Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Return of Iñárritu

rev • e • nant

  1. One that returns after a lengthy absence.
  2. One who returns after death. 

So sayeth the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Languageand those two definitions make sense regarding Alejandro González Iñárritus 2015 film The Revenant (although Im not sure why one One gets a that, while the other One gets a who—are there otherworldly implications there?). The AHD also provides a brief etymology: the term revenant derives from the French present participle of revenir, meaning to return. The films title, then, dovetails with Iñárritus own return to the Oscars scene.

Last summer in the Dick Clark Productions Screening Room, my girlfriend fiancée, Joanna, and I first became aware of The Revenant via its teaser trailer. Having already finished the first season of Les Revenants, I was aware of the term and its return from the dead meaning. Also, Id just finished teaching a literary analysis class in which the final essay focused on Iñárritus 2014 film Birdman, which has a fantastical or magical-realistic or even numinous quality. So after watching that teaser trailerroughly two minutes that capture the pumping action and imagery of the film, without giving away its plotI expected The Revenant to follow suit with Birdman in its sense of magic and mystery. With that, The Revenant became my top must-see film (well, alongside or just under The Force Awakens).

Then a fuller trailer came out and did what trailers often do: it over-explained. TMI! I thought. With the new trailer, I gained a clearer idea of the plot yet lost that earlier sense of magic and mystery. Would Iñárritus latest be a straightforward revenge story? Perhaps. But even if the film turned out to be something other than what I initially expected, I was still in. After all, Im a fan of Iñárritus films largely because they defy my expectation. Consider the directors filmography, including Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful, Birdmaneach one unique, each one masterful. All indications pointed to The Revenant being another masterpiece.

And so it is. On the night after Christmas, Jo and I took our seats in the screening room. From the opening sequencewith its subjective, floating camera, and its gritty, epic feelI knew we were watching greatness. After the Glass down the river scene, in which Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) hides from the Arikara tribe and then crawls frantically through the freezing river water, I thought, Hes a shoo-in for Best Actor. By the films end, I sat there with that satiated, blissed-out feeling you get when youve experienced something poignant and extraordinary. Something beyond. A masterpiece, yes, and an instant classic.

Otherworldly. Numinous. Something beyond. I have plugged in these descriptors because The Revenant does contain that magic and mystery I detected in the teaser. The film isnt merely a tale of revenge; theres more to it. Having been left for dead by John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Glass does persevere; he fights to survive; he returns, becoming the revenant of the title. And beyond revenge, he is motivated by other revenants: the memory of his wife and son. They have died, yet in death, there is life. Several images make this point: an Arikara warrior wears a bison pelt to intimidate his enemies; a bird emerges from the shirt of Glasss dead wife; Glass himself wears a bear pelt and sleeps inside his dead horse. Life inside death. Though Glasss wife and son are dead, their spirits live on.

Almost a year to the day, Jo and I met for our first date. We got coffees and went for a long walk, chatting about several topics, including the Academy Awards. At that time, I predicted a big night for Iñárritu. And now? Itdéjà vu all over again. Heres to another big night for Iñárritu and crew.

Enjoy the Oscars, wherever you are!


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Congratulations, David!

Here’s to David Garonzik, the projectionist and manager of the Dick Clark Productions Screening Room. If you haven’t heard, David’s name appears in lights at the end of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s new film, The Revenant.

Now for a little “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”: David Garonzik helped out with The Revenant, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio; Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro starred in This Boy’s Life; and Robert De Niro acted in Sleepers with—voilà—Kevin Bacon.

Way to go, David. You are now undeniably a part of pop culture.

Happy holidays, everyone. See The Revenant (imperative mode), and make some noise when David’s name appears.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Think Different

                 Much Madness is divinest Sense—
                 To a discerning Eye—
                 Much Sense—the starkest Madness—
                 ’Tis the Majority
                 In this, as all, prevail—
                 Assent—and you are sane—
                 Demur—you’re straightway dangerous—
                 And handled with a Chain—

A few weeks ago, I assigned this Emily Dickinson poem for my literature students to read. In our textbook, the poem appears in a section entitled “Conformity and Rