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 2 of 37

“A Perfect Enemy” Is a Film To Intrigue from Director Kike Maillo

The intriguing film “A Perfect Enemy” starring Tomasz Kot (Cold War), was directed by 45-year-old Spanish-born director Kike Maillo. Maillo helmed the 2012 film “Eva,” when 37, and it won him the Best New Director award from the Cinema Writers Circle Award in Spain and an award for Best Special Effects (2012). This time out, the basis for the complicated story is a novel by Amelie Nothomb, “Cosmetique de l’ennemi,” but the script was written by Maillo, aided by screenwriters Cristina Clemente and Fernando Navarro.

Architect Jeremiasz August has just concluded a lecture about architecture (“Perfection is when there is nothing left to take away.”) and is in a cab on his way to the airport.

Furthermore, it is an airport that Jeremiasz actually designed, with a beautiful model of his work in the center of a spacious waiting area.

Amidst a deluge outside the lecture hall, a young blonde traveler asks if she can share a cab with the architect. Tessel Textor (Athena Straites)—a petite blonde—does clamber inside the cab in the downpour and begins a pretty much non-stop barrage of information about herself. The Good Samaritan act of allowing her to share the cab causes both the architect and the young blonde to miss their flights, so their conversation continues—more or less—-in the VIP lounge of the airport.

August appears to be growing very tired of the non-stop chatter. There is some symbolism overtly explained. When Tessel first enters the cab,she explains that her name can mean “weaver of words,” although she is not a writer. (August tells her it’s not too late to start.)

There is a third character—a beautiful woman named Isabelle, who was married to August but disappeared  twenty years earlier. We see Isabelle (Marta Nieto) primarily strolling about a charming cemetery and, later, in her apartment. Her relationship with August is confirmed further along in the film by photos of the couple that adorn her apartment.

Things begin to become very surreal and fantastical at the airport. There are clear signs that Tessel is “not right in the head” (if she is even there) and her annoying monologue is beginning to irritate the reserved architect. There are several trips to view a model of the airport. Each time,  airport model has small changes occurring involving splotches of blood, etc. (Take note). The exchanges in the rest room(s) are even more central to the plot and even weirder.

Ultimately, August is on his flight. We anticipate that violence will occur at any moment, especially since Tessel followed August into the men’s lavatory and spends a fair amount of time playing with a knife throughout the film.

Now, August is on his flight. Tessel says to August, “Lower your voice.”

“Why?” asks August.

“Because you’re still on the plane,” responds Tessel. That was not where we thought August was when he raised his voice, so settings are shifting and mysterious things are occurring; the endless stories that Tessel tells are beginning to form a mosaic of sorts, coming together to form one tapestry.

The best comparison, for the viewer, to capture what may be going on in this film is to mention “Fight Club” and how it dealt with reality.

I enjoyed the film. First of all, it was well acted, (although Tessel would have been more convincing if she hadn’t been wearing 10 pounds of colored eye make-up in every scene plus what looked like camouflage pajamas).

Aside from that faux pas on the costuming, the principals carry out the somewhat confusing exchanges of dialogue proficiently, the music is good (Alex Baranowski), the sets are great, the cinematography is above average (Rita Noriega)  and the ultimate resolution of the plot is clear.

Another plus: the actors are all speaking English. I finally gave up on the subtitles of an Iranian film that was supposed to feature a burning theater. Did not make it through to the end of that one. Gave it my best shot; that’s 2 hours of my life I’ll never get back.

 Enjoyed this one all the way through to its thought-provoking conclusion.

“Kubrick by Kubrick” Entertains at the 56th Chicago International Film Festival

 

Stanley Kubrick, “A Clockwork Orange,” 1971.

Stanley Kubrick was a legendary perfectionist whose demands for more and more takes for a scene in one of his movies would nearly drive the actors to drink. This documentary, showing at the 56th Chicago International Film Festival, discusses that facet of Kubrick’s work and personality.

Sterling Hayden, interviewed in the documentary “Kubrick by Kubrick,” admitted that he had lost it the day they were shooting “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” There had already been 38 takes. Hayden notes that Kubrick’s response to his apologies for repeatedly messing up his lines was, “The terror that is in your eyes may just give us the quality we want.”

The foremost authority on Kubrick’s life and works, Michael Cement, guides the viewer of this documentary on Kubrick’s works, aided by the taped interviews of the Master, himself. As Roger Ebert says, in one filmed segment, “He worked entirely on his own schedule. It was kind of inspiring.”

was referencing the fact that Kubrick shot almost all of his films within 25 miles of his country estate in England and had a complete studio with the necessary sound systems and cameras, so that he could turn out such films as:

 1999 Eyes Wide Shut

1987Full Metal Jacket

1980The Shining

1975Barry Lyndon

1971A Clockwork Orange

19682001: A Space Odyssey

1964Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

1962Lolita

1960Spartacus

1957Paths of Glory

1956The Killing

1955 Killer’s Kiss

With just 13 films in 43 years Stanley Kubrick cemented his reputation as one of the greatest directors of all time.  Whether it was the 7 months spent shooting “A Clockwork Orange” or the 5 years he spent directing Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in Kubrick’s final film, “Eyes Wide Shut,” Kubrick was a perfectionist, “quintessentially a perfectionist,” according to his set designer Ken Adams.

The stories involving 105 and more takes on a single scene abound, and yet, as Malcolm McDowell (“A Clockwork Orange”) said, “If he trusts you, you’re all right. If not, watch out.”

With clips from nearly all of Kubrick’s feature length films and his own recorded remarks, this documentary directed by Gregory Munro with music by Vincent Theard is totally enjoyable for the Kubrick fan.

It ends with Tom Cruise reminiscing how he was called in the middle of the night with the news that Kubrick—who was then directing “Eyes Wide Shut” with Cruise and Kidman—had died in his sleep at age 70. Cruise pronounces the news unbelievable. Even today, it is.

Kubrick seemed a fierce force to be reckoned with forever.

“How Did You Like Them Apples?” (A: I Didn’t)

Apples

Greek director Christos Nikou has crafted a film about a pandemic that causes amnesia and a bureau, the Disturbed Memory Department for Amnesiacs, that works to re-educate those so affected.

It opens with the main character, Aris (Aris Servetalis) knocking his head against a wall and, shortly thereafter, he is on a bus but has no idea where he is going.

Many others are affected. Apples enter the plot as being good for the memory, according to a local grocer, while Aris hungrily wolfs them down onscreen.

During the course of the re-education of Aris, the Bureau sets him up with housing, walking around money, and a set of instructions as to what he is supposed to do. The Learning How to Live New Identity Program will have us watching Aris bicycle, solicit a lap dance, attend a costume party, go to a movie, take Polaroids of all new experiences and do the Twist, a dance made popular in the U.S. in 1960 by Chubby Checker. [Why would a song that is 70 years old be playing at the disco? No idea. Maybe that is considered “cutting edge” in this film’s country of origin.]

I’m a big fan of plots that have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

This plot has a beginning and a long middle. It has no end.

It won a Slovene Film Festival award for Best Sound and has nominations in several other Feature Film competitions, including both the 56th Chicago International Film Festival and the 43rd Denver International Film Festival.

One of the things I found most off-putting about the film is the fact that Alzheimers Disease is basically rampant in this country now. It’s truly not a “funny” thing to lose all sense of identity and not know where you are going or who you are.

I did not like this film for that and other reasons that have nothing to do with the argument that it posits amnesia as a cure and not a disease.

Losing your mind is not funny and too many people I have personally known, including my father, have experienced it, so no recommendation from me for this one.

Rachel Brosnahan Plays Jean in “I’m Your Woman,” an Amazon Original Film at the 56th Chicago International Film Festival

Rachel Brosnahan

Rachel Brosnahan, familiar to television audiences as Mrs. Maisel, has a different role as Jean in the feature length film, “I’m Your Woman,” an Amazon original movie now showing at the .56th Chicago International Film Festival and a nominee for the Golden Hugo award.

The film unfolds a bit like peeling back the layers of an onion. Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) is married to Eddie, who is a professional thief. It’s the seventies and they live in a very seventy-ish house, with Jean basically a bird in a gilded cage—a bird who can’t cook. Although she knows that Eddie (Bill Heck) is a thief—she knows almost nothing about his associates or the true nature of his job or, apparently, anything about the true nature of the man himself.

Much of the film concerns Jean’s “coming of age” as a woman. She is suddenly gifted with a small child, courtesy of Eddie, whom she names Harry. Later, we hear a story about how “Harry” (played by Jameson and Justin Charles) came to  Eddie and Jean’s house in the first place, but we never know if it is the truth or another example of the things we’ll never know for sure.

Enter Cal (Arinze Kene), an associate of Eddie’s who appears at Jean’s house in the dead of night and insists she and Harry must flee. Cal is Black and, later, we meet Terri (Marsha Stephanie Blake), who is his wife and the mother of his son Paul.

From there, things get interesting.

One of the strongest things about the Julia Hart directed film, (which Julie Hart and Jordan Horowitz wrote), is the fact that you don’t feel as though you’ve seen this film a million times before. It’s an original way to tell the story. It unfolds slowly at times, more quickly at others, with exciting chase scenes involving 70s autos and more and more revelations that will keep the viewer enthralled.

In addition to the theme of Rachael Brosnahan’s growth into full womanhood, there is plenty of action, mystery and suspense. Good performances, an interesting tale, and lessons to be learned all contribute to the appeal of “I’m Your Woman.”

“Bleeding Audio” Relates the Story of “The Matches” Band at Denver Film Festival

Chelsea Christer’s documentary about Oakland’s “The Matches” rock band tries to answer the question, “What was ‘The Matches’ downfall?” In doing so, it may just open up a second chance for “Matches” stardom.  The 91-minute documentary is currently playing the Denver Film Festival and doing well at other film festivals, nationwide.

Tattoos with the message “May your organs fail before your dreams fail you” abound amongst the die-hard fans of “The Matches.”  This American pop punk band was formed in 1997 in Oakland, California.

The band is composed of vocalist and rhythm guitarist Shawn Harris, lead guitarist and backup vocalist Jonathan Devoto, bassist Justin San Souci, and drummer Matt Whalen. The Matches have released three studio albums and are currently unsigned after their contract with Epitaph Records expired.

On July 9, 2009, the Matches announced that they were taking a “hiatus“, saying that, “our time to start new projects has come”. On June 17, 2010 Shawn confirmed  that he had left the band.

The Matches announced a one-time reunion show with the original lineup in May 2014. The show sold out, as did an additional eight shows and a following tour in Australia.] The band announced additional reunion dates and new songs in 2015. They performed additional reunion shows in 2018.

Now, the documentary “Bleeding Audio” is putting “The Matches” of today out there with the logical question, “What is next? Is the band back together for good?”

I hope to cover that question and others in a “live” interview with Director Chelsea Christer TBA for my Weekly Wilson podcast, but, from the sound and look(s) of the band, it was not a lack of talent that derailed their success.

The band worked hard for 10 years, performing roughly 300 dates a year and touring continuously. They took their jobs seriously. Like other artists struggling to break through, they soon learned that “We had to learn how to be promoters now.” That led to the realization that there was so much more work to do, as, before, they were trying to win over a small community, but now they were trying to win over the world. They were fortunate that the members were creative and one member of the group has mad artistic illustrator skills.

As the documentary digs into the reasons for the band’s “hiatus” in 2009, several disconcerting facts emerge.

The band’s manager did not register all of the band’s songs with BMI. Only 4 albums were registered with BMI (the manager’s job). The reason the band members had no money much of the time was directly attributable to this lack of attention to duty. [Think of Trump’s actions on stopping Covid-19: Trump fiddled while the nation burned, and I was just diagnosed with Covid-19 on Sunday.)

In this case, band manager Miles Hurwitz had become a Big Brother figure who interfered in the creative process overmuch, but did not attend to his duty to register the creative output of the band with the appropriate agencies so they could be paid. Band members had only a $10 per diem walking around allowance. They were approaching 40 years of age “and we’re still crashing on people’s floors.” [I had such a band crashing on my apartment floor in Chicago during Lollapalooza one year, so I can relate.]

It was this lack of progress that caused Justin to burn out and quit the band. Dylan replaced Justin. Justin said, “It’s really scary to admit that this dream or passion you’ve had for ten years isn’t what I want.”

As one of the band members put it, “We were so naïve.” In fact, drummer Matt Whalen, when the band breaks up, begins to study intellectual property law because of the many ways in which the band now feels they were taken advantage of by the industry and by those with whom they worked. “We were naïve.”

One of the artists in the group, Justin, turns to his art talent to support him and, upon getting a gig illustrating a book, said, “My first paycheck was more than I made in 3 years with the band.”

This is a “feel good” documentary and the band seems to have real potential, despite some health issues for their virtuoso guitarist. Long may The Matches burn!

Showtime “Belushi” Documentary Features Closest Friends’ Testimony on Comic Star

The Opening Night Film of the 56th Chicago International Film Festival on Wednesday, October 14th, was the World Premiere of the documentary “Belushi.” It not only showed at a drive-in on Throop Street in Pilsen, but was streamed to those of us at home.

John Belushi—one of the 7 original members of the “Saturday Night Live” troupe in 1975 and a Wheaton, Illinois native—lived fast and died young. During life, he knew no limits. Born on January 24, 1949, Belushi died March 5, 1982, at the too young age of 33.

One amazing thing about this documentary was how many dead voices who knew Belushi well speak to us about his lack of caution and restraint. He died from a combination of cocaine and heroin (a “speedball”) injected by a woman named Cathy Smith. Smith, who was extradited from Canada, admitted to administering the speedball to Belushi at the Chateau Marmont. She served 15 months in prison for involuntary manslaughter.

During the documentary, we hear the voices of such now-deceased close friends as Carrie Fisher (herself a drug addict), Penny Marshall, and Harold Ramis. Their testimony is thanks to oral history interviews recorded by Tanner Colby.   Richard Zanuck, who produced “Neighbors,” Belushi’s last film, and the others repeat that, “John didn’t have a limit on anything.”

A parade of still-living celebrities and close friends also talk about Belushi, including Candice Bergen, Dan Ackroyd, Jane Curtin and Michael Apted, the director of “Continental Divide,” one of Belushi’s post-SNL films.

Ultimately, we are left wondering why someone who could make so many people happy could not make himself happy. He had a loving wife and close friends, but Belushi himself wrote, “I may be on a natural course of self destruction that no one can control. I’m too far gone.”

A close-up, complete look at a comic star in this R.J. Cutler film for Showtime. The oral interviews plus pages from Belushi’s own journals make this one the definitive word on John Belushi’s life and death. He was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame posthumously in 2004 and was voted “the greatest Saturday Night Live star of all time” in 2015 by “Rolling Stone” magazine.

“Unfit” by Director Dan Partland Documents Trump’s Mental Health

The documentary “Unfit,” (now available for rental on Amazon Prime) is the perfect companion piece for Mary Trump’s book “Too Much and Never Enough.” Both informative works feature trained professional psychiatrists or psychologists speculating on the line that the documentary mentions early on, articulated by George Conway (husband of Kellyanne Conway), “What is wrong with him?”

Of course, right now, what is wrong with him is that his stubborn denial of the science and refusal to wear a mask routinely in public has landed our chief executive in Walter Reed Hospital with Covid-19. This just three days after making fun of former Vice President Biden for wearing a mask in public.

But Dan Partland’s documentary, inspired by an article in “Rolling Stone” wants to know what causes Donald Trump to “go off the rails.” We all saw this behavior in real time during the September 29th presidential debate—which wasn’t very presidential at all and certainly put the “off the rails” behavior on full display for the nation and the world.

After a discussion of the Goldwater Rule, which came after the 1964 election when Barry Goldwater’s reputation for wanting to use nuclear weapons caused some mental health professionals to use terms that were libelous and slanderous. Goldwater sued and won. The slogans like “In your heart you know he’s right—-far right” were discredited and an unwritten rule arose that the professional psychiatrists and psychologists should refrain from diagnosing those who were not in their care. However, as the film attests, “We never intended it to be a gag rule.” Yet it did become a gag rule.

However, the truly unique nature of this year’s issues caused the formation of a group of professional psychiatrist and psychologists who formed a group called “Duty to warn.” Like the Lincoln Project, this group of mental health professionals set out to warn about the clear signs of a malignant personality disorder in Donald J. Trump.

What are the signs of a malignant personality disorder?

They are:  1) Narcissism

2) Paranoia

3) Anti-social personality disorder

4) Sadism

Narcissism:

The narcissism is pretty clear. Trump constantly tells us he is “a very stable genius” and nobody can do whatever it is like he can.

Paranoia:

Donald J. Trump’s devotion to conspiracy theories formulated by groups like QAnon and his constant whining about how unfairly he is treated contributes to his sense of paranoia. Even today, there has been some talk that Trump was quite concerned about his recent diagnosis of Covid-19 and that that is why he was helicoptered to the hospital.

Anti-social personality disorder

Trump does not seem like “a people person.” He has been far more astute at mocking and making fun of his enemies than in demonstrating any compassion or empathy for those who are suffering. This tendency helps explain why he doesn’t seem to radiate the emotional depth of someone who really cares. His lack of remorse and refusal to accept responsibility for missteps or misstatements is correlated with this disorder. Trump seems to have few friends and he has racked up three wives in his 72 years. One analyst used a line from Macbeth: “Those he commands move only in command, nothing in love.  Now does he feel his title hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief.”

Sadism:

Tony Schwartz, who really wrote “The Art of the Deal,” described Trump as a sociopath and said, “He doesn’t feel anything.” This is in keeping with his actions when his older brother, Fred, lay dying and Donald went off to the movies instead of spending time with his dying brother. DJT seems to take a perverse glee in taking petty revenge against those he thinks have wronged him.

Director Dan Partland has assembled a stellar cast of mental health professionals, including John Gartner, PhD, the founder of Duty to Warn; Lance Dodes, M.D., a Harvard graduate from Boston; Justin Frank, a Harvard grad in charge at George Washington University; and some better-known faces like Anthony Scaramucci, who noted that DJT is “a reflection of the cultural zeitgeist.” Bill Kristol, a Harvard PhD who served as Chief-of-Staff to former Vice President Dan Quayle, Richard Painter, who worked under Bush, and Malcolm Nance (author of “Defeating Isis”) are also featured, commenting on the president’s bullish, obnoxious, arrogant, narcissistic behavior, visible to the world at large.

Dan Partland, who is the Writer/Director/Producer of “Unfit,” has been a much-decorated documentary filmmaker for over twenty years. In the 15 years that the Emmys have recognized primetime nonfiction series, Partland’s shows have been nominated for best in class 5 times, and in 3 different sub-genres; Reality, Nonfiction format, and Documentary. Partland has twice won nonfiction series Emmys and in 2011 and 2012 was nominated by the Producers Guild of America for Nonfiction Producer of the Year. In 2001, Partland won an Emmy (Best Non-Fiction Program) for his work on the ground-breaking 13-part doc series American High on Fox. Partland served as the Supervising Producer and a Director of the critically acclaimed show that is widely regarded as one of the progenitors of the current doc series genre.

Partland’s work has spanned several nonfiction genres.  He produced and directed How To Raise An Olympian, a winter Olympics special for NBC and was Showrunner for the multi-award-winning CNN archival series The Sixties. Partland was the Executive Producer and Showrunner of A&E’s Intervention for over 150 episodes, garnering countless awards and accolades including the Emmy for best reality series.

Partland will be joining me to discuss “Unfit” on Thursday, October 15th on my Weekly Wilson podcast (7 to 8 p.m.) on the Bold Brave Media Global Network. It’s a live format, so call in at 866-451-1451.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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.

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