November 6, 2015

Heathers: The Musical ~ November 6, 2015 @ Center Stage Theater

What’s Your Damage?

Oh how teenagers can be so cruel. And being popular in high school can be quite difficult. But can being both become a death sentence?  According to Out Of the Box Theatre Company’s presentation of Heathers: The Musical, the answer is… like, yes.

For those of us who grew up in the 90’s, Heathers was an iconic movie. Unlike the light hearted, almost poppy teenage angst films of John Hughes, Heathers was a dark, cynical look at all that is wrong with high school. Complete with dysfunctional teenage love, hierarchical positions on the popularity ladder, murderous plots to gain power, and an explosive, oddly heroic, sacrificial ending, it was quite the YA of Shakespeare.

A movie like Heathers could not be made now. In 2015, society is overly sensitive to many of its themes. But it could be made into a musical theater production. So that is what creators Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy did, and did splendidly.

Awkwardness meandered on stage, 90’s style, making the audience giggle uncomfortably. The pretty people weren’t showcased first. No, the awkward majority of high school population paraded forth, with character names listed in the brochure as “Stoner Chick,” “Bitter Geek,” “Young Republican,” and “Goth Girl.” It was heartfelt as they sung about how life could be beautiful… Until “The Heathers” burst out on stage, looking perfect and electric, and completely took over the auditorium.

The characters were well cast, and the performances were executed flawlessly. Supported by a live four-piece band, the songs were catchy and hilarious, if not a bit shocking. When the main character, Veronica, thinks her life in the popular crowd is over, she brazenly sneaks into the new guy in town’s room while singing “Dead Girl Walking,” which immediately transitions into a racy sex scene.

There were many racy themes, scenes, and songs
throughout the productions. This show is not for the easily offended. The cast really played into the uncomfortableness of the stories, seemingly unabashed for its hardheartedness. The theatre company reprised many songs throughout the production, using the same song in a different context, thus giving them completely different meaning. This demonstrated how meaning is an individual interpretation of an experience – seen, heard, and felt differently by each individual. Like, totally deep.

Out of the Box Theatre Company continues to bring unique, quality productions to Santa Barbara. I commend them for bravely taking on controversial topics. The uneasiness was a welcome reminder that life isn’t always perfect, we all have a little damage – and it probably stemmed from high school.

(Bonus – they sell all things “Heathers” at the concession stand during intermission – which included jello shots! Real jello shots.) 

September 12, 2015

Lewis Black ~ September 12, 2015 @ The Arlington Theater

Lewis Black Turns Up The Heat

For a city that normally does not have weather, it was a hot one in Santa Barbara on September 12th. A fact that did not escape comedian Lewis Black, stopping by the Arlington Theater on his “The Rant is Due, Part Duex” comedy tour.

Third day into the tour, one could already tell it’s been a rough one. Opening act John Bowman was all piss and vinegar with the Santa Barbara audience, who had been waiting patiently in an historical theater with no air conditioning for the duo to begin. As Bowman started into his material, the heat struck him and he started to strip off his jacket and roll up his sleeves. “It’s lovely you have this show in this quaint historical building… why don’t you get rid of the organ player and GET AN AC UNIT?” It was obvious the opener was as grumpy as the headliner. “I wish Lewis Black was really going to be here – he’s not, IT'S TOO HOT!”

The audience was obviously familiar with Lewis Black, and knew what to expect from one of his live shows – extreme grumpiness emphasized with a bit of screaming and profanity. Bowman’s detour from his pre-planned material to something more topical that was actually affecting the audience at the moment was welcome comic relief from the balmy heat.

As Lewis Black took the stage, it was apparent he too was feeling the heat. Usually a man to dress in a collared shirt and sports jacket, he slowly walked out on stage in a rumpled black t-shirt and jeans. “I had a terrific ensemble to wear… cuz I know how fucking fashion conscious your village is… But I saw John on stage and I said 'FUCK IT!'” 

Coming back from three weeks of vacation, Black pre-warned the audience that he might just “start staring off into space” at any given moment. However, this action never transpired.  Black spoke of his adventures abroad, stating that everyone in the U.S. needed to get the fuck out of here and go to another country, otherwise we all will continue to believe we know what we are doing. “They have solutions, better than ours… and they DON’T EVEN SPEAK ENGLISH,” Black exclaimed, wiggling his pointer finger at the crowd in his signature manner.

As is his practice, Black made the already heated atmosphere more heated by jumping into politics. “I am a Socialist… Don’t applaud – I WON’T have you applaud. I am DISGUSTED that I am.” But the crowd applauded anyway. “When I think of Socialism, the first place I think of is Santa Barbara,” Black teased the audience.  And Santa Barbara took it – it was hard not to, they were paralyzed by the heat.

But Lewis Black did come with a message. “If I have one message for you to take home tonight, it would be… go to Tahiti.” To that the crowd gave pause. “Oh, but why would you want to leave Xanadu?” Apparently, the Polynesians don’t give a fuck, and after 14 days, the amount of days required to stay in Tahiti to save your brain according to Black, you won’t either.  Of course, after this lovely message, Black jumped right back in to politics.

Black was intelligent and thought-provoking, as he continued to emphasize his messages by yelling, cursing, and wiggling his fingers as the crowd. No subject was off limits with Mr. Black, ending his night with gratitude and sarcasm, “Thank you for sharing this BRICK OVEN atmosphere.” 

September 2, 2015

Incubus ~ September 2, 2015 @ The Santa Barbara Bowl

Are You In?

With extra speakers and a professional laser light show, Incubus came to rock the Santa Barbara Bowl in expert style.

Numbers appeared on the stage backdrop amidst a constellation of lights as darkness finally fell on the Santa Barbara Bowl. A 5-minute countdown to the main event began. The final 10 seconds flashed. The anticipation mounted as the crowd shouted the last of the numbers…. three, two, one! Percussion instruments started, creating a tribal communion among the audience. Then with a blaze of lights and a powerful roar, Incubus broke into Wish You Were Here, causing the crowd to erupt with excitement.

One of Santa Barbara’s favorite bands, Incubus, proved to be as great a force today as they were in the ‘90’s when they played shows in Isla Vista. Lead singer Brandon Boyd owned the stage as his pitch-perfect voice rang over the crowd. Backed by the intense talent of the original members, guitarist Mike Einziger, bassist Ben Kenney, drummer Jose Pasillas, and DJ Chris Kilmore, Incubus proved that their music only gets better with age.

“What a beautiful night – thanks for arranging this!” A grateful
Brandon Boyd shouted before launching into their greatest hits. Twenty-five years as a successful rock band showed, as the band craftily blended their hits that spanned across seven albums, including their newest “If Not Now, When?”.  Incubus’ catalog of material included Anna Molly, Nice To Know You, Pardon Me, Drive, and Love Hurts.  A highlight of the show was Megalomaniac with a nice twist of Nirvana’s Come As You Are thrown in for those who were listening, which was just about 4,500 attendees.  

With no opener for the show, it was all Incubus, all night, and that was all right. Santa Barbara was in! 

August 14, 2015

Alabama Shakes ~ August 14, 2015 @ The Santa Barbara Bowl

Shaking It Down

photo by paul dunkley 
A long line formed in the hot afternoon sun, as people descended upon the Santa Barbara Bowl box office window in a desperate attempt to grab a coveted ticket to see The Alabama Shakes.

The long-sold-out show was highly anticipated as the Alabama Shakes toured on their sophomore album, Sound & Color. The band has shown artistic growth with their second album. It's slightly more eclectic and soulful than their debut album, Boys & Girls. Known for their ecstatic, blues-based rock, this more deliberate sound was mesmerizing.

Brittany Howard emerged on stage decked out in a full-length green gown and a new haircut. The band immediately jumped into “Future People,” a poignant, funky blues song with high-pitch vocals and a catchy hook that pulls you in and then stops abruptly. The Santa Barbara crowd immediately jumped to attention, leaving no space left in the pit. People packed against the stage to get a glimpse of Brittany as the crowd moved as one.

Graciously, Brittany thanked the crowd, then moved onto
photo by paul dunkley
“Always Alright,” an upbeat, honky-tonk, bluesy dance tune, that got the crowd shaking even more. Incorporating songs from their first album into the mix, The Alabama Shakes hit the mark by including “Hang Loose” and “Heartbreak” early in the set. However, it was Brittany’s improved stage presence that really entranced the crowd.

Pushing her guitar aside, Brittany used her body as well as her voice to bring the lively crowd to a church-like silence during “Joe,” a gospel-like blues song. The Alabama Shakes kept the crowd in the moment by following up with the equally deeply emotional “Miss You” and “This Feeling,” until finally breaking the spell with their radio hit “Don’t Wanna Fight,” an easy-flowing blues jam.

The Alabama Shakes were unrelenting as Brittany exclaimed, “I could do this all night!” And so could Santa Barbara, shaking it down until the very last song. 

August 6, 2015

Aretha Franklin ~ August 6, 2015 @ The Santa Barbara Bowl

An Evening with a Diva
photo by Tanya Wahlquist

A Living Legend. The Queen of Soul. Diva. All appropriate names for Ms. Aretha Franklin. The 73 year old Queen proved to be a timeless wonder as she performed before The Santa Barbara Bowl August 6th.

Adorned in a long shimmering evening gown and pearls, Aretha was as elegant as she was talented. “Maybe a melody on the rocks will explain,” Aretha purred as she slipped into the first song of the evening. Big, bold, and beautiful, Aretha sung a mixture of her own songs and covers, including “Til You Come Back To Me”, “Angel,” and even mixed it up a bit with a re-mix of “I Will Survive” that had an added touch of Destiny’s Child flavor.

With gratitude in her heart she exclaimed, “Thank you for spending an evening with me. Time has been good to me. 50 years in the business – and it feels like it.” Aretha left to take a short tea break, then returned rejuvenated. Aretha’s vocals didn’t seem like they have lost any range or power, as she sat at the piano, dedicating her cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” “to those friends who care for me.”

Aretha easily slipped between jazz, gospel, and soul, throughout the evening, bringing the crowd once again to their feet for a little “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” It would be hard not to have the utmost respect for such talent, and it was truly an experience spending the evening with Aretha Franklin. 

July 24, 2015

Jim Gaffigan ~ July 24, 2015 @ The Santa Barbara Bowl

Food for Thought

A hush fell over the crowd as a single spotlight hit a lone bar stool on the Santa Barbara Bowl stage. Never has the crowd seemed so quiet at the beginning of a concert, but this was no rock show - this was comedy.

Jim Gaffigan, one of America’s most relatable and self-effacing comedians, performed to a full house July 24th. Known for his undeniable love of food that has made him fat (especially hot pockets), his lack of parenting skills to his unusually large family, and his third-person, high-whisper “inner” voice that constantly criticizes his material, Gaffigan brought fresh and familiar material to Santa Barbara.

“Santa Barbara is unbelievable, you lucky bastards – I resent these people.” Gaffigan had the crowd laughing from the start, rightfully joking about the things Santa Barbarians love most about our town. “A cop pulled us over and gave us a bottle of wine….”

Gaffigan, pale and heavy set, is honest about himself, being both self-deprecating and edgy:
·       He hates to hike: “Hiking is a very California thing - we all make mistakes. It’s walking for no reason. There’s no stores or restaurants.”
·        He loves TV: “I’m a tel-athlete…. Yes sir TV… No sir TV…” 
·        He is no good at parenting: “I just want to hear your voice daddy – Buy my album.”
·        He is overweight: “I have fatted out of my clothes. I am curating an exhibit of my weight gain.”
·        And he loves steak: “Let’s eat meat together – like Jesus.”

Throughout his set, his little third-person voice made cutting commentary, alleviating some of the uncomfortable tension of his humor.  “I can’t believe he said that about Jesus...” But the voice could not stop him and Santa Barbara ate it up.


July 22, 2015

Willie Nelson & Family ~ July 22, 2015 @ The Santa Barbara Bowl

An American Story

Country music is an American heritage and Willie Nelson is one of the most recognizable American Icons. At the young age of 82, Willie Nelson & Family performed for a sold out Santa Barbara Bowl. Along with Alison Krauss & Union Station, they successfully brought true American Country music to our fine city.

Country music has a reputation for being sad, with songs usually about your love leaving, your truck breaking down, or your dog dying. It has simple harmonies, played on a variety of stringed instruments, and sung with a bit of a twang. It’s what country life is about. And as Alison Krauss & Union Station kicked off into their set, it was obvious that there wasn’t going to be a dry eye in the house by the end of it.

With a voice of an angel, Alison sung of heartbreak and despair that gripped your heart. Accompanied by her band of talented stringed musicians, Alison Kraus & Union Station exemplified all that is right with Country music. “We don’t want anyone to leave feeling good,” explained Alison, while bantering with the crowd between heartbreaking songs.  The bantering between band members, some of whom have played together for over 20 years, was stand-up worthy and a nice contrast to the melancholy songs.  

The Santa Barbara Bowl begun to fill up as a cool breeze blew in off the ocean, relieving the humidity held in by the day. Near me sat Dorothy, a 91-year old Santa Barbara resident that has seen Willie Nelson fifty times so far. Dorothy explained, “Willie is a wonderful performer. You know his sister Bobby plays the piano and his kids come out and play with him too. Now it’s the Family – it didn’t used to be that way. They’re great.” And Dorothy did not lie.

The Lone-Star State flag flew over a simple set as Willie Nelson & Family took to the Santa Barbara Bowl stage. Willie immediately broke into “Whiskey River,” bringing the older crowd to their feet. At 82, Willie still plays the guitar at a pace most young men could not keep up. His voice strong and stamina high, he took no breaks as he whisked from one song to the next. Crowd participation was required for many of his tunes. As Willie sung “whiskey for my men,” and pointed at the crowd, the crowd replied “beer for my horses” during his rendition of the amply named song “Beer For My Horses.” 

Little Sister, as Willie liked to refer to Bobby, played the piano fiercely. At the age of 84, Bobby slinked over the keys and played speedy solos that brought cheers from the crowd. Willie Nelson & Family quickly played all the hits in an hour and fifteen minutes. Playing classics like “On The Road Again,” Hank William’s “Maybe I Didn’t Love You,” and “Stardust.” “That’s a lovely song,” exclaimed Dorothy as Willie finished a cover of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy For Feeling So Lonely.”

As the evening came to an end, Willie called out more of his family members to the stage, thanking them all. What a great legacy, what a great American story. 

June 7, 2015

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings ~ June 7, 2015 @ The Santa Barbara Bowl

photo by patti gutshall (internet)

See Me Shouting!

With heavy horns blazing like the beginning of a TV game show, the Dap Kings emerged onto the Santa Barbara Bowl stage looking the dapper part in full suits and black ties. The 8-piece back up band to the extraordinary Ms. Sharon Jones welcomed the Bowl to the Wheels of Soul Tour as the newly anointed Dappettes entertained the crowd, building up the anticipation for Ms. Jones herself.

Like a rocket, 110 pounds of funk burst on to stage in a purple shimmer flapper’s dress ready to get down. The electrifying Ms. Jones got down with an energy that sucked you up into the funk, “Sounds so nice, horns – let me hear it again! Uh uh! Owwe!” She called upon the presence of Gladys Knight herself as she went into a cover of Heard It on the Grapevine that immediately brought the Bowl patrons up on their feet.

Then it got real. Ms Jones shared her personal battle with caner, which she was diagnosed with in 2012 after she had written Get Up and Get Out, a track the their six studio album. “This song has a different meaning now than before I was diagnosed… Now it’s a story of cancer: Get Up and Get Out!” Taking her shoes off, Ms. Jones set off into a gospel revival rendition of the song, moving every single person in the Bowl to stand up and celebrate with her. As a hawk soared overhead and the late afternoon ocean breeze floated into the Santa Barbara Bowl, she rejoiced, “See me shouting cuz I’m alive!”

And it continued, her energy boundless, she decided to take it back to 1965, when people had “the dance moves.” The dynamic little lady of funk decided to lay some knowledge on Santa Barbara, leading the now-packed, standing and attentive crowd through a whole decade of funky dance moves, starting with the “Boogie Loo,” going through the “Pony,” ultimately ending with “Taking it Home.”

Ms. Jones puts it out there for anyone, everyone to grab onto. So much energy to absorb, it leaves you exhausted in its wake. This 59 year-old cancer survivor and Goddess of Funk knows how to embrace life and celebrate “Cuz you’re alive!”

May 31, 2015

Robert Plant ~ May 31, 2015 @ The Santa Barbara Bowl

Whole Lotta Love

Robert Plant; photo by paul dunkley
When a rock legend comes to your backyard, you better recognize. And at 66 years old, Robert Plant is a living legend.

Better known as the voice of Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant is responsible for defining his generation with such hits as “Whole Lotta Love,” “Dazed and Confused,” and “Ramble On.” Not to mention “The Rain Song” and “No Quarter.”  But his career has lived strong since his dazed and confused days and on May 31, 2015 a packed Santa Barbara Bowl was lucky enough to receive the legend.

Tall in stature and humble in demeanor, Robert Plant emerged on stage in a shiny pink shirt under a near full moon ready to rock the house down.  With his signature high pitch-vocals echoing throughout the Santa Barbara Bowl, Plant worked his way through some classic hits, throwing in some new material along the way. Impressively, his voice was still as golden as it must have been nearly 40 years ago.

Not to be overlooked, The Sensational Space Shifters added their own flavor to the set, nicely remixing the classics to be reflective of a more modern era. Heavy guitar, bright lights, and added keyboard rejuvenated the songs, giving the hits a new edge.  

The Englishman took note of his age, joking with the audience as he played through the night. But in the end, there was nothing but a whole lotta love for this gent.

May 10, 2015

92.9 KjEE’s 11th Annual Summer Round Up ~ Sunday May 10, 2015 @ the Santa Barbara Bowl.


Of Monsters and Men, photo by paul dunkley
The Summer Round-Up is a full day of music with performances from some of the hottest up-and-coming artists currently playing on 92.9 KjEE, Santa Barbara’s Modern Rock station – and 2015 may have been their biggest Summer Round-Up yet!

This year’s showcase ranged from Folk, to Electronica, to Indie Rock, drawing a very diverse crowd to the sold-out show. But let’s be honest, the Summer Round-Up is one of the Santa Barbara Bowl’s biggest parties, more like a homecoming than a music festival. It is not uncommon to see people running towards each other with excitement when seeing friends for the first time in a long time. It’s that kind of local party.

Supporting local music, more than 1000 people were in
The Blues and Greys, photo by paul dunkley
attendance at 5 o’clock sharp to catch Santa Barbara favorites The Blues and Greys.  The five-piece Indie band created a dark, new-wave sound while front-woman Lindsey Ann Waldon impressed the crowd with her contrasting, angelic voice. Local or not, they had the stage presence of international professionals.

As more people filtered into the SB Bowl under the bright late afternoon sun, Family of the Year took the stage. Widely known for their hit “Hero,” a catchy folk melody featured on the soundtrack of the film Boyhood, FOTY was well received by the crowd. With a quiet enthusiasm, the band whisked through a solid toe-tapping set.
Walk The Moon, photo by paul dunkley
The surprise stand-out performance of the night was from Walk the Moon, a four-piece rock outfit from Cincinnati. The SB Bowl was near full by this time and the audience was rowdy. WTM worked the crowd effortlessly, and had them baited on every word of every song. Ending the set with their hit “Dance with Me,” singer Nicholas Petricca exclaimed “If you want to dance, now’s your chance!” And apparently the crowd did - the entire SB Bowl got up and danced.

Perhaps the most anticipated artist of the day was Banks, the newest Electronica diva on the scene. With her recent hit
Banks, photo by paul dunkley
“Beggin for Thread” in regular radio rotation, Banks has generated quite the buzz. Strutting out on stage, Banks looked flawless in a gothic black pant suit, short cape, and high stilettos. Backed by only a keyboardist and percussionist, the set was all about her dark moody beats and sultry voice. Banks worked the stage like an experienced model on a catwalk, ending the set by thanking the audience for “filling her up” after she had been feeling so deflated before scampering off stage.  

Of Monsters and Men headlined the Summer Round-Up with a monster of a performance. Lights blazing in the dark night, they opened with “Thousand Eyes,” a dark, brooding song on their new album that is quite a departure from their usual foot stomping folksy music. OMAM’s performance was deeper and dramatic, demonstrating a maturity in their art. That’s not to say they didn’t deliver on the good-time tunes, tearing the SB Bowl up with their hit “Hey!”

Whether one was familiar with all, one, or none of the bands, the KjEE Summer Round-Up always delivers a good time and an opportunity to get acquainted with some new music. And perhaps even the chance to get up and dance!

March 29, 2015

Cory Branan ~ Sunday March 29, 2015 @ Velvet Jones

photo by paul dunkley

No Hit Wonder

If you follow musicians like Frank Turner, Jon Snodgrass, or Chuck Regan, most likely you’ve heard of singer/songwriter Cory Branan. If not, let me introduce you…

The Southern boy from Nashville played an acoustic set to an intimate crowd at Velvet Jones last Sunday in support of his latest album, The No-Hit Wonder. With four studio albums under his belt, Branan is known for his poignant storytelling, husky voice, and guitar wizardry. Branan’s repertoire of songs is more country-twang than punk-rock, more reflective than upbeat, taking you on a journey into what it’s like to be a musician and family man on the road. His songs are full of contradictions, being both hard and soft at the same time as he tells tales of meeting the love of his life at a diner in Memphis, of day-drinking and thinking of home, of trudging along the tour trail living hand to mouth, gig to gig.

