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!

Tag: Gael Garcia Bernal

“Station Eleven:” Futuristic Series Set in Chicago

We’re watching “Station Eleven,” a 10-part mini series that Patrick Somerville adapted for the screen. Somerville was the show runner (and writer) for “The Bridge,” (2013-2014) followed by two years on “The Leftovers” (2015-2017) and “Maniac” in 2018.

When I first obtained my condo in Chicago in 2003, I took an evening class in Writing the Novel at the University of Chicago. Patrick Somerville was the instructor. He was, at that time, a noted “metrosexual” serious fiction writer.

The class had been meeting for some time, so I had to have permission to join the already-assembled group. When I entered, I was asked to tell the group something about myself. The group was largely female and consisted of very highly-educated women— doctors and lawyers who, apparently, wanted to write a novel. (I had already written a novel at that time, “Out of Time,” so I had a bit of an idea what I was in for.)

Looking around at the assembled group, I decided to hit them with my best shot. I told them that I was “an active, voting member of the HWA,” which stands for the Horror Writers’ Association. I figured that would get their attention, although not necessarily in a good way. It was true at that time, although I have moved on to ITW (International Thriller Writers) since then.

Patrick Somerville was very interested in hearing about HWA.  I think that, even then, he was planning his escape to L.A. to write for Hollywood. He was never very chummy with me. He would hang out with the women who were always smoking and, sometimes, someone would bring a bottle of wine to class. I still remember there was a woman doctor in the class who was writing a novel set in a nudist colony in pre World War I. Odd. We would have to read parts of our writing to the class and there did not seem to be any “real” writers in the class—unless you count me, and I’ll leave that up to you. We read and discussed “The Plague” by Albert Camus and it was a totally worthless exercise in learning (or teaching) someone how to write a novel.

Now, Patrick Somerville is involved in a partnership with David Eisenberg called Tractor Beam productions for film and TV production.

Right now I’m watching actors act out a scene in a high rise that could well be the Hancock Building in Chicago. “We gotta make moves. Never, ever, ever can we fake moves.” Rapping. This sudden deterioration into rap music is but one of many signs that this series has jumped the shark for me. I think the vast array of writers responsible may be part of the issue, but the biggest crime is the jumping around in time that leaves you wondering if the dead character is supposed to be a “flashback” or “imaginary” (see the new “Dexter”) or what, exactly, is going on. (Where is Ridley Scott’s linear approach when you need him?)

It was going along swimmingly with this log line:“A post apocalyptic saga spanning multiple timelines, telling the stories of survivors of a devastating flu as they attempt to rebuild and reimagine the world anew, while holding onto the best of what’s been lost.”

Well, class, I think we can all relate to that theme, at this point, 3 years into Covid-19.

The early episodes of the series, sketching the arriving pandemic were good. “What would you have done, if you knew the flu was coming?” asks the small girl.  The character says he would have come home earlier and spent time with his mother, who died from the flu. “I would have made the choice I wanted to make—you know?”

The little girl who asked the question said she would have said good bye to Arthur Leander, (portrayed  by Gael Garcia Bernal, who appears in only 4 episodes) and notes, “I didn’t get to say good-bye to anyone.”

I had a passing ships-that-pass-in-the-night relationship with Gael Garcia Bernal, who showed up at the premiere of a film he had directed and starred in. I had never seen such a huge crowd for any celebrity in Chicago before or since! The largely Spanish-speaking audience packed the theater to the point that they were seated on the steps leading down to the stage. I finally got up and left so that the audience would have an extra “real” seat.

Himish Patel, who was so good in “Yesterday,” plays Jeevan Chaudry in “Station Eleven.” He and his brother Nabhaan Rizwan as Frank Chaudry, and a young woman (Mackenzie Davis as Kirsten Raymonde) and a small girl (Matilda Lawler as Young Kirsten) are fighting for the apartment in what may be the Hancock Building. The group was re-enacting a play written by Young Kirsten, before going out to see if there is anything left of Chicago. They are either going to starve to death in 90 days or freeze to death in what looks like a very cold Chicago winter.

I wonder if the Chicago location was chosen by Patrick Somerville because of his past association with the Windy City? I’m even more surprised to read in the credits that principal shooting was in New York City, but there definitely are some real Chicago exteriors, as well.

Like most of the things I’ve mentioned, there was a lot of jumping around in time, which made it very difficult to figure out what was going on. Still, the use of the Cubs stocking hat and the exterior Chicago locations is welcome to a Chicago quasi-native.

Frank has just been dispatched in the plot by an intruder. But young Kirsten is being told to go forth with Jeevan and that look like what is going to happen.  They are leaving the high rise for the first time in a long time.The music is ponderous and moody, but the exterior shots of Chicago, with “The Present” typed on the screen, are what remains in my mind. The female lead has apparently stayed behind (Kim Steele wrote this episode based, as all episodes are, on the book by Emily St. John Mandeville).

The biggest thing about the future after the Apocalypse is preserving respect for the Bard, apparently. Odd that Shakespeare is so cherished when it is possible to graduate from a Big Ten university these days with an English degree, but without having taken a single Shakespeare class, I’m told.

“I stood looking over the damage, trying to remember the sweetness of life on Earth, but I couldn’t remember.” (oft repeated in several episodes)

“We don’t even know if it’s like it was before.”

“There is no before. Or after. The past is safe; everything else changes.”

And from that post-Apocalyptic scene, the dead character Arthur Leander (as King Lear) enters the dressing room to be with Clark (David Wilmot). This makes it really difficult to know where we are in time, since Arthur has been dead.

“You say I only hear what I want to” by Alanis Morrissette is playing in the background. This is part of a traveling troupe of actors who keep culture alive by traveling the countryside performing Shakespeare (and other plays).

Sarah, as portrayed by a truly ravaged-looking Lori Petty, is a composer.

Elizabeth Colton, as portrayed by Caitlin Fitzgerald, is one of the better-known actresses in the series, as she played Libby Masters in “Masters of Sex” (2013-2016).




Celebrities Walk the Red Carpet in Chicago at 55th Chicago International Film Festival

Chicago actor Michael Shannon greets the crowd at the AMC Theater in Chicago at the premiere of “Knives Out.” (Photo by Connie Wilson)

The Chicago premier of “Knives Out” took place in Chicago at the AMC Theater and Writer/Director Rian Johnson (“The Last Jedi”) attended, along with cast member Michael Shannon, who has a longstanding connection to Chicago. The film was well-received in its Wednesday premiere and a Q&A was held following the film.

On Saturday night, Gael Garcia Bernal (Mozart in the Jungle), actor-turned-director, received a special Artistic

Director Rian Johnson at the Chicago premiere of “Knives Out.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Award and screened his second directorial effort, “Chicuarotes.” The crowd was very enthusiastic about Bernal’s attendance at the festival and presented him with a Mexican flag, while one entire row wore tee shirts that bore the name of his new film. (His first film was also screened at the festival some years ago, and he shared that the first award he ever won was given him by the Chicago International Film Festival.)

Gael Garcia Bernal on the Red Carpet in Chicago on October 26th. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

“You’re Killing Me, Susana!” with Q&A from Director at Chicago Film Festival

The new Gael Garcia Bernal film, based on the Spanish novel “Deserted Cities” by Jose Agustin explores the changing nature of male-female relationships in Mexico and the world. This entire concept of the changing nature of female roles in the world has been a big topic in this year’s films, including “The Eagle Huntress” (from Mongolia) and documentaries “Girls Don’t Fly” and “The Swedish Theory of Love,” (in which we learn that the growing independence of women in Swedish society means that full 25% of Swedes now die alone.) Perhaps that is to be expected in a presidential election year in the United States in which a woman heads the top of a major party ticket for the first time.

“You’re Killing Me, Susana” played to a packed house, which I attribute to the star power presence of Gael Garcia Bernal, who broke out with “Y tu Mama Tambien” (2001) but is also known to U.S. audiences for “Babel” and television’s “Mozart in the Jungle.”

“You’re Killing Me, Susana” is charmingly hilarious, depicting a womanizing Mexican actor (Gael Garcia Bernal was a Mexican soap opera star in real life) named Eligio whose wife abandons him in the dead of night and strikes off for a writers’ conference in Iowa. Upon reading this plot point, I assumed the Writers’ Workshop would be the world-renowned Writers’ Workshop at my alma mater, the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, so I was interested in seeing how it was portrayed.

That assumption proved incorrect, as the scenes that represent Iowa were actually shot in Winnipeg, Canada and the college is the fictitious Middlebrook College, which looks nothing like the “real” Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa (nor the city of Iowa City).

The plot has Eligio walk off the soap opera set in the middle of filming (when a fellow actress protests, he says, “Tell them to kill me. It’s a soap.”) to chase his now missing wife to the United States, landing at Central Iowa International Airport, (which is non-existent, as well). Funny scenes ensue at the airport when he is rather vague about where he will be staying while in the U.S. and Customs steps in to perform a strip search.

When Eligio reaches Iowa, there are many amusing scenes of culture shock.
I remember this theme from as far back as 1979’s “Time After Time” when Jack the Ripper is transported into the present and must cope with modern life. The culture shock between coming from Mexico City and landing in whatever fictional city in Iowa this is supposed to be is no less vivid to Eligio. In fact, one of the funniest scenes involves him stiffing the cab driver for an $84 fare from the airport and hiding in piles of leaves on campus to avoid paying. Eligio seems to always be big on breaking petty rules, which makes him lovable but also exasperating.

Neither Eligio nor Susana can believe that nobody is out walking around on the streets of the (supposedly) Midwestern town, when he is from Mexico City, one of the most crowded cities in the world. Eligio is also upset to learn that Susana has been having a fling with a Polish poet, who stands at least a foot taller than Eligio. I admit that I also laughed out loud at the prospect of Eligio trying to drive a car to Chicago through a blizzard when Susana and the poet flee again. Eligio obviously knows nothing about driving in Midwestern winter weather and proves this.

Director Sneider, who now lives in the United States, when asked, after the film, about his reaction to seeing it in Chicago said, “When I saw it, I wanted to change it. I tend to think different things, even in editing.” He added, “I love the character of Eligio. He is deplorable in many ways, but very human. I also saw an exploration of how relationships between men and women are being re-imagined. (See first paragraph above) We think we are beyond machismo, but we’re not. I think it’s a lot about self discovery. Eligio feels fidelity is overrated—until he experiences infidelity. It’s definitely not funny then. We see the characters fighting themselves.”

Sneider added that much of the dialogue was improvised and that Gael Garcia Bernal (who is also a director) enjoys improvising, unlike some other actors. “It feels very raw, spontaneous and fresh (if you improvise). I felt this was important to get that feeling of freshness.”

Sneider commented on the jump cuts in the film, cutting through the scenes to pick the moments and improvising in front of the camera. “I think he does some very deep serious roles but I, personally, like to see his great sense of humor and how he gets to display that here.”

Sneider also remarked that “music was super important because the music softens the tone.”
He gave credit for much of the music to a San Antonio based group (StumpFhauser and Victor Hernandez) and said that the entire movie was shot with a hand-held camera. He mentioned the song “Uncertainties of the Heart.” We hear the lyric “He who loves a woman doesn’t know what he gains when he loses her. Another one comes along.”

When asked how much time is supposed to have passed between the time that Susana leaves and Eligio follows her, he said, “7 months and 3 days” with a laugh, leading me to believe he plucked the number from thin air. He added, “I wanted the ending to be a little like the end of ‘The Graduate.’ They each look at one another and say, ‘What now?’ I think the characters are both full of defects, but they’re still the same. I actually think with many couples you think, ‘Should we be in this position?’ There are some things in relationships that we can’t explain.”

When asked about the casting of Veronica Echegui opposite the male lead he admitted that he was “looking for chemistry between the leads” and that he found it in the lovely Veronica, who plays Susana, a strong-willed, beautiful woman who is also a great writer and wants to find her own fulfillment of her own talent.

Sneider said that Gael Garcia Bernal has done 3 adaptations of Mexican novels and that this novel (“Deserted Cities”) is “very much an exploration of what it means to be a Mexican man.” He commented, “In Mexico, he’s just a guy. Now, in the U.S., he’s a Mexican guy.”

American audiences (especially female audiences) will probably wonder why it took Susana so long to pack up and leave. She had plenty of provocation prior to her actual departure.

The ending, which is faithful to the book and involves Eligio spanking Susana, was also questionable, but adhered to the novelist’s vision. (Good luck with that approach with feminist audiences in the U.S.)

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