Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

“A New Kind of Wilderness” Is 2024 Sundance World Cinema Grand Prize Winner

Sundance Film Festival is ending its 40th run on January 28th. I’ve been streaming many of the award winners, including these, in  alphabetical order:

  • “A New Kind of Wilderness”
  • “A Real Pain”
  • “Daughters”
  • “In the Summers”
  • “Kneecap”
  • “Little Death”
  • “Porcelain War”
  • “Suncoast”

[I’ll be telling you about the above films in installments over the next few days, so tune in.]

Although “A New Kind of Wilderness” is first on the list because it is alphabetically first, I think it may be my favorite of the 8 listed, which are award winners. “A New Kind of Wilderness” won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize.

The beautiful part of “A New Kind of Wilderness” is that it is a documentary, but also contains a wonderful story of how a couple in Norway (he is British; she is Norwegian) chose to drop off the grid and raise their children on a farm in Norway. As Nik, the father of Freja, Falk, Ulv and step-father of Ronja tells us, “We want to be independent, free, and full of love.” He added, “We govern our own lives…When you choose a life that is so dependent on yourself, you have a certain authenticity.”

The children have no television, no electronic devices, are home schooled, and learn about growing their own food and hunting and butchering animals for food. The father, Nik, warns the children that traditional schooling teaches, “You can be yourself, but only if you fit in and follow the rules.”

But then the children’s mother, Maria Gros Daine, dies and the group is forced to sell the farm and move to the city. They also spend 4 months in England visiting Nik’s parents, but the kids obviously do not want to move to England, although he temporarily considers it, because, as he said, “It’s a lot harder being alone.”

George MacKay in Captain Fantastic (2016)

The entire story was basically the 2016 film “Captain Fantastic” starring Viggo Mortensen and written and directed by Matt Ross. The director was Silje Evensme Jacobsen and she got the idea of the film from Maria’s blog wildandfree.no and worked on developing the gorgeous images from it (Maria was a professional photographer) into this film. It was very well done and the plot mimicked Matt Ross’ plot line as the children are gradually introduced to the electronic world and school and they begin to enjoy learning and socializing, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It is a good thing because living off the grid is also an isolating experience, but it is also bittersweet to hear Frija tell her father she would rather go to school than play hooky and go camping with him.

It was a beautiful film and all of the issues in the “Captain Fantastic” film were addressed using real-life participants in the adventure of dropping out of normal life to live an exceptional life, the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all.

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.

Reflections on Barbra Streisand’s Autobiography “My Name Is Barbra”

James Brolin & Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand & Husband James Brolin.

  • Has unresolved issues about her mother.
  • Has issues regarding a “father figure.”
  • Somewhat downplays the gift her voice has been to her life path.
  • Seems to have OCD tendencies, even as to placement of flowers.
  • Naturally curious.
  • Seems to have built a “family” from those she found more supportive of her.
  • Takes a few swipes at good old “Marty” (her manager),and at Mandy Patimken and others. Seems to want to portray herself as someone who others were constantly seeking for intimacy, yet she doesn’t share much about her “lovers.” In fact, she seems to be rather coy about whether or not a certain famous individual was or was not someone with whom she shared physical intimacy.
  • James Newton Howard seems to re-surface as someone who had a crush on her.
  • The Jon Peters guy sounds like a real shyster and opportunist, and that seems to have been how he was viewed by the Hollywood community, as well.
  • Loyalty to Prince—now King—Charles and to Pierre Trudeau. Probably explains her views on Meghan Markle, recently articulated.
  • Doesn’t say much about Elliott Gould, with whom she shares her son, Jason. Kind of implies that they just drifted apart, he wasn’t good-looking enough, and he had a gambling problem and possibly a drug problem later in life. Discusses Jason’s homosexuality in passing and claims he has a phenomenal voice. Jason is now 58 years old and, while he did release an album some years ago and sang with his mother on one of her tours, he doesn’t seem to have done much creating, musically speaking.
  • Seems to have found a man in James Brolin who can take her independent attitude in stride.
  • Starred or appeared in 19 films, but sounds like she is done.
  • Music seems to be the thing that she might continue doing to the bitter end, a la Tony Bennett, especially if it doesn’t involve touring or appearing in person.
  • Very detail oriented, to the point that would drive many people insane. (Lighting, rewriting lyrics, etc.). She actually requested that famous songwriters like Stephen Sondheim rewrite song lyrics for various reasons and other “pushy” things.
  • Tells some interesting stories about her famous friends (Donna Karan is one, Prince Charles, Secretary of State Madeline Albright, the Clintons) but doesn’t really dish much new dirt. Before I read the book, the Big Story seemed to be her rejecting Mandy Patimkin as a potential fling, saying she did not find him attractive. The truth hurts, but good for you, Barbara. [Nobody finds Mandy Patimkin attractive.]

