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: Of Local (Quad Cities’) Interest Page 1 of 51

The category is self-explanatory, but it would include new or old businesses, political elections, trends, restaurants in town, entertainment in town, etc.

“The Bikeriders” At Theaters On June 21, 2024

“The Bikeriders” screened as the closing film of the 59th Chicago International Film Festival on October 22, 2024, at the Music Box Theater with a presentation of the Artistic Career Achievement Award to Writer/Director Jeff Nichols. The film was inspired by the 1967 iconic photographs and tape recordings of photographer Danny Lyon. Writer/Director Nichols gave great praise and credit to Lyon, saying, “He really was supportive, but without being prescriptive.”

PLOT

Cast of "The Bikeriders"

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 17: (L-R) Jodie Comer, Austin Butler, writer/director Jeff Nichols and Norman Reedus at the Los Angeles Premiere of Focus Features’ “The Bikeriders” at TCL Chinese Theatre on June 17, 2024 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images for Focus Features)

“The Bikeriders” recounts the evolution of a Midwestern motorcycle club, called the Vandals in the film. (The Outlaws, originally). The photos drove the film. The interior of one bar was actually reconstructed from Danny Lyon’s photo.

The cast is top-notch, featuring Austin Butler, Oscar-nominated for “Elvis” as Benny and Jodie Comer (“Killing Eve,” “The Last Duel”) as Kathy. Tom Hardy (“Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Revenant”) is Johnny, the leader of the motorcycle club, which originally existed for the members to race their choppers.

Jeff Nichols

Jeff Nichols at the screening of “The Bikeriders” on October 22, 2023 in Chicago. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

As Nichols (“Take Shelter,” 2011; “Mud,” 2012; “Loving,” 2016) told Jack Giroux 5 years ago, “And what I’m talking about making a movie about is its transition from this golden age of where it was less criminal and it was more just a place for outsiders to gather, but then how that kind of morphed and turned into somewhat more of a criminal organization.” He described the film as “A complete portrait of a subculture; maybe none of these guys needed to feel like outsiders, but they did.”

The cast is stellar, also featuring Michael Shannon—a close friend of Director Nichols who has made five films  with him—Bas Zipco. The breakout star of the “West Side Story” remake Mike Faist appeared as the photographer Danny Lyon.  Of Faist, Nichols said, “We were lucky to have him. I think he’s gonna’ have a great career.” Norman Reedus, from “The Walking Dead,” portrays Funny Sonny, and Boyd Holbrook (“Logan”) is Cal.

BACKGROUND

Nichols shared that the projectionist at the Music Box Theater in Chicago where the film screened was Danny Lyon’s daughter Rebecca. He also told the audience that he had only  learned last week that the characters Benny and Kathy, in real life, had a son who was present for this screening.

Jodie Comer and Austin Butler

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 17: Jodie Comer (L) and Austin Butler at the Los Angeles Premiere of Focus Features’ “The Bikeriders” at TCL Chinese Theatre on June 17, 2024 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images for Focus Features)

Jodie Comer’s character of Kathy is the central character telling the story of the rise and fall of the motorcycle group from 1965 to 1973. Saying “I used to be respectable” she details how the club went from a place where motorcycle enthusiasts could get together and talk about their choppers to something more sinister.

Comer has been mentioned for a potential Oscar nod; the struggle between Kathy and Johnny for Benny’s allegiance is a central conflict in the film. Describing some of the crazy things that Austin Butler’s character of Benny does, she says, “It can’t be love. It must just be stupidity.” Describing her time riding with Benny, she says of the Vandals, “The whole point of these guys is they can’t follow the rules, but as soon as they formed, they started making up rules.”

Jeff Nichols

Jeff Nichols in Chicago at the closing night of the 59th Chicago International Film Festival on October 22, 2023. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Jeff Nichols has a way of exploring the inner rage of a character, as with Michael Shannon’s star turn in “Take Shelter.”  (Shannon told me in 2017, when I asked him on the Red Carpet for “The Shape of Water,” that “Take Shelter” was his favorite role.) In the case of Austin Butler’s character, Benny, we are told “That kid’s f**ing crazy.”

He is also extremely handsome (Nichols says even more so, in person) and comes across as iconic in the book. Nichols said, “I didn’t know Austin Butler even existed when I wrote this. ‘Elvis’ hadn’t come out yet. There is calculus beyond me just thinking he’s pretty.” (laughter from the crowd). Nichols secured Norman Reedus (“The Walking Dead”) after meeting him while serving on a jury at Cannes and is friends with Tom Hardy’s manager, Jack Whigham, who is the younger brother of actor Shea Whigham (“Take Shelter,” “Waco,” “Boardwalk Empire”).

At the beginning of the evening, commenting on his nervousness, he remarked, “I know this is Mike’s town,” referencing his close friendship with Chicago native Michael Shannon (to audience approval.)

MICHAEL SHANNON

Michael Shannon

Michael Shannon on October 13, 2023 at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival.

 

Shannon, who heard Nichols talk about making a movie from “The Bikeriders” for years, once said, “You’ve been talking about that damn idea for so long. You’re never gonna make that s***.”

Nichols acknowledged that he had, indeed, been trying to make this film for a long time and described it as his “most ambitious” project. Five years ago he told interviewer Jack Giroux (Oct. 19, 2018), “There are just a lot of things that intimidate me about it, but I truly hope one day I’ll get my s*** together and do it.”

VERDICT

Well, he has, and “The Bikeriders” is very good. References to 1953’s Marlon Brando picture “The Wild One” to 1969’s “Easy Rider” to television’s “Sons of Anarchy” aside, this is an-depth look at the characters in a Midwestern motorcycle club. It is a 116-minute study of the outsiders who started the club.

Although Chicago is prominently featured, the actual shoot took place in Cincinnati, Ohio, in October of 2022, completing filming in December of 2022. It premiered at the 50th Telluride Film Festival on August 23rd.

It’s a totally compelling character study from Jeff Nichols, who has given us such great films as “Take Shelter,” “Mud,” “Loving,” and “Midnight Special.” A great addition to the motorcycle films that have gone before,  fictionalized somewhat, but founded on real-life research, which makes it even more relevant and enjoyable.

Cher at "The Bikeriders" premiere

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 17: Cher at the Los Angeles Premiere of Focus Features’ “The Bikeriders” at TCL Chinese Theatre on June 17, 2024 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images for Focus Features)

The Bikeriders Poster

The Bikeriders

Jodie Comer

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 17: Jodie Comer at the Los Angeles Premiere of Focus Features’ “The Bikeriders” at TCL Chinese Theatre on June 17, 2024 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images for Focus Features)

Austin Butler

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 17: Austin Butler at the Los Angeles Premiere of Focus Features’ “The Bikeriders” at TCL Chinese Theatre on June 17, 2024 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images for Focus Features)

Gold Coast Art Show, 2024, Is A Hot One!

Mark Ferguson & Connie Wilson

Mark Ferguson of Asymmetrical Jewelry and me, at the Gold Coast Art Show on Sunday, June 16, 2024.

Today was Sunday, June 16, 2024,  the last day of the 2024 Gold Coast Art Fair in Chicago. I only learned that it was going on this weekend when we drove by Grant Park on our way to see Seth Meyer’s stand-up show at the Vic. I immediately began saying I wanted to go. The Gold Coast Art Show is always wonderful—for me. For my spouse? Not so much. He isn’t really in to strolling past  250 booths and debating the merits of various purchases I  make. Plus, he thought the Cubs were playing (although it turned out that, for mysterious reasons) the Cubs were playing the Cardinals only on Roku. (W-H-A-A-T?)

My husband urged me to go “early.” As anyone who knows me knows, “early” for me is any time before noon. However, I promised to be readying myself no later than the time I get up to play Hand-and-Foot Canasta in Austin, Texas. That is 9 a.m., so I was up “early” and getting ready to walk to the park. I was very tired, because I am a Night Owl of the First Magnitude and being able to fall asleep earlier than 2 a.m. is often difficult. Keep in mind that I write, and—[in my defense]—I write at night. So, promising to get “up and at ’em” by 10-ish was early, for me. It would not have been my first choice of times to attend. But, aware that we faced a 3 and 1/2 hour drive home to the Illinois Quad Cities, I agreed that I would attempt to hit Grant Park at 10-ish.

 

66th Gold Coast Art Show in Chicago, June 16, 2024

My impatient husband offered to drive me down to the Park, which was very nice of him. In years of yore I routinely walked to the Art Institute and back, but that was before one full year of cancer treatment, which blew out my left knee and put me in a wheelchair or hobbling with a cane from September of 2022 until March of 2023. (Thanks to the Oak Brook Joint Pain Clinic for the 32 m. of anti-inflammatory injections and 6 ml of Durolane, which helped restore me…sort of.)

Asymmetrical Jewelry necklace

Another of Mark’s Asymmetrical pieces. ([email protected]).

The adjuvant therapy pills (specifically, Anastrozole) have not been “berry, berry good” to me. Let’s not forget that—thanks to Mom and heredity,— I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in 2017 and have to doctor for that, too. Minor ailments (fibromyalgia, asthma, osteoarthritis) I shall set aside for the moment. Either of the major ailments would make me vulnerable to extreme heat, And I honestly think that the excessive heat was primarily responsible for chatting with Mark about how he and his hosts went to the Red-Headed Piano Bar and a blues club the preceding night. At one point, in our car on the long drive home, the thermometer said 97 degrees. Yikes!

I remember in high school, when I (unwisely) I played intramural basketball (I’m so old that the game was 6 on 6) and—right before I would become so fatigued that I’d pass out—I’d turn beet red, except for the area right next to my nose, which would be stark white. Below is a picture taken less than 24 hours earlier, at the Seth Meyer show at the Vic Theater, for contrast. I do not appear to be beet red and disheveled in that one, do I?

AT SETH MEYERS on JUNE 14, 2024

Connie Wilson with BEE GONE book at the June 14th Seth Meyer stand-up show

Waiting at the Vic Theater in Chicago to give Seth Meyer a copy of BEE GONE after his June 14, 2024 show.

I direct your attention to the picture atop this page. Who knows what was going on with my blood sugar? I didn’t take the time to eat anything prior to being delivered to Jackson intersection (a fairly long way from the entrance. I should have gotten off at Madison). You can compare the picture from Friday night when I look fairly happy and healthy with the sweaty, overheated shopper who, after about 30 booths, became dizzy as hell and nearly passed out. Okay. Maybe I DID pass out (briefly), but I was seated at the time. I believe that Mark is too kind and honest to make up the nodding off that he says occurred right after I commandeered his chair for my own purposes. (Ahem).

I had purchased many items by that point, and I was aware that the temperature was REALLY REALLY HOT. I attempted to buy something cold at a small booth nearby that had a bunch of beverages for sale in cans, but the beverages all were warm and had alcohol in them, which is pretty much verboten. Plus, the only one I would have liked (Sangria) was warm. Warm sangria in a can for $10 did not sound appealing. So, yes, I was not very well hydrated, I was tired, and BOY, was I HOT!

GOLD COAST PURCHASES

My kind husband and I sought Madison futilely on our way down, because I had read online that it was the entrance. Of course, I had also read online that admission was $5, which may have been true if you bought tickets in advance. That left me out. Admission was $15. At least I managed to find an entrance from the Jackson intersection and I proceeded to quickly determine that (a) there were a lot of paintings (b) many of them cost $1,800 and up and (c) Boy! It was hot in the sun! (I haven’t felt that hot since I tried to bicycle to Willow Springs on a similarly hot day many moons ago and collapsed in someone’s front yard. Those people weren’t nearly as kind to me as Mark. As I recall, the lady of the house yelled, “Don’t go near her. You don’t know where she’s been!” The husband had to come and pick up me and my bicycle and ferry us home. (Is there a pattern here?))

Necklace from Asymmetrical Jewelry

Necklace from Asymmetrical. ([email protected])

By the time I had bought several pairs of earrings for various birthdays and my own use, I began to feel dizzy.

I was only about 1/3 or 1/4 of the way through my planned circuit of all 200+ booths, but I honestly thought I might pass out. I had just found a booth operated by a lovely British gentleman, Mark Ferguson of Manchester, England, who can be contacted at [email protected]. I saw that Mark had an empty chair (for himself, of course) behind the counter of his booth. Since I felt as though I might collapse at any moment, I asked if I could temporarily occupy Mark’s chair.

HEAT HITS HOME!

He was so great about my near collapse at his booth!  THANK YOU, MARK! Not only did he get me some water (and a fan, which he borrowed!) he swears that I passed out as soon as I sat down in HIS chair. This may be true. I would not know, as I was (apparently) unconscious. Just what every jeweler hopes for: a customer who stops by, takes their chair, and then passes out in it!

Now came the security person, wanting to know if I wanted to be taken to a hospital.

Uhhhhh…that would be a resounding NO,

Mark Ferguson of Suzanne & Mark Ferguson Asymmetrical Jewelry

Mark Ferguson (of Suzanne & Mark Ferguson Asymmetrical Jewelry) at his booth on Sunday, June 16, 2024.

But I did think that calling my husband (of 56 years) might be a good idea and, between Mark and a very nice lady who gave my husband directions about how to find Madison entrance (which we never did find initially) I was spared the necessity of walking a couple of football fields back to the Jackson intersection that we had originally agreed I would phone him from for pick-up.

MANY THANKS to Mark Ferguson (and Suzanne) of Manchester, England. If you see some things that speak to you in these photos, you can probably contact them at [email protected]. I had already bought three pair of earrings before unceremoniously commandeering Mark’s chair,  so I can attest that his “asymmetrical” idea of not having to “pair” earrings is a godsend. My daughter will be the beneficiary of the earrings that I got before I collapsed and left poor Mark to deal with me. He even escorted me to my spouse’s car. (Husband Craig did find the Madison entrance after the nice lady told him how to get there.)

I haven’t been so embarrassed since I missed a step at the Chicago International Film Festival, fell, and hit my head (and my bad knee). That didn’t lead to the hospital, either, but it did cause me to go have X-rays of the bum left knee when I made it back to the Quad Cities. That knee is going to be bad for the rest of time, I fear.

Here are some additional photos of Mark and Suzanne’s reasonably-priced and creative jewelry items, including some Cubs earrings (I bought 2 pair) and others. Not sure what the delivery options are, but, if you see something you can’t live without, the Fergusons have relatives in the Chicago area and perhaps you can contact them at [email protected] and make arrangements for mail delivery.

Earrings from Asymmetrical Jewelry

Asymmetrical Jewelry ([email protected])

Thanks, again, Mark!

Seth Meyer, Ribfest and the Gold Coast Art Show in Chicago (June 14-16, 2024)

lead singer of Hello Weekend

Hello Weekend at Ribfest on June 15, 2024.

hello weekend chicago highlights youtube

The cover band “Hello Weekend” consists of six members:  Christina Bagby and Connie Baltzell on vocals, Chris Brown on guitar, Scott Steele on bass, Ivan Dunki on drums and Bob the Bunny (who did not seem to be evident this night at Chicago’s Ribfest.) This line-up list was from a September 17, 2014 in The Daily Egyptian that serves Southern Illinois University, so the line-up may well be different 10 years later. (I definitely did not see someone who fit the description Bob the Bunny wearing a mask.)

There was a lot of discussion about the sexual identity of the lead singer. I maintain that the lead singer is female, but, at the point when the singer took off the long blonde wig to reveal a bald head, the discussion increased, with votes pro and con. Whoever sang lead, he/she was very good and very powerful. The Lady Gaga material seemed to be his/her favorite, which gave my companion some evidence for his point of view that the lead singer was simply a cross-dresser. Regardless of Christina’s true gender, she was one hell of a singer and we enjoyed the Chicago performance at RibFest, which followed a performance by an Irish folk band earlier at a different stage.

folk band performing at Chicago's Ribfest on June 15, 2024

Irish folk band also performing at Ribfest on a different stage on June 15, 2024.

The weekend began with the Seth Meyer performance at the Vic on Friday night, which was going to be filmed for a network special the next night. Much of the material had to do with Meyer’s three children, ages 8, 6 and 2. His description of his two-year-old daughter meeting President Biden was very funny and all of his material was fresh and fun. His lead-in was a comedian from Dubuque, Iowa, who likened his appearance as the lead-in to being the lead-in act for Pearl Jam when he would attend their concerts in his youth. He told a truthful story about his time as a ticket seller at a movie theater in Dubuque (which no longer exists). It seems that his entrepreneurial spirit caused him to charge ticket-goers for adult prices while ringing them in as children and pocketing the difference in the ticket prices. This ultimately led to corporate stepping in and closing the theater, firing all the employees, including Brooks, the comedian.

Tomorrow will be the Gold Coast Art Show within walking distance in Grant Park.

lead singer of Hello Weekend in Chicago

Lead singer of Hello Weekend at Ribfest on June 15, 2024.

Ribfest, June 15, 2024

Ribfest in Chicago on June 15, 2024

Connie Wilson at the Vic Theater in Chicago following Seth Meyer's comedy performance.

Waiting at the Vic Theater in Chicago to give Seth Meyer a copy of BEE GONE after his June 14, 2024 show.

Scott Steele, bass guitarist for Hello Weekend

Scott Steele, bass guitar for Hello Weekend, at Ribfest.

Chicago in June: “Six” and Georgia O’Keeffe

"Six" the musical

“Six,” the musical, in Chicago

Chicago beckoned and, more specifically, the musical “Six” and the Georgia O’Keefe exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago.

I thoroughly enjoyed “Six,” the musical, which filled me in on the six wives of Henry VIII. I’m going to have to look up more about these six women, but the cheeky presentation with fantastic costumes, great songs and wonderful singing was all I had hoped it would be. One of my favorite exchanges came when one wife says, “What is more painful than a broken heart?” And Anne Boleyn sidles up to her and answers, “A severed head.” Two of Henry’s ex-es were de-capitated, as you may remember, but this Cliff’s Notes version of history focuses more on clever singing, costuming and dancing and less on a prose historical recitation of Henry’s marital woes. Since pictures within the auditorium (the Nederlander, formerly the Oriental Theater) are strictly forbidden, the picture of the playbook cover and the crowd outside will have to suffice.

After the play—which ended up costing me dearly, especially for parking at $67.50 for 24 hours, when I only needed 2 hours—I walked across the street to Macy’s and enjoyed their chicken pot pie in the Walnut Room while doing a bit of shopping.

Chicago

Chicago

Chicago

"Six" crowd before the play

Outside the Nederlander Theater before the matinee showing of “Six” on June 5, 2024.

The next trip was on foot to the Art Institute of Chicago, which I have been a member of since about 2003. Thursday afternoons are free after 5 p.m., but I needed to re-up my membership, anyway, and strolled through the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit.

I have to admit that all I knew about Georgia O’Keeffe was that she was a female artist associated with painting close-up pictures of flowers and the American Southwest. I knew  little about her other than that, so I sat at a table and read a children’s book about her life, which began in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, on November 15, 1887. O’Keefe is considered the “Mother of American Modernism” and died on March 6, 1986 at the age of 98.

One fact that was not in the small children’s book was that her painting Jimson Weed/White Flower #1 was purchased for $44,405,000 in 1932. This was a record amount for a painting by a female American painter. Someone really liked her close-up pictures of flowers. Those close-ups of flowers created controversy when Okeeffe’s husband (Alfred Stieglitz), who was a world class photographer, published some racy photos of O’Keeffe, thereby fueling the suggestion that the floral pictures she painted actually represented female genitalia (she denied this.)

A salient fact in exhibiting O’Keeffe’s work in Chicago is that, after graduating from high school in Madison, Wisconsin, with time also spent in Williamsburg, Virginia where her family had moved in 1902, she studied in Chicago at the School of the Art Institute until 1920. (Georgia was the second of 7 children and had 3 sisters—Ida, Anita and Claudia— and 3 brothers.)

Georgia O'Keeffe painting of NYC

George O’Keeffe painting of NYC skyscrapers

Georgia’s career got off to a faster start when Alfred Stieglitz, who owned an art gallery, decided to champion her work and put on an exhibit of her work. That exhibit took place in 1917, although the children’s biography I was reading suggested that they did not, initially, hit it off personally. By 1924 that had changed, as Alfred, who was married, dumped his wife to marry Georgia on December 11th of 1924. They would live on the 30th floor of a hotel in New York City and Georgia would paint many pictures of the East River that was visible from their apartment and, also, would put her impressions of the New York City skyscraper environment on canvas.

However, in 1929 she began spending time in New Mexico, going back and forth to New York City, while Alfred took up with a younger model. He was old at the time and the couple did not divorce, with Alfred dying in 1946. Alfred was deeply jealous of Georgia during their marriage; his own field was photography, which he felt should be just as important in the art world as painting. Although the couple stuck it out and did not divorce, Alfred is often described as “abusive.”

Georgia O'Keeffe SW painting

Georgia O’Keeffe Southwest painting

Following Alfred’s death Georgia moved to New Mexico permanently in 1949, staying there for 40 years and spending time at what was called Ghost Ranch in Abiquia. She ended up, ultimately, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her most famous works, therefore, center on the American Southwest but this exhibit contains many pictures of New York and New York City, a sub-set of her output.

Georgia and Alfred did not divorce and she did stay with him till the end of his life, but, like so many other widows, she lived to the ripe old age of 98, having been widowed at age 59. So, for 39 years Georgia was making art that you can see on exhibit now at the Chicago Art Institute.

 

“Georgia O’Keeffe: ‘My New Yorks’” — the subtitle borrowing a phrase the artist coined for these urban works — offers the first major look at this subset of her abundant output. It opens June 2 and runs through Sept. 22nd.

Georgia O'Keeffe skull painting

Georgia O’Keeffe skull painting

Spectators at the Chicago Art Institute.

Spectators at the Chicago Art Institute on June 6, 2024.

Spectators at the Chicago Art Institute on June 6, 2024.

Spectators at the Chicago Art Institute Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit on June 6, 2024.

Georgia O'Keeffe painting at the Chicago Art Institute on June 6, 2024.

Georgia O’Keeffe painting at the Chicago Art Institute on June 6, 2024.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Georgia O'Keeffe painting of the East River from the 30th floor of her New York City apartment.

Georgia O’Keeffe painting of the East River from the 30th floor of her New York City apartment.

 

 

 

 

This painting represents the view of New York City’s East River from the 30th floor of the hotel where Georgia and Alfred Stieglitz lived.

 

 

 

 

FAMOUS GEORGIA O’KEEFFE QUOTES:

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life—and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” “To create one’s world in any of the arts takes courage.” “You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare.”

“Interest is the most important thing in life; happiness is temporary, but interest is continuous.” •

“To create one’s own world, in any of the arts, takes courage.” • “Singing has always seemed to me the most perfect means of expression. It is so spontaneous. And after singing, I think the violin.”

Cancun, 2024, Is In the Books

This will be a stream-of-consciousness column from Cancun—sunny, windy Cancun, Mexico.

This is either our 29th or 30th straight year of spending two weeks in Cancun at Royal Resorts time shares we purchased in the nineties. Last year was our last year at the Penthouse 9th floor digs (#4492) and the Royal Islander has been sold in its entirety to Holiday Inn Vacation Clubs.

When we first started coming to Cancun we stayed at the Fiesta Americana Condessa, which still exists. We needed 2 rooms, one for the kids, who were then 7 and 26. We stayed there for 2 years, but beach-front rooms cost us $3,000  30 years ago. No kitchen. And no connecting rooms the second year, which was a real problem, because the then-7-year old couldn’t open the doors by herself and her brother was off hitting the nightspots.

Our third year in Cancun we rented a unit at the Royal Mayan from a woman from Indianapolis who dropped a Big Gulp cup on my foot while showing pictures of the unit to those who had stayed in it that week.

An enterprising salesman named Ricardo pointed out that buying into the then-new Royal Islander would give us almost 30 years of time before Mexico took it back, while the Mayan clock had been ticking for a while. He was right.

The Mayan is no more and has become a different hotel entirely with a name like the Emporium. Meanwhile, the Islander is off the market right now and I’m not sure if it is going to be retooled as another resort or made into apartments or what. All I know is that the fantastic walk to our penthouse unit (the highest floor that the Royals ever built was #9) will be missed. We loved our time there.

It used to be that a fixed-week time share owner could stroll from the Royal Mayan to the Caribbean to the Royal Islander and, ultimately, to the Royal Sands. There were dining rooms at each of the properties, which would have made an All Inclusive deal slightly more attractive. The Conquistador has closed as has Captain’s Cove and both were traditions for us.

Now, there is just the Veranda and Sisal and they are supposed to be building more restaurants, which, if they are going to continue to push people onto the A.I. plan, they are going to need. We prefer eating breakfast and dinner in our unit, from food that we can buy locally at the Soriano market within Kukulcaan Plaza (or at the small resort store, for a much higher price). We like to dine out at the nice restaurants in the evening, although doing so with 13 to 17 people is quite the challenge. This is still my Paradise on Earth, “the poor man’s Hawaii” and I remind all in the family that it was MY find and we’ll be deeding this family tradition on to the son and daughter until the year 2050, which will mean when our oldest child (father of the twins) is 82–older than we are now, even.

Now, within the Royal Sands,  we move from the first floor to the fifth floor and we have a decent view of the ocean, but not the spectacular penthouse view we had at the Islander. Still, time marches on and we are adjusting to our new digs this week.

The son and wife and granddaughters had to leave a day early. Elise had a volleyball tournament in Dallas. Go, Elise! They are still playing as I write this.

The daughter left today (picture below) traveling back to her home in Nashville and her job with SW Airlines.

We have five more days in Paradise.

Here are some photos. Enjoy.

Daughter Stacey and granddaughter Elise Wilson in Cancun, Mexico.

Shaking It Up: The Life & Times of Liz Carpenter- World Premiere at SXSW on March 10th

Liz Carpenter was a force of nature who, throughout her 89 years (1920-2010), was often front and center where history was unfolding. leaving her own indelible mark on events. She was a journalist, White House official, Women’s Rights activist, best-selling author, and humorist. Directors Christy Carpenter, Liz’s daughter, and Abby Ginzberg weave candid modern-day interviews with Dan Rather, Bill Moyers, Gloria Steinem, Luci Johnson and others into an entertaining and informative 77-minute World Premiere that took place at the Zach Theatre on March 10th at SXSW 2024.

Liz Carpenter

Liz Carpenter in action.

 

Born in Salado, Texas, five days after the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution granted women the right to vote in 1920, Liz’s family moved to Austin, the state capitol, when she was 7 years old. She earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas in 1942 and headed straight to Washington, DC, intent on starting her journalism career  in the midst of WWII.  .

At 22 years of age, she was attending press conferences held by both President Franklin and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt despite barriers against allowing women reporters to be present.

SUPPORTING LBJ

She began covering the political rise of Congressman Lyndon Johnson for the Austin American-Statesman. This developed into a lifelong friendship with LBJ and his wife Lady Bird.

Liz’s reputation as a dogged reporter quickly spread and, by the late 1940s, she and husband Leslie Carpenter established the Carpenter News Bureau. They covered Capitol Hill and the White House for more than a dozen newspapers. She was also known as “the funniest woman in Washington, D.C.,” which made her an in-demand speaker.

In 1954,  she was elected president of the Women’s National Press Club, a platform she used to attack barriers to participation in the males-only National Press Club, the foremost journalistic organization in Washington D.C..

LIZ AND JFK’S ASSASSINATION

Christy Carpenter

Christy Carpenter, daughter of Liz Carpenter and co-director of “Shaking It Up: The Life and Times of Liz Carpenter” at SXSW.

In 1960, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird persuaded Liz  to join his campaign for vice president. Once elected, LBJ convinced Liz to join his staff as the highest-ranking woman ever to work for a vice president. Liz Carpenter was one of a small number of his staff traveling with him to Dallas on November 22, 1963. She was riding in the motorcade, in a car behind JFK’s, when President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated.

Carpenter realized she was the only writer on LBJ’s staff aboard Air Force One.  On the return trip to Washington she crafted the newly sworn-in President’s first public remarks to a shocked world. LBJ delivered these 58 words, written by Liz while on the plane, upon landing and that footage is included in the documentary:

“This is a sad time for all people. We have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed. For me, it is a deep personal tragedy. I know that the world shares the sorrow that Mrs. Kennedy and her family bear. I will do my best. That is all I can do. I ask for your help and God’s.”

The archival footage of the delivery of these remarks is historic.

BEAUTIFY AMERICA

Liz was appointed st aff director and press secretary to the new First Lady.

Although Lady Bird and Liz had very different personal styles, they were both women of action and vision, and together, over the next five years, they pursued an aggressive agenda including, “the most ambitious national environmental effort since Theodore Roosevelt,” according to Lady Bird biographer Julia Sweig. (I can still do a pretty fair imitation of Lady Bird Johnson saying, “Plant a tree, a shrub, or a bush,” with the Texas twang on ‘bush,'”—fodder for comediennes of the era.) The ubiquitous campaign to remove blighted highway billboards and beautify America by planting vegetation became a trademark of Lady Bird’s. A lake and park in Austin in her name perpetuate her legacy.

WAR ON POVERTY

Liz enabled Lady Bird to put a human face on LBJ’s War on Poverty by organizing strategic press tours of Head Start and Job Corps programs across the nation. My mother was then a kindergarten teacher in a small Iowa town. She fought tirelessly for the Head Start program, which, gave disadvantaged youngsters from minority and poorer homes an equal starting point with other 5-year-olds entering the system.

Liz was sometimes dubbed the “P.T. Barnum of the White House,” and was the key mastermind of Lady Bird’s historic and unprecedented Whistlestop campaign tour through the South during the 1964 presidential campaign. In the immediate aftermath of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Southern states were often far from welcoming to the wife of the man who had given Black citizens in the South the right to vote and a leg up on equal rights under the laws of the land.

AFTER THE WHITE HOUSE

Abby Ginzberg

Abby Ginzberg, co-director of “Shaking It Up: The Life and Times of Liz Carpenter” at SXSW on March 10, 2024.

After Johnson’s presidency ended in 1969, (with a populist anti-war backlash against Vietnam that saw my generation in the streets chanting “Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?”), Liz wrote a best-selling book about her White House years, entitled Ruffles & Flourishes. She would write other best-sellers, utilizing her storied wit and her historic experiences in government.

WOMEN’S MOVEMENT

Liz Carpenter got heavily involved in the growing Women’s Movement – a cause that would consume much of her time and energy until the end of her life at the age of 90 in 2010. Bill Clinton appointed her to serve on the White House Council on Aging.

In 1971, she joined feminist leaders such as Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Congresswomen Bella Abzug, and Shirley Chisholm, to co-found a new organization, the National Women’s Political Caucus. This was a nationwide effort to elect more women to public office, eliminate discrimination, and to push forward legislation to improve the lives of women. Soon Liz was campaigning across  the nation, stirring up voters to elect women candidates.

THE ERA

Some fifty years after its introduction, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) finally sailed through Congress in 1972 with huge bipartisan majorities, says the documentary. (*I still have my ERA  bracelet in a drawer somewhere, along with the POW bracelet of a U.S. soldier MIA in action from that era.) Sadly,  however, after many early successes on the state level, the momentum for ratification began to hit speed bumps. That is putting it mildly.

PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY & EAGLE FORUM

Phyllis Schlafly

Activist Phyllis Schlafly wearing a “Stop ERA” badge, demonstrating with other women against the Equal Rights Amendment in front of the White House, Washington, D.C.

The film doesn’t dwell much on Phyllis Schlafly and her Eagle Forum organization, but it should. That is my one criticism of this documentary.  It was Phyllis Schlafly and her anti-equal-rights work compiling lists of ultra-Conservative prominent women and men who were against the ERA that defeated it. Schlafly—who had her own political agenda—smeared the entire equal rights movement as a ploy for lesbians and women libbers and an anti-family movement. That was, at best, an over-generalization, a technique often used by the GOP to gloss over the realities of issues and, at worst, a hypocritical smear job. (*See “the border issue” in 2024). Although I realize that Phyllis Schlafly’s anti-ERA work merits an entire documentary of its own, I think she should at least have been mentioned in this one, as that opponent of the ERA kept it from passing nationwide and has left it mired in oblivion.

Donald Trump’s early organizational work involved getting those lists from the Schlafly organization, which had painted a biased picture of the efforts to achieve equality for women as being “a bunch of women’s libbers bent on destroying the family,” an untrue characterization.Liz Carpenter was called on to co-chair a new organization in 1976 – ERAmerica –focused on ratification by the last hold-out states. She spent several years lobbying states’ legislators, and governors, and galvanizing grassroots support. (It didn’t work.)

LIZ’s HUMOR

One important key to Liz’s success was her dynamic, magnetic personality, including her well-developed sense of humor — reflecting her pioneer roots and Texas-sized, can-do moxie. Humor was always integral to her identity and effectiveness. Like other recognizable Texas women such as Governor Ann Richards and journalist Molly Ivins, Liz was high-energy and innately funny, with a knack for shaking things up. Her life was spent trying to create a more just, democratic, beautiful and humane world.

CONCLUSION:

The archival clips, alone, are worth seeing this well-done documentary. It is a slice of 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s life and history. It details efforts— some successful, some futile— to advance equality for women world-wide, battles that Liz Carpenter helped lead.

While I have a few reservations about soft-pedaling the tactics of the opposition faced in the seemingly never-ending struggle for equality that women in the United States and the world face, this fine film goes a long way to showing how it can be done, if enough courageous, influential women remember Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s line, “And yet she persists.” See this one if, like me, you lived through it. If you didn’t, you need the history lesson,

“MoviePass/MovieCrash” Premieres at SXSW 2024

The very first day of SXSW 2024 a 96-minute documentary entitled “MoviePass/MovieCrash,” directed by Muta’ Ali,  had its World Premiere at the Alamo Theater on Lamar Boulevard. It chronicled how two black entrepreneurs—Stacy Spikes and Hamet Watt—spent a decade developing a way to bring the masses back to the theater experience with a credit card-like approach to movie-going called MoviePass. They described it as “Netflix for movies.” Initially, the two founders had the idea that a movie patron would pay somewhere between $39.95 to $50 monthly to be able to attend 2 movies a month. At first, AMC was going to help roll it out; that all changed with a change in AMC leadership. So no special pricing for MoviePass subscribers.

MONEY NEEDED

Although the Black developers were quite qualified—Stacy Spikes had been Vice President of Marketing for Miramax Pictures and had handled the publicity of films like “Trainspotting” and “Scream,”— they didn’t have access to the kind of investment money to make MoviePass a reality. MoviePass needed seed money. Since only 1 to 3% of investment money goes to minorities or women, the Black entrepreneurs turned to Chris Kelly, a white guy and former general counsel for Facebook. Kelly had once run for Attorney General of California; he lost to Kamala Harris. Kelly was genuinely enthusiastic about the MoviePass project.

Kelly immediately gave the entrepreneurial duo $500,000 of his own money. He soon followed the first half-a-million with a second $500,000 of his own money. It wasn’t enough. Investors would have to be found. And it would be better for MoviePass’s fund-raising if the leadership of MoviePass were white, not Black. Or would it?

2 WHITE GUYS REPLACE THE 2 BLACK FOUNDERS

Chris Kelly

Chris Kelly, entrepreneur; investor in “MoviePass”

Chris Kelly (donor of the first million in seed money) suggested bringing in a guy named Mitch Lowe to facilitate securing more funding. According to Wikipedia, Lowe was president of Video Droid from June 1984 to March 1998.[4][5] After Video Droid, Lowe was vice president of Business Development and Strategic Alliances for Netflix from March of 1998 to January 2003.[6] Then, at McDonald’s Corporation, Lowe was Senior Director and VP of Operations from May 2003 to December 2005.[7] After McDonald’s, Lowe worked at Redbox as Chief Operating Officer (2005 to 2009) and President (2009 to 2011).[8]  Mitch Lowe’s insertion into the company seemed logical. But Mitch Lowe  brought in Ted Farnsworth, and Ted Farnsworth may be the biggest scam artist since Mike Lindell and My Pillow.

It was Farnsworth who coined the slogan “Any theater. Any movie. Any day.” And the original plans to charge a higher amount that might have yielded a slight profit (or at least allowed the company to break even) was jettisoned in favor of a ridiculously low fee of $9.95 that gave users unlimited access to movies any time anywhere. Some users appear onscreen and admit to seeing “Crazy Rich Asians” 14 times. (Makes you wonder.) The audience member next to me, from L.A., described how the MoviePass card quit working properly and calls to management were not answered. The apps kept going down. The servers were getting annhialated.

This situation seemed very familiar to me. During SXSW my SXSW-Go Express pass app continuously failed to work at exactly 9 a.m. each morning , usually when the most popular films were in hot demand (“The Fall Guy,” “Bon Jovi”). Three of us manned my phone, computer and Ipad to no avail. I was able to get exactly zero Express passes during 8 days, but I did get up each morning at what is, for me, the absurdly early hour of 8:30 a.m. to attempt to use it and, yes, it is exhausting to continually be told to “check back later.” In my own defense, I had used the App successfully in the years 2017-2023. I even had Tech Support check my phone at registration to make sure the “code” was properly linked. From then on I was continuously told to put in the same “code,” which I did. Alas, I got nowhere fast and was turned away from most popular films without the unattainable Express Pass. (3 a week was the limit; I got 0 in 8 days). This is something like what the L.A. user of MoviePass described to me from his days as a MoviePass  subscriber.

CASH CRUNCH

Muta' Ali Muhammad

Director of “MoviePass,MovieCrash” Muta’ Ali Muhammad.

The cash crunch for MoviePass was on; the influx of capital was paramount. Mitch Lowe suggested bringing in a second white guy named Ted Farnsworth. One of the two original Black founders, Hamet Watt described Watt as “slick” and said, “I could tell that we didn’t share the same values.” That’s putting it mildly.

Farnsworth and Lowe reconfigured the board so that they had the power. Soon Hamet Watt was relieved of his duties, while Stacy Spikes was kept on and made COO. As Spikes said in the documentary, “We took the money and we didn’t ask what you want to get out of it. You’re set up to fail.”

NEGATIVE SPIRAL

When Stacey Spikes, whose original idea this was, questioned business decisions the white guys were making, he was told, “this is a company, not a family.” At this point, a relevant clip of the Anger Translater from Key & Peele provided just the right degree of levity to the otherwise bland recitation of who was funding what and how things were going. The answer, under the new white guys, was: not well. Although they were giving interviews to whomever asked that promised that everything was possible, they had no special pricing deal with the movie companies and there was no way that the $9.95 price tag would cover the expense of purchasing $11.50 movie tickets for 1.5 million subscribers, especially those that were turning up at theaters 4 and 5 times a week.

Spikes, who had a longer tenure than Watt, said that the sudden influx of subscribers was so intense that they couldn’t keep up with the delivery of the MoviePass credit cards and had to hire a Brinks truck to deliver them nationwide. Things were hectic. The employees who remained on the payroll had to use extension cords to secure electricity. They had to borrow pens from the nearby bank. Seven employees were fielding complaints from unhappy customers nationwide. The customers had gone to their theater of choice only to have their MoviePass cards not work. That was partially because Farnsworth and Lowe had okayed shutting down the cards, especially during the showing of a big hit like “Mission Impossible.” Going to “Crazy Rich Asians” 14 times, as one subscriber did, had become a thing of the past, and a short-lived one, at that.

LOWE & FARNSWORTH

The new leadership of MoviePass eventually fired Stacey Spikes, too. The Dynamic Duo of Lowe and Farnsworth continued to spend money on a lavish scale, hiring unqualified people, going to Coachella and Sundance, backing movies that tanked,  hemorrhaging $250 million in record time. While Stacy Spikes was still with the company, he described the experience as “We’re kind of learning how to fly the plane in mid-flight, and changing it from a two-seater to a Boeing 707.”

Meanwhile, as the former employees tell the story, only 7 employees were handling the phones, answering complaints from dissatisfied customers that their MoviePass didn’t work. They didn’t work because the two white guys were making the passes inoperable during peak periods of demand.All of the funding companies behind MoviePass went bankrupt, as did the company itself, taking with it the $80 million in stock options that the two founders had been promised when they were let go by the two free-wheeling white guys.

CRIMINAL CHARGES

Under Stacy Spikes and Hamet Watt, the company was losing $200,000 a month. Under Mitch Lowe and Ted  Farnsworth that escalated to $30 million a month. It took 10 years to build MoviePass. It only one year to fail under the new leaders. Share value dropped from $8,000 per share to 2 cents. As co-founder Hamet Watt said, “We’re not behind the wheel. We’re not even close to the wheel.”

On November 4, 2022, Mitch Lowe, along with Theodore Farnsworth, the former CEO of MoviePass’ parent company Helios and Matheson Analytics, were each charged with one count of securities fraud and three counts of wire fraud stemming from their time together at MoviePass. They go to trial in September of 2024. Khalid Itum, a former furniture salesman who Farnsworth brought in and promoted, was charged with 2 counts of embezzling  $260,000 during the Coachella fiasco. The two at the top face 20 years in prison if convicted.

Daymon Johns of “Sharktank” fame scoffed at the idea of losing $250 million in investment funding so quickly. With the remark that Lowe and Farnsworth seemed to be pursuing a “Thelma & Louise strategy,” the video of Susan Sarandon and Geena David sailing over the cliff in the convertible earned an appreciative laugh. I have to think that neither Stacy Spikes nor Hamet Watt were laughing, then or now.

CONCLUSION

If there is a happy ending, it is that the original MoviePass concept, after all the bankruptcies, was put up for auction and Stacey Spikes bought it back and, as of 2023, is trying to resurrect MoviePass. He remarked on how entrepreneurial giants like Steve Jobs and Michael Dell left their original companies, but came back after leaving, saying, “I’d never live with myself if I didn’t try.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Plastic People” At SXSW Describes A Harrowing Future

 

Ziya Tong.

Ziya Tong, one of the directors of Canada’s documentary “Plastic People.”

The Canadian documentary “Plastic People,” directed by Ben Addelman and Ziya Tong, had its World Premiere at SXSW on Saturday, March 9th, 2024. It is an absolutely terrifying piece of detective work, investigating how our fixation on plastic came to be and what plastic is doing to us. The synopsis said: “Plastic People is a landmark feature documentary that chronicles humanity’s fraught relationship with plastic and one woman’s mission to expose shocking new revelations about the impact of microplastics on human health.”

Directors of the Canadian documentary are Ben Addelman and Ziya Tong. Producers: Vanessa Dylyn, Stephen Paniccia.  Ben Addelman also wrote the screenplay.The film explores the origins of plastic (petroleum products) and suggests that, “Now we’re realizing that we made some big mistakes…We’re finding them wherever we look in the human body.”

Noting that 83% of tap water has plastic in it, the experts tell us, “We are slowly turning into plastic people.” Among other cheerily prophetic statements are these: “We are poisoning ourselves with our own hands. We are producing poisonous food.” And Christy Tyler, a PhD scientist says, “Every single person is exposed.”

BIG MONEY

Plastic People documentary at SXSW 2024.

“Plastic People” at SXSW 2024.

The income of makers of plastic is mind-boggling. With the efforts to curb the production of vehicles that use gas, the makers of plastic are looking at other ways to push up production and sales. One avenue was to support the single use of plastic, rather than recycling. Furthermore, says the film, the myth that some plastic can be recycled is pretty much that, since less than 10% of plastic, worldwide, gets recycled. (Forget the handy-dandy little recycle symbol.)

The film documents the following money made by big petroleum:

BASF – $65 billion

Exxon obil – $231 billion annual revenue

Dow Chemical – $48 billion

SABIC – $35 billion

Chevron Phillips – $3 billion

Plastic bottles used daily? 1.5 billion. Two million plastic bags are used every minute, amounting to 400 tons a year.

The film asks whether we want “to destroy the world to enrich a few?”

THE VERY BAD

plastic waste that is recyclable?

“Plastic People” at SXSW.

The entire message of the film is depressing. It doesn’t get any better when we see Dr. Celticki performing a brain operation and noting the presence of plastic that has crossed the blood-brain barrier. “If it can go to the brain, it can go everywhere,” he says. His message, “We are living in a synthetic world made mostly of plastic.”

Transferring all of this to an unborn generation means risking losing that entire generation. The effects of all of these chemicals on our bodies may not become clear for decades. What kinds of chemicals are we talking about?

Dibutylphthalate, Bisphonol A, Diethylnexyl phthalate, Decabro modiphenyl ether, hexabromo cyctodecane, perfluoralkyl and polyfluoralkyl nonyl phenol. All of them bad, of course.

All of these chemicals in our modern-day world have led to major increases in breast cancer, prostate cancer, and thyroid cancer. It is well-known that chronic inflammation is a precursor to serious illnesses. Fracking is another example of a very bad idea, health-wise.

In Portland, Texas a local resident talks about how the nearby Gulf Coast Growth Ventures Exxon Mobil plant spews pollution (1.6 tons of ethylene) and burns so brightly that you can come outside and read a newspaper at night.

PREVIOUS FILMS ABOUT POLLUTION

Plastic People documentary at SXSW.

“Plastic People” at SXSW.

Like the movie “Erin Brockovich,” Diane Wilson of San Antonio, who was defending the fishing industry, described taking on 10 chemical plants that were dumping 5 million gallons of toxic waste daily. (“Corporations do not have a conscience.”) She sued Formosa and won a $50 million-dollar settlement.  Her fight reminded me  of that waged against Teflon coating in frying pans by Mark Ruffalo’s character in the 2019 film “Dark Waters” or the 1998 John Travolta film “A Civil Action.”

RESOLUTIONS

Plastic People documentary

“Plastic People” documentary at SXSW 2024.

At film’s end, a Rwanda effort to curb single-use plastics is lauded, but its spokesperson says, “We need big countries to ban the use of single use plastic items.” The watchword is RESTRAIN and REDUCE (but nobody’s doing it).

CONCLUSION

This is not a “happy” film, but it is a necessary one. The scripted line, “Only when the problem becomes too big do we ask the questions” struck home. That sentiment also applies to climate change.  The weird weather anomalies that we are all experiencing now have come about because we have ignored a major problem for much too long.

One small bright spot was how the Philippines has done some clean-up of their extremely polluted shores. It followed right after the news that the big countries export their waste to the small countries, like the Philippines, something referred to as pollution colonialism. The prophetic word spoken to Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate” (Plastics) has come back to haunt us Big Time.  What we are now seeing is described as “the embodiment of capitalism.”

After watching “Plastic People” I felt like I needed a drink, but straws are out now.

“Bettendorf Talks” Screens at March 10th TV Pilots Program at SXSW 2024

Bettendorf Talks

“Bettendorf Talks” cast.

The improv team of David Pasquiesi and T.J. Jadowski and Director Jack Newell attended the World Premiere of their television pilot, “Bettendorf Talks” at the Alamo Theater on Lamar at 3 p.m. on March 10, Sunday, Oscar day. I was rooting for them to hit a home run with a comic take on Bettendorf, Iowa.

Comedy isn’t easy. We can’t all be David Sedaris or Neil Simon. It’s hard to find “something new under the sun,” and go forth to mint comedy gold. However, the two leads have established themselves as funny improvisational partners on the Chicago scene. Their track record is good.  I’ve seen Pasquiesi’s work at the Windy City Film Festival where he was brilliant portraying a brain-injured pianist.

So, I really wanted to root for “Bettendorf Talks.”

As someone who had two businesses in Bettendorf for close to 20 years I was eager to see this comedy that would focus on a place I know well. The synopsis in the SXSW program says: “A sharp and smart show-within-a-show, Bettendorf Talks is both a witty workplace comedy and the newest (and most unlikely) local talk show to come out of the titular Midwestern Quad City. Hosted by the has-been comedy duo T.J. Jagodowski and David Pasquesi (who star as hilarious caricatures of themselves), the two attempt to mount a hit show in search of a sliver of their former glory.”

“Each episode follows our ensemble for one day of the writing, producing and airing of our program as T.J. & Dave grapple with how to live in these new, lesser roles, the team around them deal with T.J. & Dave, and Margaret fights to keep the show going because it’s always one day away from being canceled.”

The leads (Dennis Pasquiesi and T.J. Jadowski) are very funny when doing improv. The supporting cast, including the band called The Assassination Band (Brian King, Dave Cottini, Pete Cimbalo, Adam Krier and Phil Karmets) are good and featured onscreen. The supporting cast members, especially Nnamdi Ngwe, were fine.

T.J. Jagodowski

T.J. Jagodowski of “Bettendorf Talks.”

BACKGROUND

There have been comedies set around radio stations (“WKRP in Cincinnati”) and television shows (“Mary Tyler Moore Show”). Perhaps the pinnacle of comedy shows focusing on television shows was “The Garry Shandling Show.” Others, like “Community” and “Parks and Recreation” (and, for that matter, “Cheers”) have built good shows around feelings of work site comraderie in various settings. The idea of following the ensemble for one day of writing, producing and airing of the program was a good one. It is easy to see the quirks that are being developed for future comic use, should the pilot make it to air (which I hope it does). Writer/Producer/Star Pasquiesi, in his remarks after the pilots aired, said he and his partner wanted to make an entertaining comedy show like many of those that used to exist.

The on-air team here is described as “an unmotivated deeply disorganized group of individuals.” That charge can be fairly made about the characters in some of the other classic comedy shows mentioned.

Tim Kazurinsky

Tim Kazurinsky

Tim Kazurinksy.

Tim Kazurinksy–who was part of the comedy ensemble on “Saturday Night Live” from 1981 to 1984—has a small role as the annoying older owner of the station, who constantly hums or does similarly annoying things while the team is trying to conduct a live talk show. The character Margaret, who manages the station, is his niece. It’s a good thing Kazurinsky’s real name is used (he plays the station owner), because he might be difficult to recognize otherwise. I saw him in Chicago doing something post-SNL years ago; haven’t seen him since. The Margaret character is attempting to be the lynch-pin holding the show together. It was easy to see the conflict that would develop, if the series goes further.

THE MATERIAL

Jack C. Newell

Jack C. Newell, Director of “Bettendorf Talks.”

There was a bit about the Borden 24-hour towing company. It didn’t work for me, but  the snide asides did, including the reference to a poorly-made commercial. The child calling in the tow of David’s car was not clearly defined (for me) as being anyone’s illegitimate son, but, hopefully, there’s time for that in future episodes. (I hope he doesn’t quickly grow out of the role as happened on “Three and A Half Men”).

There were jabs at businesses that have ceased to exist (Border’s, K-Mart). Those remarks seemed  universal, as opposed to being a shortcoming specific to the small town of Bettendorf, Iowa. Probably a good relatable thing for other small towns in America losing their chain stores.

The bit about “which one of the Quad Cities is best” with Rock Island entering the competition was well-received by the crowd present at the premiere. I’m not sure it deserved throwing on long white wigs and judges’ robes to drive home the point that each of the several cities in the Quad Cities maintains that IT is “the best.” (“We shall not use superlatives in discussing the Quad Cities.”)

At some point, hopefully, the comedy duo will get around to actually naming the Quad Cities. It’s a two-state area, with the slogan “joined by a river” and there are about 350,000 souls residing there in the states of Illinois and Iowa, joined by I-74 (down from a one-time high of 500,000.).The map in the background didn’t help and was partially obscured. I wondered if shooting in one state was influenced by state “perks” financially, which is part of the game. I remember that there was a big scandal within the state of Iowa during a brief film Renaissance, when it emerged that someone had been playing fast and loose with the funds for making movies in the state. One very good movie (“Sugar”) came out of those halcyon days, set in Davenport’s John O’Donnell Stadium, but the scandal seemed to, at least temporarily, turn off the spigot for money for movies in Iowa. It’s too bad, because the Quad Cities is a very pretty area with many historic homes and locations that filmmakers could utilize. But does Iowa give filmmakers the breaks that Illinois does? (A good question for a Q&A, if there had been one aimed at this specific film and not at all six of them.)

Bettendorf Talks cast

Bettendorf Talks” stars T.J. Jagodowski (left), David Pasquesi, and Director Jack C. Newell at the TV Pilot Screening on March 10th at the Alamo Lamar Theater at SXSW.

I’ve lived in the area since 1968. I still can’t figure out which exact cities are “the Quad Cities.” Why are there only four cities implied by the name when there are really more like nine? You’ve got Davenport, Bettendorf, Pleasant Valley and LeClaire in Iowa and Moline, East Moline, Rock Island, Silvis, and Hampton on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River which is 9 cities. (Go figure). In February of 1996 there was a popular song by a group called the Quad City D.J’s, (“C’mon N’ Ride the Train”). When the Quad City D.J.’s were asked about their name, it emerged that they were simply driving through the area and selected the name randomly. They were from Jacksonville, Florida. Seems about right.

In the pilot there’s talk of a dentist who brings on a dangerous rodent and sells whippets out of the back of a truck. There was an actual local doctor (an accordion enthusiast) who had Friends in High Places and his life’s adventures would make for some good comic Bettendorf fodder, but he did not sell wild animals. He was more into politics and hooking up with much-younger Miss Iowa pageant contestants. (Hmmmm…sounds familiar on the national scene.)

There’s a gag about a manure shop burning (“an actual shit show”), plus lines like “I’ve got my Grandma’s gams” to which the response is “How does she get around.” [*I haven’t heard a line like that since “I just flew in from Chicago and boy are my arms tired!”]

A couple representative lines:

“Don’t have a sponsor on as a guest…Let him buy a badly-produced commercial like everybody else.”

“Your buddy gets drunk and takes a dump in your gas tank…Happens every week.”

THE GOOD

David Pasquesi

David Pasquesi of “Bettendorf Talks.”

The leads (Dennis Pasquiesi and T.J. Jadowski) are very funny. The supporting cast, including  The Assassination Band (Brian King, Dave Cottini, Pete Cimbalo, Adam Krier and Phil Karmets) are good and featured onscreen. The supporting cast members (Sadieh Rifai, Emma Pope, Cassie Kramer,Nnamdi Ngwe, Tim Kazurinksy) were fine.

So far, aside from a few exteriors (Logomarcino’s, which is actually in Moline, not Bettendorf; WQAD’s headquarters which is mis-identified as being in East Moline—it’s in Moline), it doesn’t look like the film is being shot in the actual Quad Cities. Most scenes were in the purported studio. It would be nice if it were actually shot in Bettendorf (and Iowa),  because, as I’ve been saying to those on the Illinois side of the river for some time now, “Will the last one out of the Quad Cities please turn out the lights?”

I was quite excited to learn that a funny comedy TV show might be focusing on the Quad Cities, since Chicago has taken up all the bandwidth on television for years now with shows depicting what goes on there (“Chicago P.D.”, “Chicago Fire,” Is Chicago Shit Show next?). Manure (shit) jokes proliferated in both of the better pilots. Audience present this day approved of most, a good sign. However, never under-estimate the intelligence of the audience. [Except we are living through a particularly odd time, nationally, that makes one wonder about that old truism]

I guess we can’t always have a local city coming up a big winner (as Rock Island did in “The Blues Brothers.”) But there can still be some unique, original jokes associated with Bettendorf that this team can produce, if given more time.

CONCLUSION

David Pasquiesi and his partner T.J. Jagodowski are talented and funny. It’s a good start. The material is  not quite up to their normal comedic standards right now, but I hope a distributor will give it time to develop on the air. Seems that is the way most of the Great Comedy Series started out before catching on with audiences.

Good luck to the team!

 

“Audrey” Has World Premiere at SXSW 2024

Jackie VanBeek as Ronnie in "Audrey".

“Audrey” at SXSW 2024.

First-time Australian feature director Natalie Bailey has crafted a tale of a dysfunctional family from a Lou Sanz script. It had its World Premiere at SXSW on March 10th, 2024. The synopsis for the film : “Self-appointed Mother of the Year, Ronnie has given her daughter Audrey everything, so when Audrey selfishly falls into a coma, Ronnie has no choice but to keep their dreams alive by assuming her identity.”

BACKGROUND

Some background for what initially sounded like a comedy: Ronnie Willis Lipsick is the married mother of two daughters, Audrey and Norah. Norah, the youngest, has cerebral palsy. Audrey, the eldest, is a rebellious teenager who has a poor relationship with her mother.

Ronnie, portrayed by New Zealand actress Jackie VanBeek, won awards appearing as a young actress in  “Jillaroo.” That was 18 years ago. Now, Ronnie seems to be attempting to live her life over through  her daughter, Audrey. It isn’t going well.

Audrey (Josephine Blazier) , rather than appreciating her mother’s helicopter parenting, is a surly, sullen teenager with a bad attitude. Audrey’s rebelliousness brings comments from Mom like, “I don’t want you diddling away your time with boys,” Or, “The future is not something you find in the back seat of a car.” Audrey is fairly representative of 50% of American teenage daughters. (Trust me on this; I raised one).

AUDREY VERSUS NORAH

Norah and Audrey in 'Audrey."

Norah and Audrey in “Audrey” (SXSW, 2024).

Audrey says things to her mother like, “You’re a shit actress, and you know it. You just quit before anyone else realized it.”  Audrey also posts a video on her social media account ridiculing Mom that goes viral. It reduces Ronnie to tears.

Since Norah  (Hannah Diviney) is confined to a wheelchair with muscular dystrophy, she is  left alone by Mom. That may be why she comes off as the more likeable of the two sisters. Although Norah has her moments, as evidenced by her behavior when she sits bedside next to her comatose older sister in the hospital. Norah doesn’t express any affection for Audrey, even when encouraged by Mom.

Dad Cormack (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor) initially seems to be almost a non-factor in the family dynamic. As the plot progresses, Audrey falls from the roof and ends up in a coma; (not sure I’d use the adjective “selfishly.”) Cormack’s part takes on surprising new dimensions beyond the role of grieving father. He seems to be sexually out-of-control, in a kind of creepy fashion.

THE GOOD

Lou Sanz’s script had some great lines. My own personal favorites were: “If there’s one thing your Mom can do, it’s make a killer lemonade,” and “I’m going to take care of you, like any good mother would.”

The cinematography by Simon Ozilin is equally good, especially in the climactic scenes when the camera cuts from Ronnie playing Medea onstage (“Oh, doomed children of an unloved mother…”) to what is going on back at the house between Audrey and her friend Max.

THE BAD

“Audrey” and Mom Ronnie in the Australian film “Audrey” at SXSW.

The adult Ronnie misrepresents herself as her teen-aged daughter at an audition. That presents obvious problems. For Ronnie, trying to portray ages 13 through 25 is a stretch. Initially, I thought this would be addressed with an all-out comic tone.

However, the plot, described as “an exploration of the human psyche” never really goes for funny. It goes for (more-or-less) serious with a few comic situations. Again, not sure I’d say someone “selfishly” fell off a roof, but that sort of adjective choice in the synopsis led me to think this was going to be a funny movie.

TONE

For me, the subject matter didn’t really go far enough in either direction. It’s either going to be a light-hearted examination of the mother/daughter relationship when the daughter is difficult (think “Lady Bird”) or it’s going to be a serious, touching drama that examines the statement, “We need to take the time to acknowledge that our lives aren’t always as we would wish.” (“American Beauty”). It tries to keep a foot in both worlds.

I was at a performance of George Carlin’s in Chicago when Carlin was performing a sketch about suicide. (In his defense, it was near the end of his career and his health was not good.) The attempt to make comedy out of such a serious subject did not work. It caused many in the audience to streak for the exits.

The resolution of “Audrey” has the same problem. Despite some great scripted lines from Lou Sanz, when I asked Director Natalie Bailey about the film’s tone, she responded, “Morally, you have to choose where you stand. “ An interesting position, which reminds of this line from the script: “The world’s a broken place these days.”

CONCLUSION

Audrey's parents at the hospital after she falls from the roof.

“Audrey” at SXSW 2024.

I could relate to the situation the film explores. I’m the mother of a teenaged daughter (and was once a rebellious teenager, myself). However,  I couldn’t embrace Ronnie walking away Scott-free at film’s end. Just as the audience for Carlin found his comic premise unacceptable, while I enjoyed the acting and the expert execution by this first-time feature director (especially the finale), I was disappointed by the moral position the film chose to take.

Maybe the recent court case in my home town area where a mother was found to have stuffed the dead body of her elementary school-aged son in a trash can in the garage for months played into my moral position. To say it was shocking is putting it mildly. The resolution of that case (in Rock Island, IL) did not point to child abuse or murder, however, as the death itself seems to have been an accident that the mother was made aware of (child playing with gun) only after the fact. She wasn’t even home when it happened.  Still, respect for life and protecting one’s child  at all costs and—if the worst happens—providing a decent burial or decent treatment for the youngster seemed the least a parent (no matter how shocked or unprepared for the event) should do. Somehow, a different ending for this one seemed like a better (or more acceptable?) idea.

(Whatever happened to happy endings?) 

Page 1 of 51

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén