Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 164 mins, USA, 2014)

Photo Courtesy of SIFF

Ellar Coltrane as Mason in Boyhood (Photo Courtesy of SIFF)

Boyhood may be director Richard Linklater’s best film.  It’s certainly his most ambitious, shot over 12 years using the same principle actors to cover a 12-year-period in the main character’s life. That main character is Mason, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane).  He lives with his mother Olivia ( Patricia Arquette) and older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater).   Mason is six when the film starts; his sister two years older.  The children’s father (Ethan Hawke) is no longer with their mother, but is allowed to visit them on weekends.  While he loves his kids, we get the sense that he is too irresponsible to care for them as their mother wants, and an argument between them is intentionally overheard by the children from an upstairs window. Throughout the course of the film, the family moves several times, their mother marries and divorces, their father remarries and has a kid, and Mason gets into photography.  Elementary school gives way to middle school, which gives way to high school, and then college.  Department store magazines with women in bras and panties progress to Internet porn and talking about sex with high schoolers.  Olivia reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to Mason and Samantha progresses to them going to a launch party for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  Mason’s hair style goes from long to longer to short to long back to short again.  In high school, he pierces his ears and lets girls paint his nails.  Both siblings go from not-so-serious relationships with the opposite sex to serious ones.  Flip phones give way to smart phones.  Coldplay’s “Yellow” gives way to Arcade Fire’s “Deep Blue.”

(Photo Courtesy of SIFF)

(Photo Courtesy of SIFF)

And yet, despite all the changes in their outward lives, the characters remain who they are at their core, even as they continue to grow and mature as people.  The boy looking up at the sky from his front yard is the same young man looking out over the landscape at the end.  The girl waking up her brother with her performance of “Oops, I Did It Again” is the same young woman who toasts her brother at his high school graduation by saying, “Good luck?”  The father who is much of a child himself at the beginning of the film is still the same one who has matured to the point where he can thank their mother for raising them, but doesn’t have any cash on him to help her pay for Mason’s tuition.  Finally, their mother is the same woman who got swept up with their father, and yet constantly sacrificed so that her kids could have the lives they deserved.  When Mason is packing up for college and she says, “This is the worst day of my life,” we know why.  She has lived for her kids, and now they will be living for themselves. I found myself drifting off at moments in this film, remembering scenes from my childhood.  The ones that came back most vividly were from high school and my freshman year of college.  I felt surrounded by these memories, memories that I didn’t know were so vivid.  Maybe, as one character remarks at the end of the film, we don’t seize the moment; the moment seizes us.  This film is about those moments.  Following them leads us to who we were and who we will be, as they make a path that leads both forward, and back.

This film played as the Centerpiece Gala at the 40th Seattle International Film Festival. It opens Friday at the Harvard Exit Theatre.

The LA Premiere of LIFE ITSELF–Thursday, June 26

1. Getting There

Flying to Bob Hope Airport

Flying to Bob Hope Airport

As one of the lucky contest winners for the Google+ hangout held on Roger Ebert’s birthday, I got to see the L.A. premiere of Life Itself.  I actually won tickets for the New York premiere, but New York is a bit far from Seattle, and there wasn’t enough time to make the necessary travel arrangements.  Luckily, I was allowed to switch cities.

This would be my first time visiting L.A., unless one includes layovers at LAX.  I flew out on Wednesday, and might have missed my flight had I brought luggage, not printed out my tickets ahead of time, or gone when the security line was longer.   Unlike my scramble in Seattle, I had plenty of time to make my connecting flight in Oakland and landed at Bob Hope Airport (Burbank) around 3:30.  Then I almost missed my bus, as I went the wrong long way around the airport to the bus stop.

The Orange Drive Hostel

The Orange Drive Hostel

After all these near misses, it was nice to arrive at the hostel around the time I said I would arrive, and I got to pass by Warner Brothers Studios, Capitol Records, and the former Knickerbocker Hotel en route.  That’s when I found out there would be a $20 security deposit, paid in cash.  If I had known that, I would’ve brought an extra $20, but it turned out to not be a problem.  As I was getting settled into my room, I received an email from Allison Jackson (my contact for the premiere), saying that “dress [for the premiere] is business or cocktail attire.”

Now, as anyone who’s packed a carry-on can attest, one cannot fit shoes, a couple days worth of clothes, and a suit in there.  As an earlier email had stated that most people would be coming from work, I had packed black shoes, khakis, a blue shirt, and a tie.  After a moment of panic, I emailed her back with what I had brought to wear and asked if this was okay.  Her response: “More than fine!”  Yet another crisis averted.

The rest of the day I spent walking along the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard.  I also went over to West Sunset Boulevard to see how far the ArcLight Cinemas were from my hostel (about 30 minutes by foot).  That last detail is important, as that was where the premiere would be taking place.  On the way there, I saw the Hollywood sign.

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I took way too many photos of the Walk of Fame over the two days I was in Los Angeles, but there was one star in particular that I was looking for, which I found outside the Jimmy Kimmel Live studio (the El Capitain Theater), across the street from the Dolby Theater.

2. The Premiere

On Wednesday night, one of my friends had tweeted that I should try to go to the beach.  I didn’t go that night, but decided to see if I could walk it the next day.  As expected, it was too far to walk to, but I got to walk down part of Santa Monica Boulevard and loop back up to West Sunset Boulevard, which resulted in some pretty great views.

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All this walking made me hungry, but while I had eaten Chinese food the first day (and had leftovers waiting for dinner), I wanted something a little more iconic for lunch.  So when I saw this on West Sunset Boulevard…

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…I decided to give it a try.

It was crowded inside, but I don’t remember my order taking that long.  Plus, the prices were more than reasonable.

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I ended up getting a cheeseburger and a small iced tea.  Maybe I needed to add the ice myself, as the tea was a bit warm.  The hamburger, on the other hand, was very good, and made without preservatives.

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Notice the concentration!

After eating lunch on a bench nearby, I walked back to Hollywood Boulevard and headed over to Capitol Records and the former Knickerbocker Hotel.  I also found more Hollywood Stars to take photos of, the most important being the ones right outside Capitol Records.

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One thing I noticed the day before about Hollywood is its twofold nature. One the one hand you have all this glitz and glamour: the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Madame Tussauds, the Chinese Theater, Capitol Records, etc.  On the other hand, you have people in front of the Chinese Theater trying to give you “free” CDs…and then “asking” for tips.  You have homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk, next to the Walk of Fame.  You have touring companies — some established, others just a guy and a truck — trying to convince tourists to go on their tours.  It reminds you that Los Angeles, in many respects, is just like any other city.

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I spent most of the rest of the day indoors, conserving my energy for the premiere that night, though I did check where my bus stop would be for the ride back to the airport the following morning.  At 5 pm, I ate dinner.  At 5:30, I took a shower.  At 6, I headed out the door, arriving at the theater a little before 6:30.

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What I didn’t realize is that the entrance to the ArcLight Cinemas is around the back.  After texting and calling Allison and not getting a response, I decided to follow some people around to the back.  There, I saw a small red carpet, the entrance to the theaters, and a will call table.  On the red carpet were Leonard Maltin, Steve James, Chaz Ebert, and Werner Herzog.  For whatever reason, I decided not to take any photos while I was back there, despite bringing my awesome camera with me, though I was tempted to join the guy on the wall with the cell phone camera.

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Sadly, of the three people I had asked to go with me to the premiere, one was visiting the East Coast, one had other plans, and one was busy moving into a new home and hadn’t gotten my message in time.  After waiting around a little longer for a message from Allison, I decided I better go in and grab my seat.

The ArcLight Cinemas is one of those theaters where half of the theaters are on the ground floor and the rest are up a flight of stairs.  Life Itself was upstairs, which is where my ticket was checked.  That’s when I noticed I had an assigned seat, and that my seat was quite good.  Since there weren’t too many people there yet, I left to find the water fountain and then discovered I had a text from Allison, saying that she was at the table downstairs.  I texted back that I was upstairs.  “Should I come down?”  But, at this point, more people started coming in, so I decided to head back into the theater.  That is when I saw Leonard Maltin and his wife enter my row.

He was two or three seats removed from where I was and was half-joking with someone about when his review for Life Itself would be up.  The next person I saw enter was Werner Herzog.  I don’t believe his wife made the trip, but he had a “handler,” for lack of a better word.  Then I realized that he was going to sit in the row behind me, one seat over from where I was.  The  woman sitting next to me knew him, as she had worked on a movie with him, and it was surreal to hear Herzog — in his much-imitated and unique voice — talking about such mundane matters with her as possibly wanting popcorn and not needing anything at concessions.  That led to this tweet:

Then Chaz came in, and she walked from one end of the row behind me to the other, hugging everyone there.  Someone asked her if she was going to greet the entire audience.  She nearly did.

The movie itself started closer to 7:30, with an introduction by an employee at the theater, followed by Steve James.  He then passed the mic to Chaz, who paced in front of the theater, mentioning to us that she used to be a trial lawyer, so she would be pacing and looking each of us in the eye.

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She told us we would be the jury for James’s film and would be the ones to pass judgment on it, though she was confident we would love it.  She also mentioned that she left a seat open in the front row for Roger, as he had told her he would be at the premiere, “cheering you on from the front row.”  So, she reserved a seat for Roger, thinking, “Who knows?”  It also explained what all the camera flashing had been that had come from that side of the theater earlier that evening.

She finished by thanking people in the audience, including Herzog and people who had worked on the show Siskel and Ebert in all its incantations.  Then the movie began.

As I originally saw the movie via the Indiegogo campaign, I have already reviewed the film.  The only difference is that James added footage from Cannes, which is good, since few of the numerous film festivals that Ebert went to are showcased, and Cannes was one of the festivals most associated with him.  Also, I noticed this time that the transition to the Russ Meyer section of the film isn’t smooth, though how one could transition from anything to Russ Meyer is a tough question to answer.

I will mention three other things.  At one point during the film, I was aware of the silence.  I forget if this was during Siskel’s death or Ebert’s, but it was palpable because, just moments before, the audience had been laughing at outtakes from the show, when Siskel and Ebert had been bickering. It happens so rarely that I remember the few other occasions when it’s occurred.  At another point, Ebert realizes he probably won’t live long enough to see the film completed.  The look on his face is one of mourning, dignity, and acceptance.  It is one of the most mesmerizing expressions I’ve seen on film.  Finally, if the audience didn’t applaud as loudly at the end of the film as I thought they should have, it had more to do with the mood of mournful contemplation that had descended on them and slowed their hands than in their non-appreciation, for that silence extended to the end of the film, too.

I had a lump in my throat when the lights came up, but luckily had had my cry the first time I saw it.  Leaving the theater after a moment, I saw Herzog hanging outside in the lobby, near the restrooms.  Now, any normal person who had just won a contest in which he had answered a question pertaining to one of Herzog’s films would have gone up to him and introduced himself (the question had been about the animal that “engaged with Nicholas Cage from the movie Bad Lieutenant.”).  I, however, thought that maybe he needed a moment alone, as it must have been tough for him to see, onscreen, the death of someone to whom he felt a spiritual kinship.  Also, no one else was approaching him.  At that moment, one of my housemates texted me.  I told him Herzog was standing twenty feet from me.  He wrote back, “Tell him I am watching fitzcarraldo right now!  No joke!”  He then told me to try and get a picture with him.  At that point, however, the press had gotten to him, so I figured it would be easier to meet up with him at the after-party.

Sadly, he didn’t come.

The after-party was held in the Warwick Hotel, which was a short walk down the street from the theater.  When I entered the place, I noticed the comfy couches, the bar in the back, the room upstairs, and a giant photo of a naked woman right in front of the stairwell.  Knowing from the film that Roger loved boobs, I can only conclude that he would’ve loved this place.  I think he also would’ve approved of the servers’ outfits.

I, however, had a problem: I didn’t know what Allison looked like.  I had texted her what I was wearing, but I found out later that she didn’t have her phone with her at the party, and the person who I saw with Chaz was Rebecca, though she knew who Allison was (so, once again, I could’ve told her who I was and made my life easier).  Instead, I waited around Chaz, hoping Allison would show up.  When it became apparent that this strategy wasn’t going to work, I waited for an opportunity to meet with Chaz, which was difficult, since everyone wanted to meet with her, tell her what they thought of the film, and get photos with her.

Finally, though, I saw an opening.  Two people had just left her, Rebecca was chatting with some other people, and no one else was around.  So I approached, and when she turned toward me, I stuck out my hand and introduced myself.

“You’re who?” she said, leaning in so that she could hear me better.

“I’m Greg Salvatore.  I’m one of the contest winners,” I said.

At that her eyes lit up, and I was under her wing for the rest of the night, with her leading me by the hand, or gesturing that I should join one of the photo-ops.  We had our photos taken by one of the professional photographers there, and then one with one of the executive producers (Mark Mitten?).  We next went upstairs to get photos taken in the photo booth, and I met Christy Lemire for the second time.  She didn’t remember meeting me before, but there had been karaoke involved.  I also got to meet Chaz’s daughter Sonia Evans and Sonia’s husband, Mark.  In fact, I got to meet the entire clan, as Chaz invited me to dance with them as the DJ played Pharrell Williams’s “Happy.”

I had two impressions of her during this time: inviting and in charge.  Tenderness and toughness.  No wonder why Roger clung to life as long as he did with her at his side.  Like other people, I am convinced she kept him alive during his last few years.

Photo booth fun

Photo booth fun

Through the rest of the night, Chaz brought over other people involved in the Google + giveaway, and I believe a few people involved with the website.  I also got to meet Allison around this time.

“See how happy everyone is that you’re here?” Chaz said.

Since Steve James was hard to track down during the party, I had Rebecca grab him so that I could get my photo with him.  After the photo was taken, he was very insistent that I make sure it was a good photo.

“Make sure he’s happy with the photo,” he said to Rebecca.  “We want our winner to be happy with the photo.”  And I am.

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With Steve James, director of LIFE ITSELF

Meeting up with Allison again, she introduced me to Pete Hammond, “a really nice guy.”  He writes for Deadline Hollywood and was amazed (as was everyone that night) that I knew the answer to the trivia question.  He asked me if I was a movie nerd or if I had become interested in Roger Ebert first.  When I answered that it was the former, he said he had been the same way before coming to Hollywood.  He also said that writing is a great way to get into the industry, which–based on the stories I hear about screenwriters–rather surprised me (but perhaps he meant writing for publications in town).  After listening to him talk to Allison for a while, and after he talked to me for a while, he became convinced that I would quit my job in two weeks to move down to LA “because now you’ve got the bug.”  He then introduced me to a famous publicist, whom he said I should know for when I come back.  So of course, I forgot her name.

With the party winding down, Sonia introduced me to her daughter, Raven, who is in the film.  Like everyone else, she said, “Congratulations!” when she heard I was the contest winner.

“He’s had the biggest smile on his face the entire time,” Sonia said.

Soon after, Sonia and her husband had to leave, so though she wanted a photo with me, they didn’t have time.  It was around 11:30, so I figured I should head out, too.  Chaz asked me how I was getting back to my hotel.  When I told her I was walking, she asked how far it was from there.

“About twenty minutes,” I said.

“Oh no,” she said.  “We’ll call you a cab.  We have to make sure our contest winner gets back safely.”

As it turned out, Chaz’s limo was dropping her off close to where I was staying, so I ended up getting a ride back that way.  I got a hug from Allison, but most everyone else had left at that point.

In the limo with Chaz, she asked me what I did and turned her whole body to face me, something that one of my Japanese friends also does.  I love it when my friend does that because it means she’s giving me her full, undivided attention.  So, I turned a little in my seat and told her all the jobs I did, including the blog and finishing a novel.  I also got to give her the pin I had been carrying around all night, which was for the 40th Seattle International Film Festival, “from someone who works at a film festival to someone who runs one.”

“Oh, I was asked to be on the jury for this,” she said.

Because she had been busy with the movie, she told them to ask her later.  To give you an idea of her schedule, the following day she had a whole day of press, followed by a trip to D.C. to pick up an award that Roger had won, followed by the Life Itself premiere in Chicago on Monday.

I found out some other information from her as well, such as the other two winners hadn’t contacted her, the reason airfare and accommodations hadn’t been included was because of how close to the premieres the free tickets had been secured, and that if I wrote something about the premiere on social media, to send her a link so that she could include the post or the link on rogerebert.com.  She also said that, while she would be happy if people streamed the film at home, she hopes people see it in a theater.  I agreed, saying, “It reminded me that the loudest sound in a theater..is silence.”

Chaz conceded that I had a good point, and I could see her thinking about it more as she talked about it, for what she and I were referring to is that moment when the audience is so wrapped up in a performance, they are sitting in silent contemplation.  Or, to quote Roger from his excellent review of Sansho the Bailiff, “it is happening to us as few films do.”

I also got to tell her that I had been at Ebertfest 2011, but I had been too shy to introduce myself to her then.

At that point, the limo driver needed some directions, as we were approaching my hostel.  When we arrived, Chaz shook my hand, I got out, and I went inside to finish packing and turn in my key, since I would be leaving before the front desk was open the next morning.  One of my new roommates was on Skype with his parents when I returned, but was finished by the time I was ready for bed.  I set my alarm for 5:45, crawled into the top bunk, and went to sleep.

3. Heading Back

If I had stayed longer in Los Angeles, I would’ve had more of an opportunity to meet my roommates and other people in the hostel.  As it was, I only met a few of them on Thursday, and I had to leave the hostel at 6:15 am on Friday in order to make it to the airport on time.

After getting out of bed, I folded up my towel and sheets and left them on a chair outside the reception area.  I then headed down to Hollywood Boulevard to take the 222 bus back to the airport.  With hardly anyone on the street, Hollywood could have been any city in the world at that point.

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When I got to the airport, I tweeted one final time from California, then got ready to board my plane to Las Vegas, which was only 45 minutes long.  I sat next to an attractive woman who shockingly initiated a conversation with me.  It might have been because she doesn’t like flying.  In any case, it was a pleasant conversation, though I wish I had taken photos of some of the scenery we flew over, as it was breathtaking.  Then we arrived in Las Vegas, and I had time to buy some food…and tweet about slot machines in the airport.

Since my return to Seattle, I’ve been busy working, which will help pay for the plane tickets and the room.  I actually did well for a two-night stay in terms of finances.  Even if it had cost more money, it would have been worth it.

There are some opportunities that should not be passed up.

At Ebertfest 2011

At Ebertfest 2011

UPDATE 7/3/14: For your reading pleasure, I have added a link to Sheila O’Malley’s interview with me.

SIFF 2014: Closing Night Gala, Final Thoughts, and Thanks

Closing Night Gala–Sunday, June 8

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The Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI)

Like last year, the Closing Night Gala was held at the MOHAI.  Unlike last year, I had to work, but my shift ended early enough that I got to the museum in plenty of time.  It helped that I got a ride there from one of my friends (a different one from last year).

Just like last year, the food was great.  Since I got there early, I got to partake of the food before the crowds came, and even got some ice cream.  Also, I got to explore the MOHAI and realize just how many exhibits are in this thing.

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Plus, the DJ was actually good this year (even if he confused people by playing three crooner songs as the final three of the night, which might have just been his way of getting people off the dance floor so that they would go home).  The proof is in how many people came out to dance, and stayed out to dance, on the dance floor.

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Then it was off to the Super Secret Staff Party.  All I can say is I danced so hard there, one piece of my lanyard ripped out of the plastic sleeve it was attached to.  Still, I was more tired this year than in past years.  Maybe my years are catching up to me.  Or maybe I just worked too much.

 

Final Thoughts

On My First Year with a Press Pass

Though I was a bit overwhelmed with all the emails I received at the beginning of the festival, I eventually just did what I always do, which is to watch the movies, stay for the Q & A’s, take photos, take notes, and leave.  I was able to get into one screening that I wouldn’t have been able to get into (Lucky Them) because I had put in a request for a press ticket, and while I did request an interview with the director of that film, I understand how publicity agents might look at my blog and think that it wouldn’t give enough exposure to their client.  I probably would’ve had more luck with the new, untested directors.  Certainly the emails seemed to hint as much.  But then I would’ve had to find time to come up with questions for them.

On Working Press Screenings

This was the second year (and second year in a row) that I’ve done press screenings.  I didn’t get to see as many screenings this year as last year, partly because one of my coworkers wanted to see most of the ones I wanted to see, partly because a lot of the really good ones were at 2 pm, when I had to be on hand to help close concessions.

Occasionally, the newbie crew from the night before left some things undone (like cleaning the popcorn machine), which we then had to do.  In their defense, cleaning a popcorn machine beats cleaning poop off the floor of the men’s bathroom (though that was during the afternoon, during the first block of regular screenings).  And some days, we were the ones forgetting to do things, like grabbing ice or counting out concessions.  For the most part, however, everything went smoothly.

On Working Festival Screenings

Last year, we had plenty of people working festival, so we press screeners only had to work press screening shifts (plus Memorial Day Monday and the first block of shows after press screenings).  This year, due to the Egyptian being open, we were asked to help out on a few days that we would normally have had off.  It only ended up being three extra days of work, and it made my paycheck fatter, so I’m not complaining.  Plus, the shifts were the early shifts, which tend to be quieter than the evening shifts, and have fewer shows on standby.

And yet, all the exciting stuff  happened during that first block of shows after press screenings.  On the opposite end of the spectrum from the incident mentioned above, I served Lynn Shelton an iced tea.  Actually, we didn’t have iced tea, and she didn’t want Honest Tea, so I ended up getting her a hot tea and an 8 oz cup full of ice.  I also made her laugh.  A very nice person, and an experience that more than offset the men’s room incident.

On Films I Saw

As for the ones I went to, the final tally is: 28 feature films, 1 miniseries, and 6 shorts (4 of them part of the Chaplin Shorts that I saw with Sosin on Sunday for the silents).  4 of the features were archival (as were the 4 Chaplin shorts), 1 was a world premiere (as was one of the shorts), and 1 was a North American Premiere (Hard to Be a God).  Only two were prints (Last Year at Marienbad and The Whole Wide World).

As for awards, you can read who won the Golden Space Needles Awards, or you can read mine below.  Or both:

Best Film: Boyhood (Richard Linklater)

Here both the audience and I agree: the best movie of the festival was Linklater’s 13-year-in-the-making film about a boy (Ellar Coltrane) and his life from age 6 to 18.  Look for my full review of this great film next month, when it opens on July 11th.

Best Archival Film: The Pawnbroker (Sidney Lumet)

Not only did this DCP look pristine, the film itself is almost unbearably powerful, thanks to Lumet’s use of flashbacks, Quincy Jones’s score, and above all, Rod Steiger’s powerful performance as a New Yorker whose family was wiped out during the Holocaust.

Best Documentary: The Case Against 8 (Ben Cotner, Ryan White)

Keep On Keepin’ On was the audience favorite (and a really good film), but it didn’t pack the emotional wallop of this film, about the (successful) attempt to overturn Proposition 8 in California, which banned same-sex couples from marrying.

Best Animated Film: Patema Inverted (Yasuhiro Yoshiura)

Okay, so this was the only animated film I saw at the festival, meaning it also qualifies as the worst animated film….except that it was pretty good.  Some late reveals in this story about an underground world with an inverted gravitational field make it a solid animated effort, even if it is light years away from last year’s Wolf Children.

Best Foreign Film: Burning Bush (Agnieszka Holland)

Technically a three-part miniseries that ran on HBO Europe, this excellent film is primarily concerned with the repercussions following Jan Palach’s protest of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, in which he set himself on fire in January 1969 in the center of Prague.  A large portion of the miniseries involves the libel case brought by Jan’s mom against a communist official in the Czech government, a government which tried to discredit Palach’s actions as those of a madman.

Gem of the Festival: The Little House (Yoji Yamada)

My definition of a gem is a good film that catches you unawares at how good it is.  Gabrielle and The Whole Wide World could have easily been up here, but the former film was Canada’s Oscar nominee  in 2014 (it didn’t make the short list) and the latter film came out in 1996, so while both films were unknown to me, they were known entities coming into the festival.  And yes, The Little House did win the Silver Bear for Best Actress (Haru Kuroki) at the Berlin Film Festival, but that didn’t mean this film, about a woman writing about her time spent as a housekeeper in 1930s and 1940s Tokyo, would be any good.  It is, and is one of the most gentle and humane films I saw at the festival.

Other great films:  Gabrielle, Hate from a Distance (short), Keep On Keepin’ On, Last Year at Marienbad, Lucky Them, The Whole Wide World

Best Director (tie): Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Megan Griffiths (Lucky Them)

Linklater gets this award for the vision required to pull off a movie with a 12-year-shooting schedule, as well as the uniform excellence of the actors.  Griffiths wins for pulling some fantastic performances out of her entire cast, with the  help of an excellent script.

Best Screenplay: Lucky Them (Emily Wachtel, Huck Botko)

Seeing this film reminded me how long it’s been since I’ve seen a comedy this well-written, particularly the dialogue.  Kudos must go to the casting, as well, for Toni Collette and Thomas Haden Church make these words live.

Best Actor (tie): Dawid Ogrodnik (Life Feels Good), Thomas Haden Church (Lucky Them)

How Ogrodnik was able to play someone with cerebral palsy, when he doesn’t have it himself, is the most amazing thing about Life Feels Good, while Church stole (almost) every scene he was in in Lucky Them.

Best Actress: Shailene Woodley (The Fault in Our Stars)

The commitment Woodley brings to her roles is incredible.  Since she just played a teenage girl last year (in The Spectacular Now), she could’ve played a slight variation of the role as Hazel Grace Lancaster.  Instead, she creates a whole new person, but I’m mainly giving this award to her for a eulogy she gives that would force tears from stone.

Miscellaneous

Usually, no one pays attention to my badge.  This year, I had two of them, but the one everyone noticed was my staff badge, due to the picture on the front.  Provided I’m working for SIFF next year, I may use the same photo.

Channeling Vivian Maier...and apparently old school Hollywood glamour

Channeling Vivian Maier…and apparently old school Hollywood glamour

Thanks

Individual Thanks

  • To Rachel Eggers: for being my main contact concerning press questions, press tickets, press interviews, and all things press.
  • To Beth Barrett: for helping me label the guests correctly in my photos when more than the advertised guests showed up (i.e. Lucky Them)
  • To Ben Mawhinney: for doing the same thing for DamNation.
  • To Ryan Davis: for sending me the link for Red Knot, even though I didn’t get to see the film until Best of SIFF.
  • To my parents: for getting me a new camera this year that doesn’t suck in low light.

Group Thanks

  • To the press screening crew: for being awesome a second year in a row.
  • To the passholders: for chatting with me during press screenings and saying, “I’m so glad you’re getting to see some films,” whenever you saw me watching movies during festival.
  • To the entire Publicity Department: for sending out all those emails to the press and answering all of our questions.
  • To all the programmers: for programming some awesome movies (and even the not-so-awesome ones were kinda cool).
  • To all the SIFF Cinema crew, new and old: way to rock during the festival! And at two venues (three if you count the panels at the Film Center)!
  • To all the Events crew: for bringing us great food and music during the Galas, and all those parties that I didn’t have time to go to.
  • To all the volunteers: for doing what you do, every festival.
  • To anyone I forgot to mention: sorry, and thanks!

I haven’t thought about what I’m going to do next year.  One of these festivals, I may just decide to binge on movies and to hell with writing about them.  It may be next festival; it may be the festival after.  All I know is, another Seattle International Film Festival has gone by, and I’ve lived to tell the tale. ;-)

Until next time!

And if y0u want to start reading from the beginning of my posts for SIFF 2014, start here.

Lucky Them (Megan Griffiths, 96 mins, USA 2013)

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Thomas Haden Church and Toni Collette (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Two years ago, Megan Griffiths wrote and directed Eden, a film that deals with human trafficking in America.  Now she had directed a comedy, using a script written by Emily Wachtel and Huck Botko (from an original idea by Caroline Sherman).  While I admired the first film, I find myself loving the second.

It starts 10 years ago, when Matthew Smith, the greatest singer-songwriter in Seattle, doesn’t show up for his last gig.  The event is narrated in voiceover by Collette’s character, Ellie Klug.  We then switch to the present day, where Collette is a rock critic who seems more interested in bedding new talent than meeting her deadlines.  Her boss Giles (Oliver Platt) warns her that he can’t keep her on if she keeps producing sub par work.  He then assigns her a story on Smith, who vanished that night and is presumed dead, but like Elvis, is still sighted everywhere.  He even gives her company money in order to follow-up on a claimed sighting on the Internet, complete with a video that could be of anyone.

In the meantime, she has found another fresh talent, the baby-faced Lucas Stone (Ryan Eggold).  Though she promises him a feature article, she shelves in it favor of the Smith article.  Lucas won’t be easily deterred, in both the article and his affections for Ellie.  In one of her confrontations with him, she leaves the money Giles gave her behind.  Though he tries to give it back to her, she won’t answer his phone calls.  Then she realizes the money is gone.

Enter Charlie (Thomas Haden Church), an old, rich friend of Ellie’s.  He is actually introduced a bit earlier in the movie, so that we can see why Ellie would be hesitant in asking him for a loan.  He’s a bit annoying and a bit odd.   Still, she is desperate, so he loans her the money on the condition that he can come along and film a documentary about her search for Smith.  This is a neat plot device, as it allows Ellie to talk about her past with Smith, and it shows that she’s never gotten over him.

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

If Collette brings heart to this movie, Church brings laughs.  I have never seen him better than I have in this film.  His dry delivery steals every scene he’s in, while he also manages to give Charlie some humanity.

What makes this film special, though, is its combination of excellent dialog, great chemistry between Collette and Church, a sense of humor, and heart.  And the acting!  There is a scene late in the film that is one of the most poignant I’ve seen all year, and it’s due entirely to acting.  In fact, besides the dialog, the acting is the best thing about Lucky Them.  That is a credit not just to the actors and actresses, but to Griffiths.  I sincerely hope this is the film that introduces her to the mainstream.

And make sure you stay for the credits.

Lucky Them played at the 40th Seattle International Film Festival. It’s currently available on video on demand and plays for two weeks at the Northwest Film Forum starting tonight.

You can also read my post on the film from SIFF 2014.

SIFF 2014: Week Three Wrap-Up

Sunday, June 1

Me, Myself, and Mum (Guillaume Gallienne, 95 mins, Belgium/France/Spain 2013)

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Guillaume Gallienne as his mother and as himself, at the dinner table with his father (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Guillaume Gallienne plays both himself and his mother in this film about his upbringing…as a girl.  When he finds out he has to be gay to like boys, he sets out to discover whether he is gay or straight.  The film switches between a one-man show he’s doing and the film.  While very funny, the movie is a little too light and fluffy, and doesn’t have a big emotional payoff.  SIFF wanted to bring Gallienne to the festival, but his star is rapidly rising.  Currently, he’s in the play Lucrèce Borgia….playing Lucrèce Borgia.

The Little House (Yoji Yamada, 136 mins, Japan 2014)

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Takeshi and his great-aunt, Taki (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

In Yoji Yamada’s long career as a director, this is his first romantic drama.  The movie starts with the death of Taki Nunomiya (Chieko Baisho).  Through flashbacks, we see her grand-nephew Takeshi (Satoshi Tsumabuki) encouraging her to write her autobiography, as well as the time she is writing about.

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Mrs. Hirai with Taki (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

In the 1930s, Taki (now played by Haru Kuroki) is sent from the countryside to Tokyo to work at a famous writer’s house.  Through him, she meets the Hirais, whom she ends up working for.  One day, a coworker of Mr. Hirai’s comes to their New Year’s Party.  He is Shoji Itakura (Hidetaka Yoshioka), and as war between China and Japan heats up, so does the relationship between Mrs. Hirai (Takako Matsu) and Itakura.

Shoji Itakura and Tokiko Hirai (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Shoji Itakura and Tokiko Hirai (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

While the emotions are kept in check, this is a beautifully shot, well-acted, well-scripted movie. It doesn’t go for an overwhelming emotional payoff, but rather for quiet moments when decisions are made that have unforseen consequences.

Monday, June 2

Our Sunhi (Hong Sang-soo, 88 mins, South Korea 2013)

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Donghyun and Sunhi (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

I enjoyed this movie slightly less than Sang-soo’s last film, the inventive In Another World.  Our Sunhi is about three men who fall for Sunhi (Jung Yu-mi) on her quest to get a recommendation letter from her professor: her ex-boyfriend Munsu (Lee Sun-kyun), the director Jaehak (Jung Jae-young), and the professor himself, Choi Donghyun (Kim Sang-joong).  The dialog is circular, which means that certain things said by one character to another character will be repeated by the second character to a third character, until all of them are saying the same thing.  This is most evident in how the three men describe Sunhi: she has artistic sense, she is reserved, and she’s smart.  What’s funny is not just the repetition of the dialog, but the fact that each man says it as if it’s an original thought.  But it’s not just the dialog that repeats.  At some point, each of the characters ends up meeting another character at the same bar, where the same song plays, and the same chicken order is placed at the same great chicken restaurant.

**Tuesday’s, Wednesday’s, and Thursday’s events were written about separately.**

Friday, June 6

Life Feels Good (Maciej Pieprzyca, 107 mins, Poland 2013)

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Mateusz (Dawid Ogrodnik) (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

While this film topped the FOOLs Ballot this year, I found it to be good, but not great. This based-on-a-true-story movie follows Mateusz (Dawid Ogrodnik, who is truly great in this role), a man born with cerebral palsy, who everyone believes is also mentally retarded, as he is unable to communicate with anyone (Kamil Tkacz is equally good as a young Mateusz).  The film is broken up into chapters (Proof, Wizard, Boyfriend, Everything’s Fine, Smile, Words, Human Being, and Life Feels Good) and is narrated in voiceover by Mateusz.  Predictability in the plot at the beginning and female characters who don’t stick around long enough for us to really know them gives way to two powerful scenes in this film: one in which Mateusz finally communicates with his mother (it will make you cry), the other in which he slams his fist on the table.  Even better, the end credits includes footage of Ogrodnik, who doesn’t have cerebral palsy, interacting with the real Mateusz.  If I hadn’t come into it with such high expectations, I may have liked it even more.

Saturday, June 7

**Dan Ireland’s“Hate from a Distance” and The Whole Wide World were written about separately.**

The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 94 mins, Australia 2014)

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Amelia (Essie Davis) reads Samuel (Noah Wiseman) a bedtime story.  (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

A mysterious book appears on Samuel’s bookshelf one day.  After his mother Amelia reads it to him, there’s no getting rid of the Babadook.  Creepy, psychological, and fairly gore-free, the real shock is that people still know how to make classic horror films in this day and age, and one with layers of meaning.

NOTE: I was originally going to see Calvary and Black Coal, Thin Ice on Saturday, but The Whole Wide World ended too late for me to see Calvary, and I was discouraged from seeing Black Coal, Thin Ice by passholders who had seen it during press screenings.  Instead, I ate dinner and watched The Babadook.  If I had seen Calvary and Black Coal, Thin Ice, however, I would’ve needed the press tickets I acquired, as both were on standby (Calvary in the big house!).  For Life Feels Good, my staff badge was sufficient.

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SIFF 2014: 40th Anniversary Special Presentation of The Whole Wide World–Saturday, June 7

Carl Spence and director (and SIFF co-founder) Dan Ireland

Carl Spence and director (and SIFF co-founder) Dan Ireland

The first Seattle International Film Festival began on May 14, 1976, at the Moore Egyptian Theatre and ended on May 31 (there was no 13th Seattle International Film Festival, which is why this year is the 40th Seattle International Film Festival).  Dan Ireland and Darryl Macdonald (which I’ve also seen spelled MacDonald) started the festival a year after taking over the Moore Theatre and renaming it the Moore Egyptian Theatre.  The first festival showed 18 films.  In 1985, the festival moved to the Egyptian Theatre on Capitol Hill, which was renovated (as was the Moore) by Ireland and Macdonald. (Sources: Historylink.org and SIFF History)  Therefore, it’s appropriate that not only would the 40th festival show one of Ireland’s films (his first feature), but that they would show it at the newly opened Egyptian Theatre.

Before the feature film, however, there was a short, and before the short, there was a wait period, as Carl Spence, Ireland, and Macdonald were all on hand to fiddle with the equipment after the previous screening in order to make sure that Ireland’s screening went off flawlessly.  That meant that passholders were put in a “holding area” in the lobby before being allowed to enter the theater.  Our passes were all prescanned, as well.

Once all was well, we took our seats, the ticketholders took their seats, and we were treated to an introduction by Spence.  Besides mentioning that Ireland and Macdonald started the Seattle International Film Festival, he thanked the sponsors (as the presenters always do), which in this case were board member Aron Michael Thompson, who underwrote the screening, and the always awesome Scarecrow Video, who has sponsored several of the screenings I’ve gone to at the festival.

Then Dan Ireland came out, thanking Carl for opening four screens that had been closed (three at the Uptown, one at the Egyptian).  He said his and Darryl’s hearts had hurt when the Egyptian had closed.  After that, he introduced the world premiere of his short, “Hate from a Distance.”  The story had originally come to him from Dennis Yares while Ireland was filming Jolene with Jessica Chastain (Yares wrote the screenplay).  The film coincides with the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act and centers around an image that horrified Ireland when he first saw it: that of a mother dressing her son in a KKK outfit (the photo appears onscreen at the end of the film).  Ireland then introduced the cast and crew members in the audience and had them stand, which were Yares (writer, producer), Kate Krieger (actress), and Harry Gregson-Williams (composer).  He also thanked Darryl for continuing the festival after he left to pursue directing.

“Hate from a Distance” is an excellent short film that tells of racism as seen through the eyes of a child.  Danny Baker (Asher Angel) is a young white boy whose father Ned (Brendan Bradley) is forever at odds with his black neighbor, Clyde (Rashawn Underdue), despite the fact that they used to be friends when boys.  Danny traces the animosity back to when Clyde tried to prove that he had a claim on the land that Ned owned, only to have the deed ripped up before his face by the judge.  The current dispute is that Clyde’s children steal potatoes from Ned’s property.  The film ties in the Biblical story of King Nebuchadnezzar and the three men in the furnace with the house that is set on fire near the end of the short.  The film is dedicated to the four girls killed in the Birmingham church bombing, an act that helped lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The dedication is preceded by a quote from Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion.  People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

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Dennis Yares, Kate Krieger, and Harry Gregson-Williams are asked a question by Ireland

When the short ended, Spence and Ireland were joined onstage by Yares, Krieger, and Gregson-Williams for a short Q & A.  Having come from Canada, Ireland noticed a difference in how blacks were treated in the U.S.  He said we shouldn’t look at “how far we’ve come, but how far we have to go.”  Spence asked if Ireland was worried the film was too dark.  “Of course!” Ireland said, but he wanted to make a statement.  Spence then wanted to talk about the music.  For that, Gregson-Williams (who has scored all of Ireland’s films) had written a gospel-like piece prior to being asked, which Ireland decided to use.

D.D. Yares expounds on an answer

Yares expounds on an answer

Then Ireland talked about Krieger and her character.  Even though Krieger is the most talented actress (or actor) he’s mentored, when he came to her with this character (who plays Danny’s mother), he told her, “This is the most constipated character you’ll ever play.”  Krieger wasn’t the only person acting in the film who Ireland has mentored; he also mentored Bradley.  As for Angel, there’s a different connection: he’s Yares’s grandson.  Though child actors can be “terrifying,” Ireland said, “Working with Asher is a dream.”

The film will be playing at the Museum of Tolerance on July 2nd.

The Whole Wide World (Dan Ireland, 111 mins, USA 1996)

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Renée Zellweger as Novalyne Price and Vincent D’Onofrio as Robert Howard (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Before The Whole Wide World was screened, Ireland shared a message that D’Onofrio had sent him (he couldn’t be there because he was shooting elsewhere).  In it, he said the film will always be close to his heart.  “I consider The Whole Wide World a classic,” he continued.  Also, there is a scene in the movie where he is swinging a sword, which had to be sharp enough to cut blades of grass.  At the end of the scene, he plunges the blade into the ground.  When he looked down, he noticed that the blade had only missed his foot by centimeters, and he thought, “Only for Dan.  Only for Dan.”

Zellweger also couldn’t be there, as she was attending her mom’s birthday on the East Coast (“That’s what I love about her, ” Ireland said).  Ireland had Spence read her message, in which she wrote, “Hi Danny boy!” and gave instructions to embarrass the brilliant composer (Gregson-Williams), but to embarrass Vinny (D’Onofrio) even more.  She also thanked D’Onofrio for helping her act (by putting it all out there).

We then learned that we would be seeing a print, and not just any print, but Ireland’s personal print (according to Ireland, it’s the only print out there, which is a shame)!  Spence also mentioned that they rigged the speaker system from McCaw Hall so that the movies at the Egyptian would sound better than they had in the past.

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

The Whole Wide World opened SIFF 22 in 1996.  People who saw it back then recall it with fondness, and indeed, it is a wonderful film about the relationship between Texas schoolteacher Novalyne Price and Conan the Barbarian author Robert Howard.  Howard is uncouth, doesn’t like others, and isn’t respectable, but he has a good heart, is a good writer, and has a great imagination.  There is much made about his closeness to his mother, which might have prevented him from having any sort of romantic relationship, but the movie is really about two people who cared deeply for each other, even when they wouldn’t admit it.  The script is well-written, the acting is great, the Texas sunsets sumptuous (colors really pop more on film than they do on DCP–especially reds), and to watch a print, despite a few frames that had a bit of dust in them, was such a treat.  Sweet and sad, this is a lovely piece of work.

Like most of his criticism, Roger Ebert’s review of this film really gets to its heart.  If my review doesn’t convince you to see this movie, I hope his more detailed review does.

SIFF 2014: Quincy Jones, Part 3/3–An Evening with the Justin Kauflin Trio

Thursday, June 5

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Before Thursday’s concert, I had never been to the Triple Door.  If you have the money, it’s a beautiful venue, though watching a show there and eating dinner will put you back $60 or more.

I got there early and saw Justin Kauflin enter the building, along with Candy, his guide dog, and another person, who led him to the door.  I was waiting for Kenji Fujishima, who was leaving for home the following day.

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The stage at the Triple Door

The way the Triple Door is arranged for concerts is as follows: there are tables that people can sit around, as well as counters that snake behind these tables.  Kenji and I sat at one of the latter, which had an excellent view of the stage.  For dinner, I went with the server’s recommendation: the seven flavor beef, which is one of the few dishes that has been served since the Triple Door opened.

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Delicious!

At roughly 7 pm, Carl Spence introduced Quincy Jones, who then introduced the trio by way of a fascinating glimpse into Seattle’s past, as he talked about the Palomar Theatre, where everyone used to play, and about talking to Toscanini after the great conductor performed at Seattle Symphony Hall.  He had visited Brazil and told Q that jazz music “will crash through the symphony halls.”

Quincy Jones introduces the trio

At work earlier that day (which had been the last day of press screenings), I had gotten the sad news from one of our lead ushers about the shooting at Seattle Pacific University.  Kauflin addressed it before his trio started playing, saying, “I hope we can bring a little positivity into the world” through their concert.

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Justin Kauflin (piano), Christopher Smith (bass), Billy Williams (drums)

They then went into their first song, a new tune called “Illusive,” which features an excellent drum solo.  Kauflin took the mic after the song finished and introduced his band mates.  Williams is one of his friends from Virginia Beach (where Kauflin is from) and has been friends with Kauflin since high school, while he met Smith while trying to find gigs in New York, though Smith is originally from Milwaukee.  Finally, he introduced us to his guide dog, Candy.  He warned us that she is working, so we shouldn’t pet her afterwards, even though she may give us “the look,” because then he’ll have to tell us, “Please stop.”

The trio plays "A Day in the Life"

The Justin Kauflin Trio plays “A Day in the Life”

Here are the rest of the songs they played:

A Day in the Life

Based on the Beatles song, which Kauflin says is one of the few ones where you can tell which part is Paul’s and which part John’s.  The song opens with a piano solo, based on the opening of that song.  Off Kauflin’s first album.

Exodus

Also off his first album, this song is “all about the journey” and starts with a slow piano intro.

The Nearness of You

One of Clark Terry’s favorite ballads, which has a lovely bass line in it.

B-Dub

A new song, which is dedicated to Billy Williams.  It begins with a bass line, then adds drums, then piano.  The measures are alternately in 6 and 5, which showcases the drumming ability of Williams.

For Clark

The rest of the trio took a break, as Kauflin played this piece for solo piano, which he had previously played after Keep On Keepin’ On the night before.  He’s been with Clark Terry now for eight years.

Heads Up

The rest of the trio came back to play this piece, which features a bass solo.  Once this song ended, Candy got up to leave, and Kauflin had to push her down a few times to get her to stay for two more songs.  This is also around the time that Kenji and I got the check for our meal.

Epiphany

Influenced by Vince Mendoza, who has multiple sections in a piece constantly moving forward, this song included electric keyboard with regular piano, which Kauflin played at the same time (the chords on the piano, the melody on the keyboard).  Around this point is when I received my second root beer, which I had ordered somewhere around the fourth song.  Guess they weren’t kidding when they said that faster service was available before the concert began.

Thank You, Lord

Kauflin said, “I had a wonderful time playing here, in this beautiful room, with this beautiful piano.”  He then said this song is all about gratitude, for even when things are bad, it ‘s better to find things you’re grateful for, rather than what’s not good.  Both the piano melody and the rhythm reminded me of a gospel tune, while the song went from a piano solo to a bass solo to a prominent piano line.

When he finished, he gave us his website address and then played us out with a raucous song that had my whole body moving.  I remember him really getting into the notes.  I also remember our server coming back and asking if we were ready with the check, and then hovering around us as I tried to figure out tip and tax in cash.  I ended up giving him a dollar more than I intended, which might be what they hope for when they rush you out of there (though the food was quite good, and I did eventually get my second root beer).  Other than that, I had a wonderful time throughout their roughly 90-minute set (it ended at 8:42), and I look forward to listening to Kauflin’s new album when it’s released.

SIFF 2014: Quincy Jones, Part 2/3–An Evening with Quincy Jones

Wednesday, June 4

Introduction

The next Jones event was the tribute to him, where he received the Lifetime Achievement Award.  I was there in the morning when they brought in a piano, though it wasn’t for Jones, but for Justin Kauflin, a young blind pianist who was discovered by Clark Terry (or “CT,” as Kauflin refers to him), the subject of the film Keep On Keepin’ On and Jones’s mentor. After finding a seat that wasn’t reserved (next to two that were), I had enough time to sneak out to the Red Carpet and take some great photos of Jones.

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Jones being interviewed on the Red Carpet

DSC_0414 During introductions for the film, Carl Spence mentioned the purchase of the Uptown Theatre and the long-term lease on the Egyptian, which he mentions every time he introduces a movie.  This time, however, he gave special mention to David and Linda Cornfield for helping to purchase the Uptown.  As he moved on to the sponsors for the film, I realized that the two people next to me were from one of the sponsors, Shadowcatcher Entertainment. He then spoke about Quincy Jones, acknowledging that a full recap of his career is impossible, since he has done so many things.

Jones’s career has lasted six decades.  In those six decades, he’s been a band leader, solo artist, music executive, film scorer, music producer, and more; working with such artists as Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Lesley Gore, and Amy Winehouse. Many other facts about him can be found on the Internet or in books, but here are a few of the notable ones:

  • He went to school at Garfield High School, which is in Seattle.  He was already a trumpeter and arranger as a student, and classmate Charlie Taylor recruited him from Garfield to play in a swing band.
  • He arranged music for Count Basie and played with Dizzy Gillespie in Gillespie’s band.
  • In 1961 (1964, according to Wikipedia), he became an executive at Mercury Records: the first African-American to do so.
  • He produced the Michael Jackson albums Off the Wall and Thriller (and Bad).
  • In 1985, he began producing films, including The Color Purple.
  • He went from producing films to producing TV shows, such as The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
  • In 1996 he performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland for its 50th anniversary.
  • In 2013 he was inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.

We then saw clips from his career, which mentioned that he has been nominated 79 times for the Grammys (a record) and had produced the biggest selling album of all time (Thriller) and the biggest selling single of all time (“We Are the World”).  Spence then said he was getting a bit nervous, and he usually doesn’t get nervous, as he introduced Jones (or ‘Q,’ as he is known).

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The audience gives Quincy Jones a standing ovation.

Q then took the podium, where he talked again about meeting Ray Charles when he (Q) was 14, and how Charles could do most things, even fly a plane, only becoming helpless with pretty girls.  He also said he got to meet up with Buddy Catlett earlier that day, whose career started on the same day Q’s did.  Even though Q is 81, he says he still feels like he’s 18.  Also, he mentioned that Count Basie was such a bad gambler, he (Q) had to do the score for Ironside to pay his debts. DSC_0419 I recorded some of what Q said, which you can listen to below.  I accidentally hit pause during this speech, which is why there are two videos.

Finally, he wished us all “love to share, help to spare, but most importantly, friends who care.”

 

Keep On Keepin’ On (Alan Hicks, 84 mins, USA 2014)

Justin Kauflin being mentored by Clark Terry (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Justin Kauflin, with mentor Clark Terry

After some words from director Alan Hicks and producer Paula DuPré Pesmen, we were shown the movie.  Along with archival footage of Clark Terry, the film showcases illustrations by Peter Chan and vérité filming by Hicks.  It covers Terry’s career from the beginning, while also focusing on his continuing role of mentoring young talent.

When Terry was first learning how to play trumpet, the only way to learn how to play jazz was to ask the old-timers, for there were no books on the subject.  One old-timer told him that he should try to smile and wiggle his ears while he played. After realizing that it was a bunch of “jive-talk,” Terry vowed that once he learned how to play jazz, he would pass on his knowledge to anyone who wanted to learn.

Beneficiaries of his willingness to share his knowledge include Q, Miles Davis, and Kauflin, who — as a young blind man — helped “CT” deal with the loss of his sight (brought on by diabetes).  A really good film about a wonderful man, who never seems more happy than when helping others succeed.

 

The Q & A

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(l-r) Justin Kauflin, Candy (guide dog), Elvis Mitchell, Quincy Jones, Alan Hicks, Paula DuPré Pesmen

Unfortunately, the mics were acting up during the first part of the Q & A.  After several minutes of cavernous sound, little sound, and feedback, they finally worked as they should.

The moderator was Elvis Mitchell, and while he did a decent job moderating four people, I felt he injected too many of his own opinions into the discussion, though he did let the panel talk.  Some of the highlights:

  • Hicks is the one who introduced Kauflin to Terry.  Hicks was taking a jazz class and sat right next to Terry.  Kauflin entered the school around the same time.  When Hicks heard about Terry’s impending blindness, he introduced Kauflin to him, who told Terry that being blind wasn’t that bad.
  • Mitchell compared the film to Hoop Dreams in that it follows these characters as opposed to having a narrative thread, to which Hicks replied that it’s one of his favorite films.  They actually shot 350 hours of footage, plus they found 150 hours of archival footage, some of which Terry didn’t even know they had.
  • The film originally raised funds on Kickstarter, then raised more funds off the site.
  • Mitchell pointed out that when Terry is talking to his students, you can sense his generosity.  In fact, Hicks wondered, “Why does this guy care about me?”  He then realized that Terry cares about everyone.
  • Hicks got to know Terry’s favorite music and put much of that in the film (for example, Terry was singing “But Beautiful” a lot, so Hicks stuck it in, and it worked).  Also, all the scenes were scored first, then some of the music was removed.  Dave Grusin did the string arrangements, while Kauflin scored the music.
  • Q: “Music is never more or less than you are as a human being.”  One of the keys to Q’s success is that he was always told that, wherever he went, he should eat the local food and listen to the music that the locals listen to.
  • Kauflin said that CT is one of the most joyful people he’s ever met.
  • For Q, the most unforgettable moment for him was when Terry left Duke Ellington’s band to play for his band.
  • Pesmen came into the project through her work with a foundation that helps kids with critical illnesses, which connected her with Terry.  Hicks contacted her about this film when another film she had produced, Chasing Ice, was showing at Sundance.  As the producer of that film and The Cove, as well as of the first three Harry Potter films, she’s been on both the narrative side of the film world and its opposite.
  • Kauflin’s mom didn’t want to see the film because she’s in it, but then she saw it in Tribeca and said, “Well, that was very good.”
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Kauflin plays for the audience

Then Kauflin went to the piano and played an original composition (part of which was shown in the movie) called “For Clark.”  The audience was so quiet, I could hear the male sponsor two seats over lean in  and whisper something to the female sponsor sitting next to me.  I wonder if he does that during live theater, too.

The piece is beautiful, but I did not record it being performed.  That way, I was able to listen.

Note: During the film, Terry greets Jones by asking, “Are your lips greasy?”  According to KEXP, it means, “Are you still playing?” which is what I thought it meant before sexual innuendos crept into my head. ;-)

SIFF 2014: Quincy Jones, Part 1/3–The Pawnbroker

Tuesday, June 3

The Pawnbroker (Sidney Lumet, 116 mins, USA 1964–released 1965)

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Rod Steiger as pawnbroker Sol Nazerman (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

As part of the Quincy Jones tribute at SIFF, the festival showed the first film he ever scored.  Carl Spence introduced the film by saying it was picked in 2008 by the Library of Congress as a significant film.  When Spence said it was one of 36 films that Jones scored, a woman’s voice in the back said, “38.”  “38.  He was keeping busy,” Spence joked.  Then Jones appeared to do an introduction, which was as free-flowing as a jazz melody, but tied everything together.

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With Carl Spence

He started by saying that he had many memories here.  While traveling around today, he saw the YMCA when he first performed.  He was 13 or 14 years old at the time.  He also met a 17-year-old Ray Charles there (Wikipedia says 16).  Originally, Jones’s family was from Chicago, but they moved to Seattle when he was young.  Due to the Chicago influence, he wanted to be a gangster.  One time, he and some friends broke into a place in Bremerton for ice cream.  In one of the rooms, he saw a piano.  Seeing it, he felt compelled to come back, as if he knew that music was what he would be doing for the rest of his life.

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Up until the age of 15, he watched all sorts of movies, but he noticed that there were never any black composers scoring the films.  Then, the singer Lena Horne told Sidney Lumet about Jones (Lumet had married Horne’s daughter, and Count Basie and Jones had written a song for her).  Jones was 30 at the time, and tried to record the score as you would a regular recording session — in 3 days.  During the shoot, Lumet didn’t talk to Jones about the music.  Instead, he talked to him about Jewish guilt.  Lumet’s father would ask him how he was.  Lumet would tell him how great everything was – that he was married to a wonderful woman, that his movies were winning awards, and that he was busy working on more of them.  His father would reply, “It’ll be all right.”

Jones ended up scoring five movies for Lumet, and while Steiger was nominated for an Oscar, he didn’t win until In the Heat of the Night, which was one of five films that Jones scored starring Sidney Poitier.  Just as Jones had to break the color barrier in movie music composition, so Poitier had to in acting.

The film itself is exceptional, due to Jones’s score, Lumet’s handling of memories (quick flashes of images), and Steiger’s incredible acting.  Hard to believe he didn’t win the Oscar that year (Lee Marvin won for Cat Ballou).  In the film, Steiger plays a pawnbroker living in New York City whose family was killed during the Holocaust, leading to his pessimistic, unfeeling view of the world.  But then events in the film lead to stronger and stronger flashbacks of that time.  He begins to feel fear, and by the end, empathy.  This is a film that had me gasping when the lights came up and wondering why, of all of Lumet’s great films, I had never heard of this one.  This one blows 12 Angry Men and Network out of the water for sheer power, and Steiger’s acting is better even than Newman’s in The Verdict.  Plus, the 50th anniversary restoration was pristine.  While reputed to be a print, I didn’t think Landmark Theatres had projectors that could show prints anymore (UPDATE 6/10: The format was DCP).  Regardless of what format it was in, it looked fantastic.

As I was leaving the theater, I ran into one of my many cinephile friends.  After talking to him about the movie, he said, “Are you gonna meet Quincy, because I sure am.”

“He’s here?” I asked.

My friend then pointed across the aisle, and there he was, sitting nonchalantly with his family.  A bodyguard stood in the aisle near him, watching as people came up and shook his hand, but that was the only hint one had that he was a special person.  He was very friendly, chatting with everyone who came up.  As I waited, I heard that this was the first time he had seen this film since its release.  He also mentioned something about how the optical sound had worked when they first showed the film.

When I reached him, I merely said that it was an honor to meet him, that it was my first time seeing this film, how great it was, and how good the score was, all the while shaking his hand.  He said, “Thank you,” and then I left the theater, happy that my friend had stopped me and I had gotten the chance to meet a legend.

The Fault In Our Stars (Josh Boone, 107 mins, USA 2014)

A Fault In Our Stars

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

The flaws in The Fault of Our Stars happen early, in the first half of the film.  Augustus “Gus” Waters (Ansel Elgort) seems too upbeat, while Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), the author of The Imperial Affliction, seems too cruel, his reason for being cruel too cliched.  And yet, despite that awkward scene with Van Houten in Amsterdam, the scene right before that encounter is when the movie started to really work on me.  In a restaurant in which Gus and Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) are sharing a wonderful meal together, he tells her that he loves her, despite her not wanting to be his girlfriend, as she doesn’t want to hurt him when she dies.

For Hazel has cancer, and Gus is a cancer survivor.  Hazel knows that her cancer will one day kill her, while Gus sees every day as a chance to be special, and so to be remembered.  He fears oblivion; she’s already living as if it’s here.

The first part of the film deals with Hazel and Gus’s relationship, from their first meeting through their Make-a-Wish meeting with the author of The Imperial Affliction, Hazel’s favorite book.  Like The Spectacular Now, the film’s tone and focus changes around the midway point, and what we witness in the second half of the film is darker and deeper than what we saw in the first half.  This is all to the good of the audience, but it’s bad news for our tear ducts.  Shailene Woodley starred in that film, as well, but the only thing in common with that performance is that she plays a teenager in both movies.  Ansel Elgort seems to be one note in the beginning of the film, but by the end the character has had to face a crisis that changes how he looks at the world, making it Hazel’s responsibility to keep him positive, rather than the other way around.

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Ultimately, what we end up getting is a film in which the two lead actors shine so brightly that one would have to be as cruel as Van Houten not to empathize with them: not feel their hurts, not laugh at their triumphs, not cry at their losses.  There is good supporting work from Laura Dern as Hazel’s mother, and Nat Wolff as Gus’s friend Isaac, but the heart of the film lies with Hazel and Gus.  They make the weaker parts of the script work, the ones early on that seem designed to force emotions from us.  By the end, these two extraordinary actors are earning every emotion they’re pulling out of us, and they’re pulling out a lot.

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

The Fault in Our Stars played at the 40th Seattle International Film Festival.  It opens today nationwide.