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!

Tag: Chicago International Film Festival

Watch All the Originals: Netflix, Amazon, Hulu & Now Apple

The battle for viewers is ramping up on streaming services, with Apple’s entry into the field, competing with the more established Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and—also—with channels such as the Sundance Channel. Add to that services like Showtime and HBO and the competition for viewers becomes even more fierce.

A recent entry on Netflix, which began streaming on Friday (November 1, 2019) was the second season of “Jack Ryan,” starring John Krasinski. I watched season one, which was set in the Middle East. While it was well-done, I am enjoying season two, set in Venezuela more. Perhaps that is because I have actually visited Caracas, whereas I have not visited the Middle East and don’t expect to any time soon. I say that while realizing that shooting probably did not take place in that currently chaotic country, but there definitely was on-location shooting for the series. It looks expensive to film.

I’ve been enjoying the series “Castle Rock” on Hulu. It’s related to the genre in which I have published, with 3 novels in “The Color of Evil” series and 3 books in “Hellfire & Damnation.” Watching the pre-cursor of Kathy Bates’ “Misery” character, played by Lizzie Caplan (previously of “Masters & Johnson”) was interesting. The writing and execution, with talents like Scott Glenn, Frances Conroy and Sissie Spacek involved in various stories, has been well above par. Hulu also has another season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” to entertain, which we haven’t gotten to yet. Meanwhile, there is the “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” the much-acclaimed comedy series with Rachel Brosnahan, Alex Borstein and Tony Shaloub. It has garnered numerous Emmy awards for its stars. I’m also eagerly anticipating friend Jonathan Maberry’s vampire series, filmed in Canada, which premieres in early December with star Ian Somerhalder.

Then there are the “Don’t Miss” movies of the season as the race heats up heading towards Oscar season. Films like “The Irishman,” which Netflix bankrolled to the tune of $150 to $200 million, are being shown in theaters in select cities to qualify for the Oscar race, after which “The Irishman” will premiere on Netflix—all 3 hours and 20 minutes of it—-on November 27th.

I just returned from the Chicago International Film Festival. I am still reviewing film(s) from the Denver Film Festival, long distance. It is impossible to watch ALL of the films offered, but I managed to squeeze 42 films into a brief 2-week span. The day that I attended “The Torch” at 10 a.m. (a Buddy Guy documentary), followed by “Seberg” (Kirstin Stewart and Jack McConnell) for over 2 hours, followed by “The Irishman” for 3 hours and 20 minutes, followed by the late-night showing of “Into the Vast,” (a sci-fi epic about strange noises coming over the radio in a small town that set the town’s DJ and friends off on a search for the origin of the noises can best be summed up by these script lines, “They’re here. They’re really here.”) was a l-o-o-o-n-g day.

Of all the 42 films and documentaries that I took in between October 13-27, the two that are Don’t Miss are “Ford v. Ferrari,” with Christian Bale and Matt Damon, and Martin Scorsese’s epic “The Irishman,” with Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Romano and a host of others. It is definitely a worthy and classic film in the Scorsese cannon. I highly recommend it if you have enjoyed Scorsese gangster films (“Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” “Goodfellas”) over the years.


Greta Fernandez Makes Sara Sensational in “A Thief’s Daughter” at CIFF

Living in public housing with her infant son, Joel, in tow, Sara hustles to string together enough part-time work in menial jobs to move out. The 22-year-old is determined to make a better life for herself and her child and to rescue her kid brother, Martin, who is crippled and living in a social services group home.

Sara’s love interest, Dani (Alex Monner) is supportive of young Joel, but is unwilling to commit. Sara also has a hearing loss and wears a hearing aid. Just as things are starting to look up and a new job in a food service firm that makes 800 meals a day offers her a permanent contract, her ex-convict father Manuel turns up.

Greta Fernandez in “A Thief’s Daughter” Q&A on October 21st at the 55th Chicago International Film Festival.

A First Communion party for Martin is a turning point in the film. Young Martin locks himself in the bathroom, asking his older sister to call their father to come to the party. Although Sara had made up her mind to challenge Manuel in court for custody of Martin and resist Martin’s suggestion, she finally relents in the face of the young boy’s desire to see his father. That lets trouble back into Sara’s life.

Greta Fernandez, Spanish actress and star of “A Thief’s Daughter,” at the Chicago International Film Festival.

The ending, where Sara is in court, after all the troubles she has endured, reminded me, in tone and intensity, of the gut-wrenching scenes in “Monster’s Ball” that ultimately won Halle Berry an Oscar. Beautifully acted by Greta Fernandez (her acting was recognized by the San Sebastian Film Festival) the part of her father, Manuel, is well-played by Greta’s actual real-life father, Eduard Fernandez, who is a big star in Spain. (33 wins; 38 nominations).

In the Q&A following this Spanish-language film, Greta shared with us that not only was her father playing her father, but the young man playing her love interest Dani , Alex Monner, is her best friend. Director Belan Fumes worked on the script for the film (with Marcel Cebrian) for two years. Shooting, as is customary in Spanish language productions, took about 2 weeks. (She shared with us that her work on a Netflix film, by contrast, was over 4 weeks.) Neus Olle handled the cinematography quite well, for the most part (especially in the final scene), but it is Greta Fernandez who shines through in her part as the strong yet sensitive young woman who has been kept down by society for far too long and is struggling mightily to rise up.

“Ford v. Ferrari” and “Girl on the Third Floor” in Chicago

“Ford v Ferrari” – In what is sure to be one of the best movies of the year, Christian Bale and Matt Damon recreate the face-off between Ford Motor Company and Ferrari at the 24 Hour of LeMans in 1966.  Everything about the movie is top-notch, including the performances, the cinematography, and the music by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders.  Besides that, it’s a true story of legendary racer and sports car designer Carroll Shelby and ace driver Ken Miles. Originally titled “Go Like Hell” with rumors of Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise to star, the casting is great and it’s a truly entertaining film. (Releases Nov. 15th)

“Girl on the Third Floor” – Producer-turned-Director Travis Stevens shepherds a Chicago cast through a haunted house in Frankfurt, Illinois on the outskirts of the windy city. Queensbury Productions cast WWE fighter C.M. Punk (Don Koch as Phil Brooks) as the expectant father fixing up the house so that he and his pregnant wife can move to the burbs. The house has a different agenda for the couple, who are trying to rebuild their lives together after the tattooed husband ripped off the retirement funds of his clients in the investment business (and cheated on the Mrs.). Two months of shooting produced electrical outlets that ooze, gallons of gushing blood, marbles that mysteriously roll about on their own and a totally chill German Shepherd called Cooper in the film. In real life, Ryker, the German Shepherd, died before the film was released, which is too bad, because he was the best thing in it. Able support from Travis Delgado as black friend Milo Stone and music by Steve Albini. (Streaming on October 25th and in select theaters.).

55th Chicago International Film Festival Begins October 16th

The 55th Chicago International Film Festival starts Wednesday, October 16th, opening with Edward Norton directing and starring in the film adaptation of “Motherless Brooklyn” (with Bruce Willis co-starring). The book, by Jonathan Lethem, won the New York Book Circle Award some years back and it has been a long time coming to the screen. “Motherless Brooklyn” will open the 55th year for America’s longest-running film competition, which runs from October 16th through October 27th.

It hasn’t opened to the public yet, but critics have already had the opportunity to see the new film from Corneliu Porumboiu, “The Whistlers,” which will be the Czech Republic’s entry for the Academy Awards. The involved noir tale follows the adventures of a corrupt, middle-aged policeman named Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) who travels from Bucharest to the Canary islands to study the ancient Aboriginal whistling language, which allows criminals to communicate clandestinely. Director Porumboiu, in interviews from Cannes, says he became interested in this authentic language after seeing a piece on television describing it. There’s a femme fatale named Gilad (homage to Rita Hayworth intentional), quick clips of “The Searchers” (which is one reason the original title, “La Gomera,” was changed to “The Whistlers”) and a gorgeous opportunity to see lighted garden display in Singapore, which runs 12 minutes and shows two times a night. It’s a complicated caper plot. When asked about the finale Hong Kong Gardens light show and how he knew about it, Porumboiu said, “YouTube.” (Romanian English with subtitles, 97 minutes).

This film from director Harold Holscher has a wonderfully moody, menacing, supernatural plot and the South African cinematography is gorgeous. It revolves around a black man named Lazarus (aptly named) and his interaction with a South African family returning to their family farm after many years. A little girl named Mary will be the focus of the film and the spine-tingling, creepy, well-acted central performance by Tahamano Sebe as Lazarus holds the film together. The female performances, especially the ingenue, Mary, are not as impressive, but there are visceral scares and a heartbreaking plot. (98 minutes)

This documentary traces the life and achievements of Milos Forman, who won Oscars for directing both “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 1975 and “Amadeus” in 1984. There are a multitude of film clips of young Milos, his parents, Prague where he grew up, and some personal shots from his widow. Forman died on April 13, 2018, and this documentary about his life, directed by Helena Trestikova and Jakub Hejna is a treasure trove of archival footage that traces Forman’s life and career. Both of Forman’s parents are taken away to concentration camps when he was young, leaving him feeling like an outsider in the world. (His mother died in Auschwitz and his father in Buchenwald.) It’s well worth a look. (78 minutes)

JUST 6.5
Saving the best of those I’ve seen so far for last, from Iran comes this riveting story of detective Samad (Peyman Maadi, of “A Separation”), whose mission is to bring down powerful drug kingpin Nasser Khakzad. The first 8 minutes of this film is as riveting and intense as the opening of “Shallow Grave.” There is a foot chase through winding alleyways that forces the runner over a fence and (inadvertently) into a deep hole where he is buried alive. The film was a hit in its native land and it’s easy to see why. It’s a high-octane look at the drug trade and the criminal justice system in Iran. (Farsi with subtitles, 135 minutes)

“A Moon of Nickel and Ice” from Canadian Director Francois Jacob: Grim

Director Francois Jacob of “A Moon of Nickel and Ice” (Canada).

In the ice Russian mining city of Norilsk, residents endure sub-zero temperatures and the weight of a dark history: Once a Soviet labor camp in the 1930’s and 1940’s, tens of thousands of political prisoners died while extracting nickel ore from beneath the tundra.

In this visually striking and haunting documentary, local inhabitants, including a wry theater director, patriotic miners, cynical students and a rebellious historian, confront both past and present.

My companion and I first saw “Thoroughbreds” and we were mightily entertained and impressed. I promised him that if the first 15 minutes didn’t “grab” us, we could leave.

A sweaty Russian miner explained why he doesn’t like jobs where he has to supervise others. His working conditions looked like a prison camp, because it WAS (IS?) a prison camp. Everything looked like the Swedish film about the snowplow murders that I recently saw and liked (which is now being made into an American version starring Liam Neeson.)

I glanced over after 15 minutes. My companion, an AFI (American Film Institute) graduate was sound asleep. We left.

“Blueprint” Film at Chicago International Film Festival Examines Gun Violence on Chicago’s South Side

[contact-form][contact-field label=”Name” type=”name” required=”true” /][contact-field label=”Email” type=”email” required=”true” /][contact-field label=”Website” type=”url” /][contact-field label=”Message” type=”textarea” /][/contact-form]“Blueprint”, directed by Daryl Wein, and co-written by Daryl Wein and the film’s star, Jerod Haynes, is a close look at the issue of gun violence in Chicago—specifically, Chicago’s South Side. The film includes a citing of the May total of 486 shooting that resulted in 52 deaths. (*Note: WGN news of 10/1/2017 did report a recent decrease in such mayhem.)

The film is told through the point-of-view of Jerod Haynes’ character (also named Jerod). He is struggling to find a job to support a young daughter and the child’s mother (it’s never very clear if they are officially married or simply parents to the child together). Haynes is a talented, young African American Chicago actor who had roles in “Southside with You” (2016) and television’s “Empire” (2015) and he does a fine job playing this role.

The film focuses on the death of Jerod’s best friend Reggie, who was a star basketball player and one of “the good guys that represented peace.”
It opens with the two old buddies shooting hoops, but we soon learn that the unarmed Reggie was shot in the back by a policeman, while running away. Reggie’s death is yet another shock to the black community. (One dedication at film’s end to 33-year-old Curtis Posey, who acted in the film in a small role and was killed by violence on 6/27/1.7 was but one of 3 similar incidents that affected cast members since the beginning of the film.)

After that dismal news, Jerod begins to drink heavily and his relationship with the mother of his young daughter suffers. They were already on the outs; Jerod was living in his mother’s house.

Reggie’s friends and relatives on the South Side are both angry and anguished at his senseless killing.
They aren’t buying any accounts that try to say Reggie was packing heat and the best line describing how they feel is uttered by Reggie’s mother, who says, “Reggie got shot because they didn’t see him as a human being. We can’t have that luxury of thinking it won’t happen to us, because, every other day, it’s somebody else.”

With the recent Trump Twitter storm about NFL athletes who take a knee during the National Anthem, it is easy to see that this is a timely and topical film, and with the shooting deaths tonight of 58 concert-goers in Las Vegas attending a Jason Aldean concert, it’s easy to also say that it’s about time we had a serious discussion about gun violence in America that doesn’t cave to NRA lobbyists.

Tai, the mother of Shanesia, wants Jerod to step up and be a man, act like a man, be responsible
. In a Black Lives Matter gathering following Reggie’s death, Jerod says, “We don’t have fathers. We don’t have the blueprint. The women are holding us together.” This, of course, is a true allusion to the fact that black families are often matriarchies where the women do hold the family together.

In the aftermath of Reggie’s slaying, various factions meet to discuss what can be done to stop this violence. The pastor in the film quotes the Bible, saying, “The Bible says, ‘Be angry, but sin not.” An opposing point of view is voiced by a young black man who says, “It’s not what we can’t do. It’s gonna’ be what we will do. We can’t allow them to do us like this.” He hands Jerod a gun, saying, “This is life and death right here,” and urging Jerod to defend himself, if necessary. Nevertheless, the feeling articulated in the film is: “It’s a cycle. It’s a continuum.” And, notes Jerod, “Everybody I get close to I lose.”

Later in the film, we will see Jerod throw the gun in a trash bin (symbolic screenwriting 101)
. I am sure I am not the only audience member who was thinking, “He should wipe that thing clean of his fingerprints before he rejects violence and discards it. Otherwise, he risks being framed for another murder!” Nor am I the only one who noticed that the hero and “good guy” was driving drunk after the funeral of his best friend.

Another plot point that three critics near me argued about after the film finished was whether or not Jerod qualifies as a hero
when he is drinking heavily, is still unemployed, and is still living at home and, according to girlfriend/wife/soulmate Tai (Tai Davis) has been sneaking around with another woman.

Regardless of Jerod’s heroic goodness (or lack thereof), the actor playing him, as well as the supporting players, do a fine job. The issue of gun violence is certainly relevant. The young girl playing Jerod’s daughter (Shanesia Davis-Williams) is very natural and delivers her lines like a true pro, especially this one: “Do our lives matter, or is it that white people’s lives matter more?”

The racism issue is complex and the answer is lost in the eternal ongoing dispute over gun rights versus gun control.
Nevermind that other countries like Australia found a way to curb senseless gun deaths. We don’t seem to have a handle on the problem, even after Sandy Hook and the tragic murder of entire classrooms of elementary school children. (Some of the more radical GOP talking radio hosts even insist that the poor children of Sandy Hook never died; it was all a hoax, just like the moon landing in 1969.)

One somewhat lame line was: “One day—I don’t know when—it’ll get better.” (To which I muttered, under my breath, not while Donald Trump is allowed to run roughshod over the Constitution and sully the Presidency.)

The movie is well-acted and it is also well-photographed by cinematographer Toshihiko Kizu, who makes the South Side and settings like the Shedd Aquarium, plus the many bridges in the city, come to life as near-characters in their own right(s). There is also original music by Jukebox and one with the refrain “Fall in love with the magic girl.” (That, apparently, will solve all the problems the film presents.)

I did not like the upbeat happy ending. It begs the question of, “What ARE we going to do about these senseless killings? One character says, “What can we do? I dunno. That’s the problem. We’ve got to figure out what to do.” Isn’t that generally the issue with ANY problem? And do any of these issues seem to be getting better (or, indeed, any attention) under the current federal administration?

There is even a line that says, “We’re seeing social injustice all around the world.” NEWS FLASH: we all know that. What does this film propose be done about it? I did not see it come down on the side of violence (Malcolm X, the Black Panthers) or the side of peaceful nonviolence (Martin Luther King). It just sort of straddles the fence in presenting the modern-day horror of life in the ‘hood.

I grew up in the 60’s. I remember Tommy Smith and Juan Carlos’ Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics and the Symbionese Liberation Army and Bobby Seales and Huey P. Newton founding the Black Panther movement and all the rest of it (Watts, etc.). I was in France when the French newspapers trumpeted: “America At the Edge of the Abyss.”

We’re there again, folks. Happy endings are looking pretty scarce, and we DO need to figure out what to do about it.

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