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!

Author: Connie Wilson Page 1 of 152

Biographical Information

Connie (Corcoran) Wilson graduated from the University of Iowa and earned a Master’s degree from Western Illinois University, with additional study at Northern Illinois, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Chicago. She taught writing at six Iowa/Illinois colleges and wrote for five newspapers and 7 blogs. Her stories and interviews have appeared online and in print and her work has won prizes from “Whim’s Place Flash Fiction," “Writer’s Digest” (Screenplay), E-Lit award for 3 works, Illinois Women's Press Association Silver Feather awards, Pinnacle award (NABE) and recommendations for the Bram Stoker award. She is the author of 4 nonfiction published books, 4 short story collections, 1 novel and there are 2 novels ready for publication (the trilogy beginning with "The Color of Evil.") She reviewed film and books for the Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa) for 12 years and wrote humor columns and conducted interviews for the (Moline, Illinois) Daily Dispatch.

“Tired of Winning” by Jonathan Karl Tells It Like It Is

Excerpts from “Tired of Winning: Donald Trump and the End of the Grand Old Party,” by Jonathan Karl of ABC News:

Jonathan Karl's Biography - ABC News

Jonathan Karl of ABC News

 

“He lacks any  shred of human decency, humility, or caring,” a former White House official wrote of Trump, the man he had served for more than a year. “He is morally bankrupt, breathtakingly dishonest, lethally incompetent, and stunningly ignorant of virtually anything related to governing, history, geography, human events or world affairs.  He is a traitor and a malignancy in our nation and represents a clear and present danger to our democracy and the rule of law.” (p. 263, Jonathan Karl, CBS Political Affairs Reporter)

Jonathan Karl's book "Tired of Winning"

“Tired of Winning: Donald Trump and the End of the Grand Old Party” by Jonathan Karl of ABC News.

“Two and a half years after January 6th, the man whom many of the rioters said was ultimately responsible for the carnage seemed on the way to finally being held accountable…He faces a maximum of 55 years in prison—the maximum in the documents case is higher—but because Trump stands accused of betraying the very oath of office he hopes to take once again. The charges include defrauding the United States and depriving Americans of their right to have their votes count—a right central to the meaning of democracy.” (p. 269)

“President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.  No question about it.” (Mitch McConnell on Feb. 13, 2021.)

“Remnants of the Trump era will be a strange reminder of how Trump operated—his disregard for history and for the law—in this case, the Presidential Records Act of 1978—says that official presidential records are the property of the American people, not of any individual, not even a president. Trump destroyed some of them, others he took home to Mar-a-Lago as if they were personal souvenirs of his time as commander in chief.  Fortunately for future historians—and current criminal investigators—many of the documents he attempted to pilfer were returned, and many of those he tried to destroy were gathered, taped back together, and preserved  by government employees attempting to comply with a law their boss had no intention of following.” (p. 272).

The MITT ROMNEY IS A TOTAL LOSER napkin:  “One of the more unusual documents now under seal at the National Archives is a paper napkin from Air Force One.  The napkin—the existence of which has never been made public—is hardly a state secret, but it reveals much more than the words written on it by Donald Trump with a Black sharpie: MITT ROMNEY IS A TOTAL LOSER.” We don’t know the exact content of this presidential musing—or even the date it was retrieved—or  why Trump chose to scrawl those words on a napkin. Did he write it after Romney became the only Republican to vote to convict him in his first impeachment trial? Or when Romney became one of seven Republicans to vote to impeach him in his second impeachment trial? Or maybe it was after Romney and his wife, Ann, congratulated Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on winning the 2020 election.  “We know both of them as people of good will and admirable character,” Senator Romney said in a statement issued minutes after Biden and Harris were projected as winners of the election. “We pray that God may bless them in the days and years ahead.”

Trump had called Romney a loser many times, but the context of the words scrawled on the napkin—TOTAL LOSER—were different than those he blurted out on Twitter or during speeches. The napkin was a private note, probably one he had written to himself, and an indication Trump had Romney on his mind, and perhaps a reflection of the obsession with the man who won the Republican nomination four years before Trump did. Of course, the note wasn’t completely wrong—Romney, like Trump, was a loser.  Both men had lost a presidential election. But, unlike Trump, Romney took his loss with grace and dignity.  He did what Trump would never do.  He congratulated his opponent—Barack Obama—and put the country above himself, offering words of support to the man who had defeated him.

Sam Houston, 1859–1861 - Friends of the Governor's Mansion
Sam Houston, 1859–1861

SAM HOUSTON STORY:  Sam Houston, the former Governor of Tennessee, battlefield hero, and founding father of Texas independence.  Houston was the first president of the Independent Republic of Texas, the first senator from the state of Texas and  one of the most independent, unique, popular, forceful and dramatic individuals ever to enter the Senate chamber.  Houston put all of that on the line beginning with a vote he took in the Senate in 1854 against what would become the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  To Houston’s fellow Democrats, it was a must-pass bill, a test of Southern unity and survival.  Houston saw the bill for what it was—a way to reopen the the issue of expanding slavery that would set America on a path to civil war. Not a single Senate Democrat joined him in voting against it...His stand against Southern secession was so forceful, Houston received a few votes to be Abraham Lincoln’s vice president. He traveled around his state to make what had become a very unpopular case for Texas to remain in the Union. While he was campaigning in the city of Waco, a bomb exploded behind the hotel he was staying in—an unsuccessful attempt to either kill or intimidate him. He survived the bombing, but he lost the battle.  And when Texas officially seceded  from the Union and joined the Confederacy, Houston was once again defeated, removed from office after he refused to take the oath of the new Confederate state of Texas. Sam Houston was far from perfect, but at the end of his life, he stood up to the madness of his own party—and the madness of his own constituents.  Despite the steep personal price he paid, his place in history was secure—and it started with a vote, an act of political courage—made inside the Senate Chamber.” (p. 279).

“Trump’s betrayal shows just how vulnerable our democracy is and how much it depends on people who are in positions of responsibility to act responsibly.” (p. 281).

“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack.  Everything that followed (January 6th) was his doing.  None of this would have happened without the President.  There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.” (Liz Cheney, R, Wyoming, while heading the January 6th Commission.) (p. 285).

Of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump the second time, the vote of Representative Tom Rice of South Carolina to impeach was among the most surprising. Rice’s reason for voting to impeach, articulated in Jonathan Karl’s book:  “When Trump watched the Capitol, the People’s House, being sacked, when he watched the Capitol Police officers being beaten for those three or four hours and he lifted not one finger or did one thing to stop it—I was livid then and I’m livid today about it.” (p. 285)

How DJT Was Groomed By Russia; The Tragic End of Alexei Navalny

“Suncoast” Screens at Sundance 2024

 

“Suncoast’s” writer/director, Laura Chinn, had a brother, Max, who suffered from cancer. He ended up in the same hospice facility as Terri Schiavo, who died in 2005, and Ms. Chinn, in her directorial debut, dedicated the film to her late brother.

“Suncoast” was the first of the eight Sundance films I watched. It held particular significance for me, because I had also used the Terri Schiavo case as a plot background for the third novel in my series “The Color of Evil.” As such, I had to look up all the particulars of this “right to life” case that stretched from 1998 to 2005. Terri, who cardiac arrested at age 26, ended up in the hospice facility in Pinellas Park, Florida and the entire drama played out on the national scene with 14 different court cases and judgments involved, going all the way up to the President of the United States (George W. Bush).

THE GOOD

Woody Harrelson, Laura Linney, and Nico Parker in Suncoast (2024)

Suncoast

The best thing about the largely autobiographical story was the acting. Laura Linney portrays Kristine, the mother of Nico Parker. Woody Harrelson has a role as an activist who is protesting attempts to remove the feeding tube of the brain dead Schiavo. There were 14 different court actions and many protests in the streets outside the facility.

The acting by all concerned is excellent. Nico Parker, who portrayed Pedro Pascal’s daughter Sarah in “the Last of Us,” won the film  the Sundance U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance. She was extraordinary amongst an outstanding cast.

In addition to the euthanasia/right to die theme, the film does a good job of portraying the difficulties that beset lead Nico Parker as Doris, when she attempt to live the life of a normal teenager. Her mother (Laura Linney) seems to expect more from the teenager  in terms of caring for her invalid brother.  Doris (Nico Parker) is simply trying hard to have a more balanced, normal teenage experience in the midst of terrible tragedy. The film is a real tear-jerker.

THE BAD

Laura Linney

Laura Linney.

The character portrayed by Laura Linney comes off as very authoritarian and somewhat manipulative, especially when she tells her daughter that her brother is dying that very night at a time when the young girl is at a party that resembles Prom. Of course this brings out the sister’s guilt and she rushes to the hospice, only to learn that her mother overstated the situation. Later, her mother apologizes, but it is a really insensitive and unloving thing for her mother (Kristine) to have done. Only a truly great actress could have made this character halfway human, as her behavior in regards to her healthy daughter seemed extremely destructive at times.

Woody Harrelson’s character of Paul Warren was similarly negative at times. His entire character seemed extraneous, to me, added simply to beef up a plot theme. Most of us who have daughters in this age range would warn our teenaged daughters about associating with a strange guy who shows up at a hospice as a  protester. It’s the old “danger/stranger” thing. It didn’t make much sense that, when Kristine (Laura Linney) learns about the random friendship that has sprung up between her underage daughter and this stranger from out of town, she doesn’t inquire further and warn Doris about being too trusting of the stranger. I  found the brief scene in the restaurant where Doris introduces her mother to Paul to be strange and unrealistic (and wanted the two to interact).

Other reviews have bemoaned the opportunity to put two such fine actors onscreen at the same time. Having met Laura Linney in Chicago the year (2007) she and Philip Seymour Hoffman co-starred in “The Savages” I agree that finding a way to have these two talents share the screen and exchange dialogue would have been a welcome addition to the plot (and probably would have improved the dialogue). On the bright side, there is a great scene where the police insist that Kristine must move along in her car. Linney was great during this exchange, but the writing elsewhere was not as good as the actors saying the lines. The cast really saved the film at many points.

The thing that detracts from the film, of course, is the entire downer theme. It’s  a solemn, serious topic, sensitively treated and could serve as a good lesson in what not to do for a parent who finds himself or herself in this extremely difficult situation (while raising one healthy teenaged child while caring for a terminally ill teenager.) It is precisely this horrible predicament that keeps us from totally turning on the Laura Linney character of Kristine. Without an outstanding actress like Laura Linney in the part, the characterization of the mother could have come off much more poorly.

CONCLUSION

It was an impressive Sundance debut directorial debut for the fledgling director and newcomer Nico Parker, daughter of Thandie Newton, did a fine job as the lead actress, with able support from Laura Linney and Woody Harrelson. There are several excellent supporting performances from the young actors/actresses portraying her school friends as well. “Suncoast” begins streaming on Hulu on February 9th, Friday. It’s a tear-jerker but a well-done one.

“Porcelain War” Is Documentary Grand Jury Winner at Sundance, 2024

  • “Porcelain War” won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance 2024 and added to the ever-proliferating number of documentaries that are coming out of the horrific Russia/Ukraine War. The front-runner for an Oscar in the upcoming Academy Awards is “20 Days in Mariupol” from Ukrainian journalist Mstyslav Chernov. The “Porcelain War” is a joint project from Brendan Bellomo of the United States and Slava Leontyev, shooting inside Ukraine. Close friend Andrey Stefanov served as cameraman for the sequences within Ukraine and he and Slava deserve great admiration for their courage and resolve under pressure.

Having just seen “20 Days at Mariupol,” comparisons, for me, were inescapable. Plus, I am currently mid-way through a course at the University of Texas that traces Putin’s rise to power, leading to today’s invasion of Ukraine and the war that has dragged on since February 2022.

Both films show the “before” and “after” of a beautiful country now reduced to rubble. In the case of Mariupol (available on most major platforms and a “must see”) we see the city of Mariupol before it is totally ravaged by the Russians. The Writer/Director of “20 Days at Mariupol,” a Ukrainian AP reporter, chose to stay on with the troops and depict the true horrors of those left behind, including the young boy who was shooting baskets outdoors when a missile blew off his legs, ultimately killing him. The blood and grief mirror the scenes in Gaza that are horrifying in their brutality.

“Porcelain War” uses the metaphor of porcelain, which, as the film drives home relentlessly is this:

“Ukraine is like porcelain — easy to break, but impossible to destroy.” 

This is because the Ukrainian participants we become acquainted with are artists who work in porcelain.

The United States director, Brendan Bellomo, won a student Academy Award when he was a student at NYU and his expertise is quite evident here.

THE BAD

Cast of “Porcelain War,” including co-directors (front) and Frodo, the dog..

For me, it is the very slickness of the porcelain metaphor and the well-done visual effects in “Porcelain War” that detract when compared with the effect that the raw footage of “20 Days in Mariupol” evokes. There is somewhat a looking away from the horrors of war a bit more in “Porcelain War” than in the shorter “20 Days in Mariupol” film. In “Porcelain War” we see idyllic footage of  Ukrainian artists Slava, Anya, and Andrey coping with life in a war zone but also surrounded by great beauty. As “Variety” said in its review, “An accomplished visual effects supervisor whose credits include the 2012 Sundance smash ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild,’ Bellomo is attuned to the jolting sensations of combat both on the ground and above it.” It is precisely the excellence of Bellomo’s visual work in depicting the porcelain figures that takes away slightly from the less polished, but more visceral power of the shorter film (“20 Days in Mariupol.”) The porcelain work is beautiful and delicate. I, for one, wanted more of the brutal truth of war in Ukraine, to help me understand and process this latest aggression.

We do learn about the history of Russia’s land grab of Crimea in 2014. Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for promises of non-aggression from Russia, but those promises were bogus. Russia has a long history of not living up to its word. Putin seized Crimea in 2014 and collaborating director Slava Leontyev lived in Crimea at the time. He moved to Ukraine and he and others began re-establishing the military that they had abandoned when they believed Russia’s promises. So, for the past 10 years there has been an attempt to re-establish some kind of defense system for Ukraine, and Slava—who was present at Sundance along with Frodo, the dog in the film— has been instrumental in that effort, as we see.

A recent “New York Times” article speculated on the outcome of the Ukraine/Russia conflict. It said the Russian defense of parts of Ukraine it now occupies currently seems impenetrable. The war, it said, is beginning to resemble the WWI stalemate during which neither side seemed able to advance and the human toll inexorably rose. The article stated that Ukraine has lost 20% of its area and wants ALL of its country back. The odds of that happening (on Russia’s part) don’t seem good. With the Republican support for Ukraine seemingly mired in political gamesmanship that might re-install a leader who seems to think emulating Putin is a good thing, can we assume that our technical support and weaponry, that allowed Ukraine early in the fight to score some impressive wins, will continue after the November election if Trump were to win?

United States financial aid and expertise is necessary for Ukraine to move forward; there was a mention in the article of the potential firing of the Ukrainian Minister of Defense by Zelenskyy. If he IS fired, he was said to be the chief rival who might run against Zelenskyy. If Russia is feeling the crunch and would agree to settlement talks, said the article, it would almost certainly be predicated on Ukraine not joining NATO or other such groups. Meanwhile, Russia recruits from prison and will march those men forward to certain death simply to find out where their adversaries are concealed. The brutality of the Russian troops is legendary. The firsthand accounts of what has occurred are absolutely sickening; that, too, is not likely to improve over time.

Nobody trusts Putin to honor agreements he makes. The general feeling that would come from such a “settlement” would be anger that so many Ukrainians have given so much only to potentially be given back only a portion of their native land with conditions on how they might best defend themselves against future Russian aggression. The odds for the West and for democracy and for Europe are very large if you accept the premise that Putin will never stop his characteristic aggressive behavior and his dream of re-establishing the USSR as a Super Power. And, although Putin is 71, is a successor likely to be a change for the better? (Unlikely).

Ukraine’s largest military aid partner since the start of the war, the United States, has committed a total of €71.4 billion in aid to Ukraine when also considering financial and humanitarian support. Martin Armstrong on “Statista” (Dec. 13,2023) had these figures of support for Ukraine:

“Thanks chiefly to the €77.1 billion in pledged financial aid, European Union institutions are the largest aid donors to Ukraine. This is based on data from the IfW Kiel Ukraine Support Tracker which currently covers the period January 24, 2022 to October 31, 2023.

But will U.S. aid continue if Donald J. Trump is elected? And if Biden remains president, can he successfully negotiate continued support with the current GOP House and with the Senate’s current iteration?

All of these considerations enter into election year 2024. The analogy of porcelain (“Easy to break, but impossible to destroy”) may weaken in its appropriateness with the conflagration dragging on.

THE GOOD

Slava Leonytev is shown holding Frodo, the dog, with the cast of "Porcelain War."

Entire cast of “Porcelain War,” many of them direct from Ukraine.

Slava Leontyev became a weapons expert and has been training other civilians in how to load and fire weapons, in preparation for the war that Ukraine feared was coming. As one of the characters says, alluding to Russia’s history of aggression against the nations that broke away, “After 400 years we’re going to finally take care of it.” From watching Slava at work as a Ukrainian defense officer we get a better understanding of the reality of the current war.

The action in “Porcelain War” is centered in Kharkiv, which is 25 miles from the Russian border. In “Porcelain War,” we get to see the nuts-and-bolts of fighting the war in Ukraine. The emphasis on drone use is shown. We see “ordinary people in extraordinary situations” learning to fire weapons. We don’t see as much of the blood and guts and heartbreaking grief as in “20 Days in Mariupol,” but the horror of war is ubiquitous, emphasizing the message.

One line in the film is “Because of the invasion, we lost the substance of our lives.” Another analogy is that refugees are like snails without their shells. As Anya and Sonya are sent to Lithuania for their safety, their parents describe what an ordeal it was to get the girls out of the country by way of Poland. It reminded me of London residents, during the Blitz, sending their children to the countryside to protect them.  As the family says, “What is absolutely predictable is death.” We see face-time chats between the family members. The Ukraine residents feel that, “We’re fighting against evil. This is a historic opportunity to destroy aggressors.” The script adds, “It will keep pushing until it reaches you.”

The music is particularly effective. It is a fevered, clattering score from DakhaBrakha, a self-described “ethnic chaos” band based in Kyiv. The musical refrain is “A time to laugh, a time to cry. A time to live. A time to die.”

This film gives us a focused look at how the local populace, with aid from the United States and the European Union, is responding to Russian aggression. As Slava says, “Crimea ended in the blink of an eye, and we retreated to Ukraine.” At another point, as the struggle drags on, the line is “Armageddon is happening in Bakhmut.”

The drone group, decorated by the local artists, is dubbed “Saigon.” The reference to that Vietnamese city seems to be a nod to the effective guerilla fighting that the local populace employed against a super power.

CONCLUSION:

This is a film that is well worth watching. I would suggest viewing “20 Days in Mariupol” at the same time. One will give a very polished look at the Ukraine/Russia war; the other is more visceral, but both are terrific.

 

The Eagles with Steely Dan in Austin at the Moody Center on Feb. 3, 2024

“Little Death” Screens at Sundance, 2024

“Little Death” won the NEXT innovator award at Sundance, 2024. I was attracted to this film by the fact that Protozoa Pictures was involved (Darren Aranofsky) and that it had David Schwimmer, Gaby Hoffman, Jenna Malone and Seth Green among the cast members. The director was Jack Begert, who co-wrote it with Dani Goffstein. Another executive producer was Andy Cohen.

The synopsis described the film this way: “A middle-aged filmmaker on the verge of a breakthrough. Two kids in search of a lost backpack. A small dog a long way from home.”

That description of the film’s plot didn’t pin down the story much,  and the actual unfolding of the plot was only minimally helpful. There is a young girl who has had her car hijacked and must seek help. There is David Schwimmer (the frustrated filmmaker) who is trying hard to get a green light for his film project. It’s not a particularly tight, well-written, or thoughtful script.

In a conference, the Powers-That-Be at the studio tell screenwriter Martin (David Schwimmer) that he should consider changing the gender of his lead character, [who, it should be noted, is largely autobiographical.] Martin is understandably reluctant to change the sex of his lead character from male to female, but, in a meeting with the studio Big Whigs, he becomes convinced that it will be easy to simply change “Dan” to “Danielle. It’s a deal-breaker. So, he complies.

This means that, halfway through the film, the audience loses David Schwimmer as the lead actor because he is replaced by Gaby Hoffman, who started her film career in 1989’s “Field of Dreams” as the young Karen Kinsella. There is no explanation of this sudden loss, other than Gaby’s appearance.

I found it interesting to see the male character morph into a female lead without so much as a word of explanation, and I was not put off by the visual effects that bothered one other critic, who said this: “The performances were messy and their characters are really unlikeable and aggravating in the worst way. Each character comes close to wanting to pull your hair out of your head levels.
Begert approach on the humor is poor, the editing and musical choices are annoying, and the dialogue is forced, unfunny, and poorly constructed. There are some really awful visual presentations and animations throughout. To top it off, the animations were AI-generated which honestly is a major slap on the face for independent filmmakers and artists. It’s insulting that Sundance allowed this movie to come into the festival.”

Well. That certainly is one point of view.

I do agree that the film seems, overall, poorly organized. The plot is random and doesn’t tie together well. The “visual effects” that this anonymous critic mentions (no name is attached on the IMDB.com page) were primitive when one considers that Protozoa was behind the film.

Cinematography was by Christopher Ripley.

Overall, I was sad to see Schwimmer go, as the lead, to be replaced by Gaby Hoffman. It wasn’t my favorite film of the eight I am reviewing, and it had problems, but I’m more accepting of it than Mr. Anonymous Reviewer.

“Kneecap” Is Irish Docu-Drama at 2024 Sundance

The Audience Award Winner at Sundance was a docu-drama about an Irish band, “Kneecap,” that is working to preserve the Irish language (Gaelic) and enjoys sticking it to the British. The members of the real-life band “Kneecap” played themselves. To appreciate the film, it is best to know this history of the band (from Wikipedia);  “Kneecap are a BelfastNorthern Ireland-based hip hop trio with the stage-names Mo Chara, Móglaí Bap and DJ Próvaí.[1][2] They sing in Irish and English and often reference their support for republicanism. They first began releasing music in 2017 with their single “C.E.A.R.T.A.” (Irish for “RIGHTS” as in human rights). They released their first album, 3CAG, in 2018,[3] and continued to release various singles such as “Get Your Brits Out”.

The three members of the Irish rap group — Liam Óg Ó hAnnaidh, Naoise Ó Cairealláin, and JJ Ó Dochartaigh — play themselves in this liberally fictionalized reimagining of their origin story set in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The plot goes back to “the Troubles” and the operating philosophy “Every word of Irish spoken is a bullet fired for Irish freedom.” Michael Fassbender plays the father of lead band member  Liam Óg Ó hAnnaidh and drifts in and out of the narrative as an escaped Irish prisoner who may (or may not) be dead. Writer/Director Rich Peppiatt said he “endorsed his inner low-life scumbag” to make the film, shot in 7 weeks in 2023.

The Wikipedia entry about the band adds a lot of background  for viewers of the film, especially if you’ve never heard of them before. The romance with a Protestant girl is another sub-plot of the mosaic that is the band rapping in a language that most of the audience neither understands nor has ever heard before. (Sub-titles for the lyrics would be helpful) Kneecap, the band, has an infectious enthusiasm and youth on their side,. The members are supposedly the offspring of legendary Irish Republican Army fighters, with a distinct enthuiasm for anarchy, rebellion and fighting for the underdog—all those things that youth is associated with. The band has also weighed in on the Israeli/Gaza conflict with sympathy for the Palestine cause. Of course, the original impetus for the film (as portrayed in the docu/drama/comedy), occurred when a member of the band refused to speak English while being interrogated in connection with a crime and insisted on speaking Gaelic. That is faithfully rendered—although, as with all films, there is a fair amount of embellishment for the sake of the narrative.

This Wikipedia insight also comes in handy: “In 2021 Kneecap released their single “MAM” as a tribute to their mothers, the song was acknowledged as a shift away from their usual style saying that they wanted to do something more ‘real’. Mo Chara stated in an interview that they wanted to show that “we can ’roundhouse’ you off the stage but we can also give you a hug afterwards. We wanted to do something a bit sentimental, we don’t wanna just box ourselves in with masculinity all the time.”] The trio also revealed on Instagram that Móglaí Bap’s mother had died of suicide before it could be released and that all proceeds from the song would be going to the Samaritans.”  

In regards to sentimental, one review took a broad swipe at Kenneth Branagh’s film “Belfast,” based on his own childhood memory of living in Belfast during the Troubles, calling it “sentimental” and “overly saccharine.” Belfast was one of the nominees for Best Picture of the Year that year.

During the Q&A following the film one of the band members was dressed in a leather outfit that looked like it was straight out of the latest iteration of “American Horror Story,” complete with Baliclava mask, as worn by the older D.J. in the film. It is a weird look. One  band member came onstage swilling from a bottle of booze, which seemed appropriate for the rabble-rousing drug-dealing rebels.

The music is infectiously high-voltage and the docu-drama has already secured a distribution deal at Sundance with Sony Classics films.  Those involved in the film were:

  • . Crew:Director, writer: Rich Peppiatt. Camera: Ryan Kernaghan. Editors: Chris Gill, Julian Ulrichs. Music: Michael ‘Mikey’ J Asante.
  • With:Liam Óg Ó hAnnaidh, Naoise Ó Cairealláin, JJ Ó Dochartaigh, Michael Fassbender, Josie Walker, Simone Kirby.

I’m Irish (maiden surname “Corcoran”) but I had no idea what any of the rapping lyrics meant, and would have appreciated knowing. They might as well have been singing in Vietnamese, given the lack of sub-titles to explain the message to those of us who are (a) out of our twenties and (b) not conversant in the Irish language. (And, if you think about it, that is a rather large number of the proposed audience.) On the bright side, as IMDB reported, domestic box office from all Sundance 2023 films was the best for any year since Covid. At around $100 million, it quadrupled the take from 2022 Festival titles, which was around $25 million. All told, about two thirds of the 2023 films have some sort of domestic distribution, including streaming outlets.

I enjoyed the convincing  acting by the band members. The stereotype of drunken Irish wife-beaters is alive and well in this one, personified by the band members, who did their best to perpetuate that old familiar stereotype. Perhaps Sony Classics will put a translation of the Gaelic lyrics onscreen before launching the film nationwide and worldwide, which would help add to our understanding of the mindset of the group

 

 

“In the Summers” Wins 2024 Sundance Grand Prize for Drama

“In the Summers” won the Grand Jury Prize for Drama at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Its theme is summarized this way on IMDB.com:

“On a journey that spans the formative years of their lives, two sisters navigate their loving but volatile father during their yearly summer visits to his home in Las Cruces, New Mexico.”

The film is the directorial debut of Alessandra Lacorazza Samudio, who also wrote the roughly autobiographical story of her summers spent with her divorced father. The film follows two sisters, Violeta and Eva, as they visit their father in Las Cruces, New Mexico, four times over a span of approximately 15 years.

THE GOOD

Residente

Residente

Three sets of sisters play the girls as they grow up, and that, alone, would be a difficult thing to handle as a first-time director. The young Eva is portrayed  by Sasha Calle and the young Violeta was Dreya Cad.  The lead, who plays their father, Vicente, is Residente. Residente is a member of the rap group “Calle 13” and has won 4 Latin American Grammys. The 46-year-old was born on February 23, 1978 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  He was exceptional portraying a father who seems more scumbag than superhero. As an actor and director, he is known for Old Dogs (2009)Miss Bala (2019) and Residente Feat. Ibeyi: This is Not America (2022).

“In the Summers” won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize for Drama at Sundance, 2025. Handling the three sets of actors who portrayed Eva and Violeta from young to older as a first-time director was quite an achievement. Young Eva is portrayed (well) by Luciana Elisa Quinonez and young Violeta is portrayed by Dreya Castillo. Middle Eva is played by Allison Salinas and middle Violeta by Kimaya Thais. Teen-aged Eva is Sasha Calle and teen-aged Violeta is portrayed by Lio Mehiel. All did a great job.

The cinematography by Alexandre Mejia is top-notch and the music, as handled by Eduardo Cabra is also good.

THE BAD

One fan praised how the film was able to show how complex people can be without using a lot of expository dialogue. Agreed. This viewer went on to say, “I want to see more films like this that represent Latinx folks! And queer Latinx folks!”

I don’t want to see 1,000,000 more such films that represent constant insertions of queer/gay/transgender folk of any ethnic identity. It’s getting as predictable as the  horror movie trope that tells the teenagers not to go into the attic or the basement. It permeates every film, it seems.

I have nothing against films with lesbian, gay or transgender themes and nothing against lesbians, transgender, or queer folk. I applaud their struggle for acceptance and “equal” treatment. But shouldn’t the presence of these themes more-or-less reflect reality? Everyone should have the right to love whomever they want to love. The rest of us don’t have to gather round and watch them coupling, however,no matter whether they are shown with a person of the same gender  or a mate of the opposite sex. Pretending that there aren’t both homosexual and/or heterosexual individuals present in society or ignoring those themes is wrong. But over-emphasizing those themes is just as tiresome. Every other romantic film doesn’t need to (continue to) spoonfeed us a steady diet of gay/queer/transgender romance. Can’t the films simply represent the approximate reality of such relationships in the real world?

A recent Pew Research study said: “At a time when transgender and nonbinary Americans are gaining visibility in the media and among the public, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that 1.6% of U.S. adults are transgender or nonbinary – that is, their gender differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.” The article goes on to say that younger people are more likely to identify as transgender or non-binary and the % rises to 5% in adults younger than 30, while the % of 30 to 49-year-olds drops to 1.6% and the % of those over 50 identifying is .3%.

This means that 95% of the U.S. population (roughly) is not transgender. Yet 100% of movies today seem to have the “obligatory” gay/ lesbian or transgender romance. Movies today routinely and persistently depict trans, lesbian or gay love scenes/themes.  This is the demand for “equal time” between the sheets, since heterosexual romances were forced down everyone’s throats for so many years. Frankly, it gets old.  The % of films exploring this topic in such graphic detail should more accurately reflect reality, and the reality is as noted above by the Pew Research study.

I am not offended by non-mainstream romantic couplings. I’m just weary of watching so many of them, inserted in nearly every film at every opportunity. I won’t say “Enough, already!” because I understand that this cause is important to the generation under 30 who represent the future, but, again, 95% of that generation is not transgender, according to the latest Pew survey, so why is this theme everywhere all the time seemingly, especially at indie film festivals? Yes, it’s a young crowd at film festivals, but isn’t the goal of film to depict the real world with skill and honesty? These themes deserve a place, but dominating every festival simply to appeal to young filmmakers seems somewhat disingenuous and dishonest.

Residente, who plays Vincente in “In the Summers.”

In this case, the filmmaker has been recounting  experiences growing up as a transgender youth with a father who seems anything but exemplary. Since it is the writer /director’s own personal story, (and one that was so well executed), I’m just going to say this briefly and move on. I applaud the young daughter who stands up to her father when he is attempting to drive drunk. I/we loathe the drunken father’s macho man reaction to his realization of his daughter’s sexual orientation. The film portrayed the situation in a way that was real and honest and representative of the way the United States reacted to trans, gay and queer folk over the centuries. It was well done by this first-time writer/director on so many levels, and the actors deserve much praise. I did think that the mother of these young girls deserved more time, but I understand that it is difficult to fit everything into a 1 hour and 35 minute movie.

I remember when watching Jim Brown and Raquel Welch pose together for “100 Rifles”  in 1969 was a huge scandal because she was white and he was Black. Now, nobody thinks twice about an inter-racial romance. That was a good thing. I applaud the acceptance of inter-racial romances that now exists in society. I started reviewing the very next year (1970); I’ve been at it ever since, accepting of films that depict inter-racial romance and, now, accepting of films that portray the romantic entanglements that once were kept under wraps and hidden from society’s view.

It will be a good thing when there isn’t a need for every single film to climb up on a soapbox and subject viewers to the familiar story of how prejudiced we, as a nation (and a world) have been for so long. In the meantime—like the explosion of horror movies that launched the splatter craze (that still exists), or the Marvel Universe (that Director William Friedkin called “spandex movies”)  we are going to have to applaud this repetitive theme, graphic or subliminal, in film after film after film until the formerly unacceptable or aberrant is unremarkable in its ordinariness.

(Stepping down off soapbox.)

 

 

“Daughters:” Documentary at Sundance, 2024

A still from the documentary Daughters, directed by Angela Patton and Natalie Rae

David Ehrlich of “Indiewire” wrote of “Daughters,” that it was “An enormously moving documentary” and that it had “as much ugly-cry potential as anything in recent memory.” The film, directed by Angela Patton and Natalie Rae, gives us the background on a unique father-daughter dance for D.C.-area Black girls whose fathers are in jail. Ehrlich called it “A damning portrait of America’s prison-industrial complex.” The information that single mothers struggling to make it on their own while their significant others are incarcerated for years makes the point that the relatives are charged to visit their loved ones. This seems like adding insult to injury, although the inmates obviously committed crimes that led to their incarceration, which is downplayed in this documentary.

In order to be allowed to participate in the daddy/daughter dance the prisoners must take a course in parenting. Some of the participants admit that, initially, they only signed up for the daddy/daughter instruction in order to get an extra in-person opportunity. Later, they say  that participating has been beneficial to them as people. Indeed, the recidivism of the men who take part seems to be much better than the average prisoner. The testimony of the prisoners is very interesting, but the leader of the class is pedantic and not very interesting, for the most part. It is far more engrossing to listen to the prisoners, the children and the women waiting on the outside. For me, the sequences that involved the instructor teaching the class were only interesting when the prisoners were allowed to talk and tell their stories. This film could have dispensed with the pedantic prison employee and simply cut from prisoner’s story to prisoner’s story with better results.

Little Aubrey at age 5 is enchanting. The film goes back 8 years later, and the bright little girl has become a jaded teenager who says she never wants to be a mother and expresses her broken spirit in so many other ways. Mark (a prisoner) who is the father of Santana reveals that Santana was born when her mother (Diamond) was only 14 and he was 16. The personal details are enlightening, but the segment goes on too long. The entire film needed a good editor.

Music supervisors Sunny Kapoor and Connie Edwards did a fine job, and the film provides enough food for thought to keep us pondering for weeks. It won a Festival Favorite Award at Sundance (2024) for the directors’ first feature documentary.

But, in terms of the story this film is telling,  the prison system beat goes on, and it is heart-wrenching.

Jesse Eisenberg’s “A Real Pain” Wins Screenwriting Award at 2024 Sundance

All of the introductory pictures on the Sundance page featured this Jesse Eisenberg film, which he wrote, directed and starred in. The film won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance (some choice lines from the script to follow.)

Jesse Eisenberg plays David Kaplan and Kieran Culkin is his cousin, Benjy. Following the death of their Grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, the two travel to Poland with money she left them for the trip, and ultimately end up joining a tour of concentration camps. Jennifer Grey portrays Marcia, a divorced woman who is on the tour with the cousins.

Benjy is in crisis. We learn this as the trip progresses. As cousin David (Jesse Eisenberg) says of Benjy, “You’re like an all-encompassing individual.” He also says of Benjy, “I love him and I hate him and I want to kill him and I want to BE him.” Benjy is well-played by Kieran Culkin who steals most of the scenes. The reasons for his depression are not totally explained to us. His fascination with airports, while interesting, is another oddity.

Here are some of the good lines from the honored script:

“There but for the grace of no God go I.”

“You have the most effed-up sense of proprieties.”

“You light up a room and then you shit on everything inside of it.”

Jesse Eisenberg’s first directorial effort was 2022’s “When You Finish Saving the World.” Both films were produced by Emma Stone’s production company, Fruit Tree.

This outing was much more professional. The ending left something to be desired, but it was a very enjoyable film.

 

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