Wishin’ and Hopin’ (Colin Theys, USA, 2014)

Wishin’ and Hopin’ is the first of Wally Lamb’s books to be turned into a movie.  Done by a local Connecticut company (Synthetic Cinema International of Rocky Hill) and filmed partly at Norwich Free Academy, where Lamb taught for 25 years, it premiered at the Garde Arts Center on November 23.  My dad, who was an extra in the film (and gets ample screen time at the Christmas pageant), got to see the world premiere; I had to settle for its TV premier on Lifetime.

The movie and film focus on Felix Funicello (Wyatt Ralff), distant cousin of Annette Funicello (Krysta Rodriguez), during his fifth grade year at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School, culminating in the school’s Christmas pageant.  Felix sets the movie in motion by disturbing a bat with a pee-shooter during Sister Dymphna’s (Cheri Oteri’s) class.  The teacher goes crazy and a lay teacher from Quebec replaces her as a permanent sub.  Her name is Madame Frechette (Molly Ringwald).  With a theater background, she is given permission to put on a tableaux vivant for the school’s Christmas pageant.  In the meantime, we witness a confession from Felix to Monsignor Muldoon (Meat Loaf) of French-kissing a poster of Annette, Felix’s disastrous TV appearance on the Ranger Andy show, and the arrival of a new student at the school from Russia.  Classmates of Felix include Marion (Christopher Bogomas), a boy who’s the only black kid at school; Rosalie Twerski (Quinn McColgan), a top-of-the-class goody-two-shoes; Felix’s friend Lonny (Shawn Ervin), who is a few years older than the other boys in his class; and Zhenya Kabakova (Siobhan Cohen, in her feature film debut), the Russian student who becomes Rosalie’s nemesis and competitor for the coveted role of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Because the film was made with the knowledge that it would be shown on Lifetime, the movie is uncut and unedited for television.  It also means that the film does not include the curse words found in the book, nor the use of the world “colored” to denote African-Americans (it takes place in 1964, after all).  From page to screen, however, there is only one major exclusion: in the book, Felix’s mother has a similarly embarrassing episode in a bake-off; in the movie, some of those details are incorporated into the Ranger Andy storyline. On the plus side, the film adds more funny lines. There’s also a scene with a color wheel and a Christmas tree that isn’t in the novella, which neither added nor detracted from the story.

Did I mention that it’s funny?  Much of this has to do with the delivery of the material, especially by the innocent Felix and the feisty Zhenya.  While the big names are the adults (including voice-over narration by Chevy Chase as the adult Felix), the kids are the stars, from Felix and his sisters Frances (Sosie Bacon) and Simone (Camila Banus), to Rosalie, Lonny, and Zhenya.  And, of course, there’s Marion and his famous line, “Wait’ll the NAACP hears about this!”

If there’s a fault with the film, it’s the same fault found in the book: because he skips lightly over the material, Lamb is not adept at hinting at the depth of these characters, and the film cuts scenes that hint at that depth even shorter.  There’s the scene where Felix makes a joke about robbing “from the rich to give to the poor” when he gives Lonny back his whoopie cushion, only to have Lonny get angry and ask him, “What makes you think I’m poor?”  In the film, once Felix clarifies that he meant the teachers are the bad guys and the students are the good guys, Lonny suddenly acts like nothing’s happened; in the book, he says, “Okay, then,” and then asks Felix, “You gonna eat that Almond Joy or can I have it?” (p. 85) which doesn’t seem as abrupt.  The film also shortens the scene between Zhenya and Felix, where Felix asks her several questions, including why she left Russia.  In the movie, only that last question is asked, so we lose the build-up and some details about her family that aren’t revealed until the epilogue.  The scene that works best is when Madame Frechette is pressured by Rosalie’s parents (Ian Lyons and Deborah Puette) and Mother Filomina (Blanche Baker) to cast Rosalie as the Virgin Mary, when she has given it to someone else. Felix, who is serving detention, interrupts them to say what a great teacher Madame Frechette is.  It’s heartwarming, and at least adds a little to Felix’s and Madame Frechette’s character development.

While I don’t think Wishin’ and Hopin’ will become a major holiday classic like A Christmas Story, it is charming and sweet enough to become a minor one.  Unlike other movies that routinely show on Lifetime, you’ll actually want to see this one.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (2002, 111 minutes)

I saw Gone Girl last Friday and enjoyed the film up until I realized what horrible people it centered around.  Not flawed human beings, but monsters.  One of the authors I felt like reading afterwards as a corrective was Balzac.  Instead, I saw the charming Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, about two Chinese boys send to the countryside for re-education during the Cultural Revolution.  The novel upon which the film is based is autobiographical, and the writer of the book co-wrote and directed the film.

That is not to say the film understands people as well as Balzac did (for that, see the films of Ozu and Rohmer), but it errs on the side of goodness, and unlike Gone Girl, there is a character arc for the little Chinese seamstress, though it is so subtle that we (and she) do not notice it until it compels her to a decision that gives this film poignancy during its closing minutes.

“I first climbed these steps in 1971.”  So begins Ma’s (Ye Liu) narration, as he and Luo (Kun Chen) are led on a narrow mountain path to a small village in the Phoenix Mountains.  Once there, the boys’ bags are searched by the Head of the Village (Shuangbao Wang), who is illiterate.  When he thumbs through Luo’s cookbook, Luo tells him, “You’re holding it upside-down.”  The cookbook is burned after he has Luo read from it and decides it’s too bourgeois.  “On our mountain, you’ll work hard and you’ll eat cabbage and corn!” he says.  Ma’s violin is spared a similar fate when he plays a Mozart sonata on it.  Luo says it’s called, “Mozart is thinking of Chairman Mao.”

After finding out where the local girls go to wash themselves, the two friends sneak off to watch.  While trying to get a closer look, Luo falls into a ravine.  Ma runs and hides, while the girls look over the edge and make fun of Luo.  Later, an old tailor (Zhijun Cong) and his granddaughter (Xun Zhou) come to visit.  The granddaughter introduces herself as The Little Seamstress.  Luo recognizes her as one of the girls who laughed at him.

She is as simple and ignorant as the rest of the townspeople.  When Ma tells her that there is a real rooster inside Luo’s clock that “sings every morning,” she and the other girls take it apart in an attempt to find it.  While putting it back together, Luo finds out that the Little Seamstress can’t read.  He promises to teach her.

Soon after, a North Korean film plays in town.  The Head of the Village tells Luo and Ma to watch the film, then report back to the village.  The Little Seamstress is captivated by their retelling, as is the town.  Later, she asks if they can tell her other stories.  When they say they only know socialist stories, she tells them that another re-educated youth, Four-Eyes (Hongwei Wang), told her he has forbidden books.  They manage to steal the books from him and hide them in a cave, promising to only take one book out at a time, in case they are caught.

From that point on, the movie is about the Little Seamstress’s re-education, through these books and through her budding romance with Luo and friendship with Ma.  She particularly loves Balzac, and it is Balzac’s influence which leads to her pivotal decision.

Oscar Wilde wrote, “All ideas are dangerous.” Indeed they are, for they make people dissatisfied and wish for better lives.  The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) tried to purge China of ideas, both traditional and Western, that clashed with Mao’s communist ideology, and it says something about the current state of China that Dai Sijie’s book has been translated into 25 languages — but not Chinese.  For ultimately Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is about the power these ideas have.

After reading Ursule Mirouet, Ma says, “I feel the world has changed.  The sky, the stars, the sounds, light, even the smell of pigs, nothing is the same anymore.”

So it becomes for the Little Seamstress.  Through her, so it becomes for Luo and Ma.  And perhaps, after watching this film, so it becomes for you.

Postscript: I saw this film on October 18th, which I later found out is the birthday of lead actress Xun Zhou (she turned 40).  A strange coincidence, if one ignores the fact that the evening of October 18th in Seattle is October 19th in China.

The Scarecrow Cometh

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On Saturday, October 11 at 6 pm, Scarecrow Video closed its doors as a for-profit video store.  While they reopened as a nonprofit on Tuesday, October 14 at 11 am, the official reopening was yesterday: International Independent Video Store Day.  As someone who had supported their Kickstarter campaign, I went to the store, camera in hand, to see what kind of festivities were planned.