The crowd slowly made their way to the stage as Brannan
photo by paul dunkley
began his set, his voice too dark and husky for the tiny frame that held it. Branan worked the guitar, beating on the strings as only a country guitarist knows how to, firing lyrics at the crowd like gun shots. “At least that last sip of whiskey was warm and wet / As good a goodnight as I’m gonna get…” (Missing you Fierce). “Out on the corner of what I want, what I intend to get / day drinking and dreaming of you, I let the ashtray smoke my last cigarette…” (The Corner). “But all the rivers in Colorado couldn’t wash you off of my mind / Not that I’m trying, just a thought though, might be nice to keep from crying…” (All the Rivers in Colorado).

Branan is one of those songwriters that makes one stop and think about what is being told in the song, each line deliberate and smart. His twist on country music is fresh and appealing, and will make a country music lover out of the most hip of hipsters. This No-Hit Wonder has a hit or two in him.

February 5, 2015

The American Riviera Awards Tribute ~ February 5, 2015 @ The Arlington

It’s All About Balance

The American Riviera Award was established to recognize actors who have had a strong influence on American Cinema. The two iconic actors honored this night by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival exemplify the spirit of this award.

Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are being celebrated for
crappy iPhone photo
their performance in Boyhood, a film with six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress. This is the first time this award has been given to two recipients in its twelve years of existence. According to the night’s moderator, SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling, either of the two could have won the award on their own. 

Rising to stardom in the '90s, both actors were the voice of their generation. Between them they starred in such iconic movies as Dead Poets Society, Reality Bites, True Romance and Flirting With Disaster, all of which epitomize the '90s. Over the course of their respective careers, they have had the opportunity to work with many of the most reputable directors, writers, and actors. Hawke shared that he had seen many actors burn out over the years, not just from drugs and alcohol, but from their creative flame, including the recent loss of Hawke’s co-stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead) and Robin Williams (Dead Poet Society).  “I don’t know what it is about creative people and the inability to find balance in their personal life,” Hawke stated, choking up over the memories.

As their careers grew, they both were able to take ownership of their craft and their careers. Arquette was able to use the power of her name to oppose TV executives that wanted her to lose weight for her role on the TV series Medium.  “I simply said 'No'. It didn’t make sense. My name meant enough that I brought power to the show, I didn’t have to make concessions. I am sick of the conversation over weight, we should all be over it.”

All the while, they were making Boyhood. The film has received much acclaim and has done well at the box office, but Arquette was not without her doubts. “How are you, one, going to get the funding for a twelve-year project; two, sell a normal story that has no drama; and three, have actors stay on for twelve years that have no contracts (contracts max out at 7 years).” It was a big risk, but one that paid off.

“Boyhood is a selection of scenes that would have been cut out of any other movie,” claims Hawke. Hawke is most proud of the movie because it normalizes kids growing up in a divorced household. It’s a regular, simple story that replaces plot with time and shows that “regular life is awesome.” According to Arquette, “This movie is low tech, literally shot in time. It shows that audiences are ready for a lo-fi connection.” 
The American Riviera Awards were presented to the two by their Boyhood co-star Ellar Coltrane. During his presentation he said he saw both of them grow as actors, even though he wasn’t aware of it at the time. “Both of you refuse to be ingenuine (sic) to yourselves. Watching you guys here tonight – you never ceased to amaze me.”

Hawke claimed recognition creates an imbalance in one’s universe. But it is good to see two of Hollywood’s most influential actors work so hard towards maintaining that balance.

February 4, 2015

The Outstanding Directors Awards Tribute ~ February 4, 2015 @ The Arlington

A Community of Generals

crappy iPhone photo
To some, movie award season is just a beauty pageant of stars; a time where actors, writers, and directors can compete for the position of top dog of the movie industry. But according to Foxcatcher’s director Bennett Miller, award season, as well as film festivals, are a time to congregate with like-minded people who share your interest and experience in creating movies. Like seeing a fellow general and understanding what he has gone through, and thus bonding immediately. It is a time to meet those whose work you admire, a time to share ideas, and a time to just mingle with your peers.

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival adopted this mentality this year, deciding to combine the Outstanding Director of the Year Award with the Directors Panel and honoring five, not just one, of the year’s top directors in one evening at a prime Santa Barbara location, the Arlington Theater.

The directors honored this year by SBIFF are all brave visionaries bringing outstanding and very different stories to the big screen. Directors are a different breed; responsible for creating something from nothing but an idea. To manifest something material and tangible from written words, thoughts, ideas, and visions, takes a very special talent – and obsession. Moderated by Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter, directors Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Laura Poitras (CitizenFour), and Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) shared their obsessions Wednesday night.

Damien Chazelle is the freshest and youngest of the tributes.  Chazelle wrote and directed Whiplash, which first appeared as a short before getting funding for a full-length feature. It first gained notoriety at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and has flown into popularity since.  Based on his personal experience at a prestigious band school, it tells the tale of a drummer whose teacher motivated his students though fear. “It was difficult to persuade people that this was something they wanted to sit through. It’s about bullying and abuse,” Chazelle explains. “Inflecting harm on another for art is different than inflecting harm on yourself… It begs the question, does the outcome justify the abuse?” Although he admits he made the teacher more of a monster in the film than he was in real life, he is still terrified of playing the drums to this day.

The most seasoned of the directors, Richard Linklater, has a much different tale to tell in Boyhood. The movie was filmed intermittently over a 12-year period, following the main character from ages 5 to 18. The story is a fusion of Linklater’s memories growing up and his experiences in adulthood. It has to do more with time than with plot. “I feel that it’s real; in our own narrative of our own lives, there is no plot… It kinda happens that way.” It stars Linklater’s daughter, who became bored with the project around age 12 and asked her dad, “can my character, like, die?” Luckily, Linklater declined claiming it would be too dramatic. She was able to complete the project, learning to enjoy the process and the extra income.

Bennett Miller, better known as the “Best Actor’s Director,” is awkward and funny at the same time. His film Foxcatcher, based on the lives of the Schultz’s brothers and multimillionaire John E. du Pont, contains well-known Hollywood stars in roles that stretch their own limitations. Miller received the story from a random stranger in a store that gave him an envelope of newspaper clippings stating “You should be interested in this.” That stranger served as executive producer on the film. Miller is mainly interested in narrative films, the only thing available to him he felt passionate about and that didn’t require permission. As to being the “Best Actor’s Director“, Miller bragged that Brad Pitt claimed it was "most uncomfortable to work with him and not in a good way uncomfortable,” as Miller too struggles, clumsily to achieve the performances he shares with his actors. 

Laura Poitras is the only female, and coincidently, the only documentary director in the night’s tribute. CitizenFour is the documentary of a reporter meeting with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, right after he leaked classified information from the NSA. Snowden sought her out as a reputable journalist not likely to cave into pressure from authorities, not to create a film. She kept her contact under radar and met with legal representatives to assess the risk. Contrary to normal documentary releases, they had no early press releases. The press, public, and government got to see the film at the same time. Poitras stressed that source protection was her utmost concern with this provocative documentary.

The only foreigner in the tribute was director Morten Tyldum, with his first English language film The Imitation Game. According to Morton, the film is about “a gay mathematician that kills himself.” The story is based on the true story of the man who helped solve the Enigma code during WWII, and later committed suicide after he was prosecuted for being gay. Like Chazelle, Tyldum had a hard time realizing a dark concept like this could be a crowd-pleaser. “The characters are relatable… It’s the human aspect of the movie, not the history lesson that is appealing.”

Andrew Davis, director of The Fugitive and the self-proclaimed “guy from back in the day,” presented the awards to the five honored directors. The respect and admiration they shared was obvious as they exchanged comments and tales amongst themselves. It was refreshing to see the directors sitting as comrades celebrating film rather than adversaries fighting for awards. A true community of generals.

January 31, 2015

The Modern Master Award Honoring Michael Keaton ~ January 30, 2015 @ The Arlington

Risk. Above. All. 

Three simple words flashed on the screen before a clip from Birdman featuring the recipient of the SBIFF Modern Master Award: Risk. Above. All. These words accurately describe Michael Keaton’s acting career.

It is hard to determine which one of Michael Keaton’s movies is my favorite. The characters he has portrayed span across comedy, action, suspense, and drama genres so effortlessly. His eclectic career has seen the rise of Beetlejuice, Batman, and now Birdman. My favorite film of his may be Beetlejuice, however my favorite character is definitely Ray Nicolette in Jackie Brown. That said, Keaton is my favorite Batman of the entire Batman movie franchise. All this is debatable.  

Saturday night, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival honored Keaton for his brave portrayal of Riggan Thomson, a has-been actor who once played an iconic superhero now desperate to regain his former glory in Birdman. His performance already received over 30 awards internationally and has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor – which would be the first for this seasoned actor.

“Call it a renaissance,” proclaimed the night’s moderator, Leonard Maltin, as the tribute began. “Birdman is a reaffirmation of Michael Keaton’s enormous talent.” Maltin made no bones about being a huge fan of Keaton’s, stating that he was hooked when Keaton first burst on screen in an extraordinary comedic performance in 1982’s Night Shift.

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Addie MacDonald, Keaton’s co-star in 1992’s Multiplicity, introduced his video montage of film work, stating that Keaton was both an inspiration and friend. “At 63, he is brave enough to run through Times Square in his underwear… He has balls!”

Keaton’s film career flashed before our eyes. Night Shift, Mr. Mom, Beetlejuice, One Good Cop, Batman, Pacific Heights, Much Ado About Nothing, Jackie Brown… and on and on. Until finally, Keaton jumped up from his seat, paused to play air guitar in the aisle, and made his way to the stage facing a standing ovation.

“This is oddly intimidating.” Keaton stated immediately to Leonard Maltin. “This is overwhelming… You think you get it, then you see it all. It’s a lot to take in. I am truly blessed.”

Keaton’s birth name is Michael John Douglas. “It’s, actually Michael John Daniel Douglas,” he clarified, “I had communion.” The youngest of seven kids born into an Irish family, Keaton enjoyed being silly and getting lost in books. He would run around the neighborhood naked, his brothers would scare him with stories about a boy named Johnny living in the attic, and his father would have shady characters over with thick Irish accents. There was too much to do and see. So essentially, Keaton got into acting as an outlet for his over-active imagination. “It had to come out somehow, and it came out as acting.”

Keaton first released his imagination on the comedy circuit doing improv at open mic nights in New York, which he called “performance based mini plays,” while working crappy day jobs. He used improv groups to feed his need to perform, eventually trying his hand at television. “I am not good on TV,” Keaton admits, “I don’t know why… I don’t know…”  

Moving out to LA, Keaton, still Douglas at this time, was
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informed by the actor’s union that there was already a Mike and Michael Douglas, so he had to use another last name. “Ironically, Michael Douglas’ last name isn’t Douglas, it’s some Russian name I can’t recall,” Keaton complained jokingly. His family had called him Jackson as a nickname, so he thought about using Michael Jackson, but that too was a bust for obvious reasons. So he randomly picked Keaton. It had nothing to do with Buster or Diane. “But it’s nice. I don’t use Keaton for anything except my work,” explains Keaton. “It really keeps my personal life separate.”

As Maltin began the parade of movie clips, we really got to see Michael Keaton – the creative force, as he spoke about why and how each character evolved.  “It’s an odd job. You can’t put your finger on what you did that day,” proclaimed Keaton. “Unlike working outdoors, there’s no dirt to wash off.” 

His characters were born from the union of visions of the writers, directors, and actor… and sometimes other crewmembers. Bill Blazejowski in Night Shift was born when Ron Howard saw Keaton dance into the audition room. Beetlejuice was harder. “Tim was not describing anything I could understand,” admits Keaton. So he met with make-up artist Ve Neil and they just went for it, the energy building upon that collaboration. Batman’s voice came from Keaton’s need to rationalize the scenario. He believed there was no way anyone would not know Batman was Bruce Wayne once Batman talked – it wasn’t rational. Without “the voice,” he was just Bruce Wayne in a tight bat suit. Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing was based on a particular shady friend of Keaton’s father. And Birdman’s voice was the result of telling director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu the story about the Batman voice. These antidotes all lovingly told between clips from some of Keaton’s best work.

As we came to the end of the evening, Roger Durling emerged on stage, “sobbing watching the greatness of Michael Keaton.” This is the 30th anniversary of the Film Festival and the 25th anniversary the Modern Master Award. Ironically, Michael Douglas received the 1st. Durling exclaiming, “This was all meant for me to honor you tonight.”

And to honor Leonard Maltin: The Modern Master Award will herby be called the Maltin Modern Master Award.  Danny DeVito awarded the first “Maltin Modern Master Award” to his Batman costar and friend, stumbling a bit over it’s weight.

Taking risks wasn’t the original game plan. Keaton originally just wanted to do good work.  With Birdman, Keaton knew it would be different. “Deep inside, I knew I knew it… It was more different than I thought it would be – you’re exposed, literally. I have a weird job. Alejandro said you are going to go deeper than you ever have – and I did. You are here for a millisecond, you have to make the most of it. You must have courage.”

Risk. Above. All. An example well set by Michael Keaton.