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: Sigourney Weaver

“Call Jane” with Elizabeth Banks at the 58th Chicago International Film Festival

Call Jane, with Elizabeth Banks.

“Call Jane” revisits the bad old days of the sixties and early seventies when it was illegal to get a therapeutic abortion in the United States. Elizabeth Banks plays Joy Farrell, the wife of an attorney (Will, played by Chris Messina) and the mother of a teenaged daughter, Charlotte (Grace Edwards).

Elizabeth finds herself pregnant. In the first three months, she develops a cardiac condition, cardiomyopathy, which could well prove fatal if she continues the pregnancy through to the end. She and her husband petition the hospital board to allow Joy to have a therapeutic abortion. In turning her down, the all male board announces that they had only given one such dispensation in 10 years.

I am probably one of the few reviewers who lived through this era. In fact, I had a friend, a fellow classmate on campus at the University of Iowa, who died because she attempted to self-induce an abortion. It was the odor of her body decomposing that alerted the authorities in her apartment building near campus that something was amiss. For me, movies like this are not ancient history. They are what I lived through.

The entire concept of “Call Jane” feels real, to me in 2022, with the attack on women’s rights by the GOP. The old French saying, “La plus ca change, la plus ca meme,” (The more things change, the more they stay the same) seems relevant.

What didn’t feel real to me was a twist the plot takes late in the game when “Dean” (played by Cory Michael Smith), the lead OB/GYN doctor, is let go and a person with no qualifications to perform an  abortion takes over. That, to me, seemed to sum up the desperation of the times, but I question whether the individual really went that far out on that limb of illegality.

Although Elizabeth Banks’ participation in the film is noised about, little is said about Sigourney Weaver’s turn as the original “Jane,” Helen, who spearheads the effort to provide services to desperate women, or about Kate Mara, who plays a neighbor. (Mara’s role could have easily been dispensed with entirely).

Chris Messina (“Damages,””Argo,” “The Newsroom”) plays Joy’s husband, with a bad haircut from the era. All of the male haircuts looked strange. However, the flip that Elizabeth Banks sports throughout the film looked quite timely. I smiled at the line in the script when a character is asked, “Do you smoke?” and the response was, “Everybody smokes.” (Very true).

This thought, articulated by writers Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi, also rang true: “You think you’re in control of your life, and, just like that, you realize you’re not.” Another good line, given to Banks’ daughter, who does not want to know about unpleasant things, was, “I don’t wanna know about babies dying, or people getting shot, or periods, or Vietnam.” Director Phyllis Nagy does well with a good cast, and the cinematography from Greta Zozula is equally good.

With the current Supreme Court outlawing Roe v. Wade and throwing the country into chaos over the right to an abortion that women had enjoyed for the previous 50 years, the theme was certainly very topical. Earlier iterations of the film had Elizabeth Moss and/or Susan Sarandon attached.

The 2 hour and 1 minute film premieres on October 28th, just 5 days after the 58th Chicago International Film Festival ends.


“Chappie” the Movie: Robot Cops for Johannesburg AND Chicago?

Rahm Emanuel, locked in an unexpectedly close race for Mayor of Chicago, might want to take in a showing of Neill Blomkamp’s new film “Chappie,” which suggests that robots could effectively police a crime-riddled city. Chicago—indeed, all of Illinois—is broke. We have “smash and grab” gangs pulling robberies on Michigan Avenue’s Miracle Mile. The South Loop is not safe after 7 p.m.— ( a woman waiting for the red line at 1:15 p.m. got mugged a couple days ago.) Despite Emanuel’s front-page “Time” spread some months ago (“Chicago Bull”), there seems to be no way to get the gangs—or, for that matter, the recalcitrant teachers—under control. So check out the idea of robot cops, Rahm!

We are told in the first few moments of the film that the robotic police officers (known as “Scouts”) have prevented 300 murders or violent incidents in Johannesburg (South Africa) on a daily basis. Given the fact that thugs have been stealing women’s pocketbooks in broad daylight just one street over from Michigan Avenue, as the ladies wait for their morning bus ride to work, a robotic policeman doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. And say what you will about the fact that robots as cops aren’t exactly a revolutionary concept, the robots in “Chappie” are truly amazing, special effects-wise.

