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: Matt Damon

“Ford v. Ferrari” and “Girl on the Third Floor” in Chicago

“Ford v Ferrari” – In what is sure to be one of the best movies of the year, Christian Bale and Matt Damon recreate the face-off between Ford Motor Company and Ferrari at the 24 Hour of LeMans in 1966.  Everything about the movie is top-notch, including the performances, the cinematography, and the music by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders.  Besides that, it’s a true story of legendary racer and sports car designer Carroll Shelby and ace driver Ken Miles. Originally titled “Go Like Hell” with rumors of Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise to star, the casting is great and it’s a truly entertaining film. (Releases Nov. 15th)

“Girl on the Third Floor” – Producer-turned-Director Travis Stevens shepherds a Chicago cast through a haunted house in Frankfurt, Illinois on the outskirts of the windy city. Queensbury Productions cast WWE fighter C.M. Punk (Don Koch as Phil Brooks) as the expectant father fixing up the house so that he and his pregnant wife can move to the burbs. The house has a different agenda for the couple, who are trying to rebuild their lives together after the tattooed husband ripped off the retirement funds of his clients in the investment business (and cheated on the Mrs.). Two months of shooting produced electrical outlets that ooze, gallons of gushing blood, marbles that mysteriously roll about on their own and a totally chill German Shepherd called Cooper in the film. In real life, Ryker, the German Shepherd, died before the film was released, which is too bad, because he was the best thing in it. Able support from Travis Delgado as black friend Milo Stone and music by Steve Albini. (Streaming on October 25th and in select theaters.).

Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion” Entertains & Informs About Epidemics

Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) is Patient Zero in “Contagion,” the new movie about a viral epidemic/pandemic, that is directed by Steven Soderbergh. Why Beth has to have a backstory of infidelity is something I cannot explain and, given her brief time on film, I don’t feel the need to shout “Spoiler Alert!.” The rest of the film seems to pay no attention to that plot point (and multiple others), either. Why we had to be told that Gwyneth would die in the trailer for the film is another good question. (Never a good idea to give away all the good stuff in the trailer.)

It doesn’t matter, in the overall scheme of things, because Soderbergh and writer Scott Z Burns still do a good job of ratcheting up the tension of this all-star cast in a movie with the tag-line, “Don’t talk to anyone. Don’t touch anyone.”  (This is my normal state, so that part did not panic me.) The scenes of a panicked public gone mad and the adolescent romance between Mitch’s (Damon’s) daughter and her boyfriend reassure us that humanitarianism is not dead and things will return to normal…eventually.


The cast includes such luminaries as Kate Winslet as Dr. Erin Mears, who helps fight the outbreak of the mysterious virus; Matt Damon as Beth’s husband Mitch; Laurence Fishbourne as Dr. Ellis Cheever, head CDC operative; Marion Cotillard as Dr. Leonara Orantes, a French physician assisting with the fight; Elliott Gould as Dr. Ian Sussmann, who is an eccentric lone wolf researcher; Jude Law as Alan Krumwiede, an aggressive blogger; and Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) as Lyle Haggerty, representing the government. [I couldn’t help myself: I half-expected Cranston’s character to offer the suffering natives some crystal meth when things got really bleak. Which they did almost immediately.]

Origins of the Epidemic

Beth Emhoff travels to Hong Kong and, because “Somewhere in the world, the wrong pig met up with the wrong bat,” her meal in a casino has unintended consequences not only for her, but for the entire world.  Lines like, “It’s hard to know what it is without knowing where it came from” and “It kills every cell we put it in” are not encouraging. Rhesus monkeys must endure additional indignities in order to save mankind (“First we shoot them into space and them we shoot them full of a virus.”) Ultimately, as the plot has it, “We have a virus with no antidote.” This is not good and every cough, whether on celluloid or in the crowded theater, resonates with the audience. It especially resonated for me when my seat mate’s wife said he had been feeling sick all week and the tattooed seatmate began wiping his dripping nose on his hand. (eeeuuuwww).

Historical Basis for Epidemic Plot : Spanish Flu, Swine Flu, Polio, Bird Flu

I used to listen to my mother talk about the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, which killed 1% of the world’s population. Mom was born in 1907, so she was 11 years old when some class members in her small school in Hospers, Iowa, failed to show up for class.  When she went to her friends’ houses to find out where they were that day, she learned that they would never again be coming to school. Or anywhere else. The youngsters had died of the deadly Spanish flu. Paranoia (and school closings) mounted as the death toll rose.

I also remember the closing of public swimming pools in the days before Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine in 1955, a time when I was approximately the same age as my mother during the Spanish flu scare. My best friend’s mother died of polio after lingering in an iron lung. Neighbors would not even make contact with the victim’s family at the door, but simply left the funeral food on the front step and ran. Even as recently as “W’s” administration in 2009, there were swine flu concerns, and the H5N1 bird flu still remains dangerous and capable of causing a pandemic, according to scientists.

 Societal Breakdown: Crowd Psychology

The most interesting part of the film, for me, was how society breaks down when faced with a crisis of this proportion. It becomes every man (or woman) for him or her self. Even the do-gooders (nuns, nurses, volunteers) are overrun and pushed aside as food runs short and the supply of what may (or may not) be a palliative measure—a homeopathic treatment known as Forsythia—runs short. It took me right back to my Sociology classes and the studies on crowd psychology.

 Political Echoes of Strident Tea Party-like Activists

In today’s climate, I couldn’t help but think of the strident followers of some political elements, those who think that “he who yells the loudest wins the argument” and are overly proud of their membership in the NRA. I could really imagine those individuals leading the charge to break in to pharmacies to take the drug everyone thinks will make their family safe, or launching aggressive measures to find out where the doctors (who get the drug first) might live, in order to break in and steal same. All this plays out in the film.

Humanitarianism Prevails

One nice humanitarian touch was the “regular guy” played by Oscar-nominee John Hawkes (Uncle Teardrop in “Winter’s Bone,” whose birth name in Alexandria, Minnesota was John Perkins). Hawkes’ character has an ADD son and asks the head doctor (Laurence Fishbourne as Dr. Ellis Cheever) for advice, early on. Cheever says it is out of his area of expertise, but he knows it’s treatable and he can recommend someone in the field. Later, Cheever will personally see that the boy is inoculated. Humanitarianism lives on.

Nevertheless, we are told by Bryan Cranston’s character that Dr. Cheever is going be brought up on charges because he let his new bride in on a secret: the severity of the epidemic. He urged her to evacuate Chicago (which is embargoed) despite being  sworn to secrecy. He wanted her to  make a run for Atlanta, where the CDC (Center for Disease Control) is located. The scripted line is, “They’re looking for a scapegoat.  You just made it easy.”

It is little old meth-maker Bryan Cranston, the government stooge, who informs Cheever that his neck is still on the chopping block, late in the film. Again, this plot strand was about as needless and  disconnected to the plot’s thrust as the personal information about Gwyneth which was  shared early in the film. I write fiction. I know how it goes. You insert an idea, intending to integrate that plot thread later on, but other things intrude, get in the way, or seem more important and the planted seed never grows or fluorishes. That was my biggest complaint about the film: dropped plot conceits that are never fully fleshed out or finished off.


The film is otherwise quite riveting, intense and educational. It is hard to care too deeply about characters who drift through  as quickly as pedestrians caught in a giant revolving door, but the main idea (i.e., man’s vulnerability to forces outside his control) sticks with you, propels the film and holds your interest for the duration. After all, it’s almost cold and flu season. In fact, when I sat down next to that tattooed man with 3 others and his wife leaned around and said, “Don’t get too close to him. He’s been sick” it put me on high alert.  I still don’t know if this was her idea of a joke (she seemed serious), but watching him subsequently blow his nose on his hand (!) didn’t do much for my popcorn-eating and I refused to move my paper cup full of Coca Cola to the left cup holder nearest this stranger. From that point on, every cough, every sniffle was part of my experience of the film.

A third plot point that disrupted the smooth flow of the movie was Jude Law’s character of Alan Krumwiede. First of all, with a surname like “Krumwiede,” chances are that Jude isn’t going to be “the good guy,” although, at first, we think he is. He is an aggressive blogger who breaks the story and helps it go wide before the government would like word to get out. I found Jude Law somewhat extraneous in “Road to Perdition” and he is again extraneous here, except to point out that, in times of peril, there are people who profit mightily from the misfortune of others and it has ever been thus.

 n this day and age of Wiki Leaks and Julian Assange, Jude is Julian. Unfortunately, that is another sub-plot that does not seem all that well-integrated into the main storyline. It almost seems that the script wants Jude to function as the “surprise twist” in a plot that is otherwise pretty straightforward in showing how doctors are not “Jesus in a lab coat” and in explaining in riveting detail how a virus like MEV1, (the fictional virus of the film), could well cause widespread death and disruption in a very short time, spreading to as many as one in 12 with 25 to 30% attrition by Day 26.

