February 11, 2016

The Outstanding Directors Award ~ February 1, 2016 @ The Arlington Theater

No Fleeting Wisp of Glory

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival had the honor of hosting all five Oscar nominated directors at the Outstanding Directors Award tribute this year, creating a scene akin to Camelot’s own  Knights of the Round Table.

Film Festival director Roger Durling admitted to being giddy in the presence of these great men. “Look,” he exclaimed, “my palms are sweaty!” Durling quickly introduced the night’s moderator, Hollywood Reporter’s own Scott Feinberg to take over the stage.

The movies directed by the night’s honorees ranged from the hardship of the uncharted wilderness in America during the 1800s, to the experience of a boy growing up in the small confines of a room.  Movies so different, you get a unique experience from each one. As director Alejandro Inarritu said, “There are moments from each that you keep reflecting on after.”

Lenny Abrahamson was being recognized for Room, a movie about a woman held captive with her five year old son in a small room until they finally gain their freedom. Abrahamson had to shoot in an actual 11 X 11 room with no walls removed for filming. “I had to lie flat in the tub during shooting so that I could not be seen,” he described. It was necessary to keep the authenticity of the situation and highlighted the courage of this mother to give her child the chance to have a real childhood under dire circumstances.

Moving from a small room to the great outdoors brought us to Alejandro Inarritu’s film The Revenant. The film was shot outside, where Inarritu believed the physicality of the experience helped enhance the performances of the actors.  “They didn’t pretend to be cold, they were cold,” he explained, “good actors react.” The film was also shot in natural light, which Inarritu believes is a director’s best ally.

And where do you go from the frontier? To church of course. Tom McCarthy explores the investigation of allegations against priests of the Catholic Church in the film Spotlight. McCarthy and his crew traveled to Boston and did more investigation of their own, and took what they learned into the film. He was excited to have a great cast that were able to portray real people and give life to this important story , one that has had real world impact. The film was screened at the Vatican and further investigations are underway.

So far the night’s films have covered frontier life, life in captivity, and misdeeds of priests, so how about some finance now? In the film The Big Short, director Adam McKay brings Michael Lewis’s book to the big screen. “I knew half way through the book that it needed to be a movie.” McKay states, “I had to open the story up to the audience.” Known more for comedy than drama, McKay mixed the two in his portrayal of the story, which also included a star-studded cast who not only got the story, but were not worried about their image. According to McKay, they story isn’t a right wing / left wing one, everyone in 2008 lost their homes and savings.  “The end message,” proclaimed McKay, “Don’t vote for politicians that take money from banks.”              

To end the night, Feinberg made the biggest leap of all – to the Citadel. George Miller’s film, Mad Max, follows apocalypse survivors fleeing the Citadel across the desert. It is as big as a film gets, with major special effects and massive chase scenes. Miller claims the key to the movie’s success lies entirely with the team amassed to create the film. “It is critical to get the right team together, like a band,” attested Miller. “If something went wrong, it would go horribly wrong.”     

As the night closed and the directors collected in a group with Feinberg, it was definitely a stage filled with greatness. Yet with all the accolades and box office success these men had this year, all five were quite gracious and humble still, with McCarthy quipping, “I’m honored, but it’s been going on too long.” I guess its hard being a legend.

February 6, 2016

The Virtuosos Award ~ February 6, 2016 @ The Arlington Theater

 Hello, Nice To Know You

The red carpet is a strange place. Normally experienced from the perspective of the observer as a glamorous affair, the actual process is quite tedious. Actors, directors, and writers are herded down an assembly line of photographers and writers to pose for a million bright flashes of lights and stop for some idle chit-chat. For the first-timers it may appear thrilling, like they have finally ‘made it.’ Yet for veteran actors, it seems like just another part of the job.

That is what makes the Santa Barbara Film Festival’s Virtuosos Award so appealing. This award is given for break through performances of lesser known actors. These actors are either being recognized for an outstanding first performance, or are finally being recognized after years of work. “A break through moment can happen at any point of your life or career,” proclaimed the night’s moderator, entertainment writer Dave Carter.

The night acknowledged seven such outstanding actors, no small feat to fit into a two hour ceremony. According to Leonard Maltin, it is the equivalent to speed dating. To fit it all in while being diplomatic, Carter brought each award recipient on stage by alphabetical order of last names for a solo interviews. 

Elizabeth Banks, with over 15 years in the biz, was first to be interviewed. Acknowledged for her role in Love & Mercy, the
true-life story about Beach Boy Brian Wilson, Banks admitted she loved the love story. “I loved falling in love. I’ve only done it one other time in a film – in Zach & Miri Make a Porno.”  This was said with great comedic effect, a trait Banks is so well known for. Banks was quickly followed by Paul Dano, who also starred in Love & Mercy as the young Brian Wilson. Per instructions of the film’s director Bill Pohlad, Dano did not confer with John Cusack whom played the older Brian, nor did he meet Brian Wilson until he had sufficiently researched the character and his illness. “I learned so much,” recognized Dano, “I really wanted to protect the character.” 

Tribute Joel Edgerton’s interview was prerecorded due to his receiving another award that night in Los Angeles. Being acknowledge for his role in Black Mass, the Australian born actor admitted that perfecting a Boston accent was difficult, and contributed his success as much to his dialect coach as to his make-up crew.

First time actor O’Shea Jackson Jr. confidently followed. Not only was Jackson given the task of playing his father in a film
written about his father, but the film was also produced by his father – legendary Ice Cube in Straight Outta Compton. “[My father] said he needed me,” Jackson disclosed, “and that’s all I needed to know.”  Although Jackson confessed he had some doubt, “After two years of auditioning to play your own father – you get some doubt.” When asked about the lack of diversity in the nominations of best actor at the Oscars, Jackson said it was nothing to dwell on, “It was more about best picture for my father – for the family legacy.”

Following the alphabet, Hungarian actor Geza Rohrig was next, honored for his role in Son of Saul, a Hungarian film set in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. The film follows Rohrig’s character for two weeks in the camp, focusing on his face with most of the background blurred out, which was a challenge for the actor.

The youngest of the tributes was 9 year old actor Jacob
Tremblay from the film Room. A drama with a heavy plot line, the actor said it was easy for a kid to watch, “It is worse for a mom than a kid. A kid is like – oh whatever.” Easily charming the audience, Tremblay was endearingly honest and thoughtful in his responses to Carter’s careful directed questions.

Alicia Vikander was the last actor honor at the tribute, but only because of the alphabetical order. Honored for two films, the Swedish dancer demonstrated a range in her acting ability, playing a sly robot in Ex Machina, and the wife to a transgender husband in the true story The Danish Girl. Vikander relied on her dance training in her portrayal of both characters, believing that movement gives them life. 

After the solo interviews, Carter brought all tributes onto the stage for a round of questions. There were no egos involved as each actor showed respect and fondness for each other – especially the young Jacob. Leonard Maltin emerged on stage as the time came to hand out the awards. Each accepted graciously, without speeches or shout-outs. “It is a privilege to introduce someone we didn’t know a year or two ago,” proclaimed Maltin. But we know them now. 

Photos by Art Fisher. 

February 4, 2016

The Modern Master Award Honoring Johnny Depp ~ February 4, 2016 @ The Arlington Theater

There’s No One Like Johnny

The word on State Street is that Johnny Depp was spotted disguised as a street person sitting on a bench across from the SBIFF Hub the first day of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, taking it all in incognito. After seeing the shy actor accept the Maltin Modern Master Award on Thursday night, I believe that this was probably a true sighting.

Arriving late to venue, Johnny Depp graciously attended to his fans and accepted gifts on the red carpet, then quickly disappeared into the Arlington. Usually the recipients of the tribute awards sit amongst the general public in reserved seating; however this was not the case for Depp. Swept away to a back room he was guided to an area to watch as Leonard Maltin, for whom the award is named, introduced a montage of Depp’s “enduringly popular movies.”

Edward Scissorhands, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Black Mass, Dead Wood, Don Juan DeMarco, Blow, Chocolat, Pirates of the Caribbean, Sweeney Todd all merged together in one great accolade to the actor with over 40 movies to his credit.

Almost reluctantly, Depp made his way on stage from a side curtain, receiving a standing ovation. He stopped exclaiming “Now I stand for you,” before taking his seat next to Maltin. “This is not my favorite thing to do,” he admitted. “I have no idea what I am doing here; that [montage] was ludicrous.”

Maltin got right to business talking about Depp’s transition from TV star to Film star. “Playing the same character for 9 months out of the year can really make you insane – it didn’t affect me…” Depp said with at sly grin. “It was to pay rent… and I was never a good salesperson. I tried to get fired – a lot!” Depp considers himself a musician first and acting on a television show was not remotely close to what he strove toward. And why? “The best question in the world to anything is ‘why.’ Why – ha!” Depp’s exclamation was met with an awkward silence.

