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!
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.”
The only vice presidential debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence was held last night (October 7th) and the majority of viewers polled by CNN thought (59% to 38%) that Harris had won the debate.
Unanswered Questions – There was a distressing tendency for the participants NOT to answer the question asked. Sometimes it was a complete ignoring of what was asked, as with the question about whether these two second bananas had had discussions with their bosses about what to do and how to do it if their elderly bosses (Trump and Biden) were to be incapacitated.
Time Issues – After watching Trump act like the barbarian at the gate during the first (and, so far, only) presidential debate, it was going to be interesting to see if Pence obeyed the rules better than his famously contrarian boss. For me, the answer was that Pence was certainly an improvement, but he still ran long on nearly every question. With each question, I would glance at the second hand on my watch when he began to run long. Pence never went over by LESS than 20 seconds and often went over that amount. With 9 questions being asked, 9 x 20 or 30 seconds meant, to me, that Pence got more air time. At the end of the debate, a figure was put up on the screen that indicated how much time each participant got and it appeared that they felt it was relatively even, but it most certainly did not look or seem like Harris got the same time consideration as Pence.
Good Point(s): Pence’s team felt they drew blood on the question of the Supreme Court. In my opinion, the best moments for Harris were her remarks about pre-existing conditions, when she said, “If you have pre-existing conditions, they’re coming for you.”
Moderator: Susan Page (USA Today) – She was better than Chris Wallace, but that isn’t saying much. “Thank you, Mr. Vice President” was not an effective way of shutting Pence down when he ran over. When will they either shut down the microphones or put the candidates in glass boxes that can be soundproofed and shut down, when necessary.
Chutzpah Award: The fact that Mike Pence could accuse Kamala Harris of “politicizing the pandemic” with a straight face was astonishing. What chutzpah! Most other charges (taxes, fracking) at least seemed to be answered by the participants [when they chose to answer, that is].
Does the race change at all? Most say no, except for the age of the presidential candidates, but that is one reason that the question about the transfer of power should have been asked.
Out of 10 people with widgets, 4 said Pence won, 4 said Harris had won and 2 abstained. Most of the experts say the votes ae “baked in.”
Truthfuless: Fact checkers had to step in and say that the claim (by Pence) that Trump had increased manufacturing jobs had to be corrected. Actually, on Trump’s watch there have been 164,000 jobs lost (not the 483,000 gains that Pence tried to claim, incorrectly. The Biden position on fracking might be fluid and that was discussed, as well.
Kamal Harris: She got in some good ones, all with a smile. Being female and a candidate brings a certain set of problems for women running against men. When women were polled, 69% said Harris had won, versus only 30% selecting Pence. It was a much closer judgment for men, who said that the margin was still in Harris’ favor, but pegged it as 48% to 46%.
Most Interesting Segment: At the point when the BLM situation was being asked about (Brianna Taylor), a large, very visible black fly landed on Mike Pence’s head and remained there for over 2 minutes. As my son said to me, “Mike Pence’s only black friend.” Watch for the skit on Saturday Night Live.
Some of you who hear the Suzi Quatro interview on Thursday, June 25th at 7 p.m. on the Bold Brave Media Global Network (or Tune-In Radio) may be wondering how you can find the documentary on her life and her music.
With theaters closed, Utopia Distribution will host a “SUZI Q” virtual event on July 1st featuring the film and an exclusive Q&A featuring Suzi Quatro and Special Guests TBA (available for 24 hours only) in advance of the film’s traditional release on VOD and DVD on July 3rd. To buy your ticket for the July 1st event powered by Altavod, visit:
Ted Hicks (worked in film in NYC.) His degree from Iowa was as a filmmaker. He was in charge of awarding the Christopher Award in New York City for years, post military service. He was a college friend at the University of Iowa. Ted has put together a list of good things to stream, and I have added my own favorites and added some specifics to his list.
This explanation from Ted:
A few days ago, Gary Davis, who I’ve known since 1st grade in Nemaha, Iowa, asked for some TV/cable/streaming recommendations. I put together a bunch of titles and sent it to him.. I know many of you will already know a lot of these shows, but there might be some you haven’t seen.”
I have made some additions to Ted’s original list, adding some old favorites and some new, and including names of the actors/actresses involved, when relevant (and not a chore to research.) Therefore, it is now a composite list from two dedicated film-goers. I have been reviewing film uninterruptedly since 1970 and review film for www.TheMovieBlog.com, www.WeeklyWilson.com and, sometimes, www.QuadCity.com. I’m also the author of “It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to ApocalypseNow,” which has not only a look at the sci-fi and horror flicks and major films of that time period, but 10 trivia questions per film with the answers upside-down, to pique your curiosity.
A Million Little Things – Ron Livingston (“Sex & the City”), David Giuntoli (“Grimm”), James Roday (“Psych”), Josh Ritter, and others are a close-knit group of friends who are affected by the suicide of one of the group. (rentable on Amazon Prime) 2 seasons.
Better Call Saul – prequel to Breaking Bad, 1st four seasons on Amazon Prime, 5th season currently on AMC.
Bosch – 5 seasons (Amazone Prime) – great series about an LAPD homicide cop, based on a long-running series of novels by Michael Connelly. The 6th season debuts sometime next month, I think.
Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee – terrific Jerry Seinfeld series, all seasons are now on Netflix. We’ve seen most of them. The episode with Eddie Murphy is one of my favorites.
Country Music – Ken Burns series on PBS. Not sure if this can be streamed yet..
Criminal: UK, French, German, Spanish – Gripping series on Amazon, four separate “seasons” all taking place inside police interrogation rooms in the respective countries.
The Crown – 3 seasons on Netflix.
Curb Your Enthusiasm – Larry David and Jeff Garland in a show largely about their lives.
Gentleman Jack – new show from last year, on HBO.
Giri/Haji (Netflix) – Japanese cops & gangsters, British cops & gangsters in a storyline that combines them all. Very violent but also very well made. I liked it.
Glow – 3 seasons (Netflix) Marc Maron organizes the Glorious Ladies of Wrestling.
Goliath – 3 seasons (Amazon Prime) – Billy Bob Thornton as an unorthodox lawyer in Los Angeles. Excellent. Was not renewed.
Good Girls – 2 seasons, AMC Christina Hendricks from “MadMen” involved in a variety of criminal enterprises with her sister and a friend.
Grantchester – 4 seasons on PBS Masterpiece Theater.
Hinterland – 3 seasons on Netflix, cop show set in Wales. Dark, tragic storylines. It’s excellent.
Killing Eve – First 2 seasons on Amazon Prime (3rd season coming up on BBC America).
Life in Pieces – ensemble cast with James Brolin, Dianne Weist, Colin Hanks, Betsy Brandt (“Breaking Bad”) and Thomas Sadowski and others. Canceled for next year. On Amazon Prime from 2015-2019.
Nurse Jackie – Edie Falco (‘The Sopranos”) is a drug-addicted nurse. (Showtime)
My Brilliant Friend – 2nd season started this past Monday on HBO.
The Plot Against America – David Simon series based on Philip Roth novel, also began on Monday. Elements of “what if” Lucky Lindy, the aviator, were to have been presented as a presidential candidate.
Secret City – 2 seasons on Netflix – political thriller set in Australia.
Schitt’s Creek – broad gay-friendly comedy from Eugene Levy and his son Dan, with SCTV’s Catherine O’Hara and Chris Elliott. Going off the air soon. On since 2015.
The Sinner – seasons 1 & 2 on Netflix, 3rd season now airing on USA. We just started this series this year and burned through first 2 seasons, loved it. (Bill Pullman)
The Stranger (Netflix) – very good thriller.
Trapped – 2 seasons on Amazon Prime – cop show set in Iceland.
Unbelievable – Netflix mini-series. This is excellent! Young rape victim’s story isn’t believed, then two female detectives in Colorado get involved. Kaitlyn Dever (“Them That Follow”) who was just inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame is the protagonist and Merritt Weaver (“Nurse Jackie”) is one of the investigators
Unforgotten – 3 seasons on PBS (available on Amazon Prime). Cop unit in the UK finds old cases thought to have been solved, but new evidence reveals truth yet to come out. The great Nicola Walker (Last Tango in Halifax) is head of the unit.
The Valhalla Murders (Netflix) – more cops in Iceland.
Vera – 10 seasons on Amazon Prime/BritBox. Another cop show, with Brenda Blethyn as the prickly head of a team in Halifax (UK). Each season is 4 episodes approximately 90 minutes each.
Westworld – elaborate theme park setting initially. Futuristic. HBO.
What We Do in the Shadows – FX series, 1st season on Amazon Prime, 2nd season starts on FX in April. A small group of vampires share a house on Staten Island. Very black, dead-pan comedy. This premiered at SXSW last year (2019).
Martin Scorsese, at 77, still has it. He had a film at the Chicago International Film Festival 52 years ago (“Who’s That Knocking At My Door?”) in 1967. Now, he’s the undisputed master of this sort of crime drama, sharing the throne with Francis Ford Coppola. The fact that you can be so thoroughly interested in “The Irishman” for 3 hours and 20 minutes is proof that he’s still in top form.
Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Ray Romano, Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin and a host of other great actors appear in “The Irishman,” which airs on Netflix beginning November 27th and will play in select Chicago theaters beginning November 1st. This is Pacino’s first collaboration with Scorsese, although not his first pairing with DeNiro.
When you see DeNiro and Pacino in scenes together, it’s like a Master class in acting. The film is about what happened to Jimmy Hoffa, according to the hitman who, late in life, claimed credit for killing him. The film is based on the 2004 book “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt, comprised of interviews with the hitman, Frank Sheeran. Proving it’s all true is up to somebody above my pay grade, but it’s a fascinating story.
Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro) is a World War II veteran who spent 411 days in combat with the 45th infantry and 122 days at Anzio. He learned to kill efficiently. That skill becomes his calling in life once he throws in with Russ Bufalino (Joe Pesci) of the Pennsylvania crime family. Prior to becoming the go-to hit man for the Mob, he drove a truck delivering meat and, as he says in court about his job, (when anentire truckload of meat goes missing and ends up in Bobby Cannavale’s restaurant), “I work hard for ‘em when I ain’t stealin’ from them.”
As the movie progresses, each Mob power onscreen has a placard onscreen that tells when and how he met his end. It is fascinating, but also hard to keep up with so many deaths, some of them in slow-motion close-up.
Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) has a habit of shooting off his mouth. As he admits in Steven Zallion’s screenplay adaptation, “I get that way. I get abrupt.” Mob bosses at the top would like him to dial it back. When Hoffa is newly out of prison after a 4-year stretch for fraud, he plans to take the Teamsters Union back from former sidekick and incumbent president Frank Fitzsimmons, saying, “At the end there’s only one thing that’s real. This is my union.”
Although Hoffa is repeatedly warned that he should just take his $1.5 million pension and retire , he won’t budge. He seems to think he is invincible, that the Mob bosses (Joe Pesci as Russ Bufalino of the Pennsylvania crime family and the under-used Harvey Keitel as Mob kingpin Angelo Bruno) wouldn’t dare put out a hit on him. His attitude towards the capos In the Mafia who want him to shut up and stop making waves is a little like his attitude towards the Attorney General (Robert F. Kennedy) who is prosecuting mobsters: “He’s (RFK’s) not gonna’ get what he wants. I don’t care what he wants, he’s not gonna’ get it.” There is one last attempt to talk sense to the hot-headed Hoffa, one last try at a sit-down with the gangster known as Tony Pro, Tony Provo, the Union City, New Jersey capo. Unfortunately, Hoffa and Pro can’t stand each another and their meetings don’t go well.
The acting is great. The cast includes DeNiro, Pacino, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Jesse Plemmons, Bobby Cannavale, Joe Pesci (who came out of retirement to make the film), Anna Paquin as Sheeran’s daughter Peggy, and Steven Van Zandt as a lounge singer. Everyone is good, although Pacino tends to chew the scenery a bit in a few scenes.
The cinematography is compelling; Thelma Schoonover’s editing over the years has made Scorsese’s films masterpieces. It is hard to believe that three hours and twenty minutes could go by so quickly without unnecessary draggy baggage in these days of 200 minute-plus movies, but this one was so well-done that I saw no one exit early. I even had a ticket for a late-night film that would have meant leaving slightly early, but the film was too well done and interesting to leave.
The story starts out in the nursing home where Frank Sheeran now lives in old age; it ends in the same nursing home. There is a valedictory feeling, as though Scorsese is saluting his own illustrious career, and also those of the great actors who have brought the movie characters in his classic films to life. The old-timers in the cast were excellent. This longest (3 hrs. 20 mins) and most expensive ($150 to $200 million) of Scorsese’s many movies is one of his best.
The screenplay by Steven Zallion makes use of the phrase “It is what it is” frequently and creates a scene in a car that will rival Tarantino’s scene where Le Grand Royale as terminology for a cheeseburger in Paris is debated. This time, it is a discussion about fish, with Jessie Plemons (“Breaking Bad,”“Fargo”) driving and the others talking about what kind of fish Chuckie (Hoffa’s surrogate son) had in the car earlier. (“Never put a fish in your car. You’ll never get the smell out.”)
There is also a scene discussing how you have to “spill a little beer along the way” that showcases DeNiro and Pacino, once again, and another in a restaurant where they await the tardy Tony Pro that is great. It’s such a pleasure to see these two talents onscreen together in good material crafted by a master.
The music by Robbie Roberson is spot-on, with “In the Still of the Night” still echoing in my ears. (I would have liked to have heard the Chairman of the Board crooning “My Way” at some point, but nevermind.) The cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto is wonderful. The visual de-aging work by Industrial Light and Magic worked well.
While it is a pleasure to watch DeNiro and Pacino onscreen together, there are a few scenes, especially one in his office where Hoffa rants about RFK, where Al tends to go slightly overboard and off the rails. There’s even a line spoken by Joe Pesci, regarding Hoffa, that could apply to Pacino. Russ Bufalino (Joe Pesci) says of Hoffa, “He likes to talk, don’t he?”
Pacino was never physically “right” to play Hoffa, who was a big man, but what Al lacks in stature he makes up for in sheer bluster. However, in the RFK office scene Pacino risks portraying Hoffa as a total buffoon. Still, when Zallion gives a talent like Al Pacino this line: “There’s only one point. I don’t wanna’ do it and I’m not gonna’ do it” you can’t really fault Al for taking his hot-head character and making the most of the script and the characterization. Pacino’s in some pretty awesome company, after all, and working for Scorsese for the first time.
I was delighted to see that Scorsese (et. al.) can still deliver the goods. Spielberg’s last outing in “Ready Player One” was underwhelming, but Marty Scorsese is still hitting it out of the park while treading familiar terrain. Clint Eastwood, now 90, says he is going to hang it up. Brian DePalma, William Friedkin, George Lucas and Peter Bogdanovich are gone from the scene. Even Quentin Tarantino is saying he may direct only one or two more films. Yes, there are good new talent(s) coming up, but many of us still miss the brilliance of Hitchcock, so seeing that Scorsese, 3 years shy of 80, is still in fine form is satisfying and reassuring. The audience will have a ball with Scorsese’s latest, and even if we are saluting the end of an era, it’s a good film to do so.
It’s a great movie, a classic. It drives home this message from the script, “You don’t know how fast time goes by until it goes by.”
Genre: Crime drama
Director: Martin Scorsese
Actors: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Jesse Plemons.
Writer: Steven Zallion, from the book “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt
A few days ago (May 13th), Doris Day shuffled off this mortal coil at the ripe old age of 97. I remember her well from movies like “Pillow Talk,” with Rock Hudson (one of herbest) and—when I was a young college girl, working as a waitress at Armstrong’s Department Store Cafe in downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and at the Cherry Blossom Dining Room in Marion (Iowa)—if I had a dollar for every customer who said to me, “You look like Doris Day!”, I wouldn’t have been rich, but I probably would have made more money than I did working as a waitress that summer.
And if I’d had Doris’ job, I wouldn’t have had such sore feet from waitressing. It was a brutal job for minimum wage (a U-shaped breakfast island with a straight part to the left that people could also sit at; you’d wait on the interior part of the “U” and, behind you, people would be seated at the straight bar part that you were not at all aware had come in). All-in-all, both were demanding jobs for paltry salaries. [It was especially brutal the night the Cherry Blossom Dining Room booked a high school reunion (small class) and failed to notify me (the hostess) in advance that several tables of reunion-goers would be sweeping in, en masse, at the peak of the dinner hour). It’s never fun to have to go around and ask 4 to 5 tables of 8 if they’d mind relocating across the room. (!)] However, while fantasizing over Doris’ money made, I have to realize that she was thoroughly fleeced by her “business advisor” (Jerome Rosenthal) who managed her since the forties and by her third husband. It took her until 1979 to recover some of the millions he took in a colossal case of malpractice, which the courts recognized as such, although it took 5 years for Doris to get any of her money back.
Doris remained beautiful for many, many years—well into her sixties—and outlived her record producer son, Terry Melcher (who was probably the real target of Charles Manson’s murders, as it wasTerry Melcher‘s Hollywood Hills home that Manson sent his acolytes to, where they brutally murdered Sharon Tate and others.) She more-or-less faded into oblivion because the times changed. During 1960 and the 1962 to 1964 period, she ranked number one at the box office, the second woman to be number one four times. She set a record that has yet to be equaled, receiving seven consecutive Laurel Awards as the top female box office star.According to the Hollywood Reporter in 2015, the Academy offered her the Honorary Oscar multiple times, but she declined as she saw the film industry as a part of her past life. Day received a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement in Music in 2008, albeit again in absentia.
One of the roles Doris Day turned down was Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate” (she found it “vulgar” and “offensive”). Anne Bancroft cashed in. Although scheduled to sing at one of the Oscar ceremonies, while strolling the hotel grounds she received a bad cut on her leg from a sprinkler system that required stitches; she had to cancel. She also was in talks with Clint Eastwood, her Carmel (California) neighbor to star in a Clint Eastwood project, but that never panned out.