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As it turned out, not much (though I did miss the morning and afternoon festivities, and sales were ongoing–including 50% off Criterion titles and all VHS tapes and laserdiscs for 25 cents), but it was nice to see the place so busy.  They did have a bingo game, where one had to find box art that matched one of the descriptions in each of five columns (to spell out “video”).  The prize was any swag on the table, which included books and movies.  After an hour-long search, I finished my card and grabbed the film Detour, having never seen it but having read about it in Ebert’s The Great Movies.  I debated about whether or not to get a Criterion title, but even the cheapest one would cost $15 with the discount, and with the expenses I’ve incurred recently and will incur soon, I felt it best to walk away from that enticing display.  I did, however, grab Howards End — for 25 cents.

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A laserdisc for 25 cents, free swag, and a membership form

The only differences between the for-profit Scarecrow Video and the nonprofit one is that the latter one has memberships (see the form in the photo above) and will be doing fundraisers.  The nonprofit incarnation will also require volunteers.

I’m sorry I didn’t get a photo of the inside of the store, as it is spectacular, but I wasn’t sure that I could get a shot off without a patron walking into the frame and not wanting to be in my photo.  Luckily, the Internet has come to my rescue with this awesome video, just as people came to the rescue of this beloved Seattle store: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VMhEq6kxG4

Scarecrow Video is the largest independent video store in the U.S. and probably the world.  It’s at 5030 Roosevelt Way NE in the U-District, and hopefully will exist as long as movie lovers exist in the world.

Jimi: All Is By My Side (John Ridley, 118 mins, United Kingdom/Ireland 2013)

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(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Jimi: All Is By My Side tells a fascinating story with interesting people, but somewhere along the way, the makers of this film forgot to add any energy to their finished product.  It begins at the Savoy Theatre, where Hendrix is about to go out and perform, before the film flashes back to a nightclub in New York City, where Linda Keith discovers Hendrix (Andre Benjamin) playing backup guitar.  Amazed with how good he is, she goes backstage and offers him drugs, then tells him that he needs to become noticed.  She brings agents to see Jimi, and even brings him one of Keith Richards’s guitars, but they are turned off by his lack of charisma onstage.  Linda chides him for not owning the stage when he’s out there.

Finally, they get a break when Linda bumps into Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley), the bassist for the Animals who has decided to start producing bands.  Linda informs him that she has an act for him, then tells Jimi to play the blues at his concert, because that’s what Chandler loves.  It works, and Chandler is soon trying to bring Jimi to London.  Unfortunately, Jimi doesn’t have a birth certificate and so can’t get a passport.  Then, he has to break the contracts he signed as a studio player in America before he can play in London.

How these scenes are handled highlights a key problem with the film: a lack of urgency.  Hendrix was one of the most charismatic musicians who ever lived, and yet much of the film is on one low energy level.  The performances, especially by Andre Benjamin as Hendrix and Imogen Poots as Linda Keith, keep the film from lacking interest, but when the film returns to the Savoy and shows Hendrix teaching his bandmates how to play “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” moments before they’re about to take the stage, the excitement caused by the build-up and payoff reminds one of how lacking it has been in this picture.  In fact, most of Hendrix’s concerts in London are disasters, including one in which he spends most of the concert tuning his guitar.

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Imogen Poots as Linda Keith (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

The second issue is the film’s treatment of secondary characters, especially women.  They exist in the picture only as romantic interests for Hendrix.  When Keith finds Hendrix in bed with a woman soon after he arrives in London (Kathy Etchingham, played by Hayley Atwell), she disappears until after he brutally attacks Kathy with a telephone, then breaks up with her.  Kathy disappears when Ida (Ruth Negga), a woman Jimi meets in a bookstore, gets with Jimi.  She, likewise, vanishes once Keith is back in the picture.  Keith is also the only female who appears to have any sort of backstory.  They all have personalities, but the audience knows nothing about them.  We likewise find out only a few things about Jimi, but Benjamin channels his mannerisms and speech patterns so exactly and looks so much like him that I felt I was watching Hendrix in the role, minus the slightly less charismatic way that Benjamin performs as Jimi onstage.  No guitars being lit on fire in this film, and in fact, no music licensed to them from the Hendrix Estate.  When Benjamin sings, though, it sounds so  like Hendrix that I had to read the credits to make sure that Hendrix himself wasn’t the one doing the singing.