“Oh God, bemoaned Depp, "More clips?!” as Maltin went into the first clips of the night. He turned away and throughout the clips, obviously not comfortable watching himself on screen.

As more clips and discussion around the films emerged, funny stories were craftily pulled from Depp by Maltin, a great gift of the moderator. On the film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Johnny admitted he had been going through a hard time. Depp pondered if it was necessary to play the part of Gilbert Grape, or just a coincidence. On co-star Leo DiCaprio, he joked, again giving the crowd a sly grin, “He’s grown! Have you seen him?”

Moving on to Don Juan DeMarco, Depp contemplated the perspective of reality. “Who’s to say… what’s real to one? Who’s to say?” It was here he fell in love with his idol Marlon Brando, forging a friendship that would last a lifetime. “I liked playing opposite Marlon Brando and I’m playing the crazy one. How often does that come around?” Depp’s voice softened when he spoke of Brando, telling us that he was not what people thought; he was all about justice and equality. “There’s a saying that you should never meet your heroes… I’ve met every one and I’ve never been let down.”

Names like Marlon Brando, Bill Murray, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Al Pacino. Working with Al Pacino, Depp realized that Pacino was “certifiably insane,” and made a point to tell the actor, to which Al responded, “Oh yeah! Oh Yeah! You didn’t know that? [Dramatic pause] You know you’re pretty f-ing* strange yourself.” Ha!
Depp’s choice to do a Disney film arose from the non-stop cartoon marathon he was subject to once he had a child. “How can I make a live action performance within the parameters of a cartoon?” In cartoons you accept the absurd as reality, you don’t question how Wyle Coyote only needs a band-aid after a 1200 pound bolder falls on his head, and this is what Ed Wood called ‘a suspension of disbelief.’  So he tried something different, and made Jack Sparrow a more comical character – and almost got fired! Again.

His first and only attempt at directing resulted in the film, The Brave, starring Marlon Brando. Depp was proud to watch what Brando gave to him, but found it difficult to be both star and director himself. Depp holds the right to the film domestically and claims politics, and then the passing of Brando, prevented him from releasing it in the US. However, after much prodding from Maltin, Depp promised to screen the film at next year’s SBIFF and sealed the agreement with a gentleman’s handshake.  

More clips emerged, and it was obvious Depp’s talents easily ranged from comedy, to drama, to mockery, and to musicals. Depp divulged he takes influence from everything, “Why be rigid with any education? Take it from everywhere!”

As the night came to an end, Scott Cooper, director of Black Mass, presented the Maltin Modern Master Award to Depp. “Besides his awe inducing performances and cinematic brilliance, it is his deep humanity that sets him apart,” Cooper acknowledge. “There is no one like Johnny.”

February 3, 2016

G. Love & Special Sauce ~ February 3, 2016 @ SoHO, Santa Barbara

Blues Music

G. Love & Special Sauce have always held a special place in my heart since their self-titled album debuted in 1994. Originating out of Philly, the East Coast vibe can definitely be felt in their music. Unapologetically both sentimental and rough, their music is a fusion of blues, soul, and hip-hop, and their live shows are always upbeat and funky.

Touring on their 10th studio album together, Love Saves the Day, G. Love & Special Sauce brought high energy electric blues to SOhO last Wednesday. Their sound has evolved to point where a new genre may need to be created to be able to label it. New soul blends with old rock, with heavy emphasis on dirty blues (I tried). Playing mostly new songs unfamiliar to many of us at the sold out show, they easily got us all grooving by the sheer energy of their performance.

Led by Garret Dutton, aka G. Love, special sauce is Jeff Clemens (drums) and Jimi Prescott (bass). G. Love started the show seated, with a harmonica strapped to his head and an electric guitar in his lap. Seated, although not sitting, the man went crazy dancing on his seat while Jimi went crazy slapping on the stand-up base. Unfamiliar songs became familiar as the band did their thang – rocked the house.

From sitting, to standing, to commanding, G. Love led us through funky blues and raunchy love songs that showcased his vocal ability – when did his voice get so damn good? Closing out the night with few older favorites, G. Love and Special Sauce worked the crowd into a final frenzy with their good ol’ blues music.