Back in 2004, Blomkamp made a 1.5 minute film called “Tetra Vaal” that posited a robotic police force for 3rd world countries. In his second film, “Elysium,” such a robotic police force existed. The thuggish police robots in “Elysium” were trying to keep all the Worker Bees on Earth while the wealthy folk, led by Jodie Foster, lived on a completely different plane above them. It was, if you will, a story about the “haves” and the “have nots” The dwellers on Earth were like Occupiers, and the rich folk were up above swimming in their pools and curing all their diseases with superior medical technology.

 Reviewers were not kind to Matt Damon’s star turn in “Elysium,” but almost everyone loved Blomkamp’s first film, “District 9,” in which Sharlto Copley (the voice of Chappie) slowly turned into a horrible creature and we all cringed as it occurred. Me? I liked both movies, and I liked this one, too. Blomkamp’s films show me a part of the planet I will probably never get to visit, and he grapples with real-life Big Issues without being preachy. He has a keen eye for the sets and special effects, and the music by Hans Zimmer was also good. Add it all up, complete with some tear-jerker moments rooting for the childlike robot being bullied by the bad guys, and he had me at “I am Chappie.”

I found the special effects of this film to be amazing, with Image Engine of Canada and New Zealand’s Oscar-winning Wetta Workshop collaborating. The motion capture performance is much superior to normal CG work; Blomkamp spent 6 months working with F/X technicians to create 3-D models that could mimic human mobility down to our real-life double-jointed knees.

The echoes of bigger themes, [much like “Elysium’s” attempt to deal with class warfare], in this case is voiced by the child-like robot who says, to Dev Patel playing the programmer (Deon Wilson) who built him [and has identified himself as the robot’s Maker], “My Maker wouldn’t make me just to  die.  Why did you just make me so I could die? I don’t want to die.” I could certainly relate to that, and so could Logan in “Logan’s Run,” now celebrating close to its 40th year on film.

Chappie was damaged while on line as Robot 22 and was scheduled to be scrapped, since his battery cannot be replaced, because it is now fused within his metal frame.  Deon takes him out of the factory to work on creating a superior robot that can actually think and feel—a robot with human consciousness.

Of course, there is always a “bad guy” who views anything new and different as a threat  and wants to destroy it without any effort to get to understand it. In this case, that individual is Hugh Jackman as Vincent Moore. Jackman’s character is not only jealous of the success of Dev Patel’s (Deon Wilson) scouts, he a bullying jerk. Half the time, his Aussie accent and expressions were as foreign as the thick accents of the South African thugs. Who has heard the expression, “You made me as cross as a frog in a sock?” Another Jackman line: “The whole thing is going tits up” I had heard—but not recently.  I think you can see that, between the South African accents and setting and Jackman’s odd expressions, explanations are needed for a mere Midwesterner.  And who “shadows” someone while driving a bright red truck?

 It was easy to understand why Jackman is jealous that his large, ungainly, awkward prototype “Moose” (think Transformers) is not as big a success with the publicly traded weapons industry. When police administrators come for a demonstration, they actually say, “We don’t want this. It’s expensive, big and ugly.”  Plus, Vincent’s funding keeps getting cut by Corporate CEO Sigourney Weaver as Michelle Bradley (who has a bit part about as wasted as her other sci fi venture as the Director in “The Cabin in the Woods.”)But Moose is Vincent Moore’s baby, so of course he is going to do everything in his power to undermine Deon Wilson’s (Dev Patel’s) work, even if it means bring total chaos to the city and destroying most of the fleet of hundreds of robot policemen.

The sub-plot and actors were fine by me, Boss, but some reviewers are crying crocodile tears about the casting of non-actors Yolandi Vi$$er and Ninja (real names: Anri du Tort and Watkin Tudor Jones) as “Mommy” and “Daddy” to Chappie. They are career criminals who badly need Chappie to help them earn $20 million in just one week, which has to do with a drug deal gone wrong and their need to repay the Boss Man, Hippo

.In real life, Yolandi and Ninja are vocalists in Die Antwood, a South African rap-rave group singing Zef, and appeared at Coachella.

The 30-year-old blonde Yolandi raps about working class white South Africans, (especially those in Cape Town), and has a child with her former partner, Ninja. In the film, the usually idle Yolandi has the Big Bright Idea of kidnapping Dev Patel, Chappie’s programmer, and getting him to work with them in turning Chappie into “the illest gangster on the block” but the criminals initially think “You gave me a retarded robot.” In fact, “Daddy” takes poor Chappie out into the world before he has become acclimated to it. Nor does Chappie have the worldly experience to understand what is happening or to protect himself. It Is a bit like throwing your small child into ten feet of water and urging him to “sink or swim.” Bad things happen.

In those heart-tugging scenes, I was reminded of Frankenstein’s Monster, who was mercilessly hunted by the townsfolk, or any other film about intelligent life visiting earth (“The Day the Earth Stood Still”) where there is always someone who wants to destroy what they cannot initially understand.  Chappie survives and manages to find his way back to “Mommy” and the dilapidated abandoned factory where Yolandi apparently sits around all day smoking (she is seldom shown doing anything but waiting there, alone, for the others to return.)

Another philosophical discussion is about “being different.” It is raised by Chappie’s love of a book about a black sheep. There is also the discussion of life after death, which is discussed as “going to the next place.” You just know that some of Johnny Depp’s “Transcendence” mumbo-jumbo is going to work its way into the plot sooner or later—which is too bad, given how bad that film turned out to be.

In the meantime, however, you have a lot of shoot-‘em-out scenes and some interesting moralizing about whether it is right to engage in criminal behavior. (Chappie only does so when he is tricked into it by “Daddy.” I did begin to wonder if Daddy was right when he said that he had been given a retarded robot, because Chappie doesn’t seem to catch on very quickly to the basic dishonesty of the lead criminal). This group convinced me they could easily be underworld figures dealing drugs, among other crimes, and Yolandi has an interesting blonde, futuristic look, aided by a really unusual haircut.

I often wondered how Deon Wilson ( Dev Patel) could drop out of work so quickly, jump into company-owned vans, and rush off to work on his robot creation. It never worked that way for me in my jobs.  Or how he could enter restricted areas after hours at the factory whenever he wished with little or no trouble. I finally decided that this weapons facility had the worst security in the world.

I almost needed sub-titles to be able to understand what Brandon Auret as ‘Hippo,” the rival head of another gang, was saying. It also seemed that the Moose, when that machine is finally pressed into service to keep the peace, was the chief weapon of “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.” Old Hippo the mob boss had way more lives than the 9 lives of most  cats, and the heroic self-sacrificing of “Daddy” at a crucial moment late in the film seemed out of character for him, given what a sleazeball he was before that.

But, on the way to the finale of this 2-hour movie, I was thoroughly entertained by the multi-dimensional machine star, the fights, the office politics, and the moralizing about God and life and life after death and being different and child-rearing practices, among other sundry sub-topics. The film was very entertaining and I look forward to Blomkamp taking over the reboot of the “Alien” franchise as has been rumored is to occur.

“Chappie,” the Movie, from “District 9” Director, Entertains

“Avatar” is Raking in the Bucks World-wide

avatarHere is a collection of some of my favorite lines from the James Cameron movie “Avatar,” the 3-D extravaganza filling up Cineplexes this holiday season, which owes so much to similar spectacles that went before in its groundbreaking status, (like “Star Wars” in the ‘70s, “Jurassic Park” or “Lost World.”)

First, let me say that “Avatar” is an overtly political anti-war movie commenting on the Bush Administration’s war of blood and treasure. It is not that original in that respect, but the cinematic advances Cameron and crew engineered are extremely impressive and original and should garner Oscar nods. Another original touch is the language, created by linguist Paul Frommer, who created about 500 words for the natives to use.

Just listen to these lines (from an old-school military type not unlike Robert Duvall’s character Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore in “Apocalypse Now”):  “I need to know how to force their (the natives) cooperation and come down on them hard if they balk.” Later, this same military mind (Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch) will say: “Find me a carrot that will get them to move. Otherwise, it’s gonna’ be all stick.” Colonel Quaritch adds, “It’ll be humane—more or less.” [As with all wars, mostly less.]  It’s interesting that Michael Biehn was considered for this pivotal military role of Colonel Quaritch, but, after three meetings, Cameron rejected casting Biehn, fearful that, with Sigourney Weaver already onboard, audiences would think it was “Aliens” all over again.

“Out there is the true world and in here is the dream.” This quote is from Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), the paraplegic marine who becomes an Avatar on the planet Pandora in the year 2154, replacing his brother, who has been killed in battle. When Jake goes native, he has the use of his legs again; he is being taught the culture by Neytiri, who is the daughter of a Medicine Woman of the tribe (Zoe Saldana) who says to him, at one point, “Learn well. Then we will see if your insanity can be cured.”

Jake and the others are there because, as team leader Parker Selfridge  (Giovanni Ribisi) says in one revealing exchange while holding a small gray rock, “This is why we’re here, because this little gray rock (dubbed unitanium) sells for $20 million a kilo.” Could the analogy between oil in Iraq (et. al.) be any clearer?

Through the use of what looks like a cross between a coffin and a tanning booth, Jake and the “good guy” team leader, Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) are transformed into the native Na’vi natives, complete with great height, blue coloring and tails. Grace is on the side of progress and peace and wants to help the Pandora natives, but the military is more interested in getting the biggest bang for its buck. [Or, perhaps, just getting the biggest bang. Period.]

The natives don’t like being invaded (imagine that) by a foreign power, and they say, “The Sky People have sent us a message that they can take whatever they want and nothing can stop them. This is our land.” There is also this line, “Our only security lies in pre-emptive attack” and the term “shock and awe” is used. By this time, only someone living in a cave since 2004 would have missed the point, a point that has been made before.

The natives on Pandora give us a sneak preview of Earth’s fate in 2154 with this line, “There’s no green there (on Earth). They killed their mother.” And the Pandorans note “The wealth of this world isn’t in the ground; it’s in the world around them.”

Supposedly, Director Cameron wanted to follow up “Titanic” immediately with “Avatar,” but the technology was not yet advanced enough to allow him to do all the things he wanted to do. However, when he saw Golum in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, he realized that the task could be accomplished. Forty per cent of the action in “Avatar” was live and 60% of it was photo-realistic computer generated. The 3D version, which I saw, was impressive, especially when the small white feathery dandelion-like floaters from the Tree of Souls (seeds of the Sacred Tree that transmits voices of the tribe’s ancestors) land on Jake Sully and in the battle sequences. I’m not keen on 3D glasses, in general, (although the opening sequence of the “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” film was impressive), but I genuinely enjoyed the film, despite the feeling that, thematically, it wasn’t breaking much new ground. Same formula we’ve all seen before: War is bad. Boy converts from warmonger to peace activist. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. It’s not a rocket science leap to think up these plot lines, but having said that, the plot moves along briskly and there are no dead or dull spots. Something is always happening onscreen and very often that something is extraordinary.

The movie’s concepts are both original and retooled. For example, native Americans (United States Indians) are ripped off, Big Time, even to the point that Zoe Saldana as the Na’Vi love interest, Neytiri, is Pocahontas-like in defending her man (Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington). The rituals and dances, chants and beliefs echo those of Native American peoples (and others), and the comment that “Every man is born twice” in the Na’vi culture smacks of any number of religions…[and I’m not referencing merely Christians who believe in an After-life but Buddhists, et. al.]

The anti-war polemic grew tiresome to some in my party (Republican Bush supporters, no doubt) and as the inevitable love interest/pacifist movement gained steam, Jake Sully utters the sentiment, “I was a warrior who dreamed he could bring peace.  Sooner or later, you always have to wake up.” (Please rush that memo to President Obama before we send off those 35,000 additional troops.)

“Avatar” broke opening Christmas weekend records set by “The Incredibles” in 2004, taking in $75.6 million dollars, $212.7 domestically and $600 million worldwide, according to the International Movie Data Base. Although it is estimated to have cost anywhere from $300 million to $500 million to make (I’ve seen both figures, and Cameron was coy during his interview with Charlie Rose on that program), it’s still raking it in at the box office. We’re in for many more 3D movie experiences, if the success of “Avatar” is any indication.

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