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: Texas Page 2 of 3

Celebrities Hit the Red Carpet for “The Beach Bum” at SXSW in Austin, TX

Isla Fisher at the premiere of “The Beach Bum” at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Jimmy Buffett at the premiere of “The Beach Bum” in Austin, Texas, at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Star of “The Beach Bum” Matthew McConaughey with wife Camille and his mother on the Red Carpet at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Jimmy Buffett and Martin Lawrence at the Red Carpet for “The Beach Bum” at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Harmony Korine, Director of “The Beach Bum” on the Red Carpet at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

While the flow of movie stars to SXSW continues, the Red Carpet opportunities seem fewer than in previous years.

Nevertheless, there have been some names showing up and here are a few of the celebrities who walked the red carpet for “The Beach Bum.”

Much of the action this year seems to be in the Convention Center for panels involving politicians who all seem to have a goal of running for President in 2020.

Here’s a rogue’s gallery of a few famous faces that have appeared for films like “The Beach Bum” (Matthew McConaughey, Jimmy Buffett, Martin Lawrence).

And then there was Scott Rogowsky for H.Q. trivia “live,” for the first-time ever.  Camp Sandy in the Hill Country pitched us with a free Uber ride, a free Turtle Car Wax if you drove your own car, and Music in the Van. (I went out to Camp Sandy for Low Cut Connie and Wyclef Jean, but the other Connie had lost his voice singing outside in the rain. He performs again for free on Friday night outside in downtown  Austin.)

“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.

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.”

Texas Film Awards Held on March 7, 2019, with Stars in Attendance

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

The Austin Film Society was founded in 1985 by filmmaker Richard Linklater (“Dazed & Confused,” “Before Sunrise,” “Boyhood”). Its mission is to empower the community to make, watch and love creative media while shining the national spotlight on Texas filmmakers. The Texas Film Awards followed.

The Texas Hall of Fame awards were founded  by Evan Smith and Louis Black in 2001 and the award is given to those who have made a significant contribution to the advancement of the Texas film and creative media industry.

Now in its 19th year, the Texas Film Awards bring together legends of cinema and television and inducts industry icons into the Texas Film Hall of Fame. Proceeds from the evening benefit the artistic and educational programs of the Austin Film Society, a 501c3 nonprofit.

(L to R) David Herman, Gary Cole, Mike Judge and Richard Linklater at the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards on March 7, 2019. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

The Texas Film Awards brought out a star-studded crowd, which included many of the cast of “Office Space,” who reunited on the 20th anniversary of that 1999 cult classic. Present from “Office Space” were David Herman (Michael Bolton in the film), Gary Cole (Bill Lumbergh) and Writer/Director Mike Judge (“Beavis & Butthead”).

Also an honoree was John Lee Hancock, the writer director who guided “The Blind Side” film about a black football player nurtured, in the film, by Sandra Bullock’s character, a role for which Ms. Bullock won an Oscar as Best Actress in 2010.

(Below) Oscar-winner Kathy Bates.

Present to cheer on the honorees (including actress Brooklyn Decker, Writer/Directors John Lee Hancock and Mike Judge, Actors Gary Cole and David Herman) were Oscar-winner Kathy Bates (“Misery,” “American Horror Story”), Marc Maron (“Glow”), and Brooklyn Decker and June Diane Raphael, who play the daughters of                                                                                        Jane Fonda on the TV series “Grace &                                                                                    Frankie.”

Director Richard Linklater (“Boyhood,” “Dazed & Confused”) with his 14-year-old twin daughters at the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards on March 7, 2019. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Austin Film Society set for the dinner and awards ceremony on Thursday, March 7, 2019 in Austin, Texas.

Richard Linklater (referenced as “Rick” by the locals) was accompanied by his 14-year-old twin daughters and many volunteers and donors to the Austin Film Society were in attendance at a dinner party and an awards ceremony held at the AFS Cinema on I35 North of Austin, Texas.

 

 

 

What Does the Cast of “Office Space” Look Like 20 Years Later?

“Office Space” is that rare film that grew from a less-than-stellar opening to become one of the most loved (and rented) films in history. It has gained fans around the world, its popularity spreading via word-of-mouth, since the unfortunate “Big Bird” poster advertising the film was considered a major faux pas at the time. (It depicted the character Milton with yellow post-it notes all over his body.)

OFFICE SPACE SPECIAL 20th ANNIVERSARY SCREENING

Ron Livingston (Photo by Connie Wilson) at Office Space reunion.

On the occasion of “Office Space’s” twentieth anniversary and also in conjunction with inducting Director Mike Judge (“Beavis & Butthead” creator) into the Texas Hall of Film Fame, the main cast assembled in Austin, Texas, at the Paramount Theater on Wednesday, March 6th, to screen the film to a devoted audience and reminisce about the film’s history.

RON LIVINGSTON

Although the press was told not to ask questions, I couldn’t help but tell star Ron Livingston that my sister taught in Marion, Iowa, his home town, at Lin-Mar High School. He was very gracious and immediately introduced me to his father, pictured with him below.

[Ron Livingston and his father at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas on March 6, 2019 for the Office Space reunion. (Photo by Connie Wilson.)]

Livingston also had a number of appearances on episodes of “Sex and the City” and now appears as the pivotal character in the television drama “One Million Little Things.” My last time seeing him “live” was stumping for John Kerry in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 2004.

Ron Livingston (Photo by Connie Wilson). Shown at the Office Space 20th anniversary reunion showing in Austin, Texas on March 6, 2019.

One of the humorous stories involving Livingston’s involvement in “Office Space” was the phone call he got on the Friday before they were to start filming. The studio asked him if he could fast until Tuesday, when he would report to the set. As he said, “I think I jumped rope all day on Saturday and then quit.”

Producers wanted “name” stars like Matt Damon or Ben Affleck for “Office Space” but Judge did not agree. Since Ben Affleck demanded $5 million in salary and the entire budget was only $2 million, Judge got his way and knew, instantly, from his audition, that Livingston was perfect for the lead role of Peter.

GARY COLE

Gary Cole (Photo by Connie Wilson). Office Space’s

Ron Livingston (L) and Gary Cole chat at the Paramount Theater before a showing of “Office Space” on March 6, 2019. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Gary Cole’s Bill Lumbergh is a boss in “Office Space” whose constant request for TPS Reports and his smarmy mannerisms have been immortalized, Much of Lumbergh’s casual insouciance was Cole’s improvising.

Cole has a new series, “Fam,” as the lead, Freddy, and has had multiple appearances in “Veep” and “The Good Wife.” I met him first in Chicago at an Opening Night of the Chicago Film Festival, playingthe second lead in “The Last Rites of Joe May,”  with the late Dennis Farina in the lead role of a convict released from prison and trying to re-adjust to society’s changes. Farina was rather dismissive of all print and digital press people and streaked past us, headed for the TV cameras, but Gary Cole was very kind and gentlemanly and chatted with all of us. He seemed to enjoy chatting with Ron Livingston this night.

 

David Herman of “Office Space.” (Photo by Connie Wilson). 

DAVID HERMAN

David Herman played the unfortunately named Michael Bolton. Years later, the real Michael Bolton commented on the film in a bemused fashion, and, as one of the cast members explained his choice for the same-named singer in the film, it was felt that, at the time Michael Bolton was “taking himself very seriously.” He has lightened up in subsequent years. [Bolton has actually commented on the film in a positive way in interviews.]

David Herman was someone that Director/Writer Mike Judge wanted for his role from the beginning.  Herman was one of the 8 original cast members of Fox’s late night MadTV. He still does voice-over work for “King of the Hill” and other films and has worked with Judge since 1999.  He was the loosest of the bunch and, also, the most changed in appearance.

MIA

Missing this night were Jennifer Aniston (Joanna) and Stephen Root (Milton), the stapler guy.

Although Judge was very specific that he wanted a red stapler for Milton’s scenes, at the time Swingline did not make a red stapler, so several staplers were painted red for the scenes. Now, if you begin a career with the stapler company, a new employee is given a red stapler—  a result of the popularity of “Office Space.”

AJAY NAIDU

Ajay Naidu of “Office Space.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Ajay Naidu’s impromptu break-dance move when the trio is trashing the hated copy machine in a field is now the stuff of legend. If you watch closely, you will see that Ajay almost got hurt in the “Office Space” scene, when he broke free and tried to run back to stomp on the copy machine some more. (Livingston and Herman, fortunately, had Ajay’s arms and pulled him from the wreckage). Thirteen copy machines were taken apart and loosely glued back together, so that the trashing scene in “Office Space” would go smoothly.

Filmed in Austin, one critical event that took place during filming was the (temporary) loss of Jennifer Anniston’s dog. She was, at the time, dating Brad Pitt, and he flew in to visit her about the time the dog went slipped away and went missing. Radio stations all over town were asking people to try to find the dog and the dog was, indeed, found, by a hotel concierge, who, many years later, introduced himself to Mike Judge saying, “You won’t remember me, but I’m the guy who found Jennifer Anniston’s dog.”

STEPHEN ROOT

Stephen Root (IMDB photo).

Stephen Root’s myopically thick glasses did not fail to make an impression on anyone who saw the film. Actually, his eyes were not bad and the glasses were so thick that he could barely see. He had to wear contact lenses to correct the distortion of the coke bottle thick lenses. Root has gone on to become “the man in the High Castle” in Amazon’s series as well as many other character actor parts, including one in Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.”

He will always be Milton, the stapler guy from “Office Space”, to most of us.

 

“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.

The Oscars and The Blizzard in Iowa on Feb. 25th, 2019

Snow Is the Name of this Weather Game

The morning after the Academy Awards. I’ve not done as much due diligence  about other people’s opinions of the Oscars this year as I will in the hours that loom sitting in airports between here (Des Moines, Iowa), where the temperature feels like zero, or 43 minutes away (by air) in St. Louis, Missouri, (or when we are back in Austin, Texas, our ultimate destination, where it is 65 degrees.) I am just feeling relieved to have made it here and hoping to make it back! As usual, I enjoyed Oscar night, and, as usual, there was an upset or two.

I did see a photo of Rami Malek, still clutching his Oscar, climbing out of what looked like an orchestra pit, with the information that he had fallen offstage after winning. (This was not televised to us out here in the Heartland but I saw it before heading off to bed about 3 a.m.). He was looked at by medical people on the scene and was fine.

How was the ceremony without a host in charge?

It seemed about the same as ever, to me. It moved smoothly with fewer SNAFUS than the year  Jimmy Kimmel hosted and the wrong film was given the Oscar for Best Picture. In that classic case of Situation Normal: All F***** Up, “La La Land” had to give the trophy back to “Moonlight,” as the critics’ groups across America triumphed over the popular will.

I was a member of a critics’ group in Chicago at the time; I voted for “La La Land.” However, “Moonlight” (Barry Jenkins, 2016) carried the day, buoyed by a great performance from Mahershala Ali. Still, “La La Land” was far and away the crowd favorite that year and deserved to win. To me, a working critic, it felt like “the fix” was in. The theme (of “Moonlight”) was “timely” and that would carry the day, even if Damien Chazelle’s musical with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone was far and away more popular, seen by many more people, just as original and high in quality, and a more “uplifting” feeling film.

Viggo Mortensen at the 2008 Chicago Film Festival.

This year, it looked, to me, as though Big Money was at play trying to land a Best Picture Oscar for “Roma” over any of the more popular competitors and “A Star Is Born” also was over- hyped with that goal. It is normal to campaign, and the idea was that Alfonso Cuaron (already lauded for both “Gravity” and “Birdman”) would be able to snag a Best Picture Oscar for a streaming network(s) for the first time ever.

I had to make my picks early in the game, prior to beginning our multi-state pilgrimage to meet up with our old friends who celebrate the Oscars with us each year. Those picks are posted on WeeklyWilson.com. You can see for yourself that I missed only  the category of Best Actress (I was surprised, like everyone else, that Glenn Close lost. Again.) Selecting Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Director (with a slight hedge there) and only missing the Best Actress category means 5 out of 6, for +83% accuracy. (Of course, on party night, we have to select all 24 categories and the accuracy percentages plummet.)

I went with my instincts, which served me well last year when I was delighted to see Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” win, but also thought “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” was a strong contender and insisted on taking my husband to see it after the Chicago International Film Festival. You will remember that, while “Three Billboards” did not win Best Film, it did garner both Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell (who showed up this year with a shaved head) Academy Awards for their performances in that Coen Brothers film.

So, I disregarded the “Roma” buzz, especially after seeing the film. Let them eat cake, I said. Let it be Best Foreign Film, but don’t try to foist it on those of us wanting a real Best Picture of the Year. “Roma” is black and white and subtitled in Spanish. A maid—(who, I am told, was a real maid and not an actress when the film was shot)—-is shown cleaning a house in Mexico in the seventies. A lot of the film involves the maid cleaning and interacting with other help. If you enjoy watching scenes of that sort for a large portion of your film-going experience, by all means hit it up. There are also several scenes of the car port floor being swept. It made me remember that I should be vacuuming the entire house. (Is that a good thing?)

Film buffs applauded Alfonso Cuaron’s ability to recreate the Mexico City of the seventies and the events of his youth, but to audiences who wanted a good story they could relate to, there were only a few themes to hold onto. The universal theme of being a vulnerable pregnant woman who is abandoned, or a mother who loses her child, or a woman with a family whose husband abandons her are there, but the thread is disjointed. [The reasons why the Mistress of the house is jettisoned are never fully explored.]

There were scenes of the woman of the house having trouble driving her large behemoth of a car into a very small parking space connected to her home, and, as a condo dweller in Chicago who has to park in an extremely small parking spot (and pay $52 a month in taxes on that spot), I could relate to that, but it was not riveting cinema.

I could empathize with the young girl abandoned by her somewhat weird martial arts fanatic boyfriend, a male chauvinist pig who completely rejects her in her hour of need, but the entire film seemed like a vanity project. It would be tantamount to me taking an audience on a rather boring and uneventful day from my youth  in Independence, Iowa. If I then shot it in black-and-white and subtitled it in a language you do not speak, would you really be sucked into this story?

The backdrop of riots was compelling for the few scenes that depicted the violence, and I salute the cinematographer (et. al.) who was able to recreate those historic events, but, overall, it was not a film I would want to see win the Best Picture of the Year award. I once almost drowned in Hawaii when I swam out too far, but, since I did NOT drown, the impact of that, on film, would be pretty “meh.” (I mention this life event because of a similar life event involving the maid/nanny and her young charges.) To be fair, I have to admit that I was not a huge fan of “Birdman,” which veered between reality and floating in the air. I did not like the backdrop of the guy pounding on drums in the side room. Of Cuaron’s films, I liked “Gravity” the best, so far, because of the difficulty of recreating Sandra Bullock’s journey into space, but we saw “First Man” (Damien Chazelle) this year do a similar “man-or-woman-in-space” recreation, with more on-the-ground psychological make-up of the astronaut provided. “First Man” came away with very few plaudits for a far more complete and realistic recreation of a foray into space. Maybe it’s all about timing, as with “Moonlight’s” burning themes?

The U.K. papers were unhappy that “Roma” didn’t win, as it would have marked a “first” in having a streaming film take the Best Picture Award. That sounds more like a political statement (rather than a quality-of-the-film-statement) than a good reason for naming this peek into Alfonso Cuaron’s childhood in Mexico Best Picture of the Year.

The other film that threw a lot of dough-re-mi at the Oscars and came up relatively short was “A Star Is Born.” It did win Best Song of the Year (for “Shallows”) and deservedly so, but the Best Actor, Actress, Director and Picture awards did not materialize.  Cynthia (my Chicago hairdresser) and I did not find the chemistry between the stars that dynamic in this one. We both agreed that it was a revelation that Bradley Cooper really can sing; he proved it once again onstage at this year’s Oscars. I saw “A Star Is Born” at the Icon Theater on Roosevelt Road. I admit my opinion of the film was negatively impacted by the volume. It was so loud I feared my ears would bleed. On the “story” front, however, “A Star Is Born” has been done about 5 times and the ending is telegraphed from a million miles away.

This year’s Annual Oscar Party went off without a hitch because we ditched plans to drive 3 and 1/2 hours from Chicago to the Quad Cities and then, a day or so later, to drive another 3 miles from I-80 to Des Moines from the Quad Cities. Here is why we flew directly from Austin to Des Moines: a weekend blizzard brought much of Iowa to a halt. Des Moines broke its record of snowiest February with 24.1 inches of snow. The old record was 22.7 inches set in February of 2008. Winds of up to 50 mph created drifts and white-outs across much of the state and I-35 saw some of the worst of it, with the road closing from Ames to Minnesota on Sunday morning. Between 9 pm. Saturday and 11:30 a.m. Sunday (Oscar day) more than 100 cars ended up in the ditch between Des Moines and Ames and Iowa State Patrol spokesman Nathan Ludwig said they had assisted 390 motorists and responded to 90 crashes between 6:30 p.m. Saturday and 6:30 p.m. on Sunday. A number of state patrol cars were hit by cars traveling too fast and a firetruck was struck on Sunday morning between Ames and Des Moines.

Keith Morgan, Storm County’s emergency management coordinator, said, “Visibility is so poor in open areas that our snow plow drivers can barely see the front of their plows, making plowing conditions very risky.” A State of Emergency was declared in Wright County on Sunday afternoon (Oscar day) due to blowing and drifting snow. More than 18 people stranded in their vehicles were rescued in the county before 11 a.m. on Sunday (Oscar day). The temperature outside right now, given the wind chill factor, is zero.

The Iowa Department of Transportation warned against traveling on roads north or west of Des Moines through Monday as “conditions can be life-threatening.” Near Fairbank, Iowa, my father’s hometown, a woman on her way to Oelwein and Des Moines to deliver her baby had to be rescued when her vehicle slammed into a snowbank.

“Meet the Press:” Mueller’s Report; Home-Grown Terrorist; Florida Amendment 4

If Mueller is going to have more indictments, they would come before the report. “They’d be returned, if not revealed,”
said one of the talking heads on Sunday morning’s “Meet the Press” on February 24, 2019.

Q: Would we see the Russian collusion charge revealed? (From Chuck Todd)

A:  “Mueller has indicted Roger Stone for conspiring with WikiLeaks, which is a Russian organization”. Solomon Wisenberg, former special counsel, says  “Everyone should be concerned about and be worried about” the obstruction of justice charge. [Does obstruction of justice mean the same thing as collusion? “These are crucial crimes because they delay the revelation of the truth.”] 

A:  Wisenberg: “It’s a big mystery why some of the people did lie and we should absolutely be concerned about it.”

“At the conclusion of the Special Counsel’s work, he or she shall provide the Attorney General with a confidential report….” Chuck Todd: “Does this mean the public will never see it?”

A:  “The overall intent of the regulation is public confidence in the investigation and any sort of suppression will flunk the test.”

The charging of the Mueller investigation said:

“The A.G. will notify the Chairman and ranking minority member of the House with an explanation…”

Wisenberg: “Barr has great discretion over what he reveals. How will Mueller reveal his report to Barr? He can do it in a way that makes it easier for Barr to release it to the public.”

Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general: “We’re in a different world than when those regulations (from the Clinton impeachment hearings under Ken Starr) were created. There will be a lot more pressure on Mueller to give all of the information to Congress.”

Chuck Todd notes that the President will get to read the report first. 

The catch, they say, is whether the president will order someone to do something about the Mueller report. “That is when things would get interesting. The obstruction of justice is of great consequence to anyone, but especially when committed by the Chief Executive of our land, the President.” (Asa Hutchinson R/Ar of Kentucky, now the Governor of Arkansas said this in 1999 when commenting on the Kenneth Starr investigation into Bill Clinton.) Hutchinson says it is a very serious charge. “The American public look at any charge against the president of the United States with great scrutiny, as they should…This one is less than 2 years of time, where the investigation of President Clinton took 4 years under Kenneth Starr.”

Q:  What are you looking for in this report?

Q/A:  Jim Himes (D/CT): “I’m looking for a report that gets to the truth and gets out there. More than anything else, the question of the Russian interference and the possibility of collusion and obstruction has twisted our politics into something unrecognizable. The way to end that is to get the truth out there. First and foremost, given that we’ve been on the edge of our seats for the past 2 years, everyone needs to know what happened and then we’ll be ready to take it further.”

Hutchinson: “You have to have conversations in a bi-partisan way in the timing of what should be revealed. This could simply be a report that does not list any offenses against the president of the United States. Let’s communicate. Let’s see if that can be done in a bi-partisan way.” (Jim Himes expressed doubt that there would be much bi-partisanship in the current political climate).

Chuck Todd: Q:  “Is there anything that can be done (to make it more bi-partisan)?

A:  Jim Hines, D/CT: “One answer is that Devin Nunes is no longer the head of the investigative committee. I sort of chuckle at Governor Hutchinson’s optimism, because today, facts are disputed. Now, each and every fact is disputed. I point out that we’re going to get a sort of partisan warping of our system because there will be legislation before the House saying that his decision to spend money on his border wall is not constitutional. I suspect that the GOP are going to vote that Trump is not going to be held accountable for going around the Congress to get money for his wall.”

