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 36

“Infidel,” Starring Jim Cavaziel, Entertains While Subtly Preaching

The film “Infidel,” backed by notoriously conservative producer (and convicted felon) Dinesh D’Souza, opened September 18th with lead Jim Cavaziel portraying Doug Rawlins, the husband of a U.S. state department employee (she deals with trade matters) who is kidnapped in Egypt while on a speaking tour. Doug makes the bad mistake of trying to sell Christianity to the assembled predominantly Muslim crowd.

It falls to Doug’s wife, Liz, to spring into action and travel to the Middle East to try to rescue Doug, much like Angelina Jolie, playing the part of Daniel Pearl’s wife Mariane, tried to rescue her husband Daniel, the kidnapped journalist who was captured in Pakistan and ultimately beheaded.

I attended a lecture by Mariane Pearl, following the events that were portrayed cinematically in that 2007 film. This movie reminded me very much of the 2007 bio-pic, except that Mariane seemed to have a better plan when she set off for what turns out to be Lebanon (and, ultimately, Iran). Liz had interpreters lined up, state department assistance at nearly all points, and didn’t simply wander out of her hotel room and nearly become a captive herself, simply because, as she put it, “I couldn’t stay in my room.”

No, you can’t simply “stay in your room,” but have you lined up any guides or interpreters? Do you have a plan? I think we have all seen how things can go horribly wrong when there is no unified plan for running big enterprises. We have 200,000 dead American citizens because we have no unified national plan. Surely this savvy State Department employee could demonstrate a better plan than is shown in the film.

THE GOOD

First, Jim Cavaziel is a good actor. He has been turning in fine performances in generally good films for a long time. Like the character he portrays in this film, his outspoken uber-Catholicism shot his career in the foot.

After portraying Jesus in 2004’s “The Passion of the Christ” there was at least one instance when Cavaziel refused to play a love scene with his onscreen wife because it violated his Catholic morals. He must have been fairly vocal about it, because it seemed to slow his career down to a snail’s pace. (I would point out that there are other actors who achieve the “no sex scene” rule without being quite as upfront. If you want an example, how about Denzel Washington—who rarely has onscreen nudity in any of his films.)

Cavaziel is probably best known for the television series “Person of Interest” (2011-2016), where he played John Reese for 103 episodes. As mentioned, he also portrayed Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ,” and IMDB says that a second film entitled “The Passion of the Christ: Resurrection” is afoot. [Mel Gibson being the other extremely Catholic Hollywood figure, that sounds plausible.]

Cavaziel was great in 2000’s “Frequency” as the son who makes contact with his long-deceased firefighter father via the radio and, going further back, had a breakthrough role in “The Thin Red Line” in 1998. I saw Cavaziel portraying Jimmy Bierce (the bad guy) in “The Ballad of Lefty Brown” (2017) at SXSW. While that film had beautiful cinematography, the Bill Pullman-starring vehicle was underwhelming in most other respects. (The $8 million-dollar film made less than $8,000 worldwide, while “Infidel” cleared $1,384,296 opening weekend and has grossed roughly what it cost to make, with a $2,674,599 worldwide take as of yesterday).

Others deserving praise for their acting are Claudia Karvan as Liz Rawlins (Cavaziel’s wife onscreen), Hal Ozson who played Ramzi, and Aly Kassem who plays Javid, the man who betrays David Rawlins and is guilty of an Honor Killing.

DIRECTOR

The director of “Infidel,” Cyrus Nowrasteh, both wrote, directed and produced this film, which was shot in Jordan. It opened on 2,400 screens in 1,724 locations, a welcome relief from the drought of original films not being released in the near-empty cinemas open in the United States. “Infidel” was originally intended to open on 9/11. The xenophobia is masked by a thrilling rescue film that portrays Cavaziel as a true believer who isn’t a super-hero and is very lucky to have such an enterprising, well-connected wife.

Nowrasteh is the child of Iranian immigrants who was born in Boulder, Colorado and attended school in Wisconsin, transferring to the University of Southern California to study film. With a cast of 17 and 38 total people, including an outstanding turn by Hal Ozson, portraying Ramzi, Cavaziel’s British interrogator, Nowrasteh has pulled off an entertaining and well-paced film that didn’t make me want to rise to my feet and yell at the woman across the aisle from me, who was applauding after “Obama’s America,” another D’Souza-produced film that was a shameless attack on President Barack Obama. (There have been other D’Souza projects that have been just as one-sided and inflammatory, but Nowrasteh, while certainly critical of the Iranian prison and court system in this one, keeps the focus on the recue attempts, which is good.

Nowrasteh has made one previous film with Cavaziel and, since he is paired with Conservative icon Dinesh D’Souza, seems to have managed to be criticized by liberals and conservatives alike. When Nowrasteh made “The Day Reagan Was Shot”, which starred Richard Dreyfuss as Alexander Haig, liberals criticized him for it and Nowrasteh responded by saying: “’The Day Reagan Was Shot’ provides the first-ever dramatization of a constitutional crisis and government cover-up (both amply supported by facts) and the threat they pose to a nation when a president becomes incapacitated.  This is important and relevant and raises issues that should be discussed openly.”

Nowrasteh was attacked by Liberals for an alleged “conservative bias” in his controversial ABC docudrama The Path to 9/11, which he wrote and co-produced. Nowrasteh describes himself as more libertarian than conservative or liberal.

Nowrasteh’s film “The Stoning of Soraya M.” (2009) was condemned and banned by the Iranian government but thousands of copies were bootlegged into the country and it became an underground hit in Iran, forcing the government to put a temporary moratorium on stoning as a punishment, most notably in the Sakineh Ashtiani case. On this morning’s Fahreed Zakaria program (9/27) the Iranian Ambassador to the U.N. was asked about the recent execution by hanging of  27-year-old Navid Afkari, 27, who was sentenced to death over the murder of a security guard during a wave of anti-government protests in 2018. Afkari said he had been tortured into making a confession.

MUSIC

The music by Natalie Holt is very good. Likewise, the cinematography by Joel Ransom was top-notch.

CAVEAT

It is important to watch this film—produced on a modest budget—and remember that it is hammering home points-of-view that are straight out of the Conservative playbook. Rescuers in the film turn out to be Hezbolleh (where women have a more equal status) but xenophobia reigns in this one.

All that being said, that doesn’t keep the escape portions of the film from being exciting and well-done, nor the acting from transcending the ordinary.

 

  • Production: A Cloudburst Entertainment release, presented in association with D’Souza Media, of a New Path Pictures production. Producer: Cyrus Nowrasteh. Executive producers: Dinesh D’Souza, Debbie D’Souza. Co-producer: Aaron Brubaker.
  • Crew: Director, writer: Cyrus Nowrasteh. Camera: Joel Ransom. Editor: Paul Seydor. Music: Natalie Holt.
  • With: Jim Caviezel, Claudia Karvan, Hal Ozsan, Stelio Savante, Isaelle Adriani, Bijan Daneshmand, Terence Maynard, Aly Kassem.
  • Music By: Natalie Holt

 

Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” Hits Theaters

Director Christopher Nolan started tinkering around with the concept of time many years ago on a much smaller budget with 2000’s “Memento.” I liked it so much that, on a visit to the Twin Cities, I took a girlfriend and her husband to see it, my second time. It was unique, original, interesting, exciting and it didn’t run 150 minutes. It was even nominated for Best Original Screenplay at that year’s Oscars.

We’ve now been treated to “Memento’s” successors from Christopher Nolan: “Insomnia (2002); “The Dark Knight Trilogy” (2005-2012); “The Prestige” (2006); “Inception” (2010 (8 Oscar nods); “Interstellar” (2014); and Dunkirk (2017) (nominated for Best Picture and Best Director). No less an authority than Martin Scorsese said, “Christopher Nolan creates beautifully made films on a big scale.”

Nowhere is that scale more evident than in “Tenet,” which was budgeted at $205 million. It filmed in Estonia, Italy, the UK, Denmark, India, Norway, and cities such as Kiev, Mumbai, Washington, London, and Oslo.

The battle action scenes recall “Dunkirk.” The espionage plot summons memories of “Inception.” A whole lot of people talking through masks echoes “Bane” in The Dark Knight Rises.” (We learn that the reason so many people are wearing masks is that, if you go back through time, you have to take your own air and try not to come into contact with your former self.)

Oddly enough, I actually wrote an entire novel for Lachesis Press (Nova Scotia) where the hero travels back through time (“Out of Time”). The original plot premise was not mine, but a collaborator’s, who then disappeared, writing only one page of the entire two hundred and fifty and giving a whole new meaning to the term “collaboration.”

Time travel as a theme presented many unique difficulties (which I was on my own to figure out). Considering that I dropped out of Physics in high school after Day One, imagine how thrilled I was to read about wormholes and other arcane concepts. Even though I was a fan of television’s “Fringe” when it was on the air, love the works of Philip K. Dick, and have watched numerous films where characters travel through time (“Time After Time,” “Déjà Vu,” “Looper,” “Somewhere in Time,” “12 Monkeys,” et. al.). I remember asking that very question of my instructor in a screenwriting class dedicated to turning my novel into a film script.

“Can a person from the future confront himself in the past?” I asked.

My professor said, “Nobody has ever traveled through time, so do whatever you want.”

Wise words.

My hero (Dante) did confront and speak to himself in the past, and I will reveal one tiny spoiler by telling you that John David Washington confronts himself in a fight scene, because I know that revelation will not ruin the scene for you.

Playing around with time is not a new concept for Nolan.  “Memento,” his break-through film, did just that. However, it was far easier to understand what was going on in “Memento” than it is in “Tenet.”

My notes include this phrase: “Color me confused.”

One critic, in a waggish moment, commented on John David Washington’s facial hair by saying that it probably grew there while he was waiting for Nolan to explain the plot to him. The script line I wrote down indicated that the plot has to do with trying to prevent WW III by using a type of inverse radiation manufactured by fusion. (If that confuses you, join the club.) Another film critic, Mark Keronode, said of Nolan that he is “living proof that you don’t have to appeal to the lowest common denominator to be profitable.”

This, as it turns out, is predictive, as the film has already managed to eke out two and one-half million more dollars than it cost. But it is not the entertaining, original film that garnered Best Original Screenplay Oscar nominations for Nolan. World-wide, the film has made back its considerable investment. It had the potential to be a studio-bankrupting movie like “Heaven’s Gate,” but it is garnering appreciation for the scope of the project, at least, and is currently about breaking even, with a worldwide take of $207,500,000.

I’m not going to explain the opening scene, set in the Kiev Opera House, because to do so would be a spoiler, but suffice it to say that it sets up the first of many magnificent settings. I kept thinking of the tour of locations used in “Game of Thrones.” I wish there was such a tour of the various sets used in “Tenet.”

Others have said the non-stop action, coupled with the gobbledy-gook explanation(s), reminded them of a James Bond movie. To them, I say, “Fair enough.”  But with Bond you often got memorable musical themes like “Goldfinger’ or “Live and Let Die.” Here we are saddled with a pounding often-overly-loud and not-very-melodic score by Ludwig Goransson. [The composer’s name says it all.]

The cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema is gorgeous and the film does confirm that, as “Variety” said, Nolan is “the premier big-canvas storyteller of his generation.” “Tenet” also confirms Michael Mann’s verdict on Nolan as “a complete auteur” but the overly complicated explanations just bore the bejesus out of the audience.

So, everything is going backwards in this film. We’re going to learn about the Grandfather Paradox (don’t ask) and reversing time and hear lines of dialogue like, “Each generation looks after its own survival,” and “You have a future in the past.” There will be discussions about the meaning that will rival the interpretations of the meaning(s) of the ending of “12 Monkeys” (1995), a Bruce Willis time travel opus.

John David Washington is dubbed “the protagonist” in this one. He gets no actual character name. This bit was just used in another Bruce Willis film (“Hard Kill”) where my podcast guest of last week, Sergio Rizzuto (aka, the bad guy) was simply referred to as “the Pardoner,” but at least in that film the explanation involved ripping off The Canterbury Tales. Here, it is just the way it is, without any explanation.

John David Washington (son of Denzel; star of “BlackKlansman”) partners with  Robert Pattinson (“Twilight”) as Neal, his partner, in this one. The female co-star is a blonde 6’ 2” actress named Elisabeth Debicki. Since Washington only stands 5’ 9” and the female lead is three inches taller and wears three inch heels most of the time, she appears freakishly tall in many scenes. I have a theory that she was cast in the part because she was one of the few actresses tall enough to be able to extend her leg from the back seat of a car and unlock the door lock with her toes without moving from the back seat. This could be wrong, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Debicki’s character “Kat” is married to international arms dealer and all-around bad guy Richard Branagh as Andrei Sator. She tries to kill him twice. As they say, no love lost here.  Kat loathes her abusive husband, but they have a son (Max) and she is being blackmailed into staying with Andrei via threats that she will lose her son if she doesn’t do exactly what he says. On a very basic level, “Tenet” is about the extremes of absolute power.

Debicki displays very little warmth in the exchanges with her small son, and his part is so small that he doesn’t even rate a line. There is also no chemistry or love story between the Amazonian Kat and Washington, so the obligatory “I must go back through time to rescue Kat” struck me as a not-very-convincing old trope. For that matter, so was the “small weapon that can inexplicably end the world somehow” a concept used before.

I had just reviewed a Bruce Willis shot-in-Cincinnati movie (“Hard Kill”) in which there is a mysterious weapon that could end the world as we know it; the weapon was about the size of a pack of cigarettes. I complained then that how it worked was never clear and commented on its size. This film features another small weapon and the need to gather all the digits of an algorithm to activate whatever it does, which is never quite clear, although it is explained to us over and over and over.

“Tenet” spends roughly two hours of its 150-minute run time explaining what is happening, why it is happening, and what might happen next.

So much for “Show, don’t tell.”

Despite those lengthy explanations, the movie is still incredibly difficult to follow. Scene after scene of Washington, Pattinson, Branagh, and Debicki trying to convey the plot becomes exhausting.

It’s “Tenet’s” biggest failing and, while its cinematography, sets, most of its actig and its non-stop action are impressive (especially the highway chase scenes that run backwards), it comes off as an overlong exhausting effort.

Jonathan Baker, Director, to Guest on Sept. 3rd on Weekly Wilson Podcast

         Milos Forman, Director

Thursday night’s Weekly Wilson podcast (7 to 8 p.m. on the Bold Brave Media Global Network) will feature aspiring director Jonathan Baker, whose film “Inconceivable,” featuring Nicolas Cage, Gina Gershon and Faye Dunaway, was released by Lionsgate and was the director’s first feature length film.

Jonathan had director Neal Thibedeau follow him as he contacted a variety of famous directors around and asked them to share their experiences shooting their very first film(s). Among those featured prominently in the documentary entitled “Becoming Iconic” are Taylor Hackford (“Ray,” “An Officer and a Gentleman,” “The Idolmaker”), John Badham (“Saturday Night Fever”), Adrian Lyne (“Fatal Attraction,” “Jacob’s Ladder”), Jodie Foster (“Little Man Tate”) and comments attributed to Warren Beatty, Ridley Scott and others. (See William Friedkin of “The Exorcist” pictured, below).

I had the pleasure of speaking at some length with Taylor Hackford the year that the Chicago International Film Festival celebrated its 50th anniversary. It was supposed to be a “group interview” with a number of film students from Columbia College in Chicago present, but I got the call to come and participate and it seemed, to me, that it was a good thing that there was at least one adult in the room who had been following Taylor Hackford’s career all the way back to “The Idolmaker” with Ray Sharkey breaking out in the role (a very young Peter Gallagher played the idol), because the twenty-something students only asked Hackford about “Ray.” They asked him about “Ray” with Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles over and over and over, but his career is about

so much more than just that film. However, I seriously doubt if the rest of those present had seen all of The Big Ones, as I had. Hackford, who, in real life, is married to consummate actress Helen Mirren, was a a very articulate and willing participant in the “group interview” and, at its conclusion, I felt that it had almost been one-on-one, since I was the only one who followed up with questions about the relationship between Richard Gere and his leading lady in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” for example.

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

I saw the same friendly, gracious individual onscreen as I had met during that group interview, and, as a long-time movie buff, I liked the documentary “Becoming Iconic” very much.

It reminded me of another I attended at the Music Box in Chicago which was a full-length film focused on Brian DePalma’s movies.

Tune in on Thursday, September 3rd to hear Jonathan Baker and I talk about his career and don’t forget that this is a “live” show and you can call in at 866-451-1451.

Russell Crowe is “Unhinged” in the Film of the Same Name

About 62 percent of U.S. locations were open this weekend, with an estimated total gross of around $15 million to $16 million. If all theaters were open, $25 million or above would have been the total. That same weekend last year (which included the three days before Labor Day) totaled $92 million. Conclusion:  movie theaters are struggling to rise from the grave.

The lack of ongoing films is a key factor. In 2019 there were no new films that weekend. Aided by more theaters being open and a handful of new releases, this weekend’s numbers are nearly double last weekend’s grosses. However, these numbers suggest that a substantial part of the moviegoing public is, so far, not going back to the movies.

My last pre-pandemic movie was “The Way Back” (Ben Affleck) on Friday the 13th of March.

I returned to a regular sit-down inside theater to view Russell Crowe’s new movie, “Unhinged” when it opened on August 21st, which also happened to be the day the Regal Cinema opened. Since March 13th, I’ve seen plenty of movies, but all have been viewed in my living room or, once, at the drive-in theater. This film, directed by Derrick Borte, was a welcome return on many levels. It’s a great film for my “welcome back” movie, even if the theater staff were less-than-welcoming.

We selected an early time of day for this Friday showing, going to our local cinema at 4:30 p.m.  I was dressed like a beekeeper, with my face-mask. I had rubber gloves (in my purse), if the situation warranted.

When the masked attendants told us that this was, quite literally, the first time they had been open in 5 full months and we were their first audience, the fear of virus transmission faded. It dissipated even further when it turned out that there were only 4 people in the entire theater—two of us in the front row of the balcony and two more patrons in the highest row of the theater.

I honestly did not see the other couple at least fifty feet behind us. I pulled out my small pin-light flashlight (part of a pen) to glance briefly at my notes. A masked attendant immediately swooped down to tell me this was verboten. My response, “We are literally the only people here. Who am I bothering?” She pointed out the second couple in the back. They were so far back that it would have been quite the achievement to even notice my small light, (on for roughly five seconds). An attendant with not enough to do, methinks. Makes you wonder when you’ve, no doubt, sat through films where someone in your row has their phone out for the entire 90 minutes. (Not the case here).

We didn’t expect much, but we were pleasantly surprised. Russell Crowe’s new film is a heart-pounding thriller, with great stunts involving a variety of vehicles and good acting. The film reminded me of Steven Spielberg’s long-ago film “Duel,” a 1971 movie for TV that featured Dennis Weaver (Chester on “Gunsmoke“) as the driver of a large truck. That log-line: “A business commuter is pursued and terrorized by the malevolent driver of a massive tractor-trailer.”

In “Unhinged,” the log-line is this: “After a confrontation with an unstable man at an intersection, a woman becomes the target of his rage.” Russell Crowe’s character is  “The Man.” You come away with the moral lesson that it would have been a lot better if the woman mentioned, Caren Pistorius portraying Rachel, had simply tried to remain calm and polite. Instead, she went off into rude territory when Russell Crowe’s character sits overlong at a green light in his large truck.

True, Rachel’s offense was pretty minor, but one never knows what the person in the other vehicle has been through or what their mindset is. In this case, The Man has just murdered several people, set off by a bad divorce. He just doesn’t give a damn any more.

Rachel does give a damn, but she has  crossed paths with a character who is the equivalent of human TNT. It isn’t a matter of “if” The Man will blow up. He has already blown up. Now, it’s just a matter of when he will explode again and who it will be directed against next.

Instead of counting to ten and putting up with the slight delay, the hassled mother of a young son, Kyle (played by Gabriel Bateman), is snippy to the large man sitting behind the wheel of the big pick-up truck. She honks her horn when the light turns green, but he does not move. It doesn’t seem like much, but it isn’t going to take much to set off that keg of human dynamite.

One feels, as the movie progresses, that Rachel will regret that temporary rude behavior for the rest of her life—a life that might not last that long. Like The Terminator, The Man takes a licking, but just keeps ticking along on his vengeance-fueled mission.

Like the lead character Michael Douglas portrayed in “Falling Down” in that 1993 Joel Schumacher film, we could say that this is the story of “an ordinary man frustrated with the various flaws he sees in society, who begins to psychotically and violently lash out against them.”

In this film, The Man’s biggest beef is that “There is a fundamental inability to apologize to anyone for anything.” (Donald J. Trump: take note.) When Rachel is given the opportunity to apologize to The Man in a more sincere and genuine manner, Crowe tells her that sincerity is lacking. After that, it’s all crushed cars and psychotic collisions, with good acting, fine David Buckley music and great Brendan Galvin cinematography.

At the very beginning of the film, we see Crowe—who appears to weigh well over 300 pounds—breaking into a house presumably occupied by his ex-wife, killing the occupants, and setting fire to the house. That done, he tosses his wedding ring into the back seat of his vehicle. The scene is set for Crowe’s all-consuming rage to fester and spread.

It is just Rachel’s luck that she is having a bad day, herself, including running late and getting fired. After seeing this film, you might think twice about laying on the horn when the car ahead of you irritates you. There is a lack of civility abroad in the land and it is nowhere more evident than in traffic altercations. It even has a name: road rage. It has crept into politics and I, for one, hope that the message of behaving in a civil, polite manner rubs off on that—and all other—arenas.

Add the bad day each character is having together and you have the makings of a show-down between The Man, who seems to have been “born angry” and Rachel, who will do anything to protect her son and her brother.

Jimmi Simpson plays Andy, Rachel’s good friend and attorney in her contentious divorce. Viewers will recognize Jimmi as the actor who played young William in “West World” (old William is Ed Harris) for 12 episodes beginning in 2016. Simpson also has appeared in “Date Night.”

I left the theater on Friday the 13th with a good movie and returned to “Unhinged,” 5 months later, with another good movie. Try it; you’ll like it.

 

“Hard Kill” Lead Sergio Rizzuto on September 10th Podcast

Bruce Willis in “Hard Kill,” 4th film he has shot in Cincinnati in the last 4 and 1/2 years.

“Hard Kill” is a typical Bruce Willis action movie that features lots of shooting and numerous fights. It stars Bruce Willis, although the heavy water is lifted by Good Guy Jesse Metcalfe as Derek Miller, the leader of a brave band of former Special Forces types who are hired to protect Willis and help him get his daughter, Eva (Lala Kent), back from a militaristic terrorist group led by a bad guy  referred to as The Pardoner.

Why is Sergio Rizzuto, who plays The Pardoner, only known by this name throughout?

The answer seems to be to throw a layer of literary gloss over this rough-and-tumble shoot ‘em up, in the hope that it will give gravitas to the message that “Money (greed) is the root of all evil.” That was the Pardoner’s message in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

What are the odds that your reviewer would have been forced to memorize the Prologue to “Canterbury Tales” and RECITE it, complete with Olde English pronunciations yet, when in high school? I’d say the odds were about 5 million to one. But YOU are in luck, because that is exactly what happened to me. So, I am familiar with “Canterbury Tales.” As such, I can tell you that calling Sergio The Pardoner for the entire movie didn’t really add to the movie.