The film adopts a faux documentary style, showing two characters talking to each other only to continue the conversation as voiceover as the images skip to a different part of their meeting, one in which they aren’t speaking.  Also, when important people appear in the film, we get a freeze frame and their name next to their photo.  This happens with managers, famous musicians, and Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, who formed the other two-thirds of The Jimi Hendrix Experience.  In addition, the costumes and lens filters used in the film evoke the 60s.

With more energy and care given to its secondary characters, especially its females, this film could have been great.  As it is, it’s decent, but for a more fascinating look at this period in the life of Hendrix and of rock and roll history, see the Hendrix in London Exhibit at the EMP.

Jimi: All Is By My Side was shown as the Opening Night film at the 40th Seattle International Film Festival

Scalzi in Seattle

UW Bookstore

Wednesday, September 3

7 pm

I first heard of John Scalzi when I came across his blog, Whatever.  I don’t remember how I found the blog.  It was either recommended by WordPress or Wil Wheaton.  Scalzi is so prolific that a few months after subscribing to his blog, I opted out of email reminders.  Even one reminder a week would include one or two entries from other blogs I follow, and about ten from him (okay, maybe not that many, but more than five).

Then I visited my brother earlier this year, and he asked me if I wanted a book to read.  It was Scalzi’s The Last Colony, the third book in his Old Man’s War series.  Someone had given the book to my brother after reading it in an airport, which hopefully doesn’t speak to the book’s quality.  Since I recognized the name, I said, “Sure.”

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I passed by the University Bookstore, near the University of Washington.  In the window was Scalzi’s name, his latest book, and the date he would be in town.  I made a note of it, confirmed it on the website, confirmed it again the day of the event (in case he became deathly ill and canceled), and then headed down to the bookstore, arriving three minutes before the event was to begin.

Last time I went to an event in the store, it was held on the second floor.  This time, chairs lined the main floor, leading to the staircase, which branched left and right after reaching a small platform.  On this platform stood a podium.

One of the great things about going to an event by oneself is that there’s usually one empty seat in the middle, separating people who’d rather not be rubbing elbows with the person next to them.  Lest you think this is just an expression, I found that empty seat (two, in fact), and found my elbow rubbing against the arm attached to the body sitting to my right.

For far too long that day and the previous one, I had debated which camera to bring: my point-and-shoot, or my DSLR.  One is small and light; one takes awesome photos.  I went with small and light.  Since I got a seat, I could’ve gone with awesome photos and not worried about the added weight.  Instead, the lighting made everything in my photos glow orange.  I guess that’s better than everything being too dark.

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First, this guy came down and spoke into the microphone.  I wish I remembered his name, but it wasn’t John Scalzi, so I forgot it.  Too bad, too, as without him, this event wouldn’t have happened.  He mentioned other events coming up, though he spoke softer after asking if everyone could hear him, so those of us in the back couldn’t.  Next, he introduced Scalzi in the usual “what-can-I-tell-you-that-you-don’t-already-know?” routine — and then told us what we already knew.  Finally, Scalzi came down the left staircase and took the mic for the next hour, minus the minutes his introducer had used.

John Scalzi, famous author

John Scalzi, famous author

Scalzi started by taking a panoramic photo of us.  Then, as he looked around, he saw people he knew before he was famous.  He asked one of them how it felt to see him.  She said, “I think it’s great.”  Like his blog and his books (I take the second part on faith, since I still have to read one), he’s funny and intelligent.  I’ve never heard anyone describe Crime and Punishment as “guilt-guilt-guilt-guilt, then he turns himself in, Siberia.”  This was to point out why the book was so long, which sprung from a discussion concerning his inspiration for writing (his mortgage), which led to Dostoevsky’s inspiration for writing (gambling debts).  He also told us that his new book, Lock In, will debut on the New York Times Hardcover Bestseller List.  He told us not to tell anyone, or tweet or text it, but since IT’S ON HIS BLOG, I’m pretty sure I’m allowed to mention it now.

To give you an idea of where I was sitting and how many people were there

To give you an idea of where I was sitting and how many people were there

He made us promise to buy a book, too, even if it wasn’t his book, to show our appreciation for the bookstore hosting this event.  I did look at his books after the event was over, but I couldn’t decide which one to buy. Two of his books have won Hugos (Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever 1998-2008 and Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas), there’s his new book, and then there are the Old Man’s War books.  I also passed Le Petit Prince in its original language while in the signing line, and a hilarious calendar featuring sloths.  But, back to the event.

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Scalzi first read a long passage of dialog between four people from the fifth book in the Old Man’s War series, The Human Division.  Too many descriptors after the word “said,” and while funny in parts, the dialog was average, at best.  The two other works he read — both humorous pieces and short — were much better.  Scalzi’s way of humorously describing a scene is his strongest asset, and shows off his creativity more than his dialog does.  The first story was about a pig roast; the second, about a lemonade stand.  Both were hilarious.

Scalzi answers questions from the audience

Scalzi listens to a question from the audience

The readings were followed by a twenty-minute Q & A.  The first question was about his writing habits, the second  revealed a spoiler about the new book (but not really, though I’m still not mentioning it, just in case).  He also played a ukulele that someone brought in, even though it wasn’t tuned right.

During his continued discussion of Lock In, he said something that stuck with me.  The paraphrase is from someone else, but it involves writing about another person (i.e. a character who is not you).  Once you realize that you’re going to screw it up, no matter how much research you do, it allows you to listen to criticism of that character without feeling it’s a personal attack.  Rather, it’s to prevent you from making the same mistake in the future.  Or, as Scalzi put it, “I only want to make new mistakes.”  To be given license to be wrong, and knowing that every author is given the same license, is a welcome freedom.

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Scalzi answers a question

After he finished answering questions, people who had bought Locked In received a ticket that allowed them to line up before everyone else.  The rest of us either left, browsed his books, or joined the signing line.  I did all three, but not in that order.  A young man and woman stood behind me in the signing line, despite having purchased a copy of Lock In with the priority ticket sticking out.  After a fifteen-minute discussion, they left, making me the last person in line.

The line went quickly, despite standing behind someone who couldn’t stand still, as if he had to pee.  He also kept making grunting sounds.  I wondered if he had turrets but without the swearing.   As we rounded a corner, a woman asked each person what books they had to sign and if they wanted them personalized.  When she asked the gentleman in front of me if he wanted his book personalized, he said, “What’s that?”

“He can write your name in the book and sign it to you.”

“No, I don’t need that, just the signature.”

She then had to step around him to ask me the same question.  She seemed excited that I had The Last Colony.  Maybe she thought I’d bought it at the store, despite the worn spine and a white spot on the top.

As I reached the part of the line where we could see people getting their books signed, the gentleman in front of me left to put a book away, which he had been reading in line.  I thought maybe he would leave, but he came back.  When I made room for him, he told me he’d rather be last.  That was fine with me, as I wasn’t sure what would happen when he got to Scalzi.  When we reached the final gauntlet, two staff members joined the line behind him, ruining his dream of last-dom.

During the 90 minutes I was in line, I had thought of  all the things I could say to an author whose books I hadn’t read.  Things like, ” I like your blog, but I had to stop reading it because you post too much I’d never get anything done otherwise.”  Or, “You’re the second Hugo award-winning author I’ve met.  The first was Ursula Le Guin.”  Or, “There’s a funny story behind this book.  My brother gave it to me when I stayed at his house, which was given to him by a random guy at the airport.  So you see, no one in my family has purchased any of your books.”  Or I could mention something he said that night, like “That was the most concise summary I’ve ever heard of Crime and Punishment.”

When the moment arrived, I got up there and said, “I really like your blog,” to which Scalzi replied, “Thank you,” to which I responded, “You’re welcome.”  And then the man in charge of taking photos with other people’s cameras took the following photo with mine:

Salvatore and Scalzi

Salvatore and Scalzi: future and present best-selling authors

When I got the book back, I looked inside.  Above his awesome signature were the words “Enjoy this!”  I hope to, Mr. Scalzi.  And if I do, I’ll be sure to buy one of your books.  For once.

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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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