She received three Grammy Hall of Fame Awards, in 1998, 1999 and 2012, for her recordings of “Sentimental Journey”, “Secret Love”, and “Que Sera, Sera”, respectively. Day was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2007, and in 2010 received the first Legend Award ever presented by the Society of Singers.
Doris’ personal life was not so successful. Doris Mary Koppelhoff of Cincinnati, Ohio married three times and basically dumped little Terry (her only child) in Ohio with her mother (also a divorcee) to continue touring as a vocalist with Les Brown (and his Band of Renown). Between 1949 and 1959, she recorded First husband Al Jorden was supposed to have been physically abusive, with a violent temper; she intended to divorce him before even while pregnant with her only child. Second husband was saxophonist, George Weidler. Third husband Martin Melcher adopted Terry and gave him his surname, but Melcher was abusive to both mother and son and managed to embezzle $20 million dollars of Doris’ money. Doris’ last husband (1976-1982) was Barry Comden, a maitre de, who later complained that she liked her canine friends more than him. Doris did NOT want to do “The Doris Day Show” (1968-1973) but found out after Melcher’s death that he had signed her to do one.
Day learned to her displeasure that Melcher had committed her to a television series, which became The Doris Day Show:.
It was awful. I was really, really not very well when Marty [Melcher] passed away, and the thought of going into TV was overpowering. But he’d signed me up for a series. And then my son Terry [Melcher] took me walking in Beverly Hills and explained that it wasn’t nearly the end of it. I had also been signed up for a bunch of TV specials, all without anyone ever asking me.
— Doris Day, OK! magazine, 1996[
Nobody has told me “You look like Doris Day” in quite some time, which may be because Doris remained slim, trim and out-of-sight as much as possible after 1968. When “All in the Family” was popular (I mention it because of the recent “live” recreation of that Norman Lear hit, produced by Jimmy Kimmel) there was the occasional mention of “Gloria” on “All in the Family,” but I always thought it was the long blonde hair and the lack of height. Gloria (Sally Struthers) has not retained her youthful appearance, post television, like Doris Day did but, thankfully, I’ve not heard the Sally Struthers comparison since the seventies.
I just thought I’d send out a prayer for Doris’ happiness in heaven. It didn’t seem as though all her stardom and fame translated to a gloriously happy personal life, for her. A contentious divorce (her son’s) kept her from ever becoming close to her only grandson, who regrets the manipulation and maneuvering that kept him from ever knowing his grandmother. By contrast, I (we) just got a call from the grounds outside the Eiffel Tower in France from my married son and wonderful daughter-in-law, with the 10-year-old twins (Ava & Elise) posing in pictures that made it seem like they were balancing each other AND the Eiffel Tower on their palms.
Day died on May 13, 2019, at the age of 97, after having contracted pneumonia. One day after she turned 97, she told an interviewer her All Time Favorite Film role was “Calamity Jane.”Her death was announced by her charity, the Doris Day Animal Foundation. Per Day’s requests, the Foundation announced that there would be no funeral services, gravesites, or other public memorials.
Doris supposedly thought she was only 95, as her birth certificate confirming she was really 97, was only ferreted out a few years ago.
Au revoir, Doris. May you live on in happy memories. “Que sera, sera.”
The documentary about Theranos, directed by Alex Gidney, showed March 8th, 10th and 13th at SXSW and is now streaming on HBO. It focuses on a $9 billion-dollar start-up in Silicon Valley headed by a 19-year-old Stanford drop-out, Elizabeth Holmes. Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney was responsible for “Taxi to the Dark Side” and “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Beliefs.”
“Fortune” magazine did a June, 2014, cover story on Holmes and Theranos. Much of the talking about Holmes onscreen is done by Roger Parloff, who wrote the “Fortune” piece. The lying by Theranos officials led to 9 charges of wire fraud and 2 counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud against Holmes and her Chief Operating Officer (and former lover) Sonny Balwani. (Holmes had fired Balwani by that point.)
As you listen to the list of heavy hitter investors who were so impressed by a 19-year-old college drop-out that they committed millions to her idea for Theranos, you have to shake your head. The list reads like Who’s Who. Some of them even speak on camera, like Tim Draper, who appears wearing a purple tie adorned with Bit Coin symbols and says he knew Elizabeth from childhood on and was a first investor in Hotmail, Skype and Tesla. General James Mattis bought into the idea. Henry Kissinger was favorably impressed. Warren Buffett was said to have invested $100 million. Famous faces like Maria Shriver, Katie Couric, the Obamas, Serena Williams, George P. Schultz and a host of others are shown with the Golden Girl.
