in Austin, Texas, the day after their film, “A Quiet Place,” (starring and directed by John Krasinski of “The Office” and his actress wife Emily Blunt) wowed audiences at its Paramount Opening Night.  Both have been interested in film since they were very young, but it was junior high school at Bettendorf Middle School that paired the dynamic duo.

Scott Beck is the son of Ken and Linda Beck of Bettendorf, and Bryan Woods (the redhead) is the son of Dennis and Lynn Woods of Bettendorf, although Scott’s IMDB profile notes that he was born in Denver, Colorado, on October 22, 1984, while Bryan was born in Davenport on September 14, 1984.

Before meeting at Bettendorf Middle School, Bryan attended Armstrong Elementary, while Scott went to Mark Twain Elementary. Each gave credit to teachers they had at Bettendorf Middle School (“We were just kind of allowed to do it”), naming Ethel Hagemann of the Tech area of their middle school and Roger Wilming, who, said Scott, “really connected and bonded with his students.”

After high school, they attended and graduated from the University of Iowa.  Scott described taking a lot of writing courses as an undergrad. He said the criticism he received in those classes was helpful, noting, “Every now and then you can distill it.  Critical feedback is helpful.” Scott also noted that, speaking diplomatically, in the world of Hollywood “You have to learn to back your opinion up with evidence. Within the politics of the industry you have to make sure that whatever your vision is, you can work with the producers and director.” During his college career, Scott continued his interest in film He placed in the 2004 Project Greenlight Top 50 director’s competition, sponsored by Miramax and Bravo and was a finalist in the MTV Best Film on Campus competition in November of 2004. He won MTV’s Best Film on Campus competition in December of 2005 (his junior year), resulting in a development deal with MTV Films. In the intervening 13 years, Scott wrote “Nightlight” (2015).

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 09: Writers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck attend the ‘A Quiet Place’ Premiere 2018 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Paramount Theatre on March 9, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

Bryan Woods was born on September 14, 1984 in Davenport, Iowa, USA. He is a writer and producer, known for The Bride Wore Blood (2006), Yearbook (2002) and Her Summer (2004).He placed in the 2004 Project Greenlight Top 50 director’s competition sponsored by Miramax and Bravo, was a finalist in the MTV Best Film on Campus competition in November of 2004 and also won MTV’s Best Film on Campus competition in December of 2005, which resulted in the development deal for “Beck and Woods” (as Krasinski referred to  them from the stage).

What kind of movies did they admire, as they were growing up?

Favorites were Alfred Hitchcock, especially “Vertigo” for Bryan. He said, “I love how mysterious and gorgeous “Vertigo” is. It’s about obsession and that’s something Hitchcock knew a lot about.” Scott singled out Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg and more recent directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and added, “I like stories that conceptualize,” mentioning films that focus on artificial intelligence.

It was tough finding the two to interview them in person.  Although they were on the Red Carpet, [as shown in the photos with the SXSW backdrop], it wasn’t listed that they would be present, and I could not initially find the correct representative for them, even after calling the SXSW press office. The failure to honor those who  created nearly the entire concept (Krasinski also contributed and gets a writing credit) is not atypical in Hollywood. Max Allan Collins described his difficulty in getting enough tickets for him and his family to attend the Oscars when he had written “Road to Perdition,” which was up that year. As Rodney Dangerfield might put it, “Writers don’t get no respect.”

After the showing of “A Quiet Place” film, I went to the microphone and announced to the assembled audience, “I’m from Bettendorf, Iowa, (the crowd whooped loudly and shouted “Yay, Bettendorf”) and I’ve come a long way to interview Beck and Woods, but I can’t find them. Will you meet me in the lobby after this is over?” To be brutally honest, my former business (Sylvan Learning Center #3301) was located in Bettendorf, while I reside in East Moline. But Scott’s bio says he was born in Denver and Bryan’s says he was born in Davenport, so it was a  bit misleading, but it got a big shout-out to Bettendorf from the crowd. I found the two and their P.R. representative and I conducted a whirlwind interview Saturday morning, as they were scheduled elsewhere almost immediately.

Their film was extremely well done. It is an original concept, which I will write about in a separate review when the film’s release date nears. The spare film dialogue was top-notch.  It is definitely one of the films with the least dialogue ever, because of the nature of its plot.

Bryan Woods (left) and Scott Beck at SXSW in Austin (TX) on March 10, 2018.

As I left the theater I heard more than one filmgoer say, “This was so much better than last year’s film.” Last year’s film was Terrance Malick’s “Song by Song” with Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman and a host of “A” list celebrities. Word from the front was not good. I ended up attending Sam Elliot’s “The Hero” instead, but not until I waited 2 hours in the rain, sat on a cactus while lounging on a planter near the entrance (by accident, of course), and hired a rickshaw driver to transport me from the Paramount Theater to the Zach Theater.

The word about THIS film: there is not a single “dull” moment onscreen. I’m predicting it will take off like a rocket, helping “Beck and Woods” receive even more (deserved) recognition.

The two are currently in post production on “Haunt,” a script which they both wrote and will direct.

When I asked how their parents were handling the news that their sons may well become the next Steven Spielberg after “A Quiet Place”  (Spielberg is premiering a film here tomorrow, “Ready Player One,”  that was literally announced at the last minute),  both said, “They’ve been so supportive all along.  They’ll be at our New York City Premiere on April 2nd.”

Well-deserved congratulations to two former Quad City natives making it in the big leagues. I hope we meet again.

 

What does Black Panther bring to the table?

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.

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

Black Panther Is Not Just A Hero

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.

Important Messages

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

See Black Panther For Yourself

The film is already sold out in pre-order tickets. Advance reviews are positive.  The cultural appreciation is on point. This is the 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.

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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

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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.

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