SBIFF: Sam Elliot on his first Oscar nomination and being texting buddies with Bradley Cooper.

34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival -Virtuosos Award Presented By UGG
Photo Credit: Getty Images for SBIFF

“I’m most intrigued by how you remember all that shit? It is just astounding to me,” joked Sam Elliot with his token southern drawl to TMC’s Dave Karger who moderated the Virtuoso awards at the 34th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Elliot, along with John David Washington, Claire Foy, Richard E. Grant and many more were honored with the prestigious award as the awards season campaign comes to a close. Elliot was the flagship honoree, saving his Q&A for last.

“He’s the most brilliant director I’ve ever worked with,” he said speaking of Bradley Cooper, who after their initial meeting, became text message buddies and that is how the two communicated all the way up until filming. Elliot was concerned that he was going to be unable to film his role in A Star is Born, due to his commitment to Netflix’s The Ranch, a four-camera sitcom that is filmed before a live audience that has a lot of moving pieces. Elliot expressed his concern to Cooper via text message and Cooper instantly replied: “I’m not going to let you go. We are going to work it out.”

Filming for The Ranch ended on a Wednesday and the following Friday Cooper arranged for a set to be constructed in the parking lot of the Greek Theatre in LA, where they filmed their first scene together, the emotional brother v brother moment where Cooper punches Elliot and knocks him to the ground. Elliot did not once say “Lady Gaga”, instead he referred to her as “Stefani” and spoke of her very affectionately.

34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival -Virtuosos Award Presented By UGG
Photo Credit: Getty Images for SBIFF

The first time he saw the film in its full cut was at its premiere in Toronto, recalling how he was weeping throughout the film and was surprised at how much screen time he had in the final cut because when he had seen the rough cuts prior, his role was reduced substantially. Backstage, before the Q&A at TIFF, Stefani came up to him and asked if he was okay because he was still crying because he was so affected by the film.

“I’ve wanted this for so long,” Elliot candidly said about his first Academy Award nomination as the audience of over two thousand people erupted in thunderous applause. “Awards are great. Awards are a wonderful thing, but it’s all about the work.” Elliot turns his phone off at night and was awakened by his wife, Kathrine Ross, at seven-thirty in the morning the day nominations were announced. When asked by the moderator what it was like for his wife to be the one to tell him, Elliot instantly responded, “it was pretty cool.”

At the close of the evening, Elliot was asked what film came out this year that he thought that everyone should see, after thinking for a moment he said Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman and said that the film is very important and more relevant now than the period for which it took place. He was also asked what accent he thinks would be impossible for him to do, where he quickly quipped “anything that isn’t a south-western accent.”

 

34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival -Virtuosos Award Presented By UGG
SANTA BARBARA, CA – FEBRUARY 05: Sam Elliot speaks onstage at the Virtuosos Award Presented By UGG during the 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at Arlington Theatre on February 5, 2019 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for SBIFF)

Sam Elliot is effortlessly cool. He’s been a cinematic mainstay for five decades. He’s been a lifeguard, the President’s chief of staff, and countless cowboys and military brass. After all this time Elliot has been awarded a Screen Actors Guild and Academy Award nomination for his finest role to date. He may not win the gold, and that is okay because Sam Elliot will always be Sam Elliot.

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Christian Alvert’s Pandorum

I can understand that a bleak, disturbing SciFi horror like Pandorum didn’t connect well with Hollywood audiences or generate a lot of income, but it’s a shame because it weaves an intelligent, beautifully shot, truly scary dark dream of psychological paranoia, freaky ideas and tense, claustrophobic set pieces. Helmed by Christian Alvert, a German director best known for unconventional horror films, this was never going to be a flashy, familiar feeling big budget thing, which many probably didn’t expect. Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid are Payton and Bower, two astronauts who awaken on a giant derelict spaceship with severe amnesia and the unsettling feeling that their mission has gone horribly wrong. After a bit of exploring they find out just *how* wrong. Terrifying, monstrous humanoid creatures hunt any survivors through dim, clanging corridors that echo Ridley Scott’s Alien. Payton encounters two initially hostile nomads (Antje Traue and Cung Le) who he must band together with. Somewhere deep inside the ship, the reactor starts to fail. Another mentally unstable survivor (Cam Gigandet) is found by Quaid and starts to dangerously unravel. Gradually the secrets of what happened are revealed along with the reason for the presence of these creatures, which I won’t call aliens because they’re not. This is brutal, grim stuff that isn’t light watching or easy on the senses, it’s a skin crawling deep space nightmare of a film and a tough piece, no kidding. But it’s smart, tightly wound storytelling with fantastic acting (especially Quaid who rarely gets to go this bonkers crazy) and a plot that races along like some intergalactic nightmare until the final revelation, a thunderclap that lets us breathe again for the first time in over an hour. The title itself refers to a fictional psychotic disorder in which one believes the mission is cursed and becomes a delusional nut-job with destructive behaviour, the mental byproduct of extended space travel. This ties neatly into the very real dangers aboard the ship as reality shifts for these characters and their narratives become unreliable. A brilliant piece of SciFi horror filmmaking, a film that still hasn’t gotten its proper due. Get the Blu Ray, it looks fresh, crisp and darkly dazzling.

-Nate Hill

SBIFF: Glenn Close on The Wife, Fatal Attraction, and Bill Hurt.

34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival - Maltin Modern Master Award Honoring Glenn Close
Roger Durling, Glenn Close, and Leonard Maltin. Photo Credit: Getty Images for SBIFF.

 

Bounding across the stage during Leonard Maltin’s marvelous career-spanning discussion with Glenn Close was Sir Pip Close, the most adorable Havanese you have ever seen who, without question, stole the show. He also has his own Instagram account. Moments prior Sir Pip and Close draped in a crimson coat spent their time with each member of the press, speaking of her current film The Wife which bestowed to her numerous awards (the Golden Globe, SAG) and her seventh Academy Award nomination. Both on the carpet and with Malden, she spoke fondly of her bountiful career that is richly stocked with colorful and daring performances.

“Babe, I’m a whore,” Close giggled while recounting what Michael Douglas said to her when she lobbied for the original ending of Fatal Attraction to not be reshot and screamed at him; demanding to know what he would do in her situation. The film, but more importantly the character of Alex Frost, is important to her. She spoke at length about the deep backstory of abuse and incest that Close created for Frost, not only explaining but sympathizing with the characters motivation.

34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival - Maltin Modern Master Award Honoring Glenn Close
Photo Credit: Getty Images for SBIFF.

The World According to Garp was her first “big break”, which led to her being instantly cast in Lawrence Kasdan’s magnificent The Big Chill. There, is where her relationship with Bill (William) Hurt grew into an everlasting friendship (Close would later seek Bill’s counsel regarding the ending to Fatal Attraction being reshot) and made note of how she had dated Kevin Kline, and how he was then dating William Hurt’s ex-wife, Mary Beth Hurt which led to the reason for her not getting cast in the role of Sarah, Kline’s onscreen wife and central hub of the film. Most of the cast had been friends prior to filming, but she said it was Kasdan’s month-long rehearsal where the entire cast shared a house in Atlanta is what truly attributed to the ensemble’s chemistry.

She has always believed in the medium of television, stating it was something that Judi Dench and Maggie Smith took seriously in the UK, appearing on numerous BBC specials. Sarah, Plain and Tall (her first behind the scenes production), The West Wing, The Shield are all miniseries and television shows that she had appeared on, but it was not until FX’s Damages where Close made her mark. It not only was a show with two female leads but also reunited her with Bill Hurt. The show had a rabid fanbase, and when FX canceled it after the third season, diehard fans petitioned and then the series found a second life as a DirectTV exclusive for two more seasons.

Albert Nobbs was her passion project, taking nearly twenty years to get off the ground and for cameras to start rolling. Same can be said for her current film, The Wife co-staring Johnathan Pryce, but the limbo period wasn’t as long for her personally, she had only been attached to the project for five years. She absolutely loved working with Pryce, called him one of her finest acting partners, and how much he believed in the film.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images for SBIFF

As she accepted her Maltin Modern Master Award from Roger Durling, an admirable stand-in for Jeff Bridges who could not make the event, gave an impassioned speech that touched Close in a beautiful moment of many that night. As Close accepted her award and was midway through her speech, Sir Pip Close once again found his way to the middle of the stage and began to roll around and scratch his back. Close began to laugh and said that Sir Pip did the same thing during the filming of the Nobel Peace Prize scene in The Wife. As the final days of Oscar season come to a close, Glenn Close is on her way of finally taking home the gold on the seventh nomination for a performance that is very quiet, very subdued yet it is a wonderful showboat of a performance from one of cinemas finest actors.

At play in the Fields of Cullen: A Look at the Director’s Cut of London Fields by Kent Hill

I must confess I am in the same boat as my learned colleague Mr. (Paul) Rowlands of money-into-light.com, when it comes to an interest in films marked by some form controversy. Well, not solely controversy, but the types of films that have been long-suffering passion projects finally seeing the light of day, or long overdue restorations of genuinely overlooked masterpieces that may or may not have suffered the same fate as the picture that I shall, in these words following, discuss. It is the wretched crime of the industry at large to present grand achievements in aborted states – the director’s vision left on the cutting room floor, or in the parlance of our times, designated to a file on some mass storage device.mathewThe embattled figure in this saga is filmmaker Mathew Cullen and his stunning debut, London Fields. A slick and stylish noir, bombarded by flashing images of humanity’s chaos, swirling around  and serving as the world beyond that which we shall traverse with the movies’ delightful assortment of strange and sympathetic characters. Into the urban sprawl, at the center of this film’s universe, comes the melancholically-serene presence of Samson Young (Billy Bob Thornton), who we learn has traded his own stateside shithole for the shabby chic and eccentrically opulent abode of Mark Asprey – a disembodied Jason Isaacs.static1.squarespace.comBut this is not where our story begins. Our story begins with a murder.

A death that was seen coming by its victim, along with the hook being that the killer remains faceless until the movies’ final moments when we discover exactly who our Keyser Söze is.x1080-38ESo we have Thornton/Young, a man that has to live his stories. Being a natural voyeur, he soon becomes intrigued and infatuated if you will, by the astonishingly sexy and magnetic presence of Nicola Six (Amber Heard), whom I have enjoyed since she appeared in John Carpenter’s last effort, The Ward and again in the truly awesome guilty pleasure that is Drive Angry with the quintessential renaissance man himself, Nicholas Cage.London-Fields-Featured-ImageShe has power both in character and in substance. She is a woman who has flirted with the perilous, courting intrigue, danger, the playful and the despicable. And this it would seem is her last hurrah . Bringing into the final web she will spin the polished bravado of Guy Clinch (Theo James), and the personification of grotty goodness, Keith TalentJim Sturgess taking his Cloud Atlas Scottish football hooligan character to its apex.

 

These crotch-led power-mongers think they have our girl Six clocked and at their mercy. The key portion of that sentence being, ‘think’. Because this is all ruse, all part of Nicola’s game, indeed part of how Nicola (we take from the shards of back story given) has lived out her existence until its brutal, bloody climax. Young/Thornton watches and listens along as Six leads the boys into her little traps, playing each against the other in the midst of their own debauched  and dysfunctional existences – Clinch’s disintegrating family life and Talent’s quest to become an all conquering champion of darts.MV5BZmYyNjAwMjQtNDBiYy00YWI0LWI5OTQtOTJhZDYyNTJlOTI2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_If it all sounds a bit nutty (wait till you meet Chick Purchase), I say now, don’t be afraid. The juxtaposition of comedy, tragedy, sex, violence, a musical number and the bizarre nature of Nicola’s game is an easy pill to swallow. For the casual multiplex visitor, yeah, maybe not – but this is a picture that had me from start to finish and brought to mind fond memories of the time when it was my privilege to witness another spectacular director’s cut in the form of Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World – an equally luscious and absurdly-infectious cocktail of cinema.b0be7af53fa5c87a98786b212a5a1f17I have followed the press surrounding London Fields and waited for such an opportunity as I have thus been presented with, which is to experience the film as the director always intended it to be seen.5917e9efb12a157c32b854dbd16ed744912a0557 This being the case, I have in the interim sought out and devoured Martin Amis’ gorgeous darkly comedic, mysterious murder source material and also the theatrical version. So, if these words I write carry any weight at all with you, please believe my sincerity when I urge you, nay, implore you – seek out this, the director’s cut of London Fields. It is a heartbreaking urban-dystopian twisted noir love poem that, thank God, exists for us all to watch, to ponder, to cinematically wolf-down. Bon appétit, dear viewer.London-Fields

Marvel’s Ant Man & The Wasp

Among all the razzle dazzle that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, my favourite series going right now has to be Ant Man. There’s something so relatable about the underdog superhero who’s just a regular guy with a criminal record and a daughter to raise and isn’t some alien from way out there or a snarky billionaire. I love all the quantum realm elements, the trippy SciFi surrealism reminds me of 80’s stuff like Joe Dante or Spielberg and the large/small scale action sequences are hilarious, played up even more in Ant Man & The Wasp, a sequel that blasts further into new ideas, develops the characters more and has a lot more fun than the already brilliant first outing, or at least I did anyways. Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is under house arrest for two years after an unauthorized trip to Germany, which provides both obstacles and a running joke when Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) need him to wear the Ant Man suit once again and help them find Pym’s missing wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) who got herself stuck in the Quantum Realm decades before. Pretty much everyone is back for the ride again, including Scott’s merry band of thieves (TI, Michael Pena and David Dastmalchian), his ex wife (Judy Greer) and her husband (Bobby Cannavale) as well as others. I loved this film because nowhere in it is there a sense of menace or an edge, usually something I embrace in superhero movies, but I was looking for something light, feel-good and benign. Even the antagonists are on the easygoing side; Laurence Fishburne is a salty old colleague of Pym’s, Walton Goggins plays his black market tech dealer with that frivolous southern charm and even Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost, who’s in a perpetual state of (wait for it) ‘molecular disequilibrium’, is just a damaged girl trying to make things right. We won’t speak of the jarring mid credits sequence that now has me demanding an Ant Man 3, which better happen soon. These first two and particularly this one are pleasant, gung-ho SciFi comedies that make the most of terrific visual effects, Rudd’s natural charisma and a retro feel. Something about Douglas and Pfeiffer flying around in Ant suits together and blasting through the quantum realm just has me missing the same sort of films they used to star in in their heyday. This is a throwback to that sort of thing, and I love it to bits.

-Nate Hill

SBIFF: Viggo Mortensen on David Cronenberg, Green Book, and putting Coca-Cola in The Road.

Vladimir Putin was an inspiration for his character in Easter Promises, he owned his two horses from the Lord of the Rings, and then T.J. from Hidalgo, and he thinks it is total bullshit that David Cronenberg has never been nominated for best director. Viggo Mortensen is an accidental movie star who is fluent in seven languages, has his own publishing house, and never tires of people walking up to him on the street to talk to him about Aragorn. The 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s American Riviera Award was presented to Mortensen by his two-time co-star and one-time director, Ed Harris, which was preceded by a delightful two-hour Q&A with Deadline’s Peter Hammond.

Mortensen is currently making the rounds for his third Academy Award nomination for one of the year’s best films, The Green Book, knowing full well that he’s going to be three and out but continues to champion a film that he truly loves and believes in. He and Harris were about an hour late to the event, a serve storm prolonged their trip up from LA, diverting to take a private plane to a local airport and eventually hitting the red carpet and taking his time along the way promoting his latest feature.

“Coke doesn’t do R rated films, and then I asked if I could call the guy,” Mortensen continued, “I can’t remember his name, but I called the rep from Coca Cola and asked him if he had read The Road. He had not but his wife or someone he knew had. I told him to read pages, I don’t know, eighty-six through eighty-seven. And then to speak to his kids or his wife or whoever, and then in a few days he called back, and we could use Coke.”

His first on-screen appearance was in Peter Weir’s Witness, which came right off the heels of his scenes being cut from Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo. He was in his very early twenties when he decided to become an actor, there was not a specific film or an actor who inspired him, but the theatre experience was an emotional enlightenment that was woven with curiosity about how film could evoke reactions from laughter to tears.

The Lord of the Rings series is a part of his life that remains incredibly special to him. Not only did he love making the films, but he also speaks to what that afforded him to achieve not only professionally, but also personally. He started Percival Press, a publishing house that produces works of poets, musicians, and photographers as well as his own music, poetry, art, and photo books.

The Extended Cut of The Fellowship of the Ring is his favorite of the trilogy, reasoning that it was the film with the most human to human interaction. As the films went on, there was more CGI, more green screens, creating less and less interaction with other people. That was not a slight towards the other films, he warned because he has stated the same prior and he has been taken out of context.

Mortensen has a flip phone and has gotten better at emailing since he launched his website, but he’s just not all that interested in modern technology and frankly doesn’t find an interest in it. He is more interested in bringing stories to the screen that would not otherwise have a voice. He finds unique narratives and uses his movie star cache as a vehicle to shine a light on compelling characters and writer-directors whose visions would not be told.

Green Book is a special film to Mortensen, he loves it and the character of Tony Lip. He is very aware of the campaign against the film, especially how some are citing that the real Tony and Dr. Shirley were not friends and the film is a false representation of factual events. Firstly, Mortensen noted that Green Book is a movie, and only covers a span of two weeks and that Tony Lip went on to drive Dr. Shirley for another two years, and moderator Peter Hammond noted that Deadline has published audio tapes of Dr. Shirley speaking of his friendship with Tony and how the two remained friends for the rest of their lives.

He spoke very highly of the cast of Captain Fantastic and especially Mahershalla Ali, and how Ali was the greatest acting partner he’s had. He made not of Ali’s reactionary acting to him, and how so much of Ali’s performance is store within his reactions and economy of movement. He also spoke of his fondness for Ed Harris, who was there to present Mortensen with the award.

Dressed in cowboy boots and a red vest that looks like something William Holden would have worn in a genre-pushing western, Harris gave a rather straight forward yet emotional tribute to Mortensen, conveying that their friendship was built on a foundation of loyalty. Mortensen thanked Harris, SBIFF, and executive director Roger Durling for an award that he was not just a nominee for, but the outright winner. Mortensen is the strong silent type who is fiercely intelligent, and a man made up for passion and raw talent that elevates every single project that he touches.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Raise your hand if you think that Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is going to indeed be the last film in the franchise. I have this sneaky feeling they’ll pull a Friday The 13th and just cheerfully keep on trucking after this one as if they never said the buck would stop here. Or not, maybe they’ve gotten their sillies out for real, I mean this is the sixth film. Either way works for me, I kind of love these things. Say what you want about them (I’ve literally heard it all), they do wonders when you get a craving for action/horror with wall to wall carnage and not a minute spent on plot beyond the obligatory five minute hyper stylized recap at the beginning of each one, narrated by Milla Jovovich’s endlessly endearing, sultry voiced super warrior Alice. The first three films are the closest this series has been to what you might call ‘down to earth.’ There was the claustrophobic zombie siege thriller, the urban outbreak sci-fi horror and then the post apocalyptic Mad Max esque third entry. After that… they truly went balls out and kind of just had a free for all of decimated cities, giant monsters and more excessive bloody special effects than the franchise had seen before, until they arrived here. The good news is that this has more of a story than the last two did by far, and although doesn’t concretely wrap up this insane runaway train of a franchise, it does serve to cap off what we’ve seen so far and even includes a few narrative surprises that sort of don’t have to play by the rules of logic considering they threw them out the window like four films ago, but it’s nice to see the wheels turning anyways. After being betrayed by evil Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) in DC, Alice pursues deranged megalomaniac Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen, even more fun here than in Game Of Thrones) back to the Hive in Raccoon City where it all started in hopes of taking down the impossibly powerful Umbrella Corporation and finding a cure for the T Virus. Cue a deafening roar of tank chases, grisly zombie hordes, medieval style sieges in a derelict city, furious hand to hand combat, flying bat dragon things, other giant monsters and Jovovich in hysterical old age makeup at one point, which is part of the film’s big surprise. Milla is a trooper with these films and seems to never run out of steam, as countless other actors come and go, she’s the constant and the series wouldn’t be the same without her. I enjoyed the stuff about Umbrella’s backstory and events dating back before the first film, but they really just serve to bring on more frenzied R rated action set to Tool-esque hard rock music, which is fine by me. These films are either your thing or they’re not, but they’re definitely their own thing, that’s for sure. Nothing like the games anymore, or even the borderline restraint of the first film, they have carved out their of very bizarre niche in the realm of action/horror. Fun times.

-Nate Hill

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