As one Professor at Stanford says (a female), “She aligned herself with certain powerful older men who seemed to succumb to a certain charm.”(Meow). The statement is true, however. Attired in black at all times (black turtleneck, jacket andpants) with long blonde hair and an unnerving stare (she rarely blinks) from preternaturally large blue eyes, she was referred to by her partner, Sonny,” as “the most important inventor of our time” in a reverential, deferential tone.
The concept was that the needle-phobic Elizabeth was going to make it possible for a single finger prick—like that a diabetic would use to test their blood—to take the place of drawing large vials of blood in a lab. The small drop of blood would go into a mini-vial that would, in turn, go into a machine dubbed Edison, appromixately the size of a computer modem.
Inside Edison the blood would be tested, could detect infection and dispense antibiotics. Holmes seems to have envisioned herself to be the Apple of medicine and vowed to have the access to such Edison labs within 5 miles of each person’s home in America, which was going to happen through a partnership with Walgreen’s.
Holmes also alluded to her “invention” in what Parloff referred to as “comically vague” ways, saying, “What, exactly, happens in the box is treated as a state secret.” She also said that she wanted to remain a private company (initially, the company had 700 employees in a modern building with a secret third-floor lab, where, alas, the blood testing was actually being done using more standard methods by hand.
This was because Edison didn’t really work as advertised. When asked about taking the company public, Holmes said she preferred to remain private because, “It’s allowed us to not have to talk about what we’re doing, until it’s done.”
When the testing began to be done at Walgreen’s stores, the Edison was still non-functional, so routine blood draws were done by Walgreen personnel who had to be trained by phlebotomist Serena Stewart to do those traditional blood draws, despite the Big Come-On of a relatively small drop of blood being able to work in an Edison mini-lab. Holmes successfully lobbied the state of Arizona to allow patients to order their own lab tests in HB2645 and also managed to get FDA approval for Edison to do one small test for the herpes virus, but the 200 tests advertised never really got off the ground.
And, what is more disturbing, patients who had chronic conditions and showed up for routine bloodwork at a Walgreen’s store experienced incorrect results, which then had to be double-checked using routine labs and routine lab practices. There were also challenges to the patents.
Dr. Ian Gibbon, a Cambridge PhD with “a wealth of knowledge” whose name appeared on the patents (below Elizabeth Holmes’ name) was going to have to testify in the patent case. He was so distraught that he committed suicide. His wife, Rochelle, said “He was so distraught over the patent misappropriation case that he killed himself.” Mrs. Gibbon never heard anything from Holmes or Theranos after her husband’s death, other than a request to drop the papers involving his work off at the front desk.
As the lab equipment malfunctioned and those in the tile world of the lab watched the start-up sliding towards failure, some of them became extremely disillusioned with the paranoia and secrecy. The workers were fudging results and re-running data until they got the results they wanted. Also, the tests for such diseases as hepatitis, prostate cancer and syphilis that were not being accurately diagnosed, put those patients at risk The results were not matching up with the results of other more traditional laboratories.
Finally, lab associate Erika Cheung decided, “Enough is enough” and went in to talk to COO Sonny Balwani. She was basically told “Just sit down and do your job.” She quit, got another job, moved and was very distressed when she was served papers that threatened her if she spoke about her time at Theranos. Since she had little money, her only recourse, ultimately, was to write a letter to the supervisory group that had control over the Theranos labs. That group was CMS. CMS then did a surprise inspection and withdrew the Theranos lab’s permit to do tests.
Another disillusioned former employee was George P. Shultz’s grandson, who had joined Holmes and was working in the laboratory. He quit and began talking to a “Wall Street Journal” reporter, John Carreyrou, who had received a tip that the Theranos Edison project was faltering.
The 94-year-old George Schultz, who served 3 presidents in 4 Cabinet posts, including Secretary of State, was a fervent admirer of Holmes and, initially, when his grandson expressed skepticism, had said, “They can’t tell me you’re stupid, but Ithink you’re wrong.”
By the end of the younger Schultz’s time, George Schultz commends his grandson for his attempt at transparency and relates an almost comic scene when a hard-nosed lawyer (once in charge of hushing up Harvey Weinstein’s women) tried so hard to lean on his grandson that Schultz separated the attorney from his grandson, sending them to different rooms in his house and acting as intermediary. George P. Schultz said he was afraid that his wife would hit the attorney with the fireplace poker, as he was acting “like an animal” towards their grandson.
The younger Schultz said he had incurred $300,000 to $400,000 in lawyer fees. The mounting bills had his parents thinking about selling their house to pay it. But, as Theranos secrets and lies unraveled further and the truth was revealed, the pressure on young Schultz waned as the house of Theranos cards came tumbling down.
I wondered, “What has happened to Elizabeth Holmes since this documentary was made?”
The Internet says she settled with the SEC, was handed a $500,000 fine, and there is a condition that she cannot be the officer of a public company for 10 years. Now living in the San Francisco Bay area in a luxury apartment, she is engaged to her 8-years-younger fiancé, Billy Evan (heir to a hotel fortune), according to “Vanity Fair,” and may be shopping for more investor cash. She and Sonny face some additional court appearance, supposedly in April.
One quote that particularly struck me, because it could have been spoken by any number of convincing liars was this one from Roger Parloff, who watched with amazement as Elizabeth Holmes, rather than going on the defensive against the expose article that the “Wall Street Journal” ran detailing how the scam worked, went off to a Board of Fellows Honorary Ceremony with the Harvard Medical School. Said Parloff, “This was real lunacy. What was coming out of her mouth (on television) was not adding up to reality as you and I know it…She was a zealot, blind to the reality of what was happening.”
The question at documentary’s end remains this: Did Elizabeth Holmes lie intentionally, with cold, calculating intent, or was she just trying to ‘fake it till she made it?’”
Aidy Bryant, Chicago’s Columbia College graduate and “Saturday Night Live” cast member, is the star of Hulu’s new series “Shrill,” released March 15th, produced by Elizabeth Banks. (SXSW Photo).
Aidy Bryant’s new Hulu series “Shrill” drops today (March 15th). To promote it, Chicago’s Columbia College alumnus Aidy Bryant, her producer Elizabeth Banks (“30 Rock,” “The Hunger Games”), author Lindy West (“Notes from a Loud Woman”), writer Ally Rushfield, and co-star Lolly Adefope were in Austin at a SXSW screening of the first two episodes of “Shrill.”
There are few comedy frontiers left for writers. Jokes about ethnic groups are out and, (other thanPresident Trump), making fun of the handicapped is verboten. Midgets, once comic fodder, are now “Little People.”
But fat people and old people are still fair game.
With Ms. Bryant as the lead, this serio-comic series focuses on how overweight people cope with the constant barrage of negative remarks and actions they are subjected to in real life. But it’s not played solely for laughs.The “Shrill” material is both funny and touching.
It helps that the main character’s Annie’s mother is played by comic pro Julia Sweeney (after 18 years away from performing) and that her sickly father is played by Daniel Stern, who has been acting since the age of 17 (45 years). [Stern first earned kudos as Cyril in “Breaking Away” (1979) and in Barry Levinson’s“Diner” (1982)].
Elizabeth Banks (“30 Rock,” “The Hunger Games”) directs a remark to the author of the “Shrill” source material, Lindy West.(Photo by Connie Wilson).
Special praise should go to Annie’s (Aidy Bryant’s) best friend, played by Lolly Adefope, who was great in the two episodes we saw. Aidy, herself, brings a vulnerability and poignancy to the role that reminds of Melissa McCarthy in her Oscar-nominated turn this year in “Can You Ever Forgive Me.” Annie (Aidy) has the likeability to make you want to root for her; her visual reactions to indignities like her boyfriend asking her to sneak out of his apartment the back way to avoid meeting his roommate brothers: heartbreaking, but all too human.
The opening episode cuts right to the chase. Aidy becomes pregnant by her sometimes boyfriend. She has been using the Morning After pill, but the pharmacist failed to tell her that the pill would be ineffective if the woman weighed more than 175 pounds. (“Oh, yeah…that guy,” says a co-worker at the pharmacy. “He’s very bad at his job.”)
The write-up in the SXSW program says: “From Executive Producer Lorne Michaels and Elizabeth Banks comes Shrill, a comedy series starring Aidy Bryant (Saturday Night Live) as Annie, a fat young woman who wants to change her life—but not her body. Annie is trying to start her career as a journalist while juggling bad boyfriends, a sick parent, and a perfectionist boss.”
(L to R) Janelle Riley, Editor of “Variety;” Aidy Bryant (“Saturday Night Live”); Writer Ally Brushfield; Producer Elizabeth Banks, and author Lindy West at the Q&A following “Shrill.”
Following the screening of Episodes #1 and #2 from “Shrill,” Janelle Riley, editor of “Variety,” moderated a panel consisting of the author of the source material, Lindy West, whose book of essays “Notes from a Loud Woman” served as the inspiration for the series;Elizabeth Banks, actress and producer, was onstage with writer Ally Rushfield and Aidy. The first question was, “What was your first job?”
The author responsible for the concept (Lindy West) admitted that she had not had much of a goal in life of becoming a writer. “I wasn’t one of those who wanted to be a writer. My first real writing job was for “Where” magazine in Seattle.” She described the task of trying to make the Space Needle fascinating in every issue as difficult.
Aidy Bryant, who married her boyfriend of ten years on April 28, 2018 (she met him when they bothwere part of Annoyance Theater in Chicago), described her first job as “musical improvisation in Indiana and Ohio, which nobody wanted to hear.”
The writer in the group, Alexandra (Allie) Rushfield said her first job was, “A video store, because I’m middle aged.” She also admitted to a stint with the Groundlings Comedy troupe.
Elizabeth Banks, known to audiences for her role as Effie Trinkett in “The Hunger Games” and for her continuing role as Alec Baldwin’s girlfriend on “Thirty Rock,” has a production company with her husband, Max Handelman. Her first-job answer was, “I was a latch-key kid and my first job was when I played Pontius Pilate in ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar.’” She then regaled us with a few bars from her big musical number.
Elizabeth Banks (L) and Lindy West (“Notes from A Loud Woman”) during the Q&A after the new Hulu series “Shrill.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).
Moderator Janelle Riley, mentioning that “Notes from a Loud Woman” was “a great collection of essays,” wanted to know how or when they were envisioned as a series. Elizabeth Banks answered that it was “pretty quickly after the book came out and there were a lot of option meetings.” We were told that Aidy was actually the first person considered for the role.
Aidy (Bryant) said, “It was the first time I ever saw myself in a piece solo. They let me be involved in the writing and producing, which was huge for me.”
The big question many of us had was this: How much personal experience did you bring to the character?
The cast noted that they were initially referring to the main character as “Lindy” (the author’s name) but changed the character’s name to Annie, since it is not a bio-pic. One noted that the series was “the child of many mothers.”
The cast members railed against Twitter (“Please all quit Twitter and put it out of business and make the world a better place.”) where random strangers gather to hurl insults. “What a joy to be called a fat disgusting pig constantly,” said Aidy Bryant. She shared that an incident in the first episode actually happened to her. A thin, beautiful trainer grabs her wrist and comments on what a small frame she has, saying, “There’s a thin person inside of you trying to get out.”
In the episode, Aidy laughs and responds, “Well, let’s hope she’s okay in there.”
She also shared that, when she has played Sarah Huckabee Sanders in skits on “Saturday Night Live” half of the viewers who sent messages called her “a fat, disgusting pig” and half said, “Aidy shouldn’t be playing this strong, independent woman.”
All agreed: “People are not used to seeing fat people do anything on camera.” (One possible exception to this might be the character on “This Is Us,” Kate Pearson, played by Chrissy Metz). Elizabeth Banks said, “I think this is very revolutionary. I think our entire cast and crew wanted to empower women and get rid of the people who are always telling you you aren’t good enough.”
Lindy West, the author, said, “You never see fat people doing anything except being fat. The world intrudes on you and tells you constantly that you aren’t living up to its standards. Society reminds us all day, every day, that if you’re a fat woman, there’s something wrong with you.”
One aspect that the second episode touched on was the “very complicated relationship with your mother and her body. That represents a lot of love and pain for many women.” I can certainly attest to this.
I had a mother who harped about my weight gain after I gave birth to my son. She never missed an opportunity to insert a diet or recipe reminder in her letters. Then, after I fasted for two full months on liquid protein and lost 72 pounds, and showed up at home at exactly the same weight I had been when I graduated from high school, she never made a single positive comment. I have a good friend (and former college roommate, Pam) who has told me how uncomfortable it was for her to be around and hear her mother say things like, “Why can’t you be thin like Pam?” or, on other occasions, “Why can’t you be thin like your sister?” My mother, like Lindy West’s, is of Norwegian (and Dutch) heritage. Is that a clue?
Said writer Allie Rushfield, “The deal in the writing room is that we would find the universal themes…that period in one’s late teens and early twenties when it’s all about appearance.” Aidy, the series lead, said, “I remembered how much I hated my own guts then. I felt sad for myself—for all the time I wasted when I was sold the bill of goods about how I was worthless unless I was thin.”
Added the writers (Alexandra Rushfield, Lindy West, Aidy Bryant): “I feel like the entire world is shifting, too.”
Let’s hope so. In the meantime, I ordered up Hulu for my husband’s March 21st birthday, primarily because of this series—[although, let’s face it, I’ve not been able to see Elisabeth Moss’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” either, and obviously that is required viewing in the age of Trump].
So, how much did I like “Shrill”? At least $72 worth, minimum, and that’s probably on the low side (depending on whether you opt out of the commercials or not).
I also want to thank the publicist who got me in and let me sit in the Reserved seating area. Thank you very much. I never did gain admission to “NOS4A2,” despite writing repeatedly and once interviewing Joe Hill. That’s all I’m going to be writing about that other new series for a loooong time.