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: Television Page 1 of 18

Glen Powell Inducted into Texas Hall of Fame (5/15/2024)

Glen Powell

Glen Powell onstage at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas, at the screening of his new film “Hit Man” on Mau 15th, 2024.

Hollywood heartthrob and Austin (Texas) native Glen Powell was inducted into the Texas Hall of Fame at the Paramount Theater in downtown Austin (Texas) on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. Powell’s newest film, directed by Austin director Richard Linklater, “Hit Man” screened after his remarks to the assembled audience.

The Netflix extravaganza was by random drawing from those who were members of the Austin Film Society and there were assigned seats throughout the venue. While I would normally have attempted to apply for Press Credentials, our original plans were to leave town on Monday, but things changed for us and, when I learned I would be in town after all, I applied and was selected for the screening.

Lots of directions were sent to us, including where to park for free parking. I, of course, could not find the right parking area, and ended up paying $51 for parking. But the movie (and the free popcorn and pop that was provided) were well worth that price of admission. Much like tickets to movies in Chicago for members of the corresponding Chicago film society, you have to show up early to claim them, and that meant 5:45 p.m. I thought I’d dine at the nearby Roaring Fork restaurant in downtown Austin, my favorite restaurant in the city, but that was not to be, as we were herded in and basically spent the time waiting around for the induction of Powell, which was to precede the showing of his new film at 7:30 p.m.

Hit Man Ticket.

Hit Man Ticket.

I was given a seat quite near the front of the stage, which was great. My only problem was that all the photographers working kept standing in front of me, but I still managed to get the shots you’ll see here.

Powell was introduced by local Austin director Robert Rodriguez, who shared that he had been the first to cast Powell in a film when he was 14 years old. (Powell is now 35). The film was “Spy Kids 3D: Game Over” and young Powell worked alongside Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Holland Taylor, Ricardo Montalban, Sylvester Stallone, Salma Hayek, Mike Judge, Cheech Marin, Salma Hayek and Alan Cumming. Rodriguez wrote and directed the film and it started Powell on a film career that has included such films as “Top Gun: Maverick (2022), “Anyone But You,” “The Dark Night Rises” (2012), “Hidden Figures,” “Devotion” and—coming soon—“Twisters.”

When we entered the theater, there were white cowboy hats on some seats, which were assigned to Powell family members. At the end of the entire evening, many of the friends and family that Powell called out during his brief speech joined him onstage for photos.

Powell family members gather at the end of the evening for photos.

Richard Linklater and Glen Powell

Richard Linklater and Glen Powell on May 15, 2024, at the screening of his new Netflix film “Hit Man.”

Powell seems to be a genuinely good guy, who thanked four of his teachers, present for the film and the ceremony. Peggy Langford, Powell’s kindergarten teacher earned a shout-out. Fifth grade teacher Julia Allen earned kudos, with the additional comment that she taught him about working for what you want and delayed gratification. “Thank you for that lesson,” he said. “It’s really paid off. Coach Wood instilled in Powell the importance of “showing up” and a counselor (whose surname I will probably butcher), Michelle Caterez helped young Powell “work the system” when he continued to try to continue acting. “Thank you for continuing to game the system” he said, with a smile. Tenth grade Creative Writing teacher Dr. Shack let Powell attempt to learn screenwriting while still in high school, and introduced him to Director Richard Linklater, as well as Linklater’s long-time editor, Sandra Adair, who was the editor for this night’s film. It’s pretty impressive when someone famous hands out kudos to the teachers who helped them along the way, (says the teacher who taught from 1969 until 2005).

The most touching moment came when Powell thanked his always-supportive parents, who were always there for him. “It’s incredible to have wonderful parents,” he said, “truly incredible.” (Brief pause) He described how his parents were present for every one of his 26 performances in “The Sound of Music” as a young boy. He also said that his kindergarten teacher had told his parents to encourage his interest in performing.

Richard Linklater.

Writer Director Richard Linklater in Austin on March 15th.

He threw in mentions of Aunts Honey and Taffy, sisters Lauren and Leslie, and his father, the original Glen Powell.

I’ve attended other inductions into the Texas Hall of Fame (and photographed same). This one was more personal and more meaningful, as it highlighted a rising star who has already achieved his goal but will undoubtedly continue on an upward trajectory.

Director Robert Rodriguez and Glen Powell.

Powell with Robert Rodriguez, his first director.

Retta in Hit Man.

Retta at the Paramount.

Connie Wilson

Enjoying the evening. which was truly memorable. My new found friend (in line) was in the Mezzanine.

Glen Powell

Glen Powell

 

Adria Arjona

Adria Arjona, co-star of “Hit Man” onstage at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas on May 15, 2024.

 

Glen Powell & Richard Linklater Hit It Big with “Hit Man” on May 15, 2024

Austin’s own Richard Linklater and Netflix showed his latest film, “Hit Man,” to a packed audience on Wednesday, May 15th at the Paramount Theater in downtown Austin. Prior to the showing of the comedy/film noir, its lead and co-writer, Glen Powell, was inducted into the Texas Hall of Fame, established in 2001 by Linklater to honor those Texans who excel in the film world.

The film was a delight and will start streaming on Netflix in the very near future. It will also be showing at the Alamo Drafthouse Chain in Austin (release date June 7, 2024).  The 1 hour 55 minute film is well worth your time. It is based on a true story, as is often the case with Linklater’s films, but poetic license has been taken with the plot. There really was a Gary Johnson, however, who was profiled by Skip Hollandsworth in “Texas Monthly” magazine. Gary Johnson was a college professor and tech guy turned mole for the New Orleans police department (70 arrests). Linklater, who knew the man and had access to records of Johnson’s police work, described him as “the chillest dude ever.”

Richard Linklater and Glen Powell on May 15, 2024, at the screening of his new Netflix film “Hit Man.”

The synopsis on IMDB describes the plot this way:  “A professor moonlighting as a hit man of sorts for his city police department, descends into dangerous, dubious territory when he finds himself attracted to a woman who enlists his services.”  I was reminded of “BlacKkKlansman,” where the real-life exploits of Ron Stallworth as a Black man joining the Ku Klux Klan were explored. The difference in tone between the two films, however, is vast. That’s good news for the audience.

This “Hit Man” (not to be confused with the Michael Fassbender recent release)  is a screwball comedy/film noir with an original plot and excellent acting by Powell, co-star Adria Arjona (“Father of the Bride”) and Retta (“Good Girls”). The screenplay, co-written by Linklater and Powell, was hammered out during phone calls during Covid (“we were never in the same room”), and the film premiered at the Italian film festival in September, during the writers’ strike, causing Linklater to appear pretty much solo to his expressed chagrin.