It would have been better had writers Nikolai From and Clayton Haugen focused on the script.

Perhaps the writers should have focused more on the holes in the plot. The worst lapse in critical judgment was having the 5 good guys enter an abandoned warehouse (located in Cincinnati) with very few weapons. Who does that? By way of explanation, the script says: “Posing as civilians is the only way we could get in range.” The script adds: “We’re outmanned. Outgunned. But the fight is still coming whether we like it or not.” (Right. Whatever. “High Noon” this is not).

Jesse Metcalfe in “Hard Kill.”

This poor fore-thought and lack of pre-planning means that the quintet has very few weapons and is going up against black-clad heavily-armed troops that look like special forces. There are only so many times you can grab one of the opposition soldiers from behind and twist his neck until it snaps. Here’s another thought: how is the black guy (Nicholas Fox) okay by the end of the film, when he is shot multiple times early on? (Readers want to know.)

One of the hired Willis fighters is purple-haired former professional wrestler Natalie Eva Marie as Sasha. She is a crack shot; her brother is also part of the group. Sasha doesn’t look substantial enough to do multiple neck-twistings of heavily-armed men. [I predict back problems in her future!]

My favorite of the defenders was Swen Temmel, who played Dash Hawkins. Jesse Metcalfe, the hero who does most of the fighting with The Pardoner (Sergio Rizzuto) is probably the best-known of the cast, aside from Willis. Metcalfe played the part of the lawn care professional on “Desperate Housewives” who bedded housewife Eva Longoria. Metcalfe is also in “Chesapeake Shores” on TV, currently, and was in “John Tucker Must Die” (2006).

This is what passes for the plot: Eva is a scientist who has created a weapon roughly the size of a pack of cigarettes in partnership with her father, Bruce Willis. [ Throughout the film, Willis’s character, who mainly sits around, is called Dayton (or perhaps Peyton?) Chalmers, although the IMDB listing says his name is Donovan Chalmers.] The failure to be consistent on a first name for Bruce Willis was the least of the plot problems. The goal of the small band of under-armed heroes is to protect Bruce Willis, get his daughter back, and keep “the code” for triggering the weapon out of the hands of terrorists, lest the world implode or explode or somehow, in some other vague way, be harmed.

Jesse Metcalf in “Hard Kill.”

Bruce’s daughter—Eva—takes their invYention and gives it to terrorists because, she says, “I just wanted to test it in the field.” This misstep by Eva leads to the hiring of the A Team of mercenaries, who find themselves racing the clock to stop a world-changing computer program from being triggered.

Welllll. That makes perfectly good sense—-[not.]

Of course you’d steal the infamous device you had worked on for years from your wealthy father and stab him in the back by giving it to terrorists. And now you are being held captive in an abandoned warehouse in Cincinnati, so think twice about doing that in the future! (Also, think twice about your wardrobe for traipsing around this old, abandoned, very dirty-looking multi-level warehouse.) 

The device is referred to as Project 725 (“So small. So powerful.  This is how we change the world.”) Most of the dialogue goes like that; it could use some rethinking, too.  And some of us would like to know exactly how this gizmo works. That plot point is left very, very vague. However, let’s give praise to Rhyan D’Errico and Mike Burns, who wrangled the music for the film.

Sergio Rizzuto as The Pardoner in “Hard Kill,” opening 8/25. Tune in to my podcast Weekly Wilson on September 13th (7 p.m. CDT) when we talk with Sergio (relative of Phil) about shooting the movie in Cincinnati.

A side note: some of the Pardoner’s ideas echo those of former GOP strategist Steve Bannon. The recently-arrested-for-fraud Bannon outlined his belief in The Fourth Turning, which means tearing everything down and starting over, in the Errol Morris documentary “American Dharma.”  He and the Pardoner might become best friends, possibly while behind bars?

Since the director of this film is Matt Eskandari perhaps there is a force behind this film that actually wants to make a real statement about stopping terrorists who are undeniably threatening the status quo of world order, via the use of the Willis device in “Hard Kill.

Eskandari immigrated to the United States as a child with his family, following the Iranian revolution. He is an alumnus of the University of Southern California. He has directed several award-winning shorts; including “The Taking” (Screamfest Award for Best Student Short). That film propelled him to nationwide exposure when he was chosen by Steven Spielberg and Mark Burnett from a pool of 12,000 candidates, to participate in the Fox filmmaker competition ‘On the Lot.’

So let’s not blame Director Eskandari when the problem seems to lie more specifically with logic, poor dialogue, and acting by some that is often as clunky as the script. The music by Rhyan D’Errico and music supervisor Mike Burns is a bright spot. The film began shooting in Cincinnati on January 20th, the 4th movie that Willis has shot in Cincinnati in four and one-half years.

Logically, if you are charged with guarding Bruce Willis and helping him get his daughter back, it is probably not a good idea to become pinned down in an old abandoned warehouse, with only 5 nearly unarmed defenders. This hardy group is going to have to fight off teams of heavily-armed terrorists clad in black who resemble the troops that Trump has unleashed in a variety of cities.  There are at least 30 of them, and they have more automatic weapons than the Taliban.

It’s just a bridge too far for me to buy into the logic of this film’s premise.

That is why, for me,  “Hard Kill” is a hard fail.

HARD KILL will be available On Demand and Digital on August 25th.

[*Sergio Rizzuto (The Pardoner) will be with me on my Weekly Wilson podcast “live” on September 13th at 7 p.m. (CDT) on the Bold Brave Media Global Network to talk about filming in Cincinnati. You can call in with your questions at 866-451-1451 from 7 to 8 p.m.]

Suzi Quatro To Guest on Weekly Wilson on Thursday, June 25

Suzi Quatro, rock & roll legend, will be calling in to chat on the Weekly Wilson program of Thursday, June 25th.  (Bold Brave Media Global Network and Tune-In Radio; 7 p.m. CDT on Thursday.) U.S. audiences often remember Suzi best for her portrayal of Leather Tuscadero on “Happy Days” and her hit “Stumblin’ In,” which rose to #4 on the United States charts.

The official Suzi Quatro documentary feature SUZI Q, which charts the 54-year career of the pioneering female rocker who burst onto the scene in the 70s, is set to (hopefully) open in theaters July 1st and release on VOD and DVD with special bonus features on July 3rd, courtesy of Utopia. I watched it before the pandemic struck. I wonder, now, if the plans to release it in theaters represent yet another hurdle thrown in the way of one of rock and roll’s trailblazing female performers.

It’s a terrific documentary and very entertaining.

Once Suzi Quatro of Detroit City saw Elvis she knew she wanted to be him. In a way, she did become the female Elvis—just not in her own homeland. In the process, she had to overcome some family disapproval, causing her to say, “You’re gonna,’ at some point, pay serious dues.”

Her career was hampered when the man responsible for much of her promotional success, Mickie Most, a promoter who had discovered The Animals and the Yardbirds, quit guiding her career in 1980 with the expiration of their contract. Mickey had urged her to come to England in 1971 when she was just 21 years old. She was the first female bass player to become a major rock star.[2]:1–3[3]

In the 1970s, Quatro scored a string of hit singles that found greater success in Europe and Australia than in her homeland. She reached no. 1 in the UK and other European countries and Australia with her singles “Can the Can” (1973) and “Devil Gate Drive” (1974). Following a recurring role as bass player Leather Tuscadero on the popular American sitcom Happy Days, her duet “Stumblin’ In” with Smokie‘s lead singer Chris Norman reached No. 4 in the US.

Quatro released her eponymous debut album in 1973. Since then, she has released fifteen studio albums, ten compilation albums, and one live album. Her other solo hits include “48 Crash“, “Daytona Demon“, “The Wild One”, and “Your Mama Won’t Like Me”.

Between 1973 and 1980, Quatro was awarded six Bravo Ottos. In 2010, she was voted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends online Hall of Fame. Quatro has sold over 50 million albums[4] and continues to perform live, worldwide. Her most recent studio album was released in 2019 and she also continues to present new radio programmes.[5]

This excellent film from Australian filmmakers Liam Fermager (director) and Tait Brady explains, “Suzi was the precursor to Joan Jett.” You could say, “Suzi Quatro was Joan Jett before there WAS a Joan Jett.” This message is driven home by riveting rock & roll footage of Suzi in concert and by such fellow artists as  Alice CooperDeborah Harry (Blondie), Joan Jett, Cherie Currie (The Runaways), Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads), Donita Sparks (L7), Henry Winkler (Happy Days), Kathy Valentine (The GoGo’s), KT Tunstall, members of the Quatro family, and many more.

“Suzi Q” portrays Suzi as the trailblazer and inspiration for a generation of women musicians to follow.  As the film says, “It takes a Suzi Quatro to come along and say, to other girls, this is possible.” Suzi is quoted as saying, “I was waiting for my shot” and “As soon as you make it big, they cut you to pieces.  At that time, rock was a male-dominated business.” She also notes, of her work ethic, “I’m obligated to be the best I can be. That’s the attitude I take to my shows.  You’re gonna’ get all of me.”

“Suzi Q” is the story of the girl from Detroit City who redefined the role and image of women in rock & roll. She broke through around the world in 1973. Since that year, she has sold 55 million records in a 54-year career. She was singer, songwriter, bass player, author, radio presenter, poet and she is still touring and recording music, with a new album, “No Control,” her 24th album, released in March, 2019.

Suzi started playing in 1964, ’65 and ’66, singing songs with lyrics like: “I’m a red-hot fox. I’m a wild one.”

Quatro moved to England in 1971, after being spotted by the record producer Mickie Most, who had by that time founded his own label, Rak Records. He had been persuaded to see Cradle—the group that included Suzi and 2 of her sisters— by Michael, the brother of the Quatro sisters who had assumed a managerial role. Like many in the record industry at the time, Most was seeking a female rock singer who could fill the void that the death of Janis Joplin had created. According to the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, his attention to Quatro was drawn by “her comeliness and skills as bass guitarist, singer and chief show-off in Cradle.”

When Mickey Most saw Suzi and her sisters—Patti, Arlene and Nancy—playing and singing, he only wanted the cute, petite bass player. That set the family unit on a path of jealous envy. Suzi, herself, says, “You can always look back with regret…It’s important to be validated by the ones you love the most….But when you look at what you have accomplished, you have to realize that the mistake is that people overlooked you. That’s their mistake.”.

Suzi’s look—leather cat-suit—was modeled on the Jane Fonda film “Barbarella.” Suzi had to leave the country she grew up in to make it. Make it she did, but having your record by #1 in Portugal, France, the UK and Switzerland is not the same as making it in the United States. Her self-titled album, although Number One in Australia, only made it to #142 in the U.S. Even today, she lives in Essex, Hamburg (Germany, a country which embraced her), and, sometimes, in Detroit.

In 1974 Suzi came back to tour America, not having been back in 3 years. When she went home, she discovered that all of her clothes and albums in her childhood home had been removed. She played 65 cities in 72 days and opened for Uriah Heep and Alice Cooper on the Welcome to My Neighborhood tour (April 4, 1978). She even made the cover of “Rolling Stone” (Issue #177). But even Clive Davis couldn’t get Suzi’s songs played in the U.S. on radio and, as Joan Jett says in the documentary, “The key to success in the states has always been radio.”

After the Alice Cooper tour of 1974, there was no real push for Suzi’s music and “Stumblin’ In”, which went to #4 in the U.S., was her highest-charting song in her home country.

Suzi spent 3 years (1977-1979) on “Happy Days” as Leather Tuscadero, playing the younger sister of Fonzi’s girlfriend Pinky Tuscadero. In 1980, following the end of her contract with Mickie Most, who had discovered her and nurtured her career, she signed with Chapman’s Dreamland Records. Dreamland Records folded in 1981, leaving Suzi without a record label.

Suzi had fallen in love with her back-up guitarist, Len Tuckey. They were married in 1976, at which point she had spent 5 years abroad.  Suzi spent 5 years after their marriage trying to have a child. She succeeded, giving birth to a daughter, Laura, in 1982. Her son, Richard Leonard Tuckey, was born in 1984.

The couple divorced in 1992, after 16 years of marriage. Lenny objected to Suzi’s taking a role in a 1986 production of “Annie Get Your Gun” playing Annie Oakley, saying, “You can’t do that and then sell rock and roll in the United Kingdom.” He added, “She didn’t want anybody holding her back.” Today, Suzi is married to German record producer Rainer Haas, whom she married in 1993.

SUZI Q positions Suzi as the trailblazer and inspiration for a generation of women who were to follow after her in the next decade, but whose  trailblazing status was not sufficiently recognized by the music industry and contemporary audiences, especially in North America.

The documentary SUZI Q reminds contemporary audiences of her pioneering influence, white-hot talent and string of incandescent rock hits (CAN THE CAN, 48 CRASH and DAYTONA DEMON) that were the vehicle for her explosion of gender stereotypes in rock n roll. She rewrote the rule book for the expected image of women in rock music and reached millions of people worldwide in the process.

 

Weekly Wilson Programs of May 21 and May 28th

Home podcast office in Texas.

May 21st – My guest on Weekly Wilson, the podcast, at 7 p.m. (CDT) on Thursday was Linda Gratz, talking about her book “Redlined.” It was a fascinating hour.

May 28th – My guest this coming Thursday will be Anita Solick Oswald, author of “West Side Girl” ad a founding member of the Boulder Writing Studio. Anita and I will talk again about the same neighborhood that Linda Gratz grew up in during the fifties and the sixties, West Garfield Park. Linda’s memoir is a more lighthearted look at what she remembers fondly as a great childhood growing up the changing Chicago neighborhood.

June 4 – My guest on Thursday will be Barbara Barnett, author of “The Apothecary’s Curse” and “Alchemy of Glass.”

June 11 – My guest will be former WGN on-air radio personality Spike (“at the Mike”) O’Dell.

June 18 – My guest is scheduled to be New York Times Best-Selling author Heather Graham, author of the Krewe of Hunters romance/paranormal novels.

June 25 – Rock star Suzi Quatro is scheduled to be with me in advance of the documentary about her life. Suzi was Joan Jett before there was a Joan Jett.

 

“Shooting Heroin” Examines the Opioid Epidemic in Pennsylvania

“Shooting Heroin” is a film from writer/director/producer/editor Spencer T. Folmar of Clearfield, Pennsylvania. It has a vigilante justice approach to solving the problem of young people shooting heroin and overdosing in this remote area right in the middle of the state of Pennsylvania, where 10 teenagers a day were dying of the opioid epidemic in 2018.

Folmar, a Clearfield native, had a personal stake in the film, which was shot in  Pennsylvania communities with names like Clearfield, Altoona and Morrisdale. As Folmar said during a video Red Carpet held on Zoom, “This film is very personal.  The area, itself, is like a character. We were trying to show the natural beauty and the grittiness of the area.”

        Spencer T. Folmar

At one point during the virtual Red Carpet, Folmar said, “This was the first narrative feature film on the subject.” This surprised me, since, the year the plans for this began (2018) was a banner year for films that dealt with the opioid epidemic in America.

There was “Beautiful Boy” with Timothy Chalamet and Steve Carell and “Ben Is Back” with Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts (directed by Lucas’ father Peter Hedges). Both screened at the Chicago International Film Festival. “Beautiful Boy” was based on the father/son books by Nic and David Sheff and helmed by Felix van Groenegen of Belgium. Timothy Chalamet (“Call Me By Your Name”) was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe award and a Screen Actors’ Guild award. It seemed that every other movie at the festival in 2018 was about drug addiction.

The description for “Shooting Heroin”  is: A small town community comes together to eradicate the heroin epidemic from its midst by whatever means necessary.

The cast included such veterans as Sherilynn Fenn (“Twin Peaks”) as Hazel, Cathy Moriarty (“Raging Bull,” “Neighbors”) as Beth and Nick Turturro (“Hill Street Blues”) although I was unfamiliar with the lead, Alan Powell. Garry Pastore (“The Deuce”), who played Lieutenant Jerry Whelan, won an acting award from Hells Kitchen Film Awards. The film won the Award of Excellence at IndieFest 2020.

“Shooting Heroin” is currently screening on Vudu, iTunes, Microsoft, Comcast, Verizon and Amazon and, for a 90-minute film that was shot in 12 days in middle to late October on a shoestring budget  in the middle of Pennsylvania, it had  nice moments and was enjoyable. Music by Mike Newport was good and cinematography by John Honore did a good job of putting the Pennsylvania countryside on display.

The cast contained many of Folmar’s relatives. The pharmacist with the long blonde hair? Leesa Folmar.  Little Phil—a darling blonde child of about two— actually Spencer Folmar’s nephew. Little Phil was such a good actor that, by the end of the shoot, he was holding out his arms for his onscreen Daddy (Alan Powell) and calling him “Daddy” (while his real father was in the next room).

I also learned that all-terrain vehicles really ARE that popular in Pennsylvania and that the house they burn down in the film had to be built in three days so it could be burned down, (after plans for the fire department to incinerate an old one already standing fell through).

I had never participated in a Zoom virtual Red Carpet. It was just as technically challenging as I feared it might be, for the likes of me. I finally succeeded in joining the merry band of about 5 cast members and 5 critics (some of whom had not yet seen the film).

Nick Turturro (who plays a priest in the film) said, with wonderment, when asked about filming on location, “It’s a very different experience when you shoot outside of L.A.  It was very personal. You put me at your parents’ house! I got to meet your parents!” Turturro mentioned that the cast  arrived 2 days before the 12-day shoot.

There was also some conversation about Turturro’s collection of major league baseball jerseys, hanging on a rack behind him. (You don’t get that on the REAL Red Carpet!) At one point, Sherilynn Fenn’s daughter entered what appeared to be her bedroom to ask Mom a question while Sherilynn was stationed there to answer questions. Lead Alan Powell defended his leaving Little Phil in the car seat of his car outside in the Pennsylvania cold by explaining that he had five children, himself. (Not sure that was a convincing argument, but whatever…).

I sent my questions on to the publicist, which were as follows:

Questions:

Alan Powell and Writer/Director (Producer/Editor) Spencer T. Folmar in Pennsylvania.

1) In one scene Adam (Alan Powell) goes to pick his son up from his drug-addicted sister Cheyenne, who is (supposedly) babysitting. They argue. Adam (Alan) walks out of the house with the small child. Then Adam comes back in the house and argues with the sister for a while. WHO IS WATCHING THE LITTLE BOY DURING THE ARGUMENT? It looks cold in Pennsylvania in all scenes. (You can see people’s breath in the scenes with Cathy Moriarty as his mother Beth and Alan Powell as Adam). Where is the little boy during the argument? Surely not in the car, alone?

2)  During the comraderie scenes between Adam and Lt. Jerry Whelan (Garry Pastore of “The Deuce”—who was excellent in his role), do these two ever call an Uber? They’re out drinking and apparently driving from bar to bar. While we were never shown either of the two actually driving a vehicle, one of them is a police officer and I’m thinking they need to either call a cab or a Lyft or an Uber. Later, the Lieutenant is awakened from sleep within the actual police station and he definitely looks the worse for wear. Between the non-stop smoking (Cathy Moriarty and Adam Powell smoke non-stop) and the drunk driving, I’m worried for the citizens of Whispering Pines.

3) The Volunteer Drug Force: [Yikes! ] Vigilante Justice half the time; confusing billboards the other half (rectified after remarks by one of the trio, Edward, to Hazel.)  [I actually did not know who “Hazel” was until after Hazel was dead. I tried to remember if her name was used and I just missed it—-possibly in the gymnasium sequence when she is addressing the students? I was very confused by Edward during most of the film.]

4) Whispering Pines. Spent a portion of the time wondering if “Whispering Pines” was the name of the television series town where Toby Jones was the evil Dr. Jenkins. (A: Wayward Pines). However, there WAS a 2018 movie called “Whispering Pines.” Noticed that the side of one police car said “Police” at the bottom of the door, but no name of a city. Later, many cities are in the credits (Altoona, Morrisdale, Clearfield, et. al.) Wondered why the writer/director didn’t just go with “Clearfield” or one of the other “real” towns?

5)  Was confused about the emphasis on All Terrain vehicles. Must be a big thing in Pennsylvania. Thought the odds of “Adam” running down a kid on an ATV vehicle in a jazzy mask and having him be the actual kid transporting drugs (kind of a conspicuous outfit for it, don’t you think?) was odd. Found Adam’s behavior at different points (in the cave, during the stopping of the youth with drugs), to be almost bi-polar. (He threatened to KILL the young drug dealer. Yikes! Pretty split personality in the cave scene.)

(L to R) Alan Powell, Cathy Moriarty, Spencer T. Follmar and Garry Parish of “Shooting Heroin.”

6)  Was confused about the African American guy’s motives and behavior(s).(Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs)

7)  Does vigilante justice in burning down the house seem reasonable? Cinematic, yes, but there didn’t seem to be enough evidence that this house and this individual were definitely proven to be guilty.

Some of these questions were addressed during the Zoom Red Carpet; some were not.

See it for yourself while you’re sheltering at home and enjoy this earnest effort. Cathy Moriarty is great. Garry Pastore and Alan Powell were believable. (Parrish told Powell that it was “a privilege to be in a film with you” and asked him “Did you expect the outcome to be so brilliant?”) Feel free to let me know if you figure out the answers to my questions above.

 

 

 

Low Cut Connie Fuels March 21st Birthday Party & Will Sing Again on March 23rd

Low Cut Connie, the South Philly group that emulates Jerry Lee Lewis in his prime, played a gig from the bedroom of lead singer Adam Weinert on Saturday, March 21st at 5 p.m. CDT. The group has, on a previous occasion, played the Rust Belt in East Moline, although we saw him at Lucy’s Fried Chicken in Austin, Texas, during 2019’s SXSW.

It was my husband’s birthday on Saturday, so we set up the television to give us the best experience of the show “live” as it played out. It was lively, but parents of small children should be warned that the language is sometimes “R”-rated. (What can you expect during a pandemic?)

The group will play another “live” concert online on Monday, March 23rd. For the exact time in your neck-of-the-woods and to be able to send remarks to the band as they play, go out to Facebook’s (or Instagram’s) Low Cut Connie page and check out the timing.

It has to be better than sheltering in place on a Monday night at home—right?

March 19th “Weekly Wilson” Podcast to Feature Eric & Eliza Roberts, Ed DeZevallos

“Lone Star Deception,” Eric Roberts, Anthony Parker.

Due to circumstances beyond our control, the podcast of March 12th turned into a one-hour stroll down memory lane and into the storied career of film star Eric Roberts, with a call-in from “Lone Star Deception” Executive Producer Ed Dezevallos.

Ed not only co-wrote “Lone Star Deception” and had a small part as Dwight Jones, but contributed several family members to its cast. On Thursday, March 19th, Ed is scheduled to talk about “Lone Star Deception” with Eric and Eliza and also to discuss another passion project he is producing, a series of videos for young people to help them decide what they want to be when they grow up called soyouwanttobe.com.

Film star Eric Roberts, the star of “Lone Star Deception” and his wife Eliza are to join Ed and I in talking movies, (God willing and the river don’t rise.) If you are stuck at home worrying about the Corona Virus (as most of us are), tune in to Bold Brave Bold Media Global Network and distract yourself from your quarantine for an hour at 7 p.m. Thursday (CDT) or 5 p.m. (PT). The call-in number is 866-451-1451. The program is Weekly Wilson, just like this blog, and we talk movies, politics, and other timely topics every week.

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