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!

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Random Thoughts on the Iowa Caucuses of January 15, 2024

With Monday’s Iowa caucuses scheduled to go forward despite wind chills that could be as low as -30 below zero, the last polls I saw put Trump ahead but DeSantis and Nikki Haley separated by only one percentage point.

The real test on Monday, January 15th, is going to be “Whose ground organization is strongest and can guarantee that the caucus-goers will actually trot out to caucus for their candidate?” Is Trump’s ground organization better (or at least equal to) DeSantis’? What about Haley’s?

I have actually attended the Iowa caucuses. It was winter and it was cold, but this time is going to be the coldest on record. The night I attended the caucuses in Des Moines in 2008 I was not an Iowa resident and, therefore, not there to actually line up behind a particular candidate. In fact, when they learned that I had been a teacher, they put me in charge of a random pack of children whose parents were actually voting. [That was fun for no one.]

When the Republicans caucus, they vote on paper ballots. The Democrats, however—who are not involved in this year’s caucus season in Iowa—did not use ballots. Instead, it was sheer un-orchestrated chaos with all kinds of voting and lobbying for viability and many other things that seem(ed) to belong in an elementary school election. Its refreshingly primitive. The cameramen from Sweden could not believe how basic the process was. Because the process is that basic, I would not be surprised if Iowa loses out on holding these things completely.  There have always been complaints that Iowa is too white-bread and not diverse enough. Then there was the complete SNAFU season. Then there is this year’s weather. I’m thinking that the caucuses in Iowa of either party may well go the way of the dodo bird in 2028.

I watched the Town Hall meetings that focused on DeSantis and Haley and the things covered there were much like the final debate that involved just those two candidates. Until the offhand remark from Haley about New Hampshire voters “correcting” Iowa’s missteps, she was surging. She seems sane and has a far less authoritarian demeanor than the two men with whom she is competing.

DeSantis

There is little I like about Ron DeSantis. The “Sixty Minutes” special that detailed how he screwed over immigrants in ferrying them to Martha’s Vineyard showed a despicable lack of human compassion and empathy. It’s one thing to give the northern states a little taste of what the border states like Texas are dealing with; it’s totally another to have glossy brochures made up that promise desperate immigrants jobs when they land in Martha’s Vineyard. Maybe this would be the point to say WWJD (What would Jesus do?) Certainly not that. The fight with Disney over their position on homosexuality. The “don’t wear masks” attitude during Covid that DeSantis displayed (with masked high school students in the background). The preening over how he “took on” the teachers’ unions (and George Soros), as though that were something to be proud of. The inability to smile like a normal human being, which has been commented on by every late-night host. Why do I dislike him? Let me count the ways. Or not. He’s easy to dislike on sight. (That’s a large part of his problem.)

Haley

Nikki Haley.

Nikki Haley comes off as more reasonable on the issue of abortion. She is a female, after all, and a mother.

Her position on supporting Ukraine is a good one. As the former Ambassador to the United Nations she understands and articulates well the basic fact that, right now, Ukraine is doing the fighting and dying in opposing Putin, who might well set his sights on other European nations. DeSantis (and other GOP leaders) want to tie support for Ukraine to better border control. That phrase about being against it before I was for it (or something close) applies more to DeSantis’ positions than those of Haley.

I was bothered by the fact that neither candidate would answer the question posed by Jake Tapper about whether Donald J. Trump has the moral character to be President. It was just about as bad as the Ivy League Presidents testifying before Congress who couldn’t answer easy questions about anti-Semitic behavior on their college campuses. (Both lost their jobs).We lost Chris Christie in the mix, and he seems to be the only one who had the guts to call out his former friend of 22 years. It  seems as though Christie—who helped prep Trump for the debates in 2020—is trying to make amends for his past misdeeds. I will miss Christie onstage calling out the obnoxious Vivek Ramaswamy as the most obnoxious blowhard in America. You don’t get truthful answers like that during political debates very often.

Border Control

Ron DeSantis.

The Big Issue that the Republicans will be trotting out in the months to come will be the border. The Democrats will be making just as much noise over the roll-back of Roe v. Wade. Nikki Haley offered a much more realistic and even-tempered attitude for the GOP to promulgate in a national election. Everyone agrees that the border is now (and has been for decades) a big problem that needs to be solved. But Congress needs to be involved in completely overhauling our immigration system. It looks, right now, as though the current  Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas is being set up to take the fall for what most Americans view as a failure at the border. Biden’s attempt to portray America as that shining beacon on the hill that both Reagan and Romney alluded to may (or may not) be the reason for the influx of illegal immigrants, but you can be sure that the GOP will portray him as practically the sole cause of our recent border crisis. It is true that the border situation needs to be solved. It may be true that Biden’s words made the influx worse.  (Trump’s separation of small children and infants from their parents and then losing them was not Great Policy, but that goes unremarked in Iowa.) However, totally blaming Biden for this unprecedented horde of immigrants ignores the many economic and political reasons that drive residents of Central and Latin America to risk death to come to this country. We need to be welcoming, but practical. Restructuring our immigrations policies and laws is necessary, just like we need to address gun control (which also hasn’t occurred) and we needed to overhaul health care (which hasn’t totally happened, but least the Affordable Care Act has survived, despite repeated GOP attempts to dismantle it) A physical wall, DJT’s solution, was never going to work without additional reforms of a more substantial sort. In regard to Mayorkas, it is fairly interesting that he has been notably absent from the Sunday morning talk shows and the Republicans now want to impeach him. Mayorkas seems to have missed out on the media training. He isn’t able to demonstrate progress on the border and he has the diplomatic skills of a basset hound. He neither looks nor acts the part he has been assigned to play.

Monday Predictions?

Until Nikki Haley’s misstep (verbally) in New Hampshire and the last debate, where she kept referring listeners to DeSantislies.com website (14 times by one talking head’s count), I thought she was going to top DeSantis on January 15th. She is currently focusing her efforts on suburban areas in the state of Iowa, while DeSantis did “the full Grassley,” visiting all 99 Iowa counties, and is counting on rural support. DeSantis also out-spent Ms. Haley and, until the final debate, was doing much less well during televised Q&A opportunities.

However, DeSantis has picked up his game on the occasion of the final debate (as well as the Town Hall that preceded it). I agree with David Axelrod who has said that the True Test of who Triumphs at the caucuses will be which team can actually mobilize its committed delegates to turn out in frigid sub-zero weather. Pollsters say it will be Trump’s MAGA hordes coming in first.

The second place finish in the last poll I saw was 11% for Haley and 12% for DeSantis. It could go either way. I’d like to see a woman President, so I’m pulling for Nikki Haley. There are things about her policies (she is very pro gun) that I disagree with, but she seems more reasonable about hot-button issues, and certainly has stood up well under pressure. Plus, she has a nice smile, which puts her head and shoulders above DeSantis. Haley has far more international experience. It seems unlikely that the GOP would nominate a woman for the top of the ticket; I am not happy that she has dodged the question of whether she would run with Trump. She and DeSantis have not exactly been straightforward in their responses to questions that are touchy. True of all politicians, it seems. Makes me think of the poem I wrote at the tender age of 16, which I shall print below these ramblings.

I would like to know if Vivek Ramaswamy is the “secret” VP pick that Trump has alluded to; he seems like a very “out there.” He has gone off on various conspiracy theories ad nauseum. Maybe Trump has promised the second spot on the GOP ticket to a female Governor who will probably be about as good a pick as Sarah Palin was (which means a very bad one).

My Poem “Words” (written in 1960, the year I campaigned for JFK):

If fewer words were spoken,

If fewer words were said.

If deeds, alone, were the mark of a man,

Not the “catch” of an eloquent pledge.

 

If fewer words were spoken,

If fewer words were said

If, for all the fake forensics,

There were simple words, instead.

 

And a man stated just what he started to state,

Without false fuss or further ado,

If you weren’t a politician

I’d probably listen to you

Best Films of 2023, For Me

The Golden Globes are now in the books and critics are critical of the host ( I thought he did okay).

I was not totally surprised that “Oppenheimer” had a sort of minor sweep going on in various areas. It was an important film and Christopher Nolan has been nominated six times and never won for Best Director, so perhaps it was “his” time.

I, however, feel that Martin Scorsese—given his prominence in the field and his iconic status—has also been passed over far too many times, especially in the category of Best Director at the Oscars. I think he has only won the Best Director award once (“The Departed”) and yet his films through the years are classics. He deserves better.

The films or television series that seemed to have mini runs were “Succession,” “Poor Things,” and “Oppenheimer,” but “Barbie” and “Killers of the Flower Moon” had  moments, as well.

The recipient that stays in my mind the most was the Best Supporting Actress (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) from “The Holdovers.” I was pleased that she won, but she almost fell out of her dress (cleavage) while accepting her award, and I’m pretty sure that she thanked the wrong organization, as the HFPA (Hollywood Foreign Press Association) fell from grace a year or so ago and the awards ceremony is now owned by Dick Clark Productions.

Seeing the nominated films and categories (they put in a new one for Box Office and a new one for stand-up comedians) made me compose  my own Top Ten Films of 2023.

Let me first preface this list by saying that it is not in any particular order, but simply the films I enjoyed the most this year. (I hated “May/December,” so….). It’s pretty much alphabetical.

I think my two favorite discoveries were “Dream Sequential” and “Poor Things” because they were so extraordinarily original (and off-the-wall.)

Here is my list, in alphabetical order:“Air”

  • “American Fiction”
  • “Barbie”
  • “Dream Sequential”
  • “The Holdovers”
  • “The Killer”
  • “Killers of the Flower Moon”
  • “Oppenheimer”
  • “Poor Things”
  • “Saltburn”

Director of “Dream Sequential.”

There is one documentary that I thoroughly enjoyed,  and that is “The Disappearance of  Shere Hite.” It isn’t a “movie” in the sense of the films on the list above, but it was quite well done and I enjoyed it a great deal. I also should explain that I alphabetized films that started with “The” by the important word (“Holdovers”).

I realize that there are other films that have made many lists, including “Maestro,” “May/December” and “Past Lives,” but no. Just no.

I have a few (I’m always late to the animated films) that I may wish to mention later, but I am giving you my list of the Ten Best or Ten Most Enjoyable. Most of them have reviews earlier on my blog, so enjoy.

“Ferrari” Fails to Find Its Footing

As a fan of Michael Mann’s work (“The Insider,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Heat”), I ventured out to see Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari in the December 25th release “Ferrari.” Mann has long been well-acquainted with racing and with Ferrari. Mann was one of the executive producers of “Ford v Ferrari” (2019),  the superior film with Christian Bale and Matt Damon. The current Adam Driver movie is a long-time labor of love for the 80-year-old director. Christian Bale was attached as the lead at one point, and, after him, Hugh Jackman.

The budget for the Christmas day release is listed as  $95 million to $110 million. Sadly, it has earned less than 10% of that amount back since its recent release. It was #9 in domestic charts, well behind all 6 of the other domestic recent releases and was not doing that well on Netflix, either. One wonders if Mann’s proposed plans to release a sequel to “Heat” will suffer as a result of this misstep with “Ferrari.”

THE GOOD

I had heard that the racing scenes were good. Certainly the phenomenal crash that ended the Mile Miglia race forever in 1957 was impressively staged. Nine people died in that 1,000 mile race when driver Alfonso de Portago struck something in the roadway. The tire blew out, and the car crashed spectacularly, killing a total of 9 people, including the driver and onlookers, 5 of whom were children. The way it is staged in this film, the audience might well think  that it might have been sabotage. The crash spelled the end of the Mile Miglia race forever. A lengthy court case dragged on with manslaughter charges finally being dismissed by the courts in 1961.

 

The acting from such stalwarts as Adam Driver, Shailene Woodley, Penelope Cruz, Jack O’Connell and Patrick Dempsey is fine. One reviewer gave Cruz special praise for displaying fire in her role as Laura Ferrari, Enzo’s wife. To me, she seemed quite one-dimensional, presenting a sour and intense presence throughout, even when just walking along a city street.

Laura Ferrari had many reasons to be depressed and bitter. Her son, Dino, died of muscular dystrophy the year before the Mile Miglia race (1956) at the too-young age of 24. Laura also learns that her philandering husband has a second family, including a young son, midway through the movie.

 

Adam Driver

Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari. (Photo Credit: Lorenzo Sisti).

I was struck by the sheer physicality of Adam Driver. An ex-Marine, is 6 feet 2 and ½ inches tall. How tall was Enzo Ferrari? In photos of Driver with other cast members, he seems to definitely be the tallest one in the room. While Enzo Ferrari looks slightly taller and bulkier (in old photos) than the Italian males he is standing alongside, Driver just doesn’t seem like the ideal choice to portray an Italian male. My impression of European men, in general, (during my stint as a foreign exchange student abroad), is that they are not physically as large as their American counterparts.

Other than his sheer physical size, Driver seems very controlled and “stiff upper lip-ish” when onscreen. The catastrophic crash, the arguments with his wife over his mistress (and with his mistress over his wife), the scenes where he visits his son’s crypt: he is controlled throughout and doesn’t display much emotion. Troy Kennedy Martin wrote the script, based on the 1991 Brock Yates biography “Enzo Ferrari: The Man, the Cars, the Races, the Machine.” Is the script at fault for this impassive nearly one-dimensional presentation.

Staging the race scenes and the crash was a fantastic achievement. The countryside is beautifully photographed by cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt.  Getting the period details (including the many  period cars) “right” must have been daunting. The music (Daniel Pemberton) is good; music is always key for Michael Mann.

Gabriel Leone

Newcomer Gabriel Leone as Alfonso de Portago. (Photo Credit: Lorenzo Sisti).

The young boy playing Ferrari’s illegitimate son (Guiseppi Festinesi) does a fine job. The actor portraying the doomed Alfonso de Portage, Gabriel Leone, bears a close resemblance to the actual driver, who was Spanish nobility and once competed with the Spanish bobsledding team at the Olympics.

In the film de Portage’s romance with actress Linda Christian (Sarah Gadon) is highlighted. She is said to have broken up with actor Tyrone Power to date the race car driver. One of the better lines in the script is Ferrari’s comment to the press, after laying down the law to his new race car driver that he must not have starlets joining him at the garage because the press then spends all of their time taking pictures of the actresses and not the cars. Says Enzo to the assembled press: “When we win, I can’t see my ass for starlets’ asses. When we lose, you’re a lynch mob.”

Other famous folk routinely frequented the Ferrari showroom. Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman are mentioned by the real-life son of Ferrari as frequent regular customers. Prince Bernard of the Netherlands was also a recurring customer and a close friend of Ferrari during life. Neither of these real-life facts makes it into the film, but the completely fabricated autograph request from Enzo’s young son does, repeatedly, even though it never happened (according to the now-grown younger son.)

THE BAD

“Ferrari” the film is dead on arrival. Most of the audience probably does not know the history of the Mile Maglia race. Whether they care is also up for debate. It is not made very clear that the accident that creates the film’s most spectacular (and very gory) scene means that the race will never be held again. The many Italian characters and race-car driver names come and go without much  impact; they are difficult to remember and/or understand and none has much of a part.

Shailene Woodley

Shailene Woodley as Lina Lardi. (Photo Credit: Lorenzo Sisti).

I’m still wondering what Shailene Woodley’s ethnicity is supposed to be, since she does not seem very Italian. Was Lina Lardi a local girl? Why is she so passive about Enzo’s dragging his feet on acknowledging her and, more importantly, acknowledging their son Piero (who now runs the company). Lina is definitely a constant presence in Enzo Ferrari’s life. After wife Laura’s death in 1979, the elder Ferrari could finally publicly acknowledge his surviving son. The couple were together until Ferrari’s death in 1988 at the age of 90. However, Enzo’s reputation as a philanderer was well-established before his first wife Laura learned about it.

Most of the audience probably doesn’t have the depth of knowledge about or interest in the Ferrari dynasty that Director Michael Mann has had for years. Somehow, the director needed to be able to convey this extensive information to the audience quickly and intelligibly. That doesn’t happen here. Many questions linger and the parade of various drivers (Jack O’Connell and Patrick Dempsey among them) that are mentioned and paraded out like pawns in a chess game get very little that makes any of them come to life, with the possible exception of the doomed Alfonso de Portago. (Gabriel Leone) who does get a racy bedroom scene with his girlfriend Linda Christian.

While the love triangle involving Enzo Ferrari’s two families is interesting, it doesn’t come off as very true-to-life. Real women put in the position of this secret love triangle might not be as reasonable nor as calm as Lina and Laura seem most of the time. The plot also conveniently fails to mention the numerous other women in Ferrari’s life.

CONCLUSION

Adam Driver conferring with Director Michael Mann on “Ferrari.” (Photo Credit by Lorenzo Sisti).

“We all know it is our deadly passion, a terrible joy.” (Line from the script).

If racing is your passion, you will enjoy this 2 hour and 10 minute film. The crash is great (if gory, be warned), and the examination of Ferrari’s love triangle, while unrealistic IRL, gives us knowledge about the man. But, overall, this time at bat was not a home run for Michael Mann, the esteemed four-time Oscar-nominated director.

“Iowa Nice” Comes Through in CNN Town Hall Meetings with DeSantis & Ramaswamy

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)

There’s Iowa Nice, and then there’s Iowa Smart. Both were on display on Tuesday and Wednesday nights (12/12 and 12/13) on CNN at 8 p.m. (CDT).

After watching the GOP Town Hall Meetings on CNN with Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy I have to say that the people of my home state did Iowa proud. Their questions were so much better than any of those asked by the professional media people moderating the “real” debates recently that there really was no comparison.

Instead of  dwelling on the issue of trans-gender sex change operations for youth—a topic that  affected fewer than 1,200 people in 2019, the peak year for such surgeries—-these rank-and-file Iowans asked questions that matter to all of us,  on the following topics:

  • U.S. Economic prosperity
  • Israel vs. Ukraine support from the U.S.
  • The border issue
  • Fentanyl
  • Social Security
  • Abortion (a notable exception during the GOP debate hosted by Megan Kelly)
  • Trade relations with China
  • Why DeSantis would be different/better than Trump as President
  • Nikki Haley’s support from big business
  • DeSantis’ position on fracking

Yes, there was a question on a purely Iowa issue, the Satanic Temple display at the State Capitol in Des Moines. And the Pork-on-a-stick at the Iowa State Fair was, perhaps, not a Biggie, but kudos, Iowans!

Vivek Ramaswamy

Vivek Ramaswamy on Dec. 13 during the CNN Town Hall in Des Moines, Iowa, at Grandview College.

When Vivek Ramaswamy graced the Grandview College stage on Wednesday night, December 12, 2023, the people of Iowa came through again, asking Vivek Ramaswamy how he would be different from Trump; the border; Vivek’s Hindu religion in a largely Christian state and nation; Putin’s response to Ramaswamy’s proposed Ukraine solution; inequity in wealth between the top 1% wealthiest Americans and the middle class; a president’s demeanor while serving as the nation’s leader; challenges he had experienced as a candidate because of his age and his position on diversity programs.

The questioning did go off the rails a bit when Ramaswamy (his own worst enemy) went on and on and on about various debunked conspiracy theories and what he had learned about Iowans, in general. (They don’t call it “Iowa Nice” for no reason.)

I’ll write more about their responses in the next few days, but…Damn! You did us proud, questioners. Give those Talking Heads some tips for future debates.

Nikki Haley

GOP Debate of November 8th Is More Controlled Than Chaotic

 

Vivek Ramaswamy & Nikki Haley

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – AUGUST 23: Republican presidential candidates, Vivek Ramaswamy (L) and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley participate in the first debate of the GOP primary season hosted by FOX News at the Fiserv Forum on August 23, 2023 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Eight presidential hopefuls squared off in the first Republican debate as former U.S. President Donald Trump, currently facing indictments in four locations, declined to participate in the event. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Nikki Haley was incensed by Vivek Ramaswamy for mentioning that Haley’s daughter is on Tik Tok. The remark summoned echoes of “Keep my wife’s name out of your mouth” spoken by Will Smith at the Oscars (followed by a physical slap). There is no love lost between Haley and Ramaswamy.

Ramaswamy also attacked the moderators, which was uncalled-for. It was especially lame when the moderators were Lester Holt, Kristin Welker of “Meet the Press,” and Hugh Hewitt. Viviswamy suggested that Tucker Carlson would have been better, which is ludicrous.

To me, the candidate who seemed spectacularly weak in his responses was Tim Scott. He seems to have forgotten that this country was founded on the principle of separation of church and state. He constantly promoted the anti-abortion movement, made questionable remarks about the Social Security age to retire, and basically kept talking about faith and a return to faith as the panacea for all things he disliked in the United States.

Chris Christie is usually one of the two best debaters on the stage (Haley being the other). My husband and I felt we could live with a President Christie. That is a very unlikely possibility, since Christie’s attacks on DJT have made him anathema to the GOP base, which seems increasingly unhinged these days.

Hogan Gidley, former deputy press secretary to Trump, made the valid point, post debate, that DJT needed to be here to debate, since he is the front-runner.

Ron DeSantis comes across as someone who doesn’t like to smile much and is smug as hell. He was better after the debate was over, when he seemed less like such a dim bulb and answered questions posed by the talking heads of NBC. His many dictator-style actions in Florida make him one of those politicians that you just know you are going to have to suffer through whatever he is saying when he is onstage. Remember when he chided teen-agers wearing masks during the pandemic? (Explains why Florida had one of the worst Covid death rates in the nation and was losing 240 people a day.) DeSantis has all the earmarks of a tin-pot dictator, and one gets the feeling that he is going to get worse before he gets better.

The moderators tonight did a better job than in the previous GOP debate. DeSantis did better than he has done in the past and Nikki Haley continued to do well, but she is female. It is difficult to imagine the GOP of today putting a woman at the top of the ticket. (The Democrats tried, and look how well that turned out.)

Mary Katharine Ham, a conservative columnist interviewed in the Spin Room, said that Nikki Haley’s 25-year-old daughter was grown and her parents were no longer in charge of her social media presence, so her Tik Tok usage should not have been mentioned by Vivek Ramaswamy. Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley seem to not like each other AT ALL. DeSantis and Haley are “separating themselves” from the rest of the pack, according to the spin room experts.

There is now a shot on my television screen of DeSantis trying to smile. He really does not look comfortable smiling. Ever.

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)

Carlos Curbelo, a Republican former Florida Congressman, pretty much discounted Christie and Scott as potential nominees. He acknowledged that tonight’s debate was much more substantive. Curbelo and another spin-meister had no real answer for “Why did Viviswamy feel it was a good election technique to attack the moderators?” To me, Viviswamy, like DJT, just likes to stir things up. Chaos is their brand.

Ryan Noble in New Hampshire watched the debate with the first-in-the-nation voters and reported back to us on who had won, based on their reactions.

For me, Haley was the most appealing and got some truly good retorts (I liked her comment about her 5-inch heels), but Christie, to me, seems as though he has the necessary experience to do the job. While Haley might also be up to the challenge, I can’t imagine the GOP putting a woman at the top of their ticket. It was a daring enough move when the Democrats selected Hillary Clinton in 2016 and look how well that turned out.

Ron DeSantis has shown himself to be a stubborn Know-It-All that even former Congressional colleagues did not like, when they served alongside him. He continues the tilt towards authoritarian leaders that Trump brought to its peak. He likes the idea of book banning, attacks on LGBQT, and restricting women’s reproductive rights. The man seems like he would not work and play well with others. (So much for working across the aisle). Maybe we should chip in and send him a shirt that says, “Does not work or play well with others. Runs with scissors. Hates Disney.” Still, I can definitely see the GOP voters I know switching from the complete sleaze that DJT is to DeSantis, especially when he says bold things about “shooting illegal immigrants stone cold dead” or some such blustery retort.

This country needs a leader who understands the meaning of the word diplomacy and is likeable. Which of the two GOP front-runners do you think best exemplifies that, DeSantis or Haley? We know, for sure, that Trump is a bully and will spend the rest of his life playing the victim and trying to get revenge for his real or imagined slights. If the Iowa and New Hampshire voters are as informed and aware as they are often said to be, they surely can’t miss the very real fact that Trump is going to be tied up in court for a very long time. That, alone, if not the 14th amendment drafted after the Civil War that prevents anyone who took part in an insurrection from running for office, should keep DJT off the ballot. Who wants to hear him whine about how mean the courts have been to him for the next four years? (Not I, said the Little Red Hen.)

DeSantis is now being interviewed in the spin room:  “I think NBC did a good job. The questions were substantive and there wasn’t a lot of screaming.” He is now saying that DJT is being kept off the stage by his handlers as a tactical political move. He remarked that DJT is a very different candidate than he was in 2020. “Voters are now going to pay attention. It is going to hurt him that he is not on that stage.”

The interviewer asks about DJT’s lead, up by 27 points to 42 points, which DeSantis says is because he is the most famous politician in the world. “We’re in this situation now with the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire that the vast numbers of voters in those states do not want to nominate Donald Trump.” (I hope he is right.)

Gee. GOP voters don’t want to nominate a guy who has been indicted 91 times and basically convicted of rape in a civil case? They don’t want to nominate a guy appearing in court every day where his fraud as a businessman has been established and the only question is how big a penalty he will pay for lying “bigly” on financial documents? Gee. I wonder why not? Or, more to the point, I wonder, “Who ARE these GOP voters who DO want to nominate a sleaze like Trump?” Have you ever seen them interviewed at their gatherings? It’s frightening. The fact that the man is still the front-runner says a lot about the power of television, but it says something else about the failure to educate potential voters, either in school or through reliable reporting elsewhere. (Fox News strikes again.)

Does DeSantis need to be tougher on DJT ?

“I think I’m the only guy who can really play in that space of replacing DJT.” He mentions Mexico paying for the border wall. DeSantis is talking about taxing the remittances of moneys sent back to Mexico to raise the money for a wall. (One of the Sunday morning talk shows had a good conversation where those talking agreed that the wall that needs to be built is between Central America and Mexico.)

As GOP voters began to know more about DeSantis, he dropped 14 points. “What changed was the Alvin Bragg indictment.”DeSantis says DJT gets more media attention, but, in Iowa, he feels he can even the media difference out personally by personal campaigning in the state. “I think that Kim Reynolds endorsing me is a big moment for me.” (*As a side note, Kim Reynolds, in a recent poll, was said to be one of the least popular governors in the U.S. So much for how great Iowa thinks she is.)

Will the Real Ron DeSantis Please Stand Up

Policy question to DeSantis:  Abortion access powering Dems to victories? Does he believe in a national ban? “If you look at the practical reality of a divided country, pro lifers in particular have a big problem on this referendum. I think the Pro life movement has got to focus on these referendums and be more strategic. They have been getting their clock cleaned on the referendums. Good Republican candidates did well in the aftermath of Dobbs, but the Trump factor is voters who don’t like DJT breaking for the Democrats. When push comes to shove, we (GOP) should be cleaning house.”

Keane, NH:  Reaction to the abortion issue from an elderly woman:  “I am disappointed that so many women in this country vote with their emotions… I can’t believe so many women vote on the issue of abortion.” This struck me as a very uninformed remark. Women certainly have a right to be “emotional” on the subject of whether or not they will be forced to bear a child (and care for it for the rest of their lives) based on laws passed by old white men who are evangelical Christians (or worse).

Second voter, male: “The most well-managed debate. Riveting. I nearly fell asleep in the first debate.”

Third voter, female:  Most important issue? “I thought the idea that the world is on fire was pretty important and the question of whether we help these countries or not. I think that Nikki did a good job on the abortion policy. I would like to see abortion be a private issue for the women in the country and not be such a public issue.” This from a mature New Hampshire female voter who seemed head-and-shoulders above the first female commenter, mentioned above.

NIKKI HALEY IN THE SPIN ROOM

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA – FEBRUARY 15: Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley arrives on stage at her first campaign event on February 15, 2023 in Charleston, South Carolina. Former South Carolina Governor and United Nations ambassador Haley, officially announced her candidacy yesterday, making her the first Republican opponent to challenge former U.S. President Donald Trump. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Tom Yamos and Holly Jackson:  (Nikki Haley) Tik Tok remark during the debate: “I’m a Mom. The minute you say something about my 25-year-old daughter you get my back up.” She added, “I think Ramaswamy has a dangerous foreign policy that would make America less safe. I don’t even give him the time of day. He has just proven that he has no business being President of the United States.”

On Abortion access:  “I look at it from the perspective that this is personal for every man and every woman in America.” “If you’re gonna’ talk about a federal bill, at least be honest with them. You’ve got Republicans trying to push something that isn’t realistic.”

Israel and Hammas:  Can you destroy Hammas without destroying Gaza? “We’ve always focused on civilians first. But the reality is that if 1400 Americans had been brutally murdered that way, would Americans be okay with that? We had 33 Americans who were murdered. This is not just personal for Israel, it is personal for the United States. Hammas uses women and children as human shields.  If you do a pause, people die, because we’ve done this before. They refuel so they can attack again. They need to let loose of every civilian hostage they have before we negotiate.”

FROM IOWA:

Kyle, a young male voter in Altoona, says he is going to caucus for either DeSantis or Nikki Haley.

Checklist from Altoona male voter:  “Vivek doesn’t pay enough attention to the world order. I feel that we need really competent world leadership.”

Female in bar in Altoona who entered as a MAGA supporter:  “I’m probably still leaning towards DJT. There’s a lot that still could happen, My allegiance is still with DJT, but I really liked the way DeSantis came out in this debate. I still swing back to DJT who kept peace for 4 years, but I think that Ron DeSantis could do the same thing for us if he were elected.” (My heart hurts for someone who knows so little about what DJT did for four years and has done for over 7 decades and does not seem to know enough about the actions of DeSantis in Florida, either.)

All voters in Altoona raised their hands, saying that they felt Trump should have been onstage for the debate.

TIM SCOTT

Tim Scott

Tim Scott

Talking about raising the retirement age:  “Raising the retirement age for a blue collar worker by a year or two is devastating.” (?) All of our spending is bad, he says, despite many worthwhile improvements that the Biden administration has devoted funds towards, and he talks about going back to pre-Covid levels of spending. “We have to increase the economic activity in the private sector.” Scott spoke of a balanced budget amendment. Lots of talking about faith. It appears that his wife is an attractive white blonde woman, based on the family members seen flocking to see their favorite candidate after the debate ended.

On Iran: Further escalation? “What we’ve seen is 40 attacks on military personnel since October 7th. We need to cut off the head of the snake (in Iran). Hammas gets 90% of its funds from Iran. What we need to do is not just to strike warehouses in Syria but to strike the funders of terrorism in the region.” 1600 or 1700 Israelis were lost and 35 American lives. “You cannot negotiate with evil, you have to destroy it.” (Seems like quite a war monger; wonder if he got behind DJT’s idea to bomb drug dealers within Mexico?)

Asked about whether he will make it onto the next debate stage:  ‘I’m 100 % certain that 100 days from now in Alabama I’ll be on the debate stage.” (Really? Maybe ask them to donate to the deficit, instead? Seems like pouring money down a rat hole.) “Voters are just turning their attention to this election. I’m very optimistic about this election.” (Well, that makes one person, but he’s not an Iowa voter.)

RAMASWAMY’S ATTACK ON THE RNC

“Kind of weird” says the GOP former deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley about Ramaswamy’s attack on Rona McDaniel. He says that there is criticism amongst other GOP voters of the RNC. They don’t feel that the RNC is doing enough at the local level.

CHANGE FROM DEBATE ?

Chris Christie

Former governor of New Jersey and presidential candidate Chris Christie.

“In this moment, no, no change.” Christie, for one, the GOP moderator found to be lackluster. “You’re here to throw bombs. Why aren’t you throwing them?”

“Donald Trump has the luxury of not coming because he is so high in the polls, but as the field shrinks, there may be an opportunity for him to come in and shake things up. (From Hogan Gidley).

WHO DO REPUBLICANS WANT TO SEE RUN ?

Jen Psaki said that the voters were not really planning for any of these candidates. “I think that what they are focused on is the general election.” She highlighted abortion and the Republican party being the party of extremism as things the Democrats will emphasize during the 2024 election. (Good things to emphasize, since they are true.)

Any chance of Biden pulling out as a candidate?

Jen Psaki says no. “I was part of Obama’s team when people were saying, ‘There’s no way this guy can win.’ And then he won.”

 

I second that last bit of wisdom, from Jen Psaki, former Press Secretary for President Biden. I was named the Yahoo Content Producer of the Year for Politics in 2008 and vilified for reporting  that Obama was winning in Iowa. That article on Associated Content was hit 3 million times. As a result, I was invited to come to Denver and cover the 2008 DNC and the 2008 RNC in St. Paul, from which came two books, “Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House,” Vols, I & II. Check them out.

movie Foe

“Foe” Premieres on Amazon on October 6th: Closing Night of Nashville Film Festival

“Foe’s setting is supposed to be the Midwest in 2065. Information projected on the screen tells us that the planet’s climate is growing worse as mankind continues to pollute and ruin the air and water. The government, like Elon Musk, is intent on using space as a safety valve for humans to flee our ruined Earth. Once we completely ruin our home planet, humans will be relocated to suitable locales. The husband of this couple is being recruited to go for a year. (Why?)

A representative of the government, Terrence (Aaron Pierre), comes to the couple’s remote farm home to inform them that the husband, Junior, has been selected to live aboard a government-built space station for a year. (Why?)  While he’s gone, an A.I. Replicant will serve as a companion to Junior’s wife Henrietta. Terrence tells the couple that this is a great opportunity for them. Originally, Terrence says the year-long sabbathical will take place in roughly 2 years.

Terrence  leaves, but then he returns in his modernistic DeLorean-like car much sooner.

Terrence returns in just one year. He says that he must live with the couple for a period of months in order to help make the Replicant-to-be-made as authentic as possible. Terrence will be conducting confidential interviews with each of the couple and generally butting into their lives. His presence seems unwelcome and, frankly, unnecessary.

The first impulse that Junior has when their doorbell rings at a very late hour is to grab a gun and shoot. Henrietta talks him out of loading the shotgun; no shots are fired at Terrence. [Perhaps they should have been.]

Junior is not thrilled by Terrence’s news. [I couldn’t help but think of the film we watched just prior to this one where a black family in North Carolina fights for 33 years to be able to stay in their home. Two of the principals in “Silver Dollar Road” go to jail for 8 years, just to be able to remain in the only homes they have ever known. “Foe,” which screened immediately after “Silver Dollar Road,” again presents us with a home-owner who does not want to be rousted from his habitat.]

Junior makes the usual accusations about how he doesn’t want some robot living with his wife while he’s gone. He repeats the usual things about his ties to the land and how he doesn’t think that his wife would like living on an artificial construct launched into space. We, the audience, are less sure of this the more we hear of Henrietta’s angst at the sameness of their lives and how she has always felt “that there’s something else out there for me.”

Farming is already nearly impossible in the Midwest of 2065, however; the bleak picture of the future of the planet certainly seems likely after the weather we’ve all experienced this past summer. The dust storm scene reminded me of the Margot Robbie 2019 film “Dreamland.”

THE GOOD

The scenes depicting the ruined planet are all very cinematic. The lonely tone of the farm and fields is impressive, even if it looks nothing like what I would imagine a ruined Midwest would look like in 2065. We could also say that the couple seem oddly stuck in the past, themselves, with a beat-up pick-up truck and a house that could easily be from the fifties. No flat-screen TVs in evidence and a very old-fashioned look and feel to the entire setting. The acting was top-notch, and I would urge you to check it out on Amazon if you have Amazon Prime and fill me in on the gaps in my interpretation, which are many and numerous.

THE BAD

Problems with the interesting landscape do present themselves to the viewer, however. The couple this film focuses on supposedly live in a remote area that is seeing Dust Bowl-like storms and very little rain. If it’s so remote, why is this huge chicken processing plant where Junior works located in the middle nowhere? And who are the customers that Junior’s wife, Henrietta, is seen waiting on in a fancy restaurant?

I’m an Iowa girl. The landscape looked completely foreign. Dying mucky pink fields and crop circles are not part of my Midwestern experience. Even with the passage of thirty-two years, it’s hard to accept that this is supposed to be the Midwestern United States in 2065. (It is, in fact, Victoria in Australia.)

Two Irish actors (Saoirse Ronan as Henrietta and Paul Mescal as Junior) portray the Midwestern couple on the farm, which is suffering the fate of the entire planet. Based on the book Iain Reid wrote and scripted by Reid and Director Garth Davis (“Lion”), this closing night film at the Nashville Film Festival, is an Amazon/MGM project and set to have a premiere on Amazon on October 6th. ( It premiered at the New York Film Festival and will open in the U.S. on October 6th and in the U.K. on October 20th. The reviews have been somewhat negative, but it is definitely worth a look.)

SPOILER ALERT

The film owes much to “Black Mirror” episodes we have seen before, like the 2013 episode Be Right Back, starring Domhnall Gleeson as an AI facsimile for Hayley Atwell’s late boyfriend. There was a similar one on “Black Mirror” in 2011 entitled “Beyond the Sea” that starred Aaron Paul as an astronaut. And, of course, who can forget the Replicants of “Blade Runner?”

The movie opens with Henrietta (Saiorse Ronan) crying in the shower. She is bemoaning the loss of interest in her that she feels she has seen from her husband of 7 years. (“In the beginning, everything seems so new and exciting until time makes it so predictable.”)

IMHO, Henrietta has made a sort of “deal with the devil” to  allow the well-made robot early access to her home and marriage. She is tired of the hum-drum existence with which her husband seems content. She wants to play the piano; Junior makes her play in the basement. She wants to travel and leave this dead place. He does not seem to want to leave his  familiar homestead. This seems fairly male, in my own experience, so Henrietta’s angst at her husband’s happiness with the status quo is a motive for her behind-the-scenes collaboration with Terrence to allow the husband substitute to enter her life earlier than we originally think as we watch the film. We only learn it in a climactic scene near the end.

The give-away for “which one is the real robot” is the fact that Henrietta obviously knows Terrence when he comes to their door in the middle of the night. My companion said, “Yes, but isn’t that just because she may have signed them up for the spacecraft because of her desire to leave the farm and get away from the sameness of life?”

Possibly, but the plot seems to give the nod to the wife shacking up with the robot from the get-go and the robot being in house throughout 90% of this movie. (This despite the audience thinking that there will come a later time when the robot will be introduced.) Our thinking is that the robot is “in house” from Scene #One. The ability of a replicant to learn to “love” has been pondered before in other films, and it seems to surface again in this one. (Terrence: “Henrietta didn’t know how this would end. They’ll be studying you for years.”)

A later brief absence on Henrietta’s part caused one of us to feel that Henrietta may have gone off on the spacecraft and sent a Replicant back to live with Junior-the-robot. This could be, although I’ll leave that up to you as you watch this on Amazon.

I think I need to read the book in order to completely understand the symbolism of the bugs and other plot points. Why it is called “Foe” is another good question. I can offer some possible reasons for that title, but it doesn’t seem like the strongest fit.

The acting was good. Saiorse Ronan is good in everything and I looked forward to this film. Paul Mescal was a fine counterpart, but not someone whose work I was familiar with;he rose to fame in England in a television series. Some felt the accents were off. I honestly did not notice any break-through Irish accent problems.

We enjoyed the film.  Drop a line and we’ll thrash the plot out together.

“Cast

Saoirse Ronan as Henrietta

Paul Mescal as Junior

Aaron Pierre as Terrence

Director

Writer (based on the book by)

Writer

Cinematographer

Editor

Composer

Chris Christie: GOP Savior or GOP Gadfly?

Chris Christie in Baltimore2022.jpg

Christie in 2022

Frank Bruni is a contributing Opinion writer who was on the staff of The Times for more than 25 years. He wrote a June 21st opinion about Chris Christie’s recent remarks during his CNN Town Hall appearance. Mr. Bruni found Christie’s remarks as refreshing and as necessary as I did, in watching this appearance.

I had also just completed reading Margaret Haberman’s book on Donald J. Trump. Haberman, the New York Times writer assigned to cover Trump over decades, interviewed hundreds of personal friends of DJT and related that Christie was very definitely trying to snag the VP nomination for himself during 2016.

Most of us who watched Mr. Christie during his Sunday morning talk show appearances know that he was the politician tapped to “prep” Donald J. Trump for debates during his run, although DJT was not a willing student at all times. One of the more startling facts that Haberman rehashed was how Trump, himself, kept Christie wondering about who would ultimately be his running mate. The three finalists were said to be Pence, Christie and Newt Gingrich. Trump called up the Indiana Senator and told him to fly out for the announcement, and Christie got wind of the Pence family’s arrival in Teterboro, N.J. It was not a happy conversation when Christie realized that Trump had been jacking him around for literally months, I’m sure.

Here’s what Frank Bruni had to say: “Chris Christie made a complete fool of himself back in 2016, fan-dancing obsequiously around Donald Trump, angling for a crucial role in his administration, nattering on about their friendship, pretending or possibly even convincing himself that Trump could restrain his ego, check his nastiness, suspend his grift and, well, serve America. But then Christie, a former two-term governor of New Jersey, had plenty of company. And he never did style himself as a saint.

It’s all water under the George Washington Bridge now. The Chris Christie of the current moment is magnificent. I don’t mean magnificent as in, “He’s going to win the Republican presidential nomination.” I don’t mean I am rooting for a Christie presidency and regard him as the country’s possible saviour.

But what he’s doing in this Republican primary contest is very, very important. It also couldn’t be more emotionally gratifying to behold. He’s telling the unvarnished truth about Trump, and he’s the only candidate doing that. A former prosecutor, he’s artfully, aggressively and comprehensively making the case against Trump, knocking down all the rationalizations Trump has mustered and all the diversions he has contrived since his 37-count federal indictment.”

In a poll released on Friday by The New Hampshire Journal, Christie had pulled into third place among Republicans in the state, far behind Trump, who had 47 percent of the vote, but not far behind Ron DeSantis, who had just 13. Christie had 9, followed by Mike Pence with 5. That partly reflects Christie’s decision to make his initial stand, so to speak, in New Hampshire. But it also reflects something else: He’s excellent at this.

Christie is to DeSantis what a Roman candle is to a scented votive. He explodes in a riot of color. DeSantis, on his best days, flickers.”

I would like to add that Christie’s performance on that CNN Town Hall, was, indeed, more like a Roman candle than the halting delivery of second place runner Ron DeSantis. I found his one-on-one answers to members of the audience to be spot-on, even when one asked about the infamous Bridgegate controversy that ended his time in New Jersey politics.

My enchantment with Christie’s fireworks makes me a cliché. In an observant and witty analysis in The Atlantic on Monday with the headline “Chris Christie, Liberal Hero,” David Graham inventoried the adoring media coverage Christie has garnered, noting that while there’s zero evidence that Christie could actually win the contest he has entered, “pundits are swooning.” It should be noted here that hard-core GOP voters were less thrilled with Christie’s sudden emergence as one of the few Republicans to let the truth prevail. Many of the most faithful Republicans—up to 70% in one poll—said they would not vote for him.

But the swoon isn’t about Christie’s prospects. It’s about the hugely valuable contrast to other Republican presidential candidates that he’s providing. And about this: The health of American democracy hinges on a reckoning within the Republican Party, and that won’t come from Democrats saying the kinds of things that Christie is now saying. They’ve been doing that for years. It’ll come — if it even can — from the words and warnings of longtime Republicans who know how to get and use the spotlight.

Did you see Christie’s CNN town hall last week? Have you watched or listened to any of his interviews? He’s funny. He’s lively. He’s crisp. And he’s right. Over the past few weeks, he has described Trump’s behavior as “vanity run amok.” Trump himself is “a petulant child.”

At the town hall: “He is voluntarily putting our country through this. If at any point before the search in August of ’22 he had just done what anyone, I suspect, in this audience would have done, which is: said, ‘All right, you’re serious? You’re serving a grand jury subpoena? Let me just give the documents back,’ he wouldn’t have been charged. Wouldn’t have been charged with anything, even though he had kept them for almost a year and a half.”

Other candidates, who prefer not to talk about the charges against Trump, are reportedly worried that his indictment will mean ceaseless chatter about him and extra difficulty promoting their own (muted and muddled) messages. Josh Barro, in his Substack newsletter Very Serious, nailed the absurdity of that, pointing out that Trump’s front-runner status and enormous lead over all of them guarantee that he’ll always monopolize the conversation, indictment or no indictment.

“The Republican nomination campaign cannot — and will not — be about anything but Donald Trump, and the media is not going to invite them on TV to talk about topics other than Donald Trump,” Barro wrote. “So, since they are going to talk about Donald Trump all the time, they had better talk about why he should not be nominated.” Christie is getting invitations and attention because he is doing precisely that. Maybe, just maybe, some of them will take note and wise up.

To the conundrum of what, if Christie qualifies for the Republican primary debates, he’ll do about the required pledge that he support whoever winds up getting the party’s nomination, he has apparently found a solution that’s suited to Republicans’ willful and nihilistic captivity to Trump, the stupidity of the pledge and the stakes of the race: He’ll sign what he must and later act as he pleases.

“I will do what I need to do to be up on that stage to try to save my party and save my democracy,” he told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday morning.

Let’s pivot from Trump and Trump analogues to Trump sycophants. In The Atlantic, Tom Nichols described how J.D. Vance, who once spoke with such disparaging and devastating accuracy about Trump, did a self-serving about-face in his 2022 Senate race in Ohio and, reprogrammed by that victory, never looked back: “What he once wore as electoral camouflage is now tattooed all over him, in yet another fulfillment of the late Kurt Vonnegut’s warning that, eventually, ‘we are what we pretend to be.’”

Chris Christie, superhero? He has his own supersize vanity. He is arguably playing the only part in the crowded primary field available to him. And those dynamics may have as much to do with his assault on Trump as moral indignation does. Even so, saving his party and country agrees with him.

DeSantis, Pence, Tim Scott, Nikki Haley and other Republican presidential candidates are clearly telling themselves that they can’t do any good down the road if at this intersection they provoke Trump and run afoul of his supporters.

 Where have we heard that before? It’s a version of what Christie said to himself in 2016. He now sees the folly of that fable.

 

“A Small Light” at SXSW is National Geographic Series Rediscovering the Anne Frank Story

The official synopsis for “A Small Light:”  “Based on an inspiring true story, Miep Gies was  young, carefree and opinionated — at a time when opinions got you killed ― when Otto Frank asked her to help hide his family from the Nazis during WWII. Told with a modern sensibility, A SMALL LIGHT shakes the cobwebs off history and makes Miep’s story feel relevant, forcing audiences to ask themselves what they would have done in Miep’s shoes; and in modern times, asking if they would have the courage to stand up to hatred. Some stood by, Miep stood up.” The powerful, eight-part limited series is produced by ABC Signature and Keshet Studios and will begin airing on May 1st. (See last paragraph for channels and times).

Bel Powley as Miep Gies. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

The series stars Bel Powley as Miep and Liev Schreiber as Otto Frank. Anne Frank is portrayed by 17-year-old British actress Billie Boulet (“The Worst Witch,” “The Power”) and her older sister, Margot, is portrayed by Ashley Brooke (“The White House Plumbers,” “Troop Zero”). Ashley shared during the Q&A that her own grandmother was a Holocaust concentration camp survivor.

The opening episodes of the series build the character of Miep.  “A Small Light” is the story of Miep Gies ; Born. Hermine Santruschitz. 15 February 1909. Vienna, Austria-Hungary (Now Austria) ; Died, 11 January 2010 (2010-01-11) (aged 100). Hoorn, Netherlands. Miep  was sent from her native Vienna, Austria to be raised by the Gies family because her health was fragile. Her nuclear family felt it was in her best interests to relocate her to Amsterdam, so that she could receive medical care and a generally better quality of life. She remained in Amsterdam for the rest of her life.

Bel Powley as Miep Gies. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Miep, as portrayd by Bel Powley (“The Morning Show,” “The King of Staten Island,” “White Boy Rick“) seems carefree and lighthearted and not that interested in either working or settling down. Her adopted family actually has conversations about the possibility of her marrying her adopted brother, to alleviate the hardship for the family unit continuing to support Miep in war-time.

This detail about Miep’s potential marriage to someone she  regarded as her brother was true. It was researched by show creators Tony Phelan and Joan Rater, who are a married couple. The brother being gay, however, was poetic license, based on the gay community’s support for the Resistance in Amsterdam in WWII. The co-creators also shared that their diligent research for the series was all donated to the Anne Frank House/Museum after filming was completed.

Joan arrived late for the Q&A due to flight delays at SXSW. She explained that she and her husband were touring the Anne Frank home in Amsterdam when they became intrigued by the untold story of Miep Gies, the young woman who stepped up to help hide Otto Frank and his family when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. The sets were exact recreations of the space in which the Franks hid.

Ashley Brooks and Billie Boullet (Margot and Anne Frank) at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

It is clear that Miep is somewhat naïve about how bad things will become for Jewish residents of the Netherlands. (“Hitler won’t come here. We’re neutral.”) She is among those Dutch citizens who cannot believe that the Germans will invade their peaceful city and country. Others, who are more practical, are convinced that he will, in fact, invade.

May 10-15, 1940:  The Queen fled to London and the Netherlands fell to the Nazis in five days.

Miep is proven wrong in her optimistic belief that “all will be well.” She then becomes very active in helping Jews go into hiding, not only helping the Franks build a secret hideaway above Otto’s Opetka office, with a staircase hidden behind a fake bookcase, but also helped to hide other Jewish families in the city.

Miep also has a romance with a bookish young man named Jan, played by Joe Cole (“Peaky Blinders”). Jan tells Miep that he is actually already married to someone else, but just doesn’t have enough money to finalize the divorce. That was an odd beginning to their courtship.  Miep is shown ditching Jan at a club, as she found his bookish ways (he is reading Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”) boring, initially. Ultimately, the couple discover they have many shared interests and—despite his horrible period haircut—they become a couple. Jan is played by Joe Cole (“Against the Ice,” “The Ipcress File”).

Co-creator Tony Phelan. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

As the couple become more and more involved in the Dutch Resistance—Miep in their neighborhood and Jan banding together with like-minded co-workers (he is a social worker)—the couple work together to solve problems such as how to secure extra ration books in order to feed the nine people hiding in the upper area above Otto Frank’s Opetka jam business.

It falls to the efforts and good will and chutzpah of  Good Samaritans such as Miep and Jan to hide and provide for the persecuted Jews. Miep hid the Franks for over 2 years. The Franks went into hiding on July 5, 1942.

During that time, Miep was also helping hide other families. At one point, the Franks’ Jewish dentist, Dr. Pfeffer (Noah Taylor) must go into hiding with the Franks and their guests, the Van Pels family. A line in the script, when husband Jan suggests that Miep should have shared her decision with him before saying yes to Otto Frank (Liev Schreiber with his hair shaved back to mid-pate), Miep responds, “I didn’t think I needed to consult you before agreeing to save someone’s life.”

Director Susanna Fogel of “A Small Light” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

From the stage during the Q&A Joan Rater shared with the audience that she and her husband (co-creator Tony Phelan, who directed 3 episodes and scripted others) have a son about the age that Miep was when she was asked to help hide the Franks. It was being in Amsterdam and thinking about the way in which their own son might react that got them thinking about the largely untold story of Miep Gies.

POTENTIAL SPOILERS

Most of us are familiar with “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Only Otto survived being imprisoned. Edith (the mother) died at Auschwitz. Anne and Margot were transferred to Birkenau and died there of typhus.

As for Miep Gies, the focus of this film, she lived to be almost 101. When the Franks were arrested in August of 1944, possibly turned in by neighbors or by the cleaning person at Otto’s business, Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl were not arrested. Miep managed to excuse herself by saying she knew nothing of those in hiding. Miep and two others would rescue Anne’s diary before the Nazis cleared out the hiding place. They would eventually return the papers to Otto Frank. Anne’s father would see that Anne’s diary was published (initially as “Diary of a Young Girl”).

“A Small Light,” an 8 part series, premieres Monday, May 1, at 9/8c on National Geographic with two back-to-back episodes. New episodes will debut every Monday at 9/8c and 10/9c on National Geographic and will stream the next day on Disney +. The timeliness of the script, plus the excellent performances and on-site location shoot, have this series marked for nominations during awards season.

 

Listen to part of my interview with the actresses Ashley Brooke, who played Margot Frank, and 17-year-old Billie Burke, who plays Anne Frank in the 8-part National Geographic series now airing. (Ashley is also appearing in “The White House Plumbers” as Alexandra Liddy, daughter of Justin Theroux’s character of E. Gordon Liddy.) Connie met with the two stars of “A Small Light” for a one-on-one interview just prior to the film’s premiere at SXSW.

Bob Odenkirk Rides Again: “Lucky Hank” Premieres at SXSW and Streams (AMC+) on March 19th, 2023.

“Lucky Hank” is Bob Odenkirk, in his first television outing since leaving “Better Call Saul.” The premiere episode of the AMC+ series premiered at SXSW on March 12th (Oscar day), showing once and once only at the Stateside Theater in Austin.

Bob Odenkirk and cast members of “Lucky Hank”, streaming on AMC+ on March 19th.

The series owes much to the Pulitzer Prize-winning book on which it is based, “Straight Man,” by Richard Russo.

The synopsis for the series reads: “An English department chairman at an underfunded college, Professor Hank Devereaux toes the line between midlife crisis and full-blown meltdown, navigating the offbeat chaos in his personal and professional life.”  As IMDB further says, William Henry Devereaux, Jr., spiritually suited to playing left field but forced by a bad hamstring to try first base, is the unlikely chairman of the English department at Railton East University. Over the course of a single convoluted week, he threatens to execute a duck, has his nose slashed by a feminist poet, discovers that his secretary writes better fiction than he does, suspects his wife of having an affair with his dean, and finally confronts his philandering elderly father, the one-time king of American Literary Theory, at an abandoned amusement park”

If this all sounds like a great vehicle for Bob Odenkirk, you’re right. The humor and sarcasm are on full display in this clip.

 

THE GOOD

The cast, headed by Odenkirk, is stellar. Mirielle Enos (“World War Z,” “The Killing”) plays Hanks’ wife, Lily, and she is a revelation. In the Q&A following the screening, she admitted that she “wanted to play a less closeted woman.” Her serious role in “The Killing” made her a natural choice for screenwriters Paul Lieberstein and Aaron Zelman, who had worked with her on “The Killing.” Those representing the premiere in Austin referred to the cast as “spectacular.”

The writers are similarly spectacular. Although credit must also be given to the source material, as the writers admit that they constantly “went back to the book” while also adding depth to Hank’s character.

Bob Odnkirk and Mirielle Enos onstage at the Stateside Theater in Austin, Texas, at SXSW, on March 11, 2023.

Bob Odenkirk, onstage after the screening, talked about how he ended up working this hard so soon after “Better Call Saul” ended. “I had said yes to the show. I really thought it would take forever. It didn’t.” Factor in a heart attack that Odenkirk described as, “what happens when you don’t take your heart medication” and here he is in an 8-episode series that he praised as “A place for everyone to do their best” and “A lot of variety on a journey that goes somewhere.” Odenkirk added that it was “Great use of modern TV. We had 4 different directors and travel alterations. The stories and characters progress and it is more like an 8-episode movie.”

He also praised the dream cast and said, of his character, “He’s so different from Saul, who was a loner. There are people in the right relationships. You love your wife and then, if you’re married long enough, you hate them.” (This brought laughter and an admonition from the writers, “Bob! Your wife is in the audience.”) Odenkirk continued, “If it’s a great relationship, you find your way back and you don’t even know how.” He felt that Saul and Kim in “Better Call Saul” were loners, but “I liked the way this guy relates to other people.” Pointing out the fundamental differences between his Saul character and Hank he said, “It’s fun to do wildly different things. It’s one of the reasons I went into this business.”

THE BAD

For me, the bad is that I currently don’t have AMC+. In order to watch this wildly entertaining series, I am going to have to subscribe, which means that my spouse (of 55 years) is going to be gifted with a subscription to the series (which premieres on March 19th). Since his birthday is March 21st, thank you, Hank, for figuring out what to give the man who has everything. This looks like a totally enjoyable, witty, well-written and well-acted 8-episode series that will entertain mightily.

Anti-Semitism on the Rise in the United States

I’m almost caught up from the recently concluded SXSW film festival.

I still have a review of a screened horror film (“Appendage”) and one that is embargoed until April 24th for a drama financed by National Geographic commencing May 1st that will focus on the brave young woman who helped hide Otto Frank and his family in war-torn Amsterdam. Most of us know the story of Anne Frank from her recovered diary and the many spin-off dramatizations that sprang from it. Most of us did not know about Miep Gies, however.

It  was Miep Gies, then a 24-year-old secretary to Otto Frank at his business (a jam factory called Opetka) who agreed to hide Otto Frank (Liev Schreiber) and his family of four (Otto, Edith, Anne and Margot) and five other Dutch Jews from the Nazis during WWII and the occupation of Holland. They lived in hiding for 2 years, until they were turned in.

Only Otto Frank survived the war after the Nazis captured the family, hiding in a hidden annex built above Mr. Frank’s business establishment, Opetka.  He and his family were sent to concentration camps, separated as a family, and only Otto survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.

Together with her colleague Bep Voskuijl, Miep retrieved Anne Frank’s diary after the family was arrested, and kept the papers safe,  returning the papers to Otto Frank when he came back to Amsterdam from Auschwitz in June of 1945.  Gies had stored Anne Frank’s papers in the hopes of returning them to the girl, but gave them to Otto Frank, instead, who compiled them into a diary first published in June of 1947,

Bel Powley, who portrays Miep Gies in “A Small Light.” (Photo by Connie Wilson)

In collaboration with Alison Leslie Gold, Gies wrote the book Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family in 1987. Born in 1909, she died just one month shy of her 101st birthday in 2010, which was surprising, considering the fact that she was instrumental in saving many Dutch Jews from the Holocaust. [She denied any involvement in helping hide the Franks when their hiding place was discovered.]

Considering that anti-Semitism is at its highest point since the seventies, the choice to dramatize this story at this time in history is a timely one. The Anti-Defamation League began keeping records of anti-Semitic activity in 1979. In the past 5 years, the incidences of assaults or robberies or other crimes have increased 500%. On college campuses, the incidences have risen 4o% and in Kindergarten through 12th grade schools, the incidences of such wrongdoing are up 50%.

Specifically, incidents of violence against Orthodox Jews are up 67%. Incidents of vandalism are up 51%. General harassment is up 29% and assaults, in general, are up 26%. As the experts have said, “Extremists feel emboldened right now” and various other spokesmen called it a “battleground against bigotry.”

As one CNN expert said, “It may start with the Jews, but it doesn’t end with the Jews.” A super spreader of such hatred would be social media outlets. When social influencers (like Kanye West and Mel Gibson) express hatred for the Jewish people, there are surges in such evil acts. There is a reverberation effect within and among conspiracy groups; the actions condoned by the MAGA hordes are germane.

Signs of people in positions of authority condoning, explicitly or complicitly, man’s inhumanity to man contributes to the deep-seated problem and exposes a sickness in society. Kanye West today tried to dig himself out of the deep hole he had dug for himself with his anti-Semitic rants, saying that watching Jonah Hill in “21 Jump Street” had changed his opinion to one that is more positive. Not only is this a weak defense against his previous bigoted words and actions, but it hardly seems likely to stem the tide of actions like those that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia from August 11th to 12th in 2017.  That Unite the Right rally was a white supremacist rally that seems, now, to have been a watershed moment in giving radical groups permission to act in  uncivil and illegal manners. It is worth noting that it took place during Donald Trump’s presidency.

The focus on the heroic actions of the Miep Gies’ of the world comes at a time that should give the excellent production “A Small Light” a welcome platform. (Review to follow in April).

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