Jim Hines:  “There’s always some question about whether Michael Cohen feared retribution for his testimony.”

Chuck Todd: “The House GOP seems to be rigging the rules to keep the president from having a challenge in 2020.”

Asa Hutchinson (R/AR):  “Obviously, in our system of democracy, anyone is free to make a challenge. It will be very difficult for someone to make a successful challenge against President Trump. You’re always going to have a debate…It’s about what he has accomplished.”

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows and you don’t need a special report to know what kind of president Trump is.” (David Graham)

Talking heads: It’s (the Mueller Report) a political document and a historical document. “We have to have a long view of the reckoning that we have to take after this administration is over.” (Al Cardenas, Republican strategist): “A lot of people who are bad people around the President of the United States have been indicted…I don’t feel the President will be indicted…I think the Mueller Report will leave a lot of unfinished business. This will be a setting of the bar.”

How serious is obstruction of justice to Congress (Andrea Mitchell): “We have let people normalize criminal and abnormal behavior. If this is a witch hunt, they found a coven—37, so far. Going forward in 202 we do not know what impulses in social media are being programmed from Moscow. I’m now so suspicious of anything we’re reading.”

Lanhee Chen, Republican strategist – “Clearly the president not directly saying, ‘I look forward to the report’ is telling. I think it’s a fairly simply political calculus.”

Chuck Todd: “Will Democrats regret it if they DON’T open an impeachment investigation?” (Many now regret not standing up to Mitch McConnell over Obama’s right to name a Supreme Court Justice.)

Talking Heads, A:  “These are people who took an oath to the Constitution.” (Implied: yes there must be an impeachment).

Andrea  Mitchell: “Mueller’s reputation in the country seems impeccable. It will not go well with the Republicans if they attempt to impugn him. I’m curious how the Attorney General will handle the Mueller Report.”

COAST GUARD HOME-GROWN TERRORIST

It was 72 hours before the public learned of the Coast Guard officer who had stockpiled weapons since 2017 and planned to massacre as many people as possible, especially Democratic leadership and various political commentators. The head of Homeland Security, commenting, said he was glad that they found this individual’s writings on his Homeland Security computer.

Todd: “How did someone with this ideology get into the Coast Guard and stay in the Coast Guard and not get caught doing things like this at his work computer?”

A:  (Jeh Johnson, former Head of Homeland Security): “We don’t probe into people’s political leanings. We need to do a better job of rooting out people with extremist leanings that could lead to terrorist actions.” In 2016, the budget was $21 million, whereas in 2018 the budget has been reduced to $8 million to ferret out plots like this. (Fewer employees, less money).In 2017 , there were 65 incidents totalling 95 deaths. Muslim extremists committed just 7 attacks. “Very definitely there is a rise in the level of extremists and violent actions directed towards individuals perceived to be in positions of power: “the list.” “The levels of hatred and violence that we see are going up. It’s got to start at the top. Leaders lead. We’ve got to see it start at the top. Individuals like the Coast Guard individual become emboldened and may even feel entitled. It is incumbent to raise the levels of our political discourse.”

THE BORDER WALL

Q:  Is a wall at the border a national emergency? (Chuck Todd)

A:  Jeh Johnson, former head of Homeland Security: “I do not believe it was appropriate for the President to evoke the National Emergency statute. Better to work with Congress and collectively come to a decision.”

FLORIDA AMENDMENT

Florida: Amendment 4  returning voters’ rights to convicted felons who have served their time; the end result is that 1.4 voters could be added to the rolls. Many are African American. 52% of those who had lost their voting rights were Democrats and 14% were Republican. Democrats could see a net gain of voters. Amendment 4 has the potential to be a game-changer in Florida. Not happening yet as newly enrolled voters were nearly evenly split between the GOP and Democrats, so far.

 

Beto O’Rourke Speaks Out (Con’t., The End)

Image result for beto o'rourke images
Texas Legislature Image, Beto O’Rourke

(From Beto O’Rourke, on the border wall controversy)

But we still have a choice.  In this democracy, if, in fact, the people are the government and the government is the people, we still have a chance to prove it.

We can decide that we’ll get past the lies and fear, focus on the facts and human lives in our midst, and do the right thing.  The end goal is a stronger, safer, more successful country.  Critical to achieving that goal is having immigration, security and bilateral policies that match reality and our values.

  1.  Extend citizenship to the more than 1,000,000 Dreamers in this country.  Not only those who are in our classrooms, but those who are teaching in our classrooms, those who are keeping our country safe around the world tonight in the military; those who contribute more to our communities than they’ll ever take.
  2. Give permanent legal protection and a path to citizenship to their parents, the original Dreamers.
  3. Bring millions more out of the shadows and onto a path to citizenship by ensuring that they register with the government and gain status to legally work, pay taxes and contribute even more to our country’s success.
  4. Make us safer and more secure.  Significantly reduce illegal drug trafficking and stop human trafficking by investing in infrastructure, technology and personnel at our ports of entry.  The ports that connect us with Mexico are where the vast majority of everything and everyone that ever comes into our country crosses.
  5. Increase the visa caps so that we match our opportunities and needs (for work, for education, for investment, for innovation, for family reunification) to the number of people we allow into this country.  Ensure that those who want to work in jobs that we can’t fill can legally come here and legally return to their home country.
  6. Fully accept our opportunity and responsibility under our asylum laws to welcome those whose own governments can no longer protect them, including women fleeing abusive relationships.
  7. Address visa overstays (which account for the majority of undocumented immigration) through better tracking of and notification to visa holders (a first step could be text message reminders) and fully harmonizing our entry/exit systems with Mexico’s and Canada’s (when a visa holder exits the U.S. and enters Mexico, we will then know that they have left the U.S. Currently, if they leave through a land port of entry, we literally haveno clue if they are still here or have returned to their country of origin.
  8. Make Latin America and specifically Central America a top foreign policy priority. Stop relegating it to second-tier status. Invest the time, talent and resources to assist in the development of the domestic institutions that will allow these countries to thrive and offer their citizens protection and economic opportunity.  It is the long long-term solution to the number of asylum seekers and refugees coming to this country.
  9. End the global war on drugs.  An imprisonment adn interdiction-first approach has not worked, has accelerated the erosion of civil society in much of Latin American and has militarized a public health issue to the detriment of all concerned.
  10. Speak with respect and dignity when referring to our fellow human beings who happen to be immigrants and asylum seekers, who, in so many cases, are doing exactly what we would do if presented with the same threats and opportunities.  No more “invasions,” “animals,” “rapists and criminals,” “floods,” “crisis”—dehumanizing rhetoric leads to dehumanizing policies.  We cannot sacrifice our humanity in the name of security or we risk losing both.

Last week we welcomed the President of the United States to one of the safest cities in the United States.  Safe not because of walls and not in spite of the fact that we are a city of immigrants.  Safe because we are a city of immigrants and because we treat each other with dignity and respect.  A city that has the opportunity to lead on the most important issues before us, out of experience, out of compassion and out of a fierce determination to see this country live its ideals and rise to its full potential.

We can learn from the errors of our past, have the courage to do what’s right while we still have the chance, and ensure that the President doesn’t commit this country to making mistakes from which we may never recover.

It’s up to us.

Beto O’Rourke

(Received on 2/19/2019 via e-mail)

Beto O’Rourke Speaks Out (Day #3)

Beto O’Rourke’s piece about the border wall, mailed out from Beto O’Rourke headquarters. As someone who has captured a great deal of interest from the general public in his run against Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, it is safe to say that we haven’t heard the last of Beto O’Rourke.

“After terror attacks in the 1990s and in 2001, the Mexican immigrant was a ready scapegoat for politicians, and the intensity and brutality of enforcement and deterrence measures increased.  In the face of terrorism that originated in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, the United States chose to conflate the war on terror with immigration from Mexico and Latin America.

With the passage of the Patriot Act of 2001 the number of deportations skyrocketed, with nearly 400,000 sent back to their country of origin in 2009 alone.  Not one of the 9/11 terrorists entered through Mexico—and yet Mexicans bore the brunt of this country’s immigration response to the terror attacks.  Last year, the State Department’s Bureau of Counter-terrorism found that “there are no known international terrorist organizations operating in Mexico, no evidence that any terrorist group has targeted U.S. citizens in Mexican territory, and no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States.”

This year’s report found much the same thing.  “There was no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.”

In addition, walls and fences authorized by the Secure Fence Act of 2006 pushed migration flows to ever more treacherous stretches of the U.S.-Mexico border.  More than 4,500 human beings died while crossing the border from 2006 to 2017.

Far too many of these deaths were children.”

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