Since the title character, Gary Johnson, is a college professor, moonlighting as a pretend hit-man, we get some uncharacteristic depth of thought about life and “the eternal mystery of human consciousness and behavior.” Powell’s character says, “I had a knack for being the person they needed me to be” of his hit man persona and adds, “I had somehow found my stage.”

Glen Powell onstage at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas, at the screening of his new film “Hit Man” on Mau 15th, 2024.

The talented (and good-looking) Powell, seen in the comedy “Anyone But You” as well as “Top Gun: Maverick” (2022), has been aiming at a Hollywood career since age 14, when he appeared in “Spy Kids 3D: Game Over.” His remarks prior to the film reveal an Austin native who loves Texas and loves making movies. (“The most fun job on the planet.”)

More about his touching remarks about family (he choked up at one point) and significant teachers (he called out four of them in the audience by name) after discussing this truly interesting look at the life of a bogus hit man.  Powell says “All pie is good pie” a lot, in the encounters that we see onscreen, and I’ll add, “All plot twists here are good twists” building on that.

THE SCRIPT

The screenwriting duo (Linklater and Powell) apparently had a great time writing the script during Covid and the cast contributed by improvising some of the best lines that remain in the film. Co-star Sanjay Rao (Phil) said his favorite line (of Retta’s) that made it into  the final film was her remark that she would “rip out my IUD for Ron,” the cool guy persona that Gary Johnson adopted for his encounters with would-be customers. (That line brought a big laugh from the crowd).

It is not often that we get a philosophical discussion of the difference between cat people and dog people in an otherwise comic film. “Dogs are too needy. They’re like people. We beg for more…embarrass ourselves for the scraps of others.” Another line that amused was the remark that if a man is sitting alone, reading “Catcher in the Rye,” “historically speaking, that is never a good sign.”

The depth of the discussion(s) of change and role playing, the Id versus the Ego, and morality, as such, is unusual for a comedy that we might call “lightweight.” It IS lightweight, in the sense that this expert ensemble has turned a complex plot with loads of frothy humor into an exploration of so many deeper issues., one being change.

A few lines to illustrate:

“Your reality will change over time in ways that you cannot even imagine.”

“Seize the identity you want for yourself. Life is short. You gotta’ live on your own terms.”

And, in a line reminiscent of Tom Cruise in Risky Business, “Sometimes, you just gotta’ make a move.” (Sidelight: Cruise, who headlined “Top Gun: Maverick” (2022), where we see Powell playing beach volleyball, paid for Powell to take flying lessons, so Powell is now a registered pilot.)

THE SEX SCENES

Editor Sandra Adair (who visited Powell’s classroom when he was in high school), after editing one of the film’s truly hot sex scenes said, “I thought the screen was going to melt in the editing room!” (Side note: the film’s 35-year-old leading man supposedly broke up with his model girlfriend in 2023.)

Adria Arjona, co-star of “Hit Man” onstage at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas on May 15, 2024.

There are so many good sex scenes that it’s hard to point to which ones are the best. There’s the dancing sene in a nightclub called Virgo. There’s the tub scene. There’s the role play when Aria’s character, Madison “Maddy” Figueros, dresses up as a flight attendant to play seductress. The chemistry onscreen is hot, hot, hot. After the movie, during the Q&A, Adria Arjana said, “You have seen a lot of me tonight.”

The IMDB website gives the release date as June 7th. It’s a very good movie. It’s original, and you’ll enjoy it on so many levels. The cell phone scene alone is worth the price of admission.

Don’t miss this Hit Man. And remember when discussing the plot’s resolution: “There are no absolutes, oral or epistemological, in life.”

(*Induction into the Texas Hall of Fame remarks to follow; stay tuned).

“Hacks” Season Three Premieres @ SXSW on March 9, 2024

The Premiere of season 3 of “Hacks” (HBO Max) took place at noon on March 9th at SXSW. It was truly an audience of devoted fans. The feeling in the Paramount Theater was equal parts anticipation and shared enthusiasm, which is not always the case at SXSW. Everyone there knew they were in for a great time, although there was a remark about how it was pretty early for comedy. Saturday, March 9th in Austin, Texas, both Smart and Einbinder were at SXSW in person. Both looked great. Smart got a standing ovation.

SEASON 2

Jean Smart & Hannah Einbinder of "Hacks."

SXSW Season Premiere of “Hacks” with Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder during the Q&A on March 9th. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

At the end of season two, Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) fired Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder).  Deborah reassured Ava that the firing would be good for Ava’s comedy writing career. It is quite clear that the separation has hurt Ava more than it has hurt Deborah. You feel that Deborah is a mother figure for Ava; Ava felt abandoned. Of course, there was the unfortunate spilling of Deborah Vance stories to a journalist and the lawsuits on both sides last season. But, never fear, the dynamic duo is back together again for season three’s nine episodes.

The viewership for season two’s first episode increased +125% over the first episode of season one. It isn’t difficult to understand why if you’ve seen the show. It is top-notch. There are more laughs per episode in “Hacks” than in any other comedy on the air. That is due in no small part to Jean Smart’s savvy portrayal of seasoned veteran comedienne Deborah Vance, a part she seems to have been born to play. Jean Smart is only the second female—Betty White was the first— to win an Emmy in all three categories: leading actress in a comedy, supporting actress in a comedy, and guest star in a comedy series. Glen Weldon of NPR said, “I don’t know if the role of Deborah Vance was written for Smart, but she certainly makes it seem like it was.”

SERIES SUCCESS

Lucia Aniello.

“Hacks” writer Lucia Aniello.

Smart took home the Emmy for the leading actress in a comedy series two years in a row, 2021 and 2022. Hannah Einbinder is also great and has earned nominations for her work as Deborah’s sidekick. Einbinder is wonderful in the first two episodes of Season Three and we learn more about her personal life apart from her career. Hannah is the daughter of SNL original cast member Laraine Newman. The comic chemistry and timing the two bring to the screen is a magical part of the success of “Hacks.” The series won the Emmy, a Peabody award, a Critics’ Choice award, the DGA, SAG, WGA and GLAAD awards.

SERIES SIZZLE

“Hacks’” wardrobe department makes it clear that glitter is back with a vengeance. The Disco era’s demand to return its glitz is being ignored. I have noticed the increase in sparkly clothes being worn by average concert-goers here in Austin. Check out the wardrobe for “Hacks.” You’ll get the idea in the opening sequence for series three. We see a tall woman in a dazzling bejeweled long coat walking confidently into a casino. I’m sure everyone in the theater this Saturday afternoon thought it was Deborah Vance making her entrance. It wasn’t. (Check the trailer above for that glimpse).

SMART’S RESUME

From finding that Jean Smart has been a Type I diabetic since the age of 13 to learning that she lost her husband of 30 years, Richard Gilliland, in March of 2021, it’s been discovery week for me looking back at Jean Smart’s storied career. Delay-wise, there was the writers’ strike, the heart procedure, and the 2 years off television for “Hacks.” It’s hard to feel the funny when negative things impact you.

But veteran character actor Jean Smart is a trooper. She was one of television’s “Designing Women” (1986-1991). She has been in episodes of “Frasier,” “Fargo,” “Watchtower” and, more recently, in 7 episodes of “Mare of Eastwick.” Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”) cast her in  “Babylon” as Elinor St. John, a gossip columnist based on Hedda Hopper and Luella Parsons. In “Hacks” she’s portraying a veteran comedienne based on such pioneering comedy greats as Joan Rivers, Lucille Ball, Phyllis Diller, Elayne Boosler, Rita Rudner, Paula Poundstone and Carol Burnett.

SCHEDULE

Q&A for "Hacks" on March 9th with Jen Statsky, Lucia Aniello, & Paul Downs.

“Hacks” Q&A at SXSW: Jen Statsky, Lucia Aniello, Paul Downs.

“Hacks” has been off the air for two years, leaving those of us who are true fans wondering if it were ever coming back. Didn’t it get renewed? The writer’s strike was given as one of the reasons that the absence was so lengthy. But, in February (2023) Jean Smart announced via her Instagram account that she had had “a heart procedure.” Even now, one department of “Hacks” has supposedly shut down while awaiting her complete recovery. The woman is 73, after all, and enjoying an unparalleled career resurgence.

The plan for season three is to air the Premiere episode (which is great) on HBO on May 3rd and then show two episodes a week until the Finale on May 30th. This season there will be guest stars like Helen Hunt, Christina Hendricks, Christopher Lloyd, George Wallace, and Tony Goldwyn. As for what the season holds, said writer Lucia Aniello, “I think there’s maybe a chasm between where they are respectively, in terms of their points-of-view of each other. I think it really brings up a lot, because they are so obviously invested in each other.”

And we, the audience, are so obviously invested in Deborah and Ava.

Lucia Aniello, Paul Downs, and Jen Statsky ("Hacks")

Lucia Aniello, Paul Downs, and Jen Statsky of ‘Hacks,

Hacks Season 3 Premiere
Showrunners: Paul W. Downs, Lucia Aniello, Jen Statsky, Director: Lucia Aniello, Producers: Jen Statsky, Paul W. Downs, Lucia Aniello, Michael Schur, David Miner, Morgan Sackett
A year after parting, Deborah Vance is riding high off the success of her standup special while Ava pursues new opportunities back in Los Angeles. Cast: Jean Smart, Hannah Einbinder, Paul W. Downs, Megan Stalter, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Kaitlin Olson, Christopher McDonald, Mark Indelicato, Rose Abdoo, Lorenza Izzo (World Premiere)

Billy Preston Bio-Pic “That’s the Way God Planned It” Has World Premiere at SXSW 2024

Billy Preston

Billy Preston, the “Fifth Beatle.”

“Billy Preston: That’s the Way God Planned it” is a documentary from Paris Barclay (“In Treatment,” “Glee”), whose own film accomplishments put him in a class that few can match. It was co-written by Cheo Hodari Coker. This is an outstanding documentary. It  will go right up there with my favorite from last year’s SXSW, “Little Richard: I Am Everything.” (Lisa Cortes) It is a tribute to the man who was multi-talented and always the best musician in the room.

Says the synopsis: “With his signature gospel sound on the Hammond B3, Billy Preston double-handedly elevated the greatest artists of his time – from the Beatles to the Rolling Stones, from Aretha Franklin to Eric Clapton, from Ray Charles to Barbra Streisand to Sly and the Family Stone. In our film, we explore Billy’s career and influence on generations of musicians, as he scored several number one hits of his own and became one of the most sought-after musicians in the world. He did all of this as a soul divided — by his deep roots in the church, in constant conflict with his identity as a gay Black man, searching for a family of his own that would accept him for who he was.”

EARLY LIFE

Preston was an early phenomenon, playing piano and organ from the age of three by ear. In fact, he appeared on television for the first time at the age of 5. He sang a duet of Fats Domino’s song “Blueberry Hill” on Nat King Cole’s television show in 1957 at age 11, and from there his career went straight up, intersecting with nearly every major musical name of the past 60 years.  On film, Preston says “It’s been the way God planned it for me. I’ve never gone out and auditioned.”

Preston himself said, “You don’t know how glad I am that God laid his hands on me.” But, as articulated by Billy Porter (“Kinky Boots” on Broadway), “It’s hard being queer.” Porter, born in 1969, knows how much worse it was for someone like Billy Preston, born in the forties (September 2, 1946). Porter acknowledged that his own ability to openly declare his sexuality is based on those, like Billy Preston, who came before him. Director Paris Barclay, who is President of the Directors Guild of America, is an openly gay Black director of great acclaim.

Very close to his mother, Robbie Preston Williams, the Joe Cocker hit “You Are So Beautiful To Me” was  co-written by Williams for his mom. Robbie is shown playing and singing with Billy. Sadly, she didn’t protect him well enough from those who would take advantage of the youth. Billy was repeatedly molested by a piano player when he was working for the “Amos ‘N Andy” radio show. His mother either didn’t believe him or didn’t want to deal with it. That’s the way it was in 1955.  He also went on a European tour with Little Richard in 1962 when only 16, an experience that he would never discuss.

BEING GAY IN AMERICA

Billy Porter (“Kinky Boots” on Broadway)  appears onscreen commenting. Porter dismissed the idea that early sexual abuse would cause the young boy to become gay. Regardless, the sexual abuse when young did leave Billy Preston psychologically scarred. Preston was very careful not to discuss his sexual orientation. In the era that he grew up in, that was the way it was. It is not something he should have had to do. Porter tells us “God wouldn’t be so narrow-minded.” But I lived through those years. I understand his decision. (Think Liberace and his many lawsuits against those who publicly called him out.)

Narrow-minded defined the growing-up years that Billy Preston was ascending to fame and fortune. His talent was undeniable, but, on a personal level, he suffered. Part of it was his struggle with his sexuality. The Black church, so important in his life, said homosexuality was a sin. But Preston also suffered because he lost his older brother. His brother entered his home smoking a lighted cigarette. He was killed in the explosion that resulted from a gas leak.

Preston did not talk about his brother. He did not discuss the repeated abuse when he was nine. He simply threw himself into music, saying, “Music is my life.”  When not playing with the most famous names of the day he had a ranch in Topanga Canyon and rode horses, a stress-reliever that he shared with the documentary subject whose life story kicked off SXSW 2024, Stormy Daniels. (“Stormy”).

It would take a large book to list every famous musician who  worked with Billy Preston. Onscreen we hear from Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger. There is archival footage, showing Billy collaborating with the Beatles, whom he met in 1963 when touring Europe with Little Richard. The man was a dynamo, playing, singing and dancing.

1960s

When Billy returned to America, he did not talk about the Little Richard Tour, but he did talk about the Beatles. Preston developed a special friendship with George Harrison. Olivia Harrison, George’s widow, is one of the principal cast members speaking onscreen.

In the sixties Billy collaborated with the Beatles on the Abbey Road Album and is the only artist given a credit on a Beatles album for “Get Back:” The Beatles With Billy Preston.  Preston was dubbed “the Fifth Beatle.” Preston played keyboards on the Beatles very last performance from the New York City rooftop on January 30, 1969. He also appeared on television’s “Shindig” as musical director.

1970s

In 1971, Billy would leave Apple for Herb Alpert’s A&M records. He wanted to step out of his identity as just an instrumentalist and be able to do more, including more solo and singing performances.

In 1972, he won a Grammy for “Outa-Space’ as the Best Pop Instrumental Performance. (He was nominated for 9 Grammies and won 2, including Album of the Year in 1973.) In 2021 he was inducted into the rock-and-roll Hall of Fame for musical excellence.

Billy Preston was the Rolling Stones primary touring keyboardist from 1973 to 1977. I saw him on their Bridges to Babylon tour two times, once in Chicago and once in Minneapolis. Mick Jagger appears onscreen and admits to teasing Preston about the many wigs he wore onstage. They allowed the musician to wear a trademark huge Afro onstage, but remove it and become relatively anonymous.

CRACKS IN THE CAREER

Paris Barclay

Paris Barclay, Director of “Billy Preston: That’s the Way God Planned It” at SXSW 2024.

There may have been a romance with a woman named Kathy Silva in the early 70s. If there is a criticism of this documentary, it is how much this was soft-pedaled in the narrative. Whatever the relationship between Preston and Silva, it ended badly when Preston returned home to find her in bed with Sly (of Sly and the Family Stone). Some sources say that Preston swore off women from that point on.

It couldn’t have helped that Silva married Sly onstage in Madison Square Garden shortly afterwards. The film’s point-of-view is that Preston had both male and female lovers; everyone within the loop knew he was gay. His talent was so unparalleled that his homosexuality was not an issue. Perhaps accurate, but such a public betrayal had to cut deep and leave the artist feeling betrayed.

Disputes over money led to Preston’s departure from the Rolling Stones. In 1975 he was also the very first musical guest on the very first airing of “Saturday Night Live.” In 1978 he was cast as Sergeant Pepper in Robert Stigwood’s musical treatment of the famous Beatles album. It involved an all-star cast; it was a failure, which also bothered Preston.

1980s

With the dawn of the eighties and the emergence of disco, Preston’s star began to fade. He was Gospel, rhythm and blues, rock-and-roll—not disco. He became addicted to illegal substances and drank too much. A nighttime program built around comedian David Brenner, “Nightlife,” hired him to be  musical director. The program tanked after one season (1986-1987).

1990s

Preston was asked to tour with The Band in 1991. He did, but he was sentenced for cocaine and assault in 1991. That was the end of his ability to tour. In August, he was sentenced to 9 months in drug rehabilitation (in Malibu) and given 3 months of house arrest. In 1992 he was given 30 days in jail on another offense. There was a sex charge involving a 16-year old youth. (Think Kevin Spacey).

Preston’s intense for money to feed his drug habit became so great that he burned his own house down. When apprehended, he pled guilty to the $1 million insurance fraud and was ordered to prison and to pay $60,000 in restitution.

At this point, the film brings on the judge who sent him to prison, Bernard J. Kamins, a judge in Los Angeles District Court (who said it was his first interview in 80 years). The court appearance was in 1992. Billy Preston was 44 years old and had various probation violations. Although 7 (of 8) charges were dropped the judge felt that if the musician didn’t clean up his act, he’d soon be dead (the Mayo Clinic agreed.) He was sent to Avenol State Prison for a term that ended up being much less than the 4 years for which he was sentenced. However, his health—especially his kidneys—were failing.

BLOWS TO THE MUSICIAN

George Harrison, Billy’s great and good friend, died in 2001. (Preston participated in the Concert for George in November of 2002). His beloved mother Robbie died in 2005 (1917-2005). Even his good friend Eric Clapton said, “I had to let him go” (Clapton tears up after that comment).

Clapton was a kindred soul  and wanted to help Billy heal from his addiction, but it wasn’t happening. Billy’s last session was with Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave). Randy Jackson (of “American Idol”) fame is seen in the footage. We also see Sam Moore and Billy Preston flanking Paul Shaffer on a “Letterman” gig. Preston appeared on one “American Idol” segment.

Billy Preston called his last manager and revealed that he had finally told the others in group therapy that he was gay, something he had refused to do his entire life. He lapsed into a coma four days later, dying on June 6, 2006, in Scottsdale, Arizona (site of a Mayo Clinic facility) at age 60.

CONCLUSION

As one of Preston’s oldest friends, interviewed onscreen said, “How did we let someone like Billy Preston slip away?” She added (to spontaneous audience applause), “Can you imagine if church was really what it says it is?”

Do yourself a favor and make it a double-feature night. Watch the Little Richard documentary (“Little Richard: I Am Everything”) and follow it with “Billy Preston: That’s the Way God Planned It.” The documentary is an absolute gem and extremely well-done.

TV Pilots Screen at SXSW 2024

 

Six TV Pilots screened at SXSW 2024 on Sunday, March 10th. Here are descriptions of four of them.

Tossers Pizza TV pilot.

“Tossers” TV pilot at SXSW.“Tossers”  TV pilot featured a young girl applying for a job at two different pizza delivery services. Pizza Dome features a manager weird enough to drive Sophia from the joint and over to the competitor, Tossers Pizza. The overly attentive manager at Pizza Dome wants to give Sophia “the GT” or Grand Tour.  He talks about Domeo & Juliet and hassles a working employee to make sure that there are exactly 13 pepperoni per pie. There is talk of “slinging some za.” A yellow Gremlin car has a prominent role when Principal Thomson of Salt Lake Middle School calls in to order 125 pizzas by 1 p.m. due to the hot lunch supplies having gone bad. The task seems insurmountable, but, thanks to the emergency run to Foodies to buy more Mozzarella cheese. The showrunners/screenwriters/directors were Chase Block and Bryce Van Leuven and it was dedicated the loving memory of Papa T. It had its moments. My favorite line came when Sophia (who is told she needs to work for free for two weeks as “a trial,” which is a scam to avoid paying the help) assists in delivering a pizza, riding shotgun on the back of a motorcycle. The elderly customer takes one look at her and says to her companion, “She looks slutty.” Sophia, in a perfect deadpan voice, responds, “I’m wearing a helmet.” A relatable concept well executed.

"Marvin Is Sorry" TV pilot at SXSW.

“Marvin Is Sorry” TV pilot at SXSW 2024.

“Marvin Is Sorry” was the story of 25-year-old YouTube influencer Marvin Weaver who accidentally kills one of his fans during the filming of a YouTube video. The stunt was part of Marvin Weaver’s Ice Cap Refreezing Project. The participants are trying to see who can hold their breath the longest underwater. [Having just watched “7 Beats Per Minute” about freedivers who make deep dives without oxygen by holding their breath for more minutes than kills Marvin’s non-winner, the choice of 6 minutes seemed too little.] Marvin, well-played with elan by Sam Song Li, is sorry, as the film’s title suggests—at least at first. Marvin has 35 million subscribers to his YouTube channel but now that is gone.  He is told “No one with morals and a pulse wants you on his show.” Tag Taggart, a far right talk show host with 10 million watchers, however, does want Marvin to guest on the Tag Taggart Show. Pushed to near extinction by the backlash from the stunt gone wrong, Marvin finally gives in and makes an appearance on Tag Taggart’s show. Taggart, says the synopsis, is bent on “cultural domination.” The Tag Line is “life begins before conception.” Cinematographer was Ben Berkowitz. Director Clint Pang should have told his cinematographer that there are microphone booms visible in the upper left screen a lot of the time. The lead (Sam Song Li) saved the project with his personality.

"Neo-Dome" TV pilot screens at SXSW 2024.

“Neo-Dome” TV pilot screens at SXSW 2024.

“Neo-Dome” is a futuristic violent pilot about a woman traveling alone to the utopian dome on the horizon. It is a post-apocalyptic America, suffering economic collapse. Monica Dawes (Anna Camp) stops a car driven by Larry, whose shirt says Homestead Mechanic, his moronic sidekick, and what appears to be an old man asleep in the back seat (but is really a corpse). Monica tells the sketchy duo that she can give them a full tank of gas if they will give her a ride to her car, further down the road. The men are suspicious that Monica is not telling the truth and bargains back-and-forth with them, until things go South and bullets are exchanged. This Texas premiere was written by Matt Pfeffer and directed by Bonnie Discepolo. Producers were Anna Camp, Michael Johnson, and Matt Pfeffer. Cast was Anna Camp, Michael Mosley, Nicholas Logan, Anthony Discepolo. With only Monica still alive, one assumes that a series (of which this was the pilot) would involve other adventures that Monica would have on the road to the Neo-Dome, where the motto is “Trust no one on the road to the Neo-Dome.”

"Lucy & Sara" TV Pilot screens at SXSW 2024.

“Lucy & Sara” has Texas Premiere at SXSW on March 10, 2024.

“Lucy & Sara” – Showrunner/Director Screenwriter was Susan Park. Cast included Susan Park, Nicolette Morrison, Jeremy Joyce and Mark Holgate for this Texas premiere.  The synopsis says it is “a darkly comedic exploration of two unlikely sisters learning to lean on each other after the death of their beloved father in spite of their seemingly toxic relationship.” It was really about one sister urging the other sister to commit suicide, as she seems to be under the impression that her sister is simply “crying wolf.” I once saw George Carlin do a stand-up bit about suicide. People were streaming for the exits. For me, suicide isn’t funny. Especially in today’s climate of girlfriends urging boyfriends (or vice versa) to “just do it” (and some have) the topic seems sketchy. I can’t recommend this one.

“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!

 

TV Pilots Screen at SXSW on Oscar Day, March 10, 2024

The  TV pilot section at SXSW went off at 3 p.m. at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar on Oscar Day (March 10th), with six TV pilot episodes shown, one after another. I did not realize that the program was comprised of all six of the entrants. I was  originally focused on one entitled “Bettendorf Talks.”

Some of the many TV Pilot participants, post March 10th screening.

I may be the only critic here who owned and operated the Best Business in Bettendorf (Iowa) for close to 20 years, so, naturally, I was intrigued by the title alone. I looked up the creators of this TV pilot and contacted (via e-mail) one (of two) of the leads, a very good actor named David Pasquesi, whom I have  seen perform in Chicago. He does improv with his partner, T.J. Jagodowski,—the leads in the TV pilot— but he also acts in other vehicles. He was impressive portraying a brain-damaged pianist in a short that screened at the Windy City Film Festival the same year I had a screenplay in competition.

My e-mail mentioned that I had seen him in that short and I received a friendly response, that suggested he hoped we might meet in Austin. He said he was “looping in” a publicist who was representing the pilot.

I had asked for a screener but was told (by the star) that it was “a World Premiere.” Most of the films here are World Premieres. Generally, a screener is sent with an embargo date and time, which I always abide by.  I did ultimately receive the 18-minute film. Since I was not aware that ALL six of the films would be showing at once, I  prepared remarks for just “Bettendorf Talks,” which I will conscientiously review tomorrow.

I was so enthused about helping publicize the existence of a pilot that might highlight the Quad Cities that I invited the two leads to dinner at my expense, at a very nice downtown restaurant, the Roaring Fork. That invitation was sent (e-mail) on February 22nd. I have only invited one other individual to join me for a meal so I could do an in-depth interview ever in over half a century. That one person was Suzanne Weinert. Here is the link to that piece:  https://www.themovieblog.com/2019/04/writer-producer-director-suzanne-weinert-flatiron-pictures-talks-movies-and-a-good-son/

That is not to say that I have never done interviews that were conducted in spaces provided. Last year, I interviewed the leads of “A Small Light,” a National Geographic special.

My intention for “Bettendorf Talks” was different.

I wanted to run a  lengthy article on “Bettendorf Talks” and its stars and their background(s).  I wanted to help launch “Bettendorf Talks” and I had some Bettendorf stories that the team might be able to use if their pilot were to be picked up.

I literally never heard another word back from anyone, so that plan died. I’m sure the team was busy and may not have even been in town. A note to that effect would have been nice, but I was busy covering “Stormy” on Opening Night, anyway, and it ran late.

The short observations below are in the order of which  were the best of the pilots screened this afternoon:

“Halfrican American” TV Pilot.

  • Halfrican American” – This one came from real life, said its Showrunner/Director/Screenwriter, Zeke Nicholson. The short synopsis in the program said, “Zeke attends a cookout with his boisterous black family and estranged father.” Zeke is from New York, but not THAT New York. As he tells his assembled relatives, he is from Reinbeck. New York, a small town upstate. When his dad asks him what they do in Reinbeck, Zeke mentions antiquing. His father’s hilarious response is “that shit sounds white.” Zeke has already admitted that the most exciting thing that ever happened in Reinbeck is that Chelsea Clinton got married there. Among other laugh-out-loud funny moments were his description of an old photo of himself from high school with chin hair and sideburns as “a chin-strap situation,” admitting that “It kind of looked like a helmet I couldn’t take off.” Zeke meets a sister named Destiny he didn’t know he had (“I don’t meet a new sister every day”) and asks her to help “explain the proper hand service” to him, as he doesn’t seem to have the Black hand signals down completely. There were also jokes about colonoscopies and 6-hour erections, but I’ll leave the shit jokes (quite numerous in the two best pilots) for later, with this one exception: Zeke’s father expresses some opinions about California, a state, he says, where people “howl at the moon.” Walt goes even further suggesting that it’s a place where anything goes, saying, “You could eat your neighbor’s shit and somebody will join you.”

See what I mean?

The cast was vibrant, funny,  lively and the concept seems like one that would “play” well on television today—with some censorship of the racier parts. It was definitely an “A” effort.

  • There’s actually a tie for the two that were second-best, based on today’s viewing:

Bettendorf Talks” and “Tossers” seemed equally funny, but I had prepared remarks for “Bettendorf Talks” only.

“Bettendorf Talks” cast.

This was because I didn’t realize that ALL the pilots would screen one right after another. Also, I thought I might have an opportunity to ask questions of the Bettendorf duo, such as, “Who is the person on your writing team that actually knows the Quad Cities?” There’s always someone. The two young men who created “A Quiet Place” (Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) are from Bettendorf and that film has now become a franchise with John Krasinski at the helm. So make fun of Bettendorf all you want. I don’t live there, and I didn’t grow up there. Go for it, but be funny and witty. I would also mention that the WQAD television station isn’t in East Moline; it’s in Moline. Logomarcino’s? Also in Moline—but this is fine, since we are all “joined by a river”—right? After all, when they shot “Cedar Rapids” (Ed Helms) they used Pittsburgh as a stand-in for C.R.

Let me mention the Top Two pilots (“Halfrican American,” above, and “Bettendorf Talks”)  and resume with lengthier descriptions of the others tomorrow, since it’s Oscar night and it’s now after 3 a.m. While conducting our annual Oscar Night Party I received a terse text message from the publicist for “Bettendorf Talks.” It was a little after 6:30 p.m.

My boss (from New York City) and the only one that I am aware of who sets the time(s) for reviews to go live on his blog, is here in Austin.  His e-mail is now sporting a message that he is “away from his desk.” We have not spoken or seen one another. I know that he was on the Red Carpet for “Roadhouse” on Friday, because I read it on TMB. He is basically unable to be reached by me or anyone else. I know he is busy, because I am busy (although I did set aside tonight for the annual Oscar predicting party, with ballots, a traveling trophy, friends and snacks.)

Keep in mind that we mere reviewer types have been laboring in the fields, attempting to get screeners in order to get a head start on all the activity. I  filed at least 10 such reviews from screeners and clearly indicated all “embargo” dates and times. When I was accused of running a review of one such documentary less than an hour earlier than the time it was to go “live” (7:30 CDT), via a brusque message from the publicist’s cell phone,I responded that I did not set the timing of the run on that blog; it’s not my job. I did not, consciously or unconsciously, violate any embargo. It was also, at most, a one hour discrepancy. (If you’re trying to go early, wouldn’t you jump the gun by more than a few minutes?)  I offered a potential explanation on behalf of whoever did set the blog to automatically post. It would have been done in NYC, which is Eastern Time versus Central Time and today was the day the clocks changed. But I sense that the goal was really something quite different from what we will laughingly call “public relations.”

“Bettendorf Talks” leads T.J. Jagodowski and David Pasquesi after the March 10th TV Pilot showing.

I offered up this evidence of my own innocence:

(1) It was NOT up on MY smaller blog, WeeklyWilson at the time of the brusque message, which proves my point.  I DO set times for that one, but am only one contributor of many on TMB.

(2) The boss operates on Eastern Standard Time, normally, but today was the day that we “spring forward” with daylight savings time here in Central Daylight Time. Either one could account for going “live” very slightly early. The point is, it was a really nice review (and a big one) and I do not set the time that things run on TMB. I wish I did, but I do not have that power. It’s well above my pay grade. If it did run slightly earlier than intended, it was accidental and—if you check—there is publicity on the piece well back in the month from other sources (interviews, etc.). Was it really a good and/or nice thing to call me up and give me grief?

If it were my film, I’d want as much free P.R. as I could get. The best way to get it is to get reviewers the materials when they actually have time to prepare their words well and, yes, it can be embargoed and everyone should attempt to comply. I, at least, definitely did comply.

(3)  I have not been able to speak with the very busy Boss Man since he hit town. I tried sending an e-mail, but got the “away from the desk” thing. Phone messages are going straight to voice mail.

The publicist suggested I should do what I could to take the very nice, very large review down immediately. If it were my film, I would most definitely not want that. (*Note: the review was not of “Bettendorf Talks.”)

I instantly agreed that I would do what I could, which is nothing.

David Pasquesi of “Bettendorf Talks.”

I have never been the one who sets the “run” time for The Movie Blog’s pieces. I only can be held responsible for my own little blog, which clearly had been in compliance. If it was one hour “off,” I’m guessing it is because it was set to run automatically quite some time ago.

Man! I guess I don’t understand what a Public Relations person is supposed to try to do, even though I worked in that capacity for many years as the CEO of two companies. Harassing me at home while I’m having an Oscar party and accusing me of something I did not do never seemed like it would be high on the list of “things I should do to promote.” Asking a large blog to remove an excellent review that goes out to a large audience also seems counter-productive if you’re working to promote the film. Of course it would be bad to intentionally violate embargo dates and times, but that did not happen.

I always thought P.R. people were supposed to concentrate on trying to create good will. No?i

(Post Script: I checked the Premiere time for the review in question. It started at 6 p.m. and went until 7:36 p.m. This means that the film was well underway when I received the phone message that I must remove it from being read. On Oscar night. While throwing an Oscar party. Anyone going to the movie was already in the film. It had been going on for over half an hour, at least. If I’m this film’s publicist, I am exulting at the good reviews, not telling big outlets to take them down. Maybe I’ve been doing P.R. wrong for half a century, but I would definitely be out celebrating (as, in fact, I was trying to do here in Austin) at the good reviews my efforts had produced and not hassling an underpaid reviewer for jumping the gun on a review by less than an hour,— especially when setting the time to run the review was not even the reviewer’s job.

 

 

 

 

DeSantis Backs Down, Despite Slogan “Never Back Down” on January 21, 2024

Wasn’t Ron DeSantis’ slogan for his campaign “Never back down”?

Well, today (Sunday, January 21st) he backed down.

I happened to be watching CNN when the live video of DeSantis—now back in much warmer Florida—kissed off the idea of being President in 2024. (Some sources say he’ll be back in 2028).

As I watched Dana Bash interview Nikki Haley in New Hampshire and listened to what DeSantis said in his closing statement, I felt very sorry for the last woman standing, who seems to be being treated particularly badly by the good old boy network.

Ron DeSantis

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, on November 19, 2022. (Photo by Wade Vandervort / AFP) (Photo by WADE VANDERVORT/AFP via Getty Images)

Today, arch rival Ron DeSantis said as he quit the 2024 race: “We can’t go back to the old Republican guard of yesteryear, a repackaged form of warmed-over corporatism that Nikki Haley represents.”

Just quit, Ron. You backed down, Give it up like a gentleman.

First, Nikki has to contend with being female while running for the top office in the land. We all know how well that turned out for Hillary. It didn’t work out well for Geraldine Ferraro or Kamala Harris as VPs, either. So let’s just agree that there is a reluctance on the part of the electorate to vote for a woman.

Second, she and DeSantis have been going at one another for weeks in Iowa, so I can understand that there would be no love lost as he permanently departs. Hence, DeSantis’ parting shot, (which has little to no basis in fact.) But it still seemed unduly harsh to leave with a scathing assessment of Haley and an embrace of the crazy one in the race (DJT), even if it was simply repeating that he would vote for the eventual GOP nominee, as pledged.

Third (from Wikipedia): “Nikki Haley, who was then governor of South Carolina, appointed Scott to the U.S. Senate in 2013 to fill a vacancy. He retained his Senate seat after winning a special election in 2014, and was elected to a full term in 2016 and reelected in 2022. He became the first African-American senator to be elected from the Southern United States since the Reconstruction era.[

Tim Scott told CNN that he had contacted Nikki Haley’s team before endorsing Donald Trump for President. Dana Bash asked Ms. Haley if this was true, and received an emphatic “No.” When Dana followed up by asking if it was possible that Scott’s people had talked to Nikki Haley’s people, Haley once again answered no, and added that her campaign had attempted to touch bases Scott’s campaign workers, in the hopes that he might endorse her. Instead, Mr. Scott, who owed his Senate Seat to Nikki Haley chose to endorse the much-maligned and much-indicted DJT.

Doesn’t seem fair or sporting, does it?

Nikki Haley

2024 Presidential Campaign of Nikki Halley

I’m not a Nikki Haley fan, although I thought her answers to questions on the topic of abortion were much more reasonable, compassionate and logical than DeSantis’. DeSantis came out denouncing the U.N., which Haley was Ambassador to for Trump. Another bad mark for the Florida Governor who took many other bad stands before, during and after his brief campaign. People just did not seem to cotton to DeSantis, his team couldn’t get along, his Twitter announcement was a disaster, and his decision to put all his eggs in the Iowa basket may have been a bad one. Visiting all 99 Iowa counties during the worst winter in decades was not really something we can blame on bad decision-making, but let’s just say that DeSantis may be regretting all that effort expended in a losing cause during the worst caucus season in recorded history.

But the concerted verbal attacks by Trump, coupled with DeSantis’ vindictive parting shot and Tim Scott’s lack of loyalty towards the woman who put him where he is tells me all any of us needs to know about the Republican party in 2024. It also tells us that the Good Old Boy Network is alive and well and bound and determined to keep a good woman down.

Sad, that.

“The Boys in the Boat” Brought Home the Gold in 1936

George Clooney

George Clooney

I just watched George Clooney’s film (he directed) “The Boys in the Boat.”

My spouse did not want to watch it, declaring it to be “too predictable.”

THE GOOD

I wanted to see Joel Edgerton in action as the coach, and the lead actor playing Joe Rantz (Callum Turner) was a new star, for me. He’s British and the Brits have been saying he is “the star of tomorrow” since 2014, which is 10 years ago. He’s 34 now (born in 1990) so perhaps a better title would be “the men in the boat.”

I did notice that the pictures at the end of the movie featuring the real Washington crew were all very handsome young men. They had great teeth, The love story between Joe  Rantz (Callum Turner) and Joyce Simdars (Hadley Robinson) was nicely done.

The cinematography was also wonderful, although all of the close-ups on the oar locks made me think that one of them was going to give way at a crucial moment.

The “boys in the boat” were the crew members who journeyed to Hitler’s Germany for the 1936 Olympics. I have watched another documentary about how piqued Hitler was when Jesse Owens performed so brilliantly, defeating his Aryan athletes.

THE BAD

We know how this movie comes out before it even starts. In that regard it reminds of the movie about space launches where we know whether the launch went well or poorly.

My husband was right that it was “too predictable,” but it was still worth a look.

It cost $19.99 to rent “The Boys in the Boat.”

Maybe wait till it comes down in price.

Iowa Caucuses (Jan. 15, 2024) Will Set Low Temperature Records

Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley

CNN Republican Presidential Debate (final one)

I am thinking back to the Iowa Caucus nights in 2004, 2008 and 2012that my college roommate and I went out to caucus at a local Des Moines high school when the temperature was 17 degrees (2004). It was, until now, the coldest caucus night in history. My hope was that Howard Dean was going to prevail, as he had been leading during the “sleepless summer,” as the press called it.

I dropped her off at the doorway and then had to drive blocks away to park my car. During that time, those in charge attempted to close the doors to late-comers, but she stood by the door to allow me to gain access. (They said they were running out of GOP ballots, for one thing.) Then we were thrown into the chaos of the classroom, with Democratic groups milling about trying to achieve the 15% viability that would allow them to continue. (The Republicans use paper ballots, but the Democrats, at that time, simply stand around in small clumps of people and it is sheer lunacy.)

The 2020 SNAFU in Iowa, when the results weren’t know for days, led to the resignation of the guy in charge, even though there still is debate as to whether an app called Shadow, Inc., developed by someone named Tara McGowan, was at fault. There were charges that both the Buttigieg campaign and the Hillary Clinton campaign had had dealings with the company that developed the app. The entire night was catastrophic for the Iowa caucuses and, this year, the Dems did not come. When you read that 8 precinct results went missing in 2012 and were never counted, you begin to get the idea that this entire throwback town hall meeting thing will soon cease. After all, the success rate of predicting who the standard bearer for each candidate will be is not great. The success rate for predicting the Democratic winner nationally is only 55% and for the GOP it is only 43%.

Is it any wonder that voices are being raised saying the caucuses in Iowa don’t “work” and should go the way of the Dodo bird? Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said, “I think the Democratic caucus in Iowa is a quirky, quaint tradition which should come to an end. As we try to make voting easier for people across America, the Iowa caucus is the most painful situation we currently face for voting.” Former presidential candidate Julian Castro said, “It’s a mess. What we saw out there and heard about are, consistently, errors in the way that this process was done, whether in the initial phase or the realignment.  Inconsistencies in how it was done across precinct sites. It is a total mess.” And let’s not forget that campaigning in Iowa is probably not real pleasant when the weather in the Midwest doesn’t cooperate. DeSantis and Trump are from Florida. Haley is from South Carolina. Talk about culture shock!

So, how did this “total mess” come to be at all?

Nikki Haley

Nikki Haley on the GOP debate stage

One book written on the topic (“The Iowa Caucuses and the Presidential Nominating Process” by Peverill Squire of the University of Missouri) says, “Iowa became first in the nation pretty much as an accident of the calendar.” One explanation even blames the entire thing on the slow duplicating machine that Iowa used at the time, which required Iowa to set their voting date up earlier and earlier to make sure that materials could be turned out in time. Supposedly, the party wasn’t really angling to be “first in the nation” but that’s what happened.

As for the GOP, they used to use an August “straw poll” thing, which turned out to be totally unreliable and was discontinued. It became a question of who could buy the straw poll. You could argue that that is also true of the caucuses as they now exist, with huge amounts of money being spent by the candidates running in the state. It is easy to see why a state like Iowa would want to continue being the center of attention and raking in advertising (and other) dollars. But will that happen, given the deep freeze that Iowa is going to be on the night of the caucuses this year? Thirty and Forty below zero is life-threatening. Iowans are hardy souls and take politics seriously, but the turnout is definitely going to be affected.

In 1976 then-candidate Jimmy Carter used the Iowa caucuses to give himself the national recognition that he did not have prior to winning there. In 1972 George McGovern won the caucuses, but they had not yet turned into any kind of national launching pad. After Iowa, Carter received attention and invitations to speak and be interviewed that gave him the momentum he needed to go on to win the nomination and be elected as the party standard-bearer and win the presidency. Since then, candidates have been attempting to duplicate that feat, with Barack Obama actually achieving it in 2008, the year I followed the caucuses for 24 months and wrote 2 books on the experience. The Iowa caucuses actually predicted the eventual national nominee  and winner twice: Obama in 2008 and Bush in 2000. In 2004 the caucus winner in Des Moines (John Kerry) did go on to become the national nominee, but he did not win office. It is particularly interesting when you learn that Jimmy Carter only campaigned for 17 days in the state in 1976.

Ron DeSantis

Ron DeSantis.

I did not become involved in following the caucuses in person until 2004, which was the year that John Kerry won the Iowa caucuses, John Edwards came in second, and Howard Dean came in third. The Kerry forces double-miked Howard Dean’s impassioned plea to his followers at the post party (I was there) and made him look totally foolish by replaying it what seemed like millions of times on television.

2008:  January 3rd at 7 p.m. Temperature that year was 30 degrees above zero, warmer than in 2004 when it was only 16 degrees. In 2012, my last year of following, the temperature was 40, but it was a very quiet night for Democrats, who had an incumbent president in the White House. This year’s thirty below zero prediction is going to be the coldest on record, and one wonders how many will show up to caucus for their candidate.

2012:  January 3rd. Supposedly, Romney won by 8 points, but then a recount showed that Rick Santorum might have won by 34 votes and Ron Paul came in third. This was the year that 8 missing precinct reports caused problems and the “win” was also taken from Santorum and awarded to Paul at one point. Not reliable, in other words.

2016:  In the Democratic race, Hillary got 45% of the vote and Bernie Saunders came in second. Ted Cruz won the GOP contest, with votes going to Trump, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson, as well.

Vivek Ramaswamy

Vivek Ramaswamy on the GOP debate stage.

2020:  Monday, February 3rd. This was the year of the Shadow, Inc. app that was, apparently, never reliably field-tested. Then, the phone number that was supposed to be used as a fall-back method for voting was totally jammed up with calls. Days went by where national talking heads could not report who had won, and the person in charge resigned.

Results over time:

1972 – McGovern

1976 – Jimmy Carter

1980 – Jimmy Carter (Ted Kennedy got votes)

1984 – Walter Mondale

1988 – Dick Gephardt (who withdrew from the race shortly thereafter)

1992 – Tom Harkin (a native son)

1996 – Bill Clinton

2000 – Al Gore

2004 – John Kerry (38%) John Edwards (32%). Howard Dean (18%). Dick Gephardt (11%). Dennis Kucinich (1%). GOP – George W. Bush

2008 – Barack Obama – 38%, John Edwards  – (30%), Hillary Clinton (29%)  Elliot Richardson got 2% and Joe Biden got 1%.

2012 – Obama – 98% (a very quiet night in Des Moines) Mike Huckabee on the Republican side, prompting my headline: “Huckaboom or Huckabust?”

2016 – Hillary (50%). Bernie Saunders (49%) Ted Cruz on the GOP side.

2020 – Trump

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