    Mandy Patimken.

*Barbra’s father, Emmanuel Streisand, died at 35 and she was told by her cold mother that she kept waiting for him to return for days, sitting by the window. In her own words, “In some ways, I’m still waiting.”

*Her book is dedicated this way:  “This book is dedicated to the father I never knew, and the mother I did…” She, basically, says she loved her mother but she didn’t “like” her. Her mother seems to have had serious jealousy issues about Barbra’s phenomenal success and hurt her many times, both intentionally and unintentionally. Fortunately, Babs bonded with many women who were older than she is and they served as “surrogate” mothers. One of the more famous was Bill Clinton’s mother.

*She talks about how she doesn’t really take care of her voice and doesn’t like to warm up, etc. She also has crippling stage fright, brought on by having forgotten the words to a song while performing at a free concert in Central Park.

*Outspoken – Recently, Babs came out swinging against Megan Markle. She criticized everything about the woman, from her acting prowess to her relationship with the Royal Family. It has made all the tabloids and seems to be a throwback to her great friendship with King Charles and loyalty to him. Barbara doesn’t say that she and Charles had “a fling,” but she tells a semi-racy story about his dog coming in to get in bed with her one morning when she is visiting England.

Barbra Streisand with her only child, Jason Gould (age 58).

Jason Gould and Mom Barbra Streisand.

*The Jon Peters romance (he was her hairdresser) was one of the chapters in her life that she attributes to her “hippy” phase. He sounds like a real piece of work! He is portrayed in the movie “Licorice Pizza” and it isn’t pretty. He did rise to become the head of a studio, but he sounds like a real insecure opportunist. One thing that attracted her to him was that they both had sons about the same age.

*Barbra seems to have a fairly ruthless way of dealing with disloyalty. In her own words, “When I’m done with something, I’m done!” She describes cutting Agent Sue Mengers out of her life when she suspected that the woman had leaked some things to the media.

*She reveals that she has heard weird noises in her head since childhood.

*Several times in the book Barbra repeats this line from George Bernard Shaw’s play “St. Joan:” “It is an old saying that he who tells too much truth is sure to be hanged.” She also says, “I’ve always believed in telling the truth, but it has gotten me in trouble over the years.” We saw Barbra in concert in Chicago right before a presidential election and her remarks to the audience supportive of the Democratic candidate caused the couple next to us to yell (loudly), “Just shut up and sing.” I happen to agree with most of her political opinions, so I’m not one of the MAGA crowd who would be this rude. It was an “okay” concert, but it was not the Experience of a Lifetime I had hoped it might be, as I had been a fan for years.

*The book goes down easy and is a good read, but she goes into detail after detail after detail about every outfit she ever wore in her life, which reminded me of my own dear mother, who resembled Barbra’s mom in that she was not one to praise or express warm, fuzzy things, but I have tried to understand her chilly treatment of me in light of her own career and its demands. Barbra has had years of therapy and she tries to be even-handed about her mother’s indifference or jealousy towards her.

There is no question that Barbra Streisand is a formidable talent. She is a lot. I love her singing; I like most of her movies, so I enjoyed reading the behind-the-scenes stuff but I felt she put entirely too much time describing every outfit she ever wore in her life and casting herself in the most positive light possible, with all kinds of effusive notes of praise and uber-flattering photos.

 

“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.

“The Iron Claw” Revisits Pro Wrestling’s Von Erich Family

Since  (Scott) Beck & (Bryan) Woods selected “The Iron Claw” to open their new Davenport (Iowa) theater, and it is doing well at the box office, while Jeremy Allen White is really gaining steam as a leading man, I went to see “The Iron Claw” here in Texas. Texas is definitely Von Erich territory, site of the Dallas Sportatorium where much of the wrestling matches of yesteryear took place. (“Please note: There will be spoilers.)

“The Iron Claw” recounts the mostly “true story of the inseparable Von Erich brothers, who made history in the intensely competitive world of professional wrestling in the early 1980s. Through tragedy and triumph, under the shadow of their domineering father and coach, the brothers seek larger-than-life immortality on the biggest stage in sports.” “The Iron Claw” is the mostly true story of a wrestling family whose real surname was Adkinsson. Their stage name in the wrestling world was Von Erich. Jack Barton Adkisson wrestled under the name Fritz Von Erich and then encouraged his sons, Kerry, Kevin, David and Michael, to follow him into the ring. (*Son Chris also wrestled, but less successfully than his brothers, and is not depicted in this film, for reasons that don’t seem to make sense.)

CAST

Written and directed by Sean Durkin (“Martha Marcy May Marlene” and TV’s “Dead Ringers”), “The Iron Claw” stars Zac Efron (“High School Musical 3:  Senior Year”); Jeremy Allen White, who first came to my attention as the character Lip (Philip) in the television series “Shameless;” and Maura Tierney of “The Affair.”  Holt McAllany (“Mindhunter,” “Fight Club”) was the standout for me, and when you check out his credits, that is not surprising. Lily James as Pam, Kevin’s wife, is also very good, and Bill Mercer as Michael J. Harney is also good in his part.

However, I came to see Jeremy Allen White, and for more than an hour, I thought I’d walked into the wrong movie.

Jeremy Allen White is hot, right now, as the star of the television series “The Bear.” He walked off with the Golden Globe and the Critics Choice awards in the past week. You really get the feeling that Jeremy is slated for great things dramatically. This film, unfortunately, doesn’t give him that much to do. He doesn’t have the physicality of Zac Efron, but, considering the lengths to which Zac Efron went, maybe that is a good thing. Jeremy admitted on the late night talk shows that he was a novice to the wrestling world. (He gave much credit to Chavo Guerrero, who both instructed the non-wrestlers in the cast and portrayed the character The Iron Sheikh.)

The two other brothers we see portrayed onscreen are David Von Erich (Harris Dickinson of “Beach Rats”) and Michael Von Erich (Stanley Simons, “Angelfish”).

FACTS NOT IN EVIDENCE

According to Wikipedia, Fritz and wife Doris had six sons: Jack Barton Jr. (September 21, 1952 – March 7, 1959), Kevin (born May 15, 1957), David (July 22, 1958 – February 10, 1984), Kerry (February 3, 1960 – February 18, 1993), Mike (March 2, 1964 – April 12, 1987) and Chris (September 30, 1969 – September 12, 1991). Of Adkisson’s six sons, Kevin was the only one still living by the time Adkisson died in 1997.

The couple later separated and Doris divorced her husband on July 21, 1992 after 42 years of marriage.” The movie didn’t make any mention of the exact manner in which the couple’s first child, Jack Jr., died, but Wikipedia says that it was an accidental electrocution and drowning when the child was just 7 years old. The movie also did not mention the youngest child, Chris, and the couple’s divorce after 42 years of marriage was also glossed over. (Adkisson died of lung and brain cancer just 5 years after the divorce.)

PLOT

Kevin Von Erich, the only surviving Von Erich brother.

The movie references the fact that the family is cursed.

As the plot unfolds, it seems to be more a case of the overbearing father’s parenting techniques than of a curse.  Kevin’s wife, Pamela says there is a belief in good or bad luck and then there is the belief that we make our own luck. It seems that the constant emphasis on being the best and being strong and winning drove three of his sons to kill themselves. The script repeatedly articulates this thought:“If we were the toughest,  the strongest, the most successful, nothing could ever hurt us.” That turns out to be bad advice, and the underlying message seems to be that men should be allowed to have a vulnerable, sensitive side.

There were some things in the film that were murky. For instance, did Daddy Fritz embezzle money, either from his hard-working sons or from the promoters who underwrote his wrestling emporium? Why did writer/director Sean Durkin decide to leave the youngest son, Chris—who also committed suicide at 21—out of the movie? Yes, I read that he thought 3 sons who killed themselves was just one too many, but Chris, the baby, had the most cause, as he didn’t have the physical gifts of his older brothers and was struggling to fit in. That would seem to have been a good plot point, as the four brothers who were better known were generally gifted athletes. In fact, Kerry (Jeremy Allen White) is only shown joining the family business after Jimmy Carter took the U.S. out of the 1982 Olympics and, therefore, destroyed Kerry’s hopes of going to the Olympics as a discus competitor.

For that matter, why didn’t he give Doris, portrayed by seasoned veteran Maura Tierney (“The Affair”) more dramatic eulogy scenes at any of the funerals for her sons? Maura Tierney could have hit that ball out of the park. Instead, she has a very pedestrian part that could have been so much more. Opportunity lost.

Was son Kerry’s motorcycle accident no more than that? The way it is portrayed in the film, it looks like that might also have been a suicidal gesture. And brother David’s (Harris Dickinson) insistence that he is “okay” when he is vomiting blood also seemed self-destructive and suicidal. (He dies in Japan from a ruptured intestine.)

I was surprised that Jeremy Allen White didn’t appear in the film until roughly an hour into the 2 hour 12 minute movie. Jeremy Allen White is white-hot right now, coming off his Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Emmy wins for his lead role in “The Bear.”

The actor who impressed me the most was not any of those who got top billing, but Holt McCallany who played the boys’ father. He was awesome. While everyone was impressed by how ripped Zac Efron appeared as Kevin Von Erich, at only 5’ 8” he looked too animalistic for my tastes. The other actors portraying the Von Erich brothers appeared more “normal” in appearance.

I also thought the “meeting in heaven” was odd. It’s nice to have a happy ending, but the failure to portray one dead brother (Chris) at all just made it seem weird, to me.

I was never much of a pro wrestling fan, but I enjoyed the film. Also a small shout-out to Aaron Dean Eisenberg, who portrayed Ric Flair with—-well, flair. He was a hoot.

Need A Smile? Check Out This Ad.

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

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.

“Poor Things:” Emma Stone’s Chance to Take Home the Oscar

Yorgos Lanthimos is known for helming movies that are bizarre and weird. Once you’ve seen Colin Farrell in “The Lobster” (2015) you get the idea that Lanthimos’s films will be far-out. That is certainly true of “Poor Things.”

Having said that, it is such a pleasure to have an original concept that is so well executed. This film (and Nicolas Cage’s “Dream Sequential”) are two of the most original films of the year 2023. In a world of Marvel comics and endless sequels, the originality of Lanthimos is refreshing; this film is truly entertaining, if you’re open to the weird. (I write this from Austin where the town motto is “Keep Austin weird.”)

This adaptation of Scottish author Alasdair Gray’s novel “Poor Things” was something that Lanthimos had been working on even before the author’s death in 2019. Poor Things (1992) discusses Scottish colonial history using a Frankenstein-like drama set in 19th-century Glasgow, where Gray spent his entire life. Godwin ‘God’ Baxter is a scientist (Willem Dafoe) who implants Bella Baxter with the brain of her own unborn child after Bella’s suicide.

“Poor Things” was Gray’s most commercially successful work.  The London Review of Books considered it his funniest novel. It won a Whitbread Novel Award and a Guardian Fiction Prize.  There is Oscar buzz for the adapted screenplay by Tony McNamara. And there should be, as he has done a fantastic job of creating just the right blend of language for the child-becoming-adult-female. Listening to the scripted lines reminded me of hearing your child “create” language of his (or her) very own. It’s amusing, until you think about the wisdom that the lines convey. At that point you realize that this script is perfect for the material (which doesn’t always happen) , just as your son’s “pasghetti” misstep is precious and somehow perfect.

The opening scene is a close-up of an embroidered satin blanket, which, in itself, is unusual. After that, we see Emma Stone jump off a bridge. Just as Gray’s work was compared to that of George Orwell and Franz Kafka, this off-beat novel is a logical fit for Yorgos Lanthimos (although some Scottish folk may not care for the director’s poetic license). The film put Willem Dafoe in a make-up chair for 6 hours as his character’s Frankenstein-like facial scars were applied for 4 hours and then removed at the end of the shoot, during an additional 2 hours.

With the plot concept of a fully-grown female’s body, but the brain of an infant, Emma Stone was given the role of a lifetime. Her childlike infatuation with life is conveyed through her sparse vocabulary (she is learning 15 new words a day) and her awkward, ungainly gate, is almost like a newborn deer.

Bella Baxter articulates thoughts like, “Bella nowhere girl.” (Kudos to McNamara,) Her fresh, unjaded perspective on life and society makes Bella yearn to experience everything.  She has been told by her guardian (Godwin “God” Baxter) that she should “push the boundaries of what is known. That is the only way to live.”

A pure-hearted admirer, Godwin’s assistant Max McAndles, played by Ramy Youssef, proposes to Bella, but she runs off with Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo). Their time together leads Bella to say, “What a confusing person you are, Duncan Wedderburn” and, ultimately to conclude, “I shall need a husband with a more forgiving personality.”

As for Duncan’s assessment of Bella after they travel the world engaging in “furious jumping” (a euphemism for non-stop fornicating), Duncan says, “You don’t know what bananas are and yet you know what empirically means.” Both Mark Ruffalo and Willem Dafoe deserve praise for their Oscar-caliber trio. Ruffalo has already won for Best Actor at at least two film festivals, including the National Board of Review awards and the Santa Monica Film Festival.

Lines like “Your sad face makes me discover angry feelings for you,” “We are all cruel beasts,” and “Protect yourself with the truth” are fresh, original, timely, and display childlike wisdom. Watching Bella’s growth as an adventurous adult female is inspiring to other adult females;  each male she encounters seems to represent yet more ways of keeping the female of the species down and preventing Bella (as their representative) from reaching her full potential.

COSTUMES

At the beginning of the story, Bella dresses in more traditional clothing of the Victorian era. Following her transformation, begins to dress herself in more bizarre clothes or more corseted styles. Costume designer Holly Waddington should snag an Oscar nod, but she will have some competition from “Napoleon’s” costumes.

SETS

The set designs are also Oscar-worthy, with a pastel sci-fi steampunk fantasy look created by set designer Zsuzsa Mihalek. There are, literally, eleven other art direction folk credited, and they deserve accolades for the entrancing sets meant to represent a variety of cities that Bella and Duncan visit, including time spent on an ocean liner.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Principal photography took place in Hungary. It began in August 2021 at Origo Studios in Budapest. The film wrapped in December of 2021 having coped with preparation during the pandemic. According to cinematographer Robbie RyanFrancis Ford Coppola‘s Bram Stoker’s Dracula served as the main source of inspiration for many things in the film.

Poor Things had its world premiere at the 80th Venice International Film Festival on September 1, 2023, and was also screened at the Telluride Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, the BFI London Film Festival, the Busan International Film Festival, and the Sitges Film Festival.

CONCLUSION

The film is an over-the-top, creative criticism of how men try to keep women in their place. Even the good-hearted Max attempts to curb Bella’s adventurous spirit. Considering the message which we also saw in this year’s “Barbie” (and in last year’s “Women Talking”) this Oscar-worthy acting tour de force from Emma Stone is going to be tough to beat at Oscar-time this year, although I’d expect “Maestro’s” Cary Mulligan to be nominated, as well.

It’s such a hilarious romp and packs so much wisdom into the brilliant and amusing screenplay, but be warned if you’re squeamish about nudity and sex, because, during her adventure with Duncan, Bella works as a prostitute in a brothel. There is also a fair amount of gore, including surgery on dead bodies, as Willem Dafoe as a sort of mad scientist surgeon is constantly operating in his Frankenstein-ian lab.

But the film’s happy ending sees Bella returning to the terminally ill Godwin and preparing to marry Max McCandles. Does that work out? You’ll have to watch the film to the end to find out. It’s definitely one of the year’s Ten Best, so, for me, it was a pleasure.

Page 2 of 152

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén