You’ll forgive this first entry because the TCFF movie bender that I’m on is mixed with the on-call responsibility of middle of the night wake-ups to rock my 11 month old son back to sleep without falling asleep myself. Midnight is my new 3am.
The Fest Day 1
The Blue Jasmine Opener was the Woody Allen that I’ve come to seek/enjoy almost as much as early work like Take the Money and Run and Bananas. Jasmine was a mix of comedy and edged social commentary starring a mix incomparable actors like Cate Blanchett and Alec Baldwin with rare talents that Allen seems to be able to sock away for the perfect part based on a type with supporting roles by Andrew Dyce Clay and Max Casella (Doogie Howser’s best friend/co-star). Blanchett’s flip flop between various stages of nervous breakdown and recovery was phenomenal. Read More →
Today’s journey through cinematic awesomeness took me from the vineyards of France (and China) to the horrors of theme park whales to a movie about a life-changing train ride. Let’s take a look.
I started off the day with “The Girl on the Train,” directed by TCFF regular Larry Brand and produced by Leland residents Rebecca Reynolds and Jim Carpenter.
I must stop here and explain that Rebecca is my “real friend.” We met for coffee recently and I couldn’t contain my excitement at meeting someone in person, face-to-face, talking like real people used to talk rather than online, which is where so much of my life is these days. So now whenever I see Rebecca, we’re all like, “Hey, it’s my real friend!” Read More →
We had a chance to talk to noted chef and summer resident Mario Batali about the new Bijou by the Bay and the great film that changed him.
The 9th Annual Traverse City Film Festival kicked off in a big way tonight with the opening night film, “Blue Jasmine.” Woody Allen’s dramedy will most assuredly earn star Cate Blanchett an Oscar nomination, if not the golden statuette itself.
She plays Jasmine, a Park Avenue socialite whose life takes a dramatic downturn after the deceptions of her Bernie Madoff-like husband Hal (Alec Baldwin). Forced to crash with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), a grocery store clerk in San Francisco, Jasmine self-medicates with a cocktail of vodka and Xanax, teetering on the brink of hysteria and panic as she attempts to put her life back together.
Her new world is a rude awakening after living a life of luxury in New York City, complete with a gorgeous pad on the East Side and all the jewelry she could ever want. It reminds me of another film that screened at the State Theatre – the real-life documentary “The Queen of Versailles.”
Adding insult to injury is Ginger’s Stanley Kowalski-like boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) and ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), a construction worker who holds a grudge against Jasmine because her husband Hal swindled him out of his life’s savings of $200,000.
Attending the screening tonight was Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays a San Francisco dentist who employs Jasmine as his receptionist, and whose attempts at romancing her go badly.
A few highlights from the Q&A (in which Michael Moore revealed that the role of Jerry Lundegaard in “Fargo” came down to him and William H. Macy!):
On getting the “Blue Jasmine” job: Stuhlbarg knew nothing about any of the other characters or stories (apropos for Allen films). Woody Allen messenger’d a script to Stuhlbarg, who read it, then gave the script back to the messenger.
On working with Woody Allen: “He has a very strong idea of what he wants. I just tried to show up and do my job and not get fired.”
On his first foray into acting: In an act of serendipity, Stuhlbarg first acted when he was a senior in high school, in Woody Allen’s “Don’t Drink the Water.”
On being in Traverse City. “Everyone’s been so lovely and genuine … my grandfather was in love with Traverse City and wanted to retire here.”
On working with Steven Spielberg in “Lincoln” (Stuhlbarg played George Yeaman): “It was a remarkable time, and I felt honored to be a part of it.”
On working with great directors: “Mr. Scorsese (Stuhlbarg plays Arnold Rothstein on the HBO show “Boardwalk Empire”) loves to participate. Mr. Spielberg lets you do your thing. Mr. Allen knows what he wants and asks you to find your way within that. All of these directors are in love with the process … with a capital L.”
On working with the Coen Brothers in “A Serious Man”: “I would have been glad to do anything with them. Joel and Ethan are wonderful guys. They’re very zen about life, in general. And they’re very generous and let you do your thing.”
After the movie, folks crowded out into Front Street for the after-party, which featured dozens of food and beverage vendors, musicians and revelers.
The Bijou by the Bay Grand Opening was held tonight, and it was definitely what you’d call a spectacular affair – not only because “The Spectacular Now” was the film that screened, but also because it’s just so cool to see the historical Con Foster Museum transformed into a hidden gem of a movie theater, to be open year-round.
As folks filed into the building, you could hear the delight in their voices at seeing the new theater – which Thom Darga and his crew worked like crazy to finish in time – and settle into the plush blue seats. These are just like the State Theatre seats, only blue, to match the beach theme of the Bijou by the Bay.
The murals by Glenn Wolff and Rufus Snoddy are simply gorgeous, depicting the Traverse City landscape and seascape in all its glory. In fact, those in attendance tonight were witness to the “signing of the murals” by Glenn and Rufus. Very cool, and you just knew that this is something you’d look back on with reverence.
Billy Strings and Don Julin provided rousing music to get things started, and the Laurie Sears Quartet created a jazzy ambience at the afterparty, held on the beach next to the theater.
A highlight was the most adorable cupcake display I’ve ever seen, created by Cakes by Lori Kirk. Surrounding an amazingly detailed cake depicting the Bijou by the Bay was a table full of cupcakes dotted with “popcorn kernels” on the top.
The event was sponsored by celebrity chef Mario Batali and Susi Cahn, so you know that great care went into every culinary detail.
Before the movie screened, film festival executive director Deb Lake spoke, thanking everyone for their hard work in making it all come together at light-speed. Film fest founder Michael Moore also spoke, noting that this year’s 9th Annual Traverse City Film Festival is dedicated to Michigan’s First Lady Helen Milliken, who passed away last year, and Bryan Crough, who died unexpectedly just a few weeks ago.
Both have been champions of the film festival and Traverse City area, and the audience cheered when Michael introduced Helen’s husband, Gov. William Milliken, in attendance tonight.
As for “The Spectacular Now,” it’s a film that has roots firmly planted in the garden of John Hughes and Cameron Crowe. The story follows high school senior Sutter Keely (Miles Teller; also look for him in the upcoming buzzed-about “Divergent”), a hard-partying high school senior who works at a men’s clothing store and has no particular plans for the future. That is, until he gets drunk one night and wakes up on a lawn with Aimee Finicky (the wonderful Shailene Woodley) hovering over him.
Aimee’s got her own family issues, but Sutter helps her build up the courage (in a very funny scene) to tell her mom she’s going to college, and she helps him build up the courage to ask his mom for his absentee-dad’s (Kyle Chandler) phone number – and then go along to meet him. It’s an eye-opening and life-changing experience for Sutter.
Directed by James Ponsoldt and adapted from a novel by Tim Tharp, “The Spectacular Now” opens wide in theaters Aug. 2, 2013. It has a “(500) Days of Summer” vibe, which is no surprise, since it was penned by the same writers.
Check it out. No one phones it in for this movie, and you’ll be glad you saw it.
I had the opportunity and great privilege to see “Kon-Tiki” at the State Theatre today. It screened for the Traverse City Film Festival founders, and prior to the movie, Michael Moore noted that the audience was probably familiar with the story because we’d no doubt read the book … “if you’re old…”
That got a laugh, and I have to admit, that book was on my shelf the entire time I was growing up, but I’ve never actually read it. Upon returning home, I went on an archaeological dig through my books and it’s now sitting on my desk. I intend to read it. Especially after seeing the movie.
“Kon-Tiki” is based on a true story that follows the incredible story of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, who crossed the Pacific ocean in a balsa wood raft in 1947, together with five men, to prove that South Americans – specifically, Peruvians – back in pre-Colombian times could have crossed the sea and settled on Polynesian islands.
It’s an amazing story that had me weeping with joy at times, clutching my bag in terror at other times, and marveling at the wonder of the human spirit.
It’s one of those films that’s a true collaborative effort – great directing by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, writing by Petter Skavlan and Allan Scott (who served as script consultant), original music by Johan Söderqvist, cinematographers Geir Hartly Andreassen, editors Per-Erik Eriksen and Martin Stoltz, and a knockout cast led by Pål Sverre Hagen, who played Thor Heyerdahl.
It won a slew of awards and was also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year by both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes.
“Kon-Tiki” is not only the name of this film, it’s also the name of the book Michael Moore mentioned, written by Heyerdahl, as well as the raft itself. The name originates from the Inca sun god, Viracocha, for whom “Kon-Tiki” was said to be an old name.
Despite the fact that anthropologists – both in the 1940s and even modern day – do not believe that people from South America could have settled Polynesia, Heyerdahl’s faith in that concept never wavered. His goal in mounting the Kon-Tiki expedition was to show, by using only the materials and technologies available to those people at the time, that there were no technical reasons to prevent them from having done so.
The expedition carried some modern equipment, such as a radio, watches, charts, sextant, and metal knives, but Heyerdahl argued they were incidental to the purpose of proving that the raft itself could make the journey. In one scene in the movie, he tosses some metal wire into the sea, after crew mate Herman Watzinger (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) warns that the raft will fall apart because it’s absorbing water.
The film shows how unpredictable the ocean is, as the crew deals with storms, whales, and sharks that nearly turn the journey tragic more than once. But it also shows what a little faith and positive thinking will do, despite the fact that this crew was somewhat ill-prepared for the journey. Heyerdahl didn’t even know how to swim.
If you have a chance to see “Kon-Tiki” either at the film festival or somewhere down the line, I highly recommend it. Runtime is 118 minutes; rated PG-13 for a disturbing violence sequence. Watch the trailer and check out when and where it’s screening here.
Here are a few photos from a press event at North Cove Marina in NYC’s Battery Park City in April. Harvey Weinstein and “Kon-Tiki” directors Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg, along with lead actor Pal Hagen, producer Jeremy Thomas, screenwriter Petter Skavlan, and Olav Heyerdahl, Thor Heyerdahl’s grandson who sailed on the 2006 Tangaroa expedition, were all at the event.
Sure, participating in a film festival is a glorious celebration of the cinema, but seeing a ton of films within a few short days can also be challenging!
Whether this year’s 9th Annual Traverse City Film Festival is your first or your ninth, it’s good to remind ourselves of a few basic tips to help maintain our energy and sanity from the opening night film straight through to the closing night film.
1. See a variety of films. In your schedule, make room for films from each festival category, as well as both high-profile films and smaller hidden gems. Sometimes those smaller indie films are the ones that catch you completely off guard, the ones you’re still thinking about years later. I never would have guessed that 2006′s “The Lives of Others” would turn out to be one of my favorite films ever, but it always comes up when people ask about my favorite films (it won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film). And I saw it at the Traverse City Film Festival.
2. Mix up the film genres. Include a variety of genres, such as comedy, drama, foreign, and documentaries. That way, you’ll get a good mix of issue-oriented documentaries that make you want to go out and DO SOMETHING, and fun comedies you can just laugh at and be entertained. Check out the new TCFF app to help plan out your day and make things easier.
3. Leave space in your schedule to get from here to there. Sure, it’d be great if we could teleport ourselves from theater to theater, but since the “Star Trek” people haven’t quite figured that out yet, we still need to physically drive, bike, walk or take a shuttle to the next film. Leave buffer time in your schedule for traveling, standing in line, and extended Q&As.
4. Embrace the lines. After nine years, things run pretty smoothly at the film fest, but you’ll no doubt still stand in lines here and there. Use that time to re-group and connect with other filmgoers in line. Ask what films they’ve seen or are looking forward to. Are they from Traverse City or out of town? Is this their first film festival? There’s a whole subculture happening in the lines, so free yourself from line rage and make some new friends there.
5. Don’t abuse the buddy system. It’s ok to save a seat or two for friends who are running late, but try not to abuse it. There’s nothing more annoying for filmgoers than to be searching for a seat and see someone saving a whole row.
6. Don’t forget to eat. We’re fortunate that the film festival offers a good variety of healthy foods at the concessions – everything from tasty popcorn to sandwiches. Still, not a bad idea to toss a bottle of water and a protein bar or two into your bag at the beginning of the day, for those times when you haven’t followed Tip #3 and find yourself hurrying from film to film. We need that extra energy – both physical and brain energy – to absorb all those awesome films.
7. Know your limits. We want you getting to the end of the film festival without having to collapse for a week to recover. To thine own self be true – that is, know how many films each day are comfortable for you and try to stick within that, so you’re not completely burned out by the fest’s end. Then again, you might actually BE a superhero and able to see Every.Single.Film in this year’s fest. Then by all means, you go!
8. Wear comfortable shoes. You’re going to be walking and standing a lot. Don’t wear those Jimmy Choos with the 4-inch heels (even if they are the most amazing shoes ever). Comfort, people! No one cares if you’re wearing sneakers.
9. Assemble a “Film Festival Survival Kit.” Carry the biggest shoulder bag you’re comfortable with (a small to medium sized backpack works, too), and assemble a little kit that includes your phone’s car charger (and camera charger, if you have one), sunblock, band-aids, bottled water, sunglasses, hair-ties if you have long hair, the aforementioned protein bars, a festival guide, and a light windbreaker that you can ball up and stash in your bag for breezy days and cool theaters. Designate a spot to keep your tickets, so you don’t have to search through your bag at every venue.
10. Breathe. Carve out a few minutes each day to just take it all in. You’re in one of the most gorgeous places on the planet watching fantastic movies in beautiful venues. Life is good.