Earlier Film Precedents

The film is light years better than Dustin Hoffman stumbling around as Colonel Sam Daniels in 1995’s “Outbreak” (he looked ridiculous in that suit) and is better compared to 1971’s “The Andromeda Strain,” which had Michael Crichton as one of the screenwriters. Soderbergh vaulted to stardom at age 26 with “Sex, Lies and Videotape” (featuring a then very thin James Spader) and regained his early form with 1998’s “Out of Sight.” In 2000, he earned a Best Director Oscar for “Traffic” and also directed Julia Roberts to her Oscar in “Erin Brockovich.”

 Soderbergh Speaks

It’s been 10 years since “Ocean’s Eleven” and Soderbergh, who suggested to Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that after his next 3 films he is going to take some major time off. However, he wanted to do “Contagion” because, he said, “It felt ‘zeitgeisty’ to me in the same way that ‘Traffic’ did when we were making it…that there was something in the air. In this case, literally.” The political tone of angry mobs in this film is not coincidental. As Covert said in his review of the film, “‘Contagion’ plays like a parable of a stricken body politic.  The film describes an America where confusion and fear explode when things get crazy, where ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart.”

So, see it for its medical information and pay attention the backstory and try not to criticize overmuch the lost thread plots that seemed like good ideas when they were first thrown into the mix.


The Ten Best Movies of 2009

ChicagoOvercoat1-002The Ten Best Movies of the Year 2009…or any year…are always difficult to pick, even if you have been doing your homework and attending film festivals (Chicago, Toronto) in order to be able to see those that are most-lauded. The best of the best always seem to hit the Quad Cities late or not at all. [I remember having to drive to Iowa City to see Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway” in 1994, which limped into town months late.]


The films I’m going to point out have not necessarily played the Quad Cities yet. In some cases, that is because they haven’t been officially released yet.  I hope they will arrive in town soon. Film festivals give you a chance to get an “advance peek” at a few and to hear about them from the actors, directors and producers themselves.


Please note:  These are in no particular order.


“The Hurt Locker” – Director Kathryn Bigelow took newcomer Jeremy Renner, an unknown (surrounded by a cast of unknowns) who plays a hell-bent-for-leather bomb defuser in 2004 Baghdad, and delivers a film that is one of the year’s best. Intense. Riveting.


‘Up in the Air” – Jason Reitman directs George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick in a film about a man who travels the world firing people and collecting frequent flyer miles. As the “New York Times” put it, Clooney and Farmiga are voted “the couple most likely to have an argument and get off on it.” I have a vested interest in seeing the film do well. The music for the film was selected by Rick Clark, my daughter’s mentor in Nashville for three years of her college classes in Music Business at Belmont University and she often assisted him with his selection(s) and with his Sirius radio show. (Clark also advised on the music for “Juno”). A sure-fire Oscar contender.


“The Informant” – Matt Damon played two strong roles this year, and this one, as a midwestern mid-level employee of ADM who turns informant for the F.B.I. was terrific. His turn in “Invictus” (a Clint Eastwood-directed film with Morgan Freeman undoubtedly bound for Oscar nominations) as a soccer player helping Nelson Mandela bring South Africa kicking and screaming into the post-apartheid period will undoubtedly score big in March as well. [Since the latter hasn’t played here yet, just remember, on March 7th: “I told you so.”]


“Up” – Films with the word “up” in the title did well in 2009. (Next year “down”?) This is the Pixar animated film about the widower who attaches balloons to his house and goes…well…up…with a young stowaway aboard. I saw it in 3D in a theater on Sunset Boulevard with a live Disney show preceding it; the film’s a touching bit of animated magic.


500 Days of Summer” – I was on my way to a showing of “The Cove” (a likely nominee for Best Documentary Oscar dealing with the trapping and killing of dolphins) and stumbled into the wrong theater. I stayed to see this romantic comedy. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt and Zooey Deschanel are young lovers, but the film’s ultimate message seems to be that there IS more than one perfect “love” for us if we just keep an open mind and a positive outlook. The “breaking-into-dance” scene, alone, makes it one of the more imaginative film treatments at the movies this year.


“Precious” – Undeniably gut-wrenching. Haven’t seen a film more depressing since “The Hours” or “Angela’s Ashes,” but it is powerful stuff. Oprah is promoting it Big Time, and it’s bound to garner nominations, probably for its unknown star, Gabriel Gabby Sidibe and others. Strong performances from Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz contribute and the film has generated major Oscar buzz. [Tickets in Chicago, where it premiered, went for $50, minimum].


Red Cliff – This is a film by the great John Woo. I wandered in not expecting much and found a film that makes “Braveheart,” “Spartacus” and “The Gladiator,” all rolled into one, look like a square dance. Back in top form after years of trying to fit into the Hollywood studio cookie-cooker mold with films like “Mission Impossible II “ and “Face/Off”, Woo returns to his native land and does this ancient Chinese story proud. (see www.weeklywilson.com and/or www.associatedcontent.com for complete review). It’s very long, and, yes, it has sub-titles, but it’s really a breath-taking film achievement.


“An Education” – Peter Svaarsgard’s film about a May-December romance is garnering much buzz for the female lead, Carey Mulligan as Jenny. (For those who care, Ms. Mulligan is supposedly Shia LeBouef’s off-screen girlfriend of the moment).


2012:  Sure, it’s CG generated, but it’s terrific audience fun. The actors are less important than the special effects, but John Cusack, Amanda Peet and Woody Harrelson don’t disappoint in this film about the end of the world in 2012. Woody Harrelson, this year alone, played Charlie Frost in 2012, Tallahassee in the fun flick “Zombieland” (they’re already making “Zombieland 2”, and Captain Tony Stone in “The Messenger.”


Toss-Up: “Brothers” and/or “The Messenger”: These films have similarities. Saw “The Messenger” in Chicago, with Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster. Foster was there, in person, answering questions after the screening. “The Messenger,” like John Irving’s novel “A Prayer for Owen Meany” deals with the soldiers who must give the bad news of the death of a loved one to military families. Co-starring as the woman getting the bad news is the Oscar-nominated Samantha Morton, who was so good in “Minority Report” and as Sarah in the 2002 film “In America.” “Brothers,” starring Jake Gylenhall, Tobey Maguire and Natalie Portman, explores the damage to the psyche that war creates. Jake and Tobey are brothers, one a screw-up, one a war hero. Fine performances, also, from Sam Shepherd as Hank Cahill, the father who always favored Tobey, and Mare Winningham as Elsie Cahill. The little girls are great. Taylor Geare as Maggie Cahill melts your heart in her scenes, and her little sister Cassie, played by Carrie Mulligan, is good as well. When Tobey returns from having been a POW (briefly) in Afghanistan, he cannot get it out of his head that his brother (Jake Gylenhall) and his wife (Natalie Portman) have been sleeping together. He is also consumed with guilt over his actions while held prisoner and something’s got to give. He comes home a totally different individual than when he left. Problems ensue Tobey McGuire turns in a riveting Ocar-caliber performance, the best of his career. The movie was filmed in New Mexico.


Honorable Mention:  I loved “Jennifer’s Body,” despite the gore, the new film scripted by Diablo Cody (of “Juno”) starring Megan Fox. Haven’t seen “Coraline” but hear it’s a likely nominee come March in some categories. Likewise, haven’t had a child to take with me to “Where the Wild Things Are.” Looking forward to “The Road” (Not yet released) – which looks like it will make a better film vehicle for Viggo Mortenson than the Cormac McCarthy book was a read, as it takes us into post-Apcalyptic America. “Avator’ (James Cameron returns on 12/18). I liked “Public Enemies” with Johnny Depp, Marion Cotillard and Christian Bale in a Michael Mann-directed crime romance, because Johnny finally looked more like “People” magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” than he has in many of his screen outings. Also good: “Star Trek” with Zachary Quinto, Chris Pine and Eric Bana, “I Love You, Man” with surprisingly fresh performances from Paul Rudd and Jason Segel as buddies who bond, and the year’s most-watched comedy, “The Hangover,” good stupid fun in the “Animal House” tradition. I’m still waiting to see “Shutter Island,” the Martin Scorsese-directed film with Leonardo DeCaprio. (Where did it go?) Likewise, want to see “The Invention of Lying” (Ricky Gervais) and Sam Mendes’ “Away We Go.” (So many movies; so little time.)


Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén