Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books—-her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Reviews Page 2 of 32

“For Sama,” Named Best Feature Documentary at SXSW: Behind the Scenes of the Siege in Syria

 

 

https://images.sxsw.com/OmkWk_NPatsx2ymZWMOMnGzSbME=/878x0:4955x2912/images.sxsw.com/57/e1a26cc7-d574-4707-8f13-52848b9384e8/under-a-falling-sky-142452 Photo of Waad al-Kateab, documenting the violence in Aleppo, Syria (SXSW Press Still)

“For Sama,” Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts’ searing documentary about the Syrian crisis, was named Best Documentary Feature at SXSW on March 12th. Said the judges, “This extraordinary and harrowing documentary captures an epic personal story of a mother’s love for her daughter and a wife’s love for her husband through the lens of the bloody and brutal siege of Aleppo.”

Waad al-Kateab stayed in Aleppo, where she had been a student in the fourth year of an economics degree at the university. When the rebellion against Assad’s corrupt regime broke out—much of it initially fomented by university rebels—the protesters were hopeful. Waad al-Kateab, a photo-journalist who continued filming for the duration, said, “To try to live a normal life in this place is to stand against the regime.”

Waad al-Kateab’s husband, Dr. Hamza el-Koteab, was one of only 32 physicians who chose to stay in the besieged city to care for the remaining residents; it is clear Aleppo’s remaining residents feel abandoned by the world. “We’re crying out to the world: Help us! ..But no one does anything to stop the regime.”

During the time that Waad al-Kateab spent in Aleppo  across a 5-year span and during 6 months of constant bombing, she and Hamza fell in love, got married, and had their first child, Sama. The film is entitled “For Sama,” their daughter, because Waad wanted to let her daughter know what they were fighting for in staying behind long after others had fled. As Waad says, “Our new life with you felt so fragile…as fragile as our life in Aleppo.”

The family eventually ends up actually living in the hospital, but the hospital is constantly being bombed by the Assad regime with Russian air support. At one point,  8 of 9 hospitals in East Aleppo have been destroyed; Hamza’s is the only one left, seeing 300 patients a day. Waad al-Kateab and Hamza had one hospital bombed while they were out of the facility, which killed 53 people, including the doctor who delivered Waad’s daughter.

There are many heart-rending scenes of adults and children being brought to the make-shift hospital only to die there or be declared DOA. There are dead bodies literally everywhere within the hospital;  one of the most ghastly scenes is of the victims of a mass execution, all of whom were civilians but showed signs of torture and had been shot in the head. Their bodies—at least 30 corpses— laid out in the street as a warning. The burial pit that forms their mass grave instantly summons memories of Nazi Germany. The scenes of the hospital being bombed evoke the “Sixty Minutes” segment that visited Aleppo hospitals  while they were under fire. One heart-warming but tragic moment is of the emergency C-section of a 9-months pregnant woman. Her child is saved, with difficulty; the mother is beyond help.

Ultimately, after 6 months under siege (December, 2016) the United Nations calls Dr. Hamza, who has become a voice for the Syrian people and whose face has become known to the world saying, “If you surrender, they will spare your lives.” The couple faces a harrowing decision regarding their small daughter. The  thought is this: She has a better chance of making it if they (the authorities) don’t know that you are her parents.

Waad al-Kateab cannot leave her daughter behind, however. The couple and their neighbors, who have three children, attempt the perilous journey out of Aleppo and into exile. As they drive, sharp shooters shoot at the ambulance. Waad says, “The silence makes you feel the city is dead.” Each check-point is dangerous. Will they all make it out alive?

The bombed ruins of a once-beautiful city confirm the diagnosis that the city, along with many of its inhabitants, is dead. Waad’s husband, Dr. Hamza says that in 20 days they saw 6,000 patients and performed 890 operations.

This is a must-see story of survival under siege from directors Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts which had its World Premiere (financing by the UK) at SXSW. Hopefully, it will air soon on PBS.

“Lowland Kids” Attests to the Effects of Global Warming: World’s First Climate Change Refugees

Director Sandra Winther. (SXSW Photo).

“Lowland Kids,” a documentary short showing at SXSW directed by Sandra Winther and beautifully shot by Director of Photography Todd Martin tells the story of America’s first climate change refugees.

Brother and sister Juliette and Howard Brunet are being raised by their Uncle Chris Brunet, who is handicapped and confined to a wheelchair. The parents of the teen-agers apparently died from drug addiction, although Howard, when asked, says, “I don’t want to talk about that.”

The two siblings and their Uncle Chris live on Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana and, as Chris explains their predicament after 3 generations of living on the island, their island is losing one football field of earth every hour because of the oil and gas company building canals and due to natural disasters. The rising water is going to take over the island, the lowlands, and, as Uncle Chris says, “This is home. You really can’t get that again.”

The government has pledged to build houses to relocate the entire lowland island because, “The ground is sinking.  You’re looking at mass relocation.” When asked how they feel about moving in questions like, “What are you gonna’ miss about this place?” Chris answers “Everything, Man!” It is clear that the teen-agers feel the same way. Explains Chris, “That’s just it. It’s the simplicity.”

While the house they live in is not much, the scenery is gorgeous with beautiful sunsets and trips by boat to hunt alligators. The young people spend a lot of time driving all-terrain vehicles around the lush and isolated grounds and Howard says, “Moving off the island is gonna’ change a lot. Nobody really wants to lose their hometown.”

Howard shares that he is an aspiring football player and adds, “If you’re good at it, you shouldn’t just waste your time.” He hopes to get a college scholarship to help him go to a college or university in the future. He is shown watching a Saints/Vikings showdown on his cell phone and practicing his throwing.

Juliette shares that, “The person I respect the most is Uncle Chris…in a wheelchair and raising two teenagers.” She seems to have made her peace with the deaths of her parents, saying she doesn’t need a female role model because, “They died for a reason. To me, it’s cool.” The only hint that the loss of their biological parents really isn’t so “cool” for them comes from a family friend, Mike, who talks about her brother Howard being “in a bad way” at one point, but all of them rallying to care for the orphaned children.

The place and its loss is front and center, with gorgeous cinematography and comments like,”They say there’s not too much here. That’s the thing—it’s just implicit.”

There are so many unanswered questions in the short (approximately half an hour) documentary: What happened that confined Uncle Chris to a wheelchair? Is Uncle Chris their true, biological uncle, or is that an honorary title? What do Chris (and, for that matter, Mike) do to earn money to live?  How do the Brunets get around the lowland island and, for that matter, off the island, when the comment is made that floods frequently shut off the ability to get to the mainland? How much is the relocation of 180 to 200 families going to cost the government or the families affected? Are the oil and gas companies that Chris says are responsible in large part for this erosion going to pay for some or all of the moves that are supposed to take place by 2022?

See this one for the beautiful shots of the Watery Island lowland paradise of which Uncle Chris says, “I would like to find a place like this with good friends and family…Home, you really can’t get that again.”

“The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story” Premiering on Wednesday, March 13th at SXSW

“The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story”: in the good old days. (Photo used by permission of YouTube, Pilgrim Productions & Lance Bass Productions)

The Boy Ban Con: The Lou Pearlman Story is a You Tube Original documentary, presented by Pilgrim Media in conjunction with Lance Bass Productions.  It premieres at SXSW on Wednesday, March 13th, 2019 at 3 p.m. at the Paramount Theater.

Lance Bass is onscreen discussing Pearlman’s defrauding of the boy bands he formed, as is Bass’ mother and Justin Timberlake’s mother and several members of the boy bands N’Sync and The Back Street Boys, including A.J. McLean, Ashley Parker Angel, Chris Kirkpatrick, J.C. Chasez, Johnny Wright, Lynn Harless (Timberlake’s Mom), Aaron Carter, Nikki DeLoach and Diane Bass (Lance Bass’ Mom). Justin Timberlake does not appear in the film, except in old footage. Director Aaron Kunkel paints a picture of a very bright, but very dishonest man.

Pearlman used falsified Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, AIG and Lloyd’s of London documents to win investors’ confidence in his “Employee Investment Savings Account” program. He used fake financial statements created by the fictitious accounting firm Cohen and Siegel to secure bank loans for his Airship Enterprises, Ltd. (Essentially, an airline without any planes). Trans Continental Records followed. The Backstreet Boys became the best-selling boy band of all time, with record sales of 130 million, hitting gold, platinum, and diamond in 45 different countries. Pearlman  then repeated this formula almost exactly with the band *NSYNC, which sold over 70 million records globally.

Lou Pearlman is presented as a consummate ponzi scheme artist, with little emphasis in this documentary on the pedophile claims that came to light later, revealed in a Vanity Fair article, “Mad About the Boys” by Bryan Burrough (August 21, 2016.)

Pearlman died in prison 3 days before the article appeared, but he had denied such accusations of sexual impropriety in a 2014 Hollywood Reporter interview from prison. Pearlman’s death was caused by surgery to replace a heart valve, which he had undergone a week before his death. He developed an infection of the lining of the heart valve.

Defrauding people of over half a billion dollars through various schemes is what sent Pearlman to jail for 25 years, where he died at 62 on August 19, 2016. His tentative release date from prison would have been 2029.

The judge offered Pearlman one month off each year of his 25-year sentence for every million dollars recovered, but only $38 million dollars was ever recovered, most of it from the sale of Church Street Station, a historic train station in the heart of Orlando which Pearlman had purchased in 2002. That sale, alone, recouped $34 million.

Here, with Lance Bass shepherding this 99 minute project as Executive Producer and one of the principal talking heads exploring the Lou Pearlman phenomenon, the documentary is focused almost exclusively on how an overweight, relatively friendless man started two boy bands between 1993 and 2006. Other less successful bands followed.  (Pearlman even asked the Judge, after his sentencing, to allow him Internet access from prison so that he could continue to manage. The judge declined).

After viewing “Finding Neverland” the idea of a rich, powerful and/or famous man in a position to advance the career(s) of young talent(s), causing naïve and gullible young people to be victimized, is not difficult to believe. It has occurred many, many times. Hollywood coined the term “the casting couch” for the promises made to innocent young actresses.

Lou Pearlman had been custom-fitting airplanes for famous bands to travel and became aware of the tremendous amounts of money these artists were making. He immediately set his sights on forming such a band and becoming a promoter.

The way in which he got the seed money to be able to underwrite expenses for the venture is pure Lou Pearlman: he defrauded an insurance company of $3 million by insuring a blimp he bought for $10,000. Pearlman painted the blimp gold to be used as advertising for Jordache. McDonald’s was another signed advertiser.

When the blimp crashed, Lou had his seed money; he used it to audition a $3 million-dollar talent search and form the boy bands that were then supplanting the Seattle grunge scene as those bands (think Kurt Cobain in “Nirvana”) fell victim to their own successes.

The members of the Back Street Boys and NSync fell victim to Lou Pearlman presenting himself as a paternal father figure, but also insisting that he was “the sixth member of the band”( much like Billy Preston was once dubbed “the Fifth Beatle.”) In Lou’s case, this meant a monetary cut equivalent to the young men who were practicing their dance moves 16 hours a day, but also cuts as the producer, marketer, etc. Lou Pearlman was triple-dipping. Pearlman presented the boys with a lavish party house for them to “bond” in and paid for the recording studios and, also, for lavish meals in eateries like Lawries.

The climax of the film seems to come when all of the boys are invited to such a dinner and told to bring their parents. It is far into the group’s success; they are pulling down millions. An envelope appears on each boy’s plate. They can only dream of the riches they now will receive for their hard work, since the per diem allowance to date has only been $35 a day, plus their comped food and living expenses.

When the checks were for only $10,000, Lance Bass says he went home and tore his up.

Lawsuits ensued, with the boy bands finding out that the contract(s) they had signed were very very good for Lou Pearlman but very very bad for them.

Then Lou went a step further and ultimately defrauded investors in Trans Continental Airways of half a billion dollars, of which only $38 million was ever recovered. Over two hundred investors lost all of their money. Some are interviewed in the film. Most are elderly couples who could not afford to lose their only inheritance.

Lou’s sole childhood friend, Alan Gross, had been a model plane assembler as a hobby. Pearlman took one such plane, painted a logo on the side of the model, and held it up with his hand against a backdrop of mountains to make it appear that he had an airline, Trans Continental. He didn’t.

Ultimately, Lou Pearlman died in disgrace at age 62 on August 19, 2016.

Has James P. Allison Found the Cure for Cancer? The Nobel Prize Committee Awards University of Texas Researcher the 2018 Prize for Medicine

James P. Allison

James P. Allison

     [Nobel Media Phot0]

James P. Allison of Alice, Texas, was inspired to try to develop a cure for cancer when he was eleven years old in 1959. That year, Jim’s mother died of lymphoma. As the years went by, one brother died of prostate cancer and one developed metastatic melanoma. Jim, himself, has faced down cancer three times, so far, in his seventy-one years.

BACKGROUND

Said Jim of his life’s work and ambition:  “If you’re gonna’ do these things, you oughta’ at least do things that help people.” He thought back to his own childhood and reminisced, “They thought I was a troublemaker. I just knew I was right…If you disagree with someone or something, you just have to stand your ground.” When he finally found a way to put his discovery into drug form, it took many years spent overcoming “all kinds of things that stood in the way.”

Young Jim’s father traveled frequently, so he often spent time with another family that had a son about his own age after his mother’s death and, always, he played the harmonica and relied on music to release some of the pain and the pressure in his life. His friendship with Willie Nelson is illustrated, with an appearance onstage at Austin City alongside his musical idol.

After graduating from high school at the tender age of 16 in 1965, Jim went on to become a researcher in the field of immunology—using the body’s own defense system to cure cancer tumors. It was for his discovery of a drug dubbed Ipilimumab or Ipi (known commercially as Yervoy) that he was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Stockholm for medicine or physiology.

BREAKTHROUGH, THE DOCUMENTARY

Director Bill Haney, winner of a Silver Hugo, the Gabriel Prize, short-listed for an Oscar, and winner of accolades from Marine Conservation, Genesis, Amnesty International and Earthwatch weaves an engrossing tale around Allison’s achievements, narrated by Hollywood’s Woody Harrelson. He inserts scenes of James Harrelson with his wife and son alongside the expert testimony of some of the other leading researchers in the field, including the University of Chicago’s Jeffrey Bluestone, whose own discovery challenged Ipi in the field at the time.

Another effective visual method for the audience was to find the dramatic patient—the one whose participation in the clinical trials for Ipi saved her life. That patient was Sharon Belvin, who was diagnosed with terminal melanoma at the age of 22. With metastatic melanoma, she was told she would not live more than 7 months. As we see in the film, Sharon has not only lived decades beyond her original diagnosis, she has been completely tumor-free since receiving Ipi, is married, and has two children.

We even get to have a happy ending of James Allison “getting the girl,” in this case, prominent fellow researcher Dr. Padmanee Sharma, whom he married after his marriage to wife Malinda fell victim to his work.

THE STORY

Jim struggles throughout to make it clear that Ipi is NOT an anti-cancer drug. It all started with the belief that the immune system played an important role in responding to cancer and that the T cells of the immune system needed to be studied. “I really wanted to understand T cells and the immune system,” James Allison says. Tyler Jacks, a fellow scientist, tells us: “Jim doesn’t care that he is not following convention. He’s an iconoclast. They are always thinking beyond the work. They’re creative people.” Jim felt that tumors caused T-cell receptors to turn off the immune system, but if you inserted an antibody, then the T-cells would be free to attack the tumor. His experiments with mice were amazing as the mice that had received the antibodies just before Christmas became tumor-free.

But now the real work began.

OBSTACLES TO OVERCOME

Jim spent ten years trying to get his discovery of the antibody that would turn the immune system into a fighting force against tumors made into a drug for cancer patients like Sharon Belvin. He had written his first paper (“Enhancement of Anti Tumor Immunology by CTLA-4”) in 1996, but things went South fast.

Interferon 2 was in the news then, but it took “two years and nobody would listen.” This is the period of time when Jim’s brother, Mike, was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer in his fifties. Two of Jim’s uncles had also died of cancer. Jim’s urgency escalated. But clinical trials take deep pockets; no big pharma firms wanted to shell out for them. If a drug is deemed safe in Phase 1, it goes on to Phases 2 and 3. As one fellow researcher said on camera, “Mainstream medicine was ignoring the immunology crowd. And pharmaceutical companies don’t know if something is promising or deadly.”

James’ P. Allison’s drug, known commercially as Yervoy, became the first to extend the survival of patients with late-stage melanoma. Follow-up studies show 20 percent of those treated live for at least three years with many living beyond 10 years— unprecedented results. Additional research has extended this approach to new immune regulatory targets with drugs approved to treat certain types and stages of melanoma, lung, kidney, bladder, gastric, liver, cervical, colo-rectal cancer, and head and neck cancers as well as Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The documentary premiered at SXSW on March 9th. If you have a close friend or loved one affected by cancer (and who doesn’t?) you should see this one.

Beto O’Rourke HBO Documentary “Running with Beto” World Premiere on March 9, 2019, at SXSW: Crowd Wants to Know: Is He Running for President in 2020?

(L to R) Amy, Molly and Beto O’Rourke on March 9, 2019, in Austin, Texas at the World Premiere of HBO documentary “Running with Beto.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Beto O’Rourke (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Running with Beto,” the HBO documentary that will air on HBO in early spring (May 28 release date), was screened at a World Premiere at the Paramount Theater in Austin this morning (March 9 at 11:30 a.m.) and a rapt crowd of supporters got to see Beto O’Rourke, his wife Amy, and their daughter Molly (as well as all those associated with the film) up-close-and-personal during a Q&A after the film.

I was seated in the third row on the right for “Running with Beto” when a large group of people began ascending the stairs that lead to stage right. The tallest of the group, hunched over so as not to block the credits then running, was Beto O’Rourke, who managed a small wave to those of us who noticed his entrance with family and campaign workers and Director David Modigliani.

All spoke to us after the film. Director David Modigliani described his goal as “wanting to capture a moment in Texas where there’s a real political re-awakening going on. It’s never too late or too early to get involved in politics.”

The crowd outside the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas, at SXSW, waiting for the World Premiere of “Running with Beto,” an upcoming HBO documentary, on March 9, 2019 at 11:00 a.m. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Modigliani had creative control of the film, however, saying that the 700 hours of footage they shot in nearly final draft format was cleared as his project (others wanted the job, as well) with Beto over lunch in Austin.  Beto protested, “I didn’t realize it would be THIS involved. I am very Begrateful that you did this with us.  The audience was probably wondering why Shannon Gay wasn’t the candidate.”

Shannon Gay was a particularly feisty blonde worker on the campaign (and in the film) who fought for Beto’s win to promote veterans (among other issues). She was seen crawling around on her roof to tack down a large campaign sign in a prominent spot. When asked what her reaction was to being onstage this day,  Shannon’s response was typically Shannon: “I wish I had a vodka IV,” (which got a laugh). She is shown in the documentary saying “Tough as Texas, my ass” (an allusion to Ted Cruz’s campaign slogan) and “I want so desperately to hear Beto tell Ted Cruz ‘pack your shit and get the Hell out of Dodge.’” Easy to see why Shannon’s outspoken advocacy will catch your eyes—and ears.

(L to R) Wife Amy, daughter Molly and Beto O’Rourke onstage in Austin, Texas, on March 9, 2019. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

When Amy O’Rourke (Beto’s wife) was asked her reaction to the rough draft that “David was kind enough to show us in advance,” she said her reaction was that it was “Very powerful. We knew this was their (HBO’s) film and we trusted him (Modigliani) at every turn.” She also added, to the crowd’s amusement, “The only thing I asked was ‘Could you take out some of the expletives?’” The film was separate from the campaign. It was being edited up until six months before the election.

In an Austin “American-Statesman” article that ran the day of the World Premiere (March 9th) Modigliani said, “The film is about people responding to crisis in democracy and allowing themselves to be vulnerable and allowing themselves to participate in politics in a new way.”

David Modigliani, Writer/Director of “Running with Beto.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Modigliani went on to say, “I felt it was brave of Beto to give us the access that he did. There is real conflict and tension and there are moments where he doesn’t always come off as a prince. It just shows the realities of the stress on the campaign trail, the realities of stress and tension within the family.  It has a realness that we were able to capture because of the access we were afforded. They were committed to running a no-BS campaign and we wanted to make a real no-BS film that captured that experience.” Modigliani, a Massachusetts native who is a graduate of the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas (and the director of the 2008 documentary “Crawford,” about George W. Bush’s effect on that small Texas town) added from the stage during the Q&A his suspicion going in that Beto’s campaign was going to be interesting, that O’Rourke was a total long shot, and that he was unlikely to win.

However, said, Modigliani, “I felt like there was going to be a national conversation that was going to run through the middle of this race.”

O’Rourke was asked point blank, from the audience (in the Q&A following the show), if he was going to run for President. He bobbed and weaved on that one. You can sign up to be one of the first to find out at [email protected] [Sounds like a yes, to me.]

When the turnout in Harris County in Texas increased from 26,000 to 60,172 in the last election cycle, you know something is happening at the grass roots level. The possible candidate, onstage after the film, said, “Thank you to everyone who allowed themselves to hope and to dream.  I am grateful. I was like, what can we talk about up here that will not make me cry.” (laughter) He added, commenting on the many candidates who subsequently drew inspiration from his unsuccessful attempt (and have begun campaigns of their own) that he visited every one of Texas’ 254 counties. The O’Rourke campaign brought the Democratic party alive in Texas like it had not been in over 25 years. Said Beto,“Turn hope into action.”

“Mr. Jimmy” Is the Recreation of Guitarist Jimmy Page; Playing Soon at SXSW

Jimmy Sakurai, a Japanese guitarist and devoted fan of Jimmy Page of “Led Zeppelin,” has spent 35 years of his life emulating Jimmy Page as Mr. Jimmy. He might be called Jimmy Page’s Number One fan.

A close second (Number Two fan?) might be the Director of the 110 minute documentary “Mr. Jimmy,” Peter Michael Dowd. Director Dowd and I spoke on March 4th, nine days before SXSW in Austin, where the film will screen on opening night (March 8th).

For 35 years, Akio “Mr. Jimmy” Sakurai has dedicated his life to honoring the music of Jimmy Page. He honed his skills playing in Tokyo clubs for more than two decades, before moving to America and performing his faithful Led Zeppelin “revival” concerts across the United States.

Peter Michael Dowd became aware of Mr. Jimmy through YouTube videos and shared with me, “I am just a life-long Led Zeppelin fan, since the age of fifteen.” He shared memories of riding to school when “Whole Lotta’ Love” came on the radio (released Oct. 22, 1969). “I just really appreciated the wonder of Led Zeppelin. Then, I stumbled upon a video of Mr. Jimmy playing and he wore an obscure outfit that I remember from having seen Led Zeppelin at Network Festival on August 4, 1979. It was just the most banal look, but I recognized that it was exactly what Jimmy Page wore at that concert and that got me investigating.”

Dowd—whose mother Paula executive produced the documentary—made four trips to Japan to do the film. He had never been to Japan before stumbling upon Mr. Jimmy, via YouTube. “I found it so fascinating in Japan,” he said. “If you walk into a 7/11 in Tokyo, it’s run with military precision.” We agreed that the Japanese dedication to precision was a key factor in Mr. Jimmy’s fanatical obsession with Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin. As Dowd put it, “It’s a pure, beautiful expression of love.” He added, “In Japan it’s all about the details. That’s how the Japanese will beat the British and the United States.”

The climax of the documentary is when Mr. Jimmy is playing in Tokyo and the real Jimmy Page comes to his show, which Dowd captured on film. Mr. Jimmy (Sakurai) played for 2 hours that night and said, “The fact that he saw me play. I never thought that day would come. Sometimes I think, ‘Wow! That really happened. It moves me deeply inside.’”

Jimmy Page had heard that Jimmy Sakurai was going to be joining the tribute band “Led Zepagain” and more-or-less gave him a thumbs up that night. The Japanese version of the virtuoso guitarist also had the opportunity to ask the genuine article if it was “okay” to call himself Mr. Jimmy and play exactly like his idol. Dowd and I agreed that it was typical of the Japanese way of life and respect. As another of Jimmy’s friends says in the film, “We understand Jimmy’s obsession. It’s very Japanese. It’s a rebirth of the original. It’s his life’s work.”

After growing up in Tokamahi, Japan and moving to Tokyo, Jimmy Sakurai (Mr. Jimmy) watched his father draw intricate komono designs. In Tokyo, Mr. Jimmy had a day job selling kimonos, and, later, selling musical instruments. Mr. Jimmy’s obsession with “getting it right” is depicted in the documentary and may have led to his eventual break from “Led Zepagain” after 2 years and 250 shows together.

Today Jimmy Sakurai is the guitarist for “Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening” but also maintains his own band “Mr. Jimmy,” which recreates specific concerts and eras of Led Zeppelin’s live history in every regard — costumes, lighting, live arrangements, and improvisation. Mr. Jimmy describes his excitement at being asked to join the band fronted by the son of Led Zeppelin original drummer John Bonham. Sakurai also maintains his own band from his Tokyo days.

The Mr. Jimmy band assembles the top Zeppelin tribute masters; the current line-up includes “Jimmy” Sakurai on lead guitar, August Young (of the Aviators) on vocals, Cody Tarbell (Slow Season) on drums, and “John Paul Joel” on bass & keys.

As one of the featured friends in the film says of Mr. Jimmy, “Jimmy Sakurai’s job is to make the audience think they’re watching Jimmy Page.  Ultimately, he’s going for something that doesn’t have an answer, because the answer would be to become Jimmy Page himself.”

Documentary director and actor Peter Michael Dowd won the World Shorts competition in Little Rock for his documentary “The King of Size,” which also played at the New Orleans Film Festival. He has appeared as an actor in the film “The Beautiful Life,” 2012, and was previously the curator of film at the Museum of the Moving Image and Film Programmer at the George Eastman House.

“Mr. Jimmy” screens at SXSW on March 8th, 11th and 14th. Jimmy Sakurai will play at the Dirty Dog Bar on March 13th from midnight until ten minutes to 2 a.m.

Oscar Winners On Feb. 24th are “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Roma” and “Black Panther”

The Green Book with Viggo Mortensen and Mahershali Ali

This year, because we were going to be traveling, I was forced to make my Oscar predictions much further in advance than any other year. I tried going with my gut instinct and not playing the “odds.” I also did not want to do any “research” because the other 3 people in our long-time Oscar party already would cry foul about competing with a film critic in our small foursome of Oscar predicting.

The big upset tonight was that Glenn Close did not win the Oscar for Best Actress. This means that she has been nominated 8 times and is winless. She may have to go for 19 nominations like Susan Lucci.

Chadwick Boseman of “Black Panther”

I honestly thought that Glenn Close would garner the award, but Olivia Coleman from “The Favourite” gave an absolutely charming impromptu speech (see notes below).

From the informal tally I kept, “Bohemian Rhapsody” won the most, with 4-–although we all seem to have drifted off when Michael Keaton came out and announced the Best Editing award. I’m pretty sure it went to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which means it won for Best Actor (Rami Malek),Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Production Design.

The “Roma” film—[black-and-white, Spanish subtitles, about a pregnant Mexican maid who cleans houses]—won 3: Best Director, Best Foreign Film and Best Cinematography. Also winning multiple Oscars was Black Panther, which won for Costume Design and Production Design.

The Big Surprise of the night, as mentioned above, was Glenn Close NOT winning. She had on a gold dress designed with 4 million gold beads that weighed 42 pounds, but still she did not win. I can relate; I wore a gold-beaded dress to my son’s wedding and it was the heaviest dress ever.

Queen, with Adam Lambert performed at the Oscars tonight. This is from a Chicago appearance of Queen that I attended.

I really had hoped that Spike Lee would be given the Best Director Oscar, but, otherwise, the Best Picture choice was fine by me. I had taken my husband to see it, saying that I thought it would do well. Last year, the film I went to with him prior to the awards was “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” so my hunches regarding movies that come on strong at the end have been spot on.

I was soundly drubbed by my spouse, as usual, however. We make him perform “the chicken dance” when he trounces us and I have posted one such dance.

16 of 24 is pretty good: 66 and 2/3 %!  (I was about 50% and most in our party of 5 got only 9 to 12 right.)

I am glad that “Green Book” won. It is too bad that Glenn Close didn’t “win” but, since Olivia Coleman is going to be in Austin at SXSW soon with a new film, that will be neat. I had predicted that Rami Malek would take home Best Actor and that Regina King would win Best Supporting Actress and Maharisha Ali would win for Best Supporting Actor.

I had voted my heart in hoping that “First Reformed’s” script might win for the 72-year-old screenwriter (Paul Schrader), who gave us both “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull,” and my vote for Spike Lee was “hedged” in print, as I knew Alfonso Cuaron was the favorite, but I hoped in my heart of hearts that Spike would prevail. (The Best Adapted Screenplay Award did go to “BlackKKlansman.”

So, it’s another one for the books as we head into the films of 2019.

Supporting Actress – Regina King in “If Beale Street Could Talk”

Documentary Feature – Free Solo

Make-Up and Hairstyling – Vice

Costume Design – Black Panther

Production Design – Black Panther

Best Sound Editing – Bohemian Rhapsody

Best Foreign Film – Roma

Best Supporting Actor – Mahershala Ali (“Green Book”)

Best Cinematography – “Roma”

Best Editing – Bohemian Rhapsody

Best Animated Short – Bao

Best Documentary Short Subject – Period. End of Sentence.

Best Short Action – Skin

Original Screenplay – Green Book

Best Adapted Screenplay – BlackKKlansman

Best Original Score – Black Panther

Best Song – The Shallows

Best Actor (Lead) – Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)

Best Actress (Lead) – Olivia Coleman (The Favourites) “This is quite stressful. This is hilarious. This is not gonna’ happen again. Any little girl who’s practicing her skills at home, don’t stop; you never know.” Olivia thanked her husband (shot of her husband) and said, “He’s gonna’ cry.”

Best Director – Alfonso Cuaron (for “Roma”)

Oscar Predictions for February 24, 2019 Academy Awards

2019 Oscar Predictions

My Oscar Predictions for February 24, 2019, have to be put up early, so I can start the trek back to the Midwest for our Annual Oscar Party with friends.

Meanwhile, I’ve had 2 requests from wannabe bloggers to guest post.  I asked each of them to prepare a “Predicting the Oscars” piece by today. I have neither Oscar Prediction piece by deadline, so I will give you mine, just prior to our trip back to the frozen wasteland of Des Moines, Iowa, from Austin, Texas.

(Pictures from IMDB)

Viggo Mortensen and Linda Cardellini in Green Book (2018) Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in Green Book (2018) Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in Green Book (2018) Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in Green Book (2018) Peter Farrelly in Green Book (2018) Viggo Mortensen in Green Book (2018)

BEST PICTURE

I think the Best Picture will be “Green Book.”

The nominees are:“Black Panther”

“BlackKKlansman”

“Bohemian Rhapsody”

“The Favourite”

“Green Book”

“Roma”

“A Star Is Born”

“Vice”

I have seen all of the nominated films and my top favorites would be “BlackKKlansman” and “Green Book,” with “Bohemian Rhapsody” in third place. I thought the hype for “Roma” and “A Star Is Born” (and, for a while, for “Black Panther”) was Big Studio money talking.  I am glad that it isn’t looking like big money will win out, this time.

As for “Vice,” as I said in my review on WeeklyWilson.com, it lacked focus. And “haters gonna’ hate” so the GOP members won’t like it much.

BEST ACTOR (MALE)

Joel Edgerton and Rami Malek in The Late Late Show with James Corden (2015) Rami Malek and Gwilym Lee in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) Joseph Mazzello and Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) Joseph Mazzello, Rami Malek, and Gwilym Lee in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) Joseph Mazzello, Rami Malek, Gwilym Lee, and Ben Hardy in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
Rami Malek with Joel Edgerton on James Corden’s Talk Show;IMDB “Bohemian Rhapsody” shots.

I think Rami Malek will win.

For some reason that I cannot explain, neither the much-nominated Viggo Mortensen (3 nominations, including “Eastern Promises,” “Captain Fantastic” and this one) or Willem Dafoe (4 nominations for Oscars, but his first for the lead) ever prevail. Willem Dafoe’s previous Supporting Actor nominations were for “Platoon” in 1987; “Shadow of the Vampire” in 2001; “The Florida Project” in 2017; and this year for “At Eternity’s Gate.”)

I actually saw all four of Dafoe’s nominated films (and all 3 of Viggo’s) and can point to fantastic work with roles in  films like “To Live and Die in L.A.” (as the counterfeiter) to bolster my impression that they are reliable actors who always turn in good work. “The Florida Project” was a very low budget film where Dafoe played a landlord managing a run-down motel complex in Florida. It was an odd project, but so was this year’s “At Eternity’s Gate.” If you needed any further convincing that Willem Dafoe is a worthy nominee, think about the fact that he and the film’s director Julian Schnabel (“At Eternity’s Gate”) were responsible for all the knock-offs of Van Gogh paintings used in the film (about Van Gogh’s life). It was a truly unusual film; at various points, the screen would simply go black. [The director of “The Bell Jar,” Julian Schnabel, strikes again].

I can’t imagine why Viggo and Willem, with 7 Oscar nominations between them, are always the groomsmen and never the groom. I think Rami is going to beat out Bradley Cooper (“A Star Is Born”), Willem, Viggo, and Christian Bale in “Vice” (even though Christian Bale took home one of the prestigious awards, saying, as he did so, that he looked to Satan for inspiration in playing Dick Cheney in the George W. Bush administration bio-pic helmed by Adam McKay).

BEST ACTRESS (FEMALE)

Image result for glenn close recent photos
Image result for glenn close recent photos
Glenn Close at the SAG Awards winning Best Actress.

Nominees are Yalitza Aparicio in “Roma;” Glenn Close in “The Wife;” Olivia Colman in “The Favourite;” Lady Gaga in “A Star Is Born;” and Melissa McCarthy in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

First of all, WHY would the Academy think it “fitting” to give such a prestigious award to an actress in her very first outing as a leading lady? That reference applies to Yalitza Aparicio, (who isn’t even an actress, usually), and Lady Gaga. Then we have “The Favourite,” in which Olivia Colman plays the Queen, and my own personal favorite, Melissa McCarthy in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” I truly enjoyed McCarthy’s dramatic turn, but Glenn Close has been nominated 7 times.

If there ever was a sure thing this year, Glenn Close is it.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (MALE)

Image result for Mahershala Ali pictures
Image result for Mahershala Ali pictures
Mahershala Ali’s Oscar for Moonlight (IMDB).

Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”

Adam Driver, “BlackKKlansman”

Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born”

Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Sam Rockwell, “Vice”

Mahershala Ali should nail this down for “The Green Book.” He’s already won almost all of the awards from other groups and he is doing some great work in “True Detective” on television right now. Again, I don’t know enough about the concerns of the family of the pianist whom Ali portrays to say that he is not represented properly onscreen, but even if “Green Book” is a work of semi-fiction, it was a heart-warming audience favorite in both Toronto and Chicago. It was the only film I took my husband to, after the Chicago International Film Festival was over, telling him I thought he’d probably want to take it in before Awards season began. The year prior (2017) that distinction went to “Three  Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and that turned out to be a dark horse late in the game.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Amy Adams, “Vice”

Marina de Tavira, “Roma”

Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”

Emma Stone, “The Favourite”

Rachel Weisz, “The Favourite”

I would like to see Amy Adams win, but I think Regina King will emerge victorious.

Why?

With 800 new members recently inducted into the Academy, many of them minorities or women, it is time.

 Amy Adams may join the ranks of Viggo and Willem as “Most Likely to Be the Bridesmaid but Never the Bride.” Amy has been nominated with great frequency (6 times), beginning in 2005 with “Junebug,” for Best Supporting Actress (the only nomination for her that I have not seen). She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress again, in 2008, for “Doubt,” and again in “The Fighter” in 2010 and again for “The Master” in 2013 and again in “American Hustle” in 2014 and now, this year, her sixth nomination for an Oscar. All but “American Hustle” were in the category she is nominated in this year, Best Supporting Actress.

The nomination of both actresses from “The Favourite” will split that vote. I honestly don’t think non-actresses in a black-and-white film chronicling Alfonso Cuaron’s childhood days in Mexico deserve to be nominated in their first outing. We watched it on Amazon; underwhelming. Lots of money spent promoting this one. Much ado about nothing, for me, but I wasn’t that keen on Cuaron’s “Birdman,” either. (“Gravity” was better.)

BEST DIRECTOR

Image result for Spike Lee pictures recent
Spike Lee, (IMDB image)

Spike Lee, “BlackKKlansman”

Pawel Pawilkowski, “Cold War”

Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite”

Alfonso Cuaron, “Roma”

Adam McKay, “Vice”

I keep being told  how much I should like the black-and-white “Roma.” I have not been a huge fan of Cuaron’s other films. I found the drumming in “Birdman” annoying, while others hailed it as brilliant.

You can pretty much eliminate Pawel Pawilkowski (which you’ll all have to see on television on Amazon or Netflix, probably, as I did “Roma”) and, while I did enjoy “The Lobster” by Yorgos Lanthimos” and thought his work on “The Favourite” was impressive, I think it is time for Spike Lee to win, don’t you? It’s been THIRTY YEARS, people, since “Do the Right Thing.” So, do the right thing.

If I were working with my students in class to help them “win” a predicting contest, this is one where I would tell them to “wheel the horses.” That is, fill out ballots with Alfonso Cuaron (“Roma”) and Spike Lee as their Director picks. I think it is between those two men, and I, personally, think Spike really deserves it for his entire body of work and for this film, in particular. It was easily one of my very favorite films of the year and we all got to see Denzel’s son, John David Washington, break out.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

“Capernaum” (Lebanon)

“Cold War” (Poland)

“Never Look Away” (Germany)

“Roma” (Mexico)

“Shoplifters” (Japan)

Let Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” win for Best Foreign Language Film.

OTHER CATEGORIES

As for the other categories, I’m thinking that “Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse” has the best current “buzz,” but Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs” may have the director’s name recognition on his side. (It premiered at SXSW last year).

I, personally, liked “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” enough to award it a best adapted screenplay award, but James Baldwin’s “If Beale Street Could Talk” adapted by Barry Jenkins might be difficult to beat.

For an original screenplay, many old-timers like the idea of giving it to Paul Schrader for “First Reformed,” after his long career of excellent work (“Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull.”) But there are other good original screenplays in this category, including “The Favourite” (Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara;) “Green Book” with Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie and Petr Farrelly, “Roma” with Alfonso Cuaron; and “Vice” with Adam McKay.

The latest word is that the Oscars will have NO host and that awards such as Cinematography and Editing will be given off-screen during the commercials. Not a fan of that idea. The other sure thing this night will be Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born” (with Mark Ronson and Anthony Rossomando) will be Best Song. (The question mark, right now, is whether Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga will duet on it onstage.)

QUESTIONS

Why were there only THREE nominations for Make-up and Hair? (“Border,” “Mary Queen of Scots,” and “Vice”). Why wasn’t “The Favourite” nominated, as well?

As far as acting nominations that were overlooked, Timothee Chalamet (“Beautiful Boy”) and Lukas Hedges (“Boy Erased” and “Ben Is Back”) were robbed of rightful nominations. I also thought Charlize Theron (“Tully”) and Toni Collette (“Hereditary”) and Emily Blunt in “A Quiet Place” did work that was Oscar-worthy and should have potentially been nominated.

My own “don’t miss them” list for movies of this year, [for films that were entertaining and should have done better at awards time] would include “First Man” with Ryan Gosling; “The Front Runner” with Hugh Jackman; and “A Quiet Place,” with an acting nomination for Emily Blunt.

“Cold Pursuit:” Liam Neeson Seeks Revenge for his Son’s Death

“Cold Pursuit,” based on the 2014 Norwegian film “In Order of Disappearance,” stars Liam Neeson as a father intent on avenging the death of his son Kyle (Micheal Richardson).

I saw the original Norwegian film on the recommendation of novelist F. Paul Wilson. My remembrance of the differences between the Norwegian version and this Americanized version may be slightly off, since it has been 5 years since I viewed the original.
Here are a few of the things I remember as being different:
1)     There was no wife in the Norwegian film. In this American version Laura Dern plays Liam Neeson’s wife. As the film opens she is telling him he’ll have to say a few words as he accepts his Citizen of the Year Award. The award, itself, appears in both films, but Laura Dern’s character does not. The way she leaves (and why) is one of the mysteries that doesn’t add up. Why would someone leave a card with absolutely no note in it or any writing on the card? The film would have been better off leaving the character of the wife out of the film.
2)     In the American version, the drug war is between an Indian tribe and a Denver drug dealer. In the Norwegian version—which was also directed by Hans Petter Moland—there was a Serbian drug dealer and a vegan drug dealer known as “the Count.”
3)     The method of disposing of the bodies was the same: the bodies are wrapped up in chicken wire (like a human taco) and thrown into water. In Norway, this meant fjords. In this version that is supposedly set 172 miles outside of Denver in a town named Kehoe, Neeson still throws bodies down spectacular waterfalls. To me, this immediately screamed “This is not Denver.” It wasn’t. [Shooting took place in Alberta, Canada, with a crew from Calgary, and there was also a Norwegian crew.]
4)     If the ending of the film is the same, I do not remember it well enough to comment. The body count definitely seemed much, much higher in this film, and the fortuitous graphic violence was much, much more intense.I counted at least 20 deaths in the American version, whereas the Norwegian entire cast did not number much more than that.
I had issues with the depiction of the Denver drug dealer called the Viking. Played by Tom Bateman as a character whose normal name was Trevor Calcote, he is unendingly despicable (even unto his dying breath(s). His relationship with his small son seems to signal control freak with sadistic tendencies and he is horrible to his ex-wife. There are tantalizing plot threads dropped into the script that suggest we may get a message about bullying, for instance, but those concepts are never explored.
The entire attempt to Americanize a Norwegian dark comedy was slightly odd. The real-life town of Ferme, British Columbia may be the ski town we see Emmy Rossum (of television’s “Shameless”) and her policeman boss John (played by John Doman) patrolling. I’m somewhat familiar with Colorado; my daughter lived there for three years and my sister attended the University of Colorado at Boulder briefly. There is no vista near Denver that I am aware of that even remotely resembles that of the snowbound area(s) in this film.
There were, as I said earlier, times when a plot thread seemed to have been dropped into the dialogue. But “dropped” is the right term, because lines like, “Lord of the Flies—all the answers you’ll ever need are in that book” just appear and then disappear(The drug dealer father to his son). Or we could quote Liam Neeson during his speech while accepting his Kehoe Citizen of the Year Award: “I picked a good road early and I stayed on it.” Or there is the occasional fascination with diet (not in the original) and the Asian woman that Liam Neeson’s brother (played by veteran character actor William Forsythe) has married. There are also discussions of “Who is the better quarterback, Elway or Peyton Manning?” and fantasy football. All-in-all, lots of “fluff” that is inserted to make this film longer.
I found myself asking questions like, “Why does Laura Dern’s character show up in only her stocking feet to tell her husband (Liam Neeson) that their son has been killed?” It’s cold out and the snow looks to be about 5 feet deep, so why would you leave the house without shoes of any kind? But there she is, as Liam is plowing the road and it’s simply not enough to say, “Well, she was really upset.” Or why does she leave a note in an envelope and, when it is opened, it is completely blank? I vote for leaving her out of the film, as the original film did, as mentioned above. What was the intent with the fascination with hang gliding or with Emmy Rossum’s Denver-based boyfriend, who provides her with insider knowledge of the ongoing investigation?
There were scenes inserted that seemed to have been put in simply to make the film longer; why the truly odd warehouse with various stuffed animals, etc. in it that the Indians own? Why the very strange house that Liam Neeson’s brother and his Asian love live in? The scene with the black assassin called “The Eskimo” is also strange. The line is inserted, “Sometimes loyalty comes at a price.”That sounds like a thread we will see explored, but all we see are people being murdered, one after another.
The body count on this film was much higher than in the original. At the end, alone, there are twelve fatalities. Before that, in the order of their disappearance (which was how the original film worked it, too) we see the following characters disposed of, one by one:
1)     Kyle Coxman (Liam’s onscreen son)
2)     Steve Milliner (Speedo)
3)     Jeff Christensen (Santa)
4)     Simon LeGrew (Baby Hawk)
5)     Leighton Deeds (The Eskimo)
6)     Brock Coxman (Wingman)
7)     Tyche Hanmel (Dexter)
8)     Dante Firstal
9)     Gallum Ferrante (Sly)
10)  Anton Dinckel (Bone)
11)  Charles Schalm (Janitor Chuck)
I had questions about the Indian drug dealer Chief White Bull at film’s end, too. He gets in the car with Liam Neeson and pulls a gun. Neeson goes about his duties as snow plow driver; the Chief simply lets him exit the vehicle (a large snow plow) and do his job. What’s that all about?
I also found the end of “Viking” unsettling. First of all, the machine that literally can pick up trees and drop them through cars was not in the original film, and I don’t know why it had to be in this version. A Tesla was also involved; it was sad to see a gun fight where expensive cars are being pocked with automatic gunfire. The scene falls in the tradition of crazy fire fight sequences, like others I saw last year at SXSW— “Baby Driver” comes to mind.
The fight scenes are good, if overly bloody and graphic, but the film lacked focus.

“Cold Pursuit” Review by Day’s End

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5719748/videoplayer/vi2021964313?ref_=tt_ov_vi

So, yes, I saw “Cold Pursuit” with Liam Neeson.

And, yes, I also saw “In Order of Disappearance,” the 2014 Norwegian film on which “Cold Pursuit” is based. Both were directed by Hans Petter Moland.

I suggest you rent the original film first.

More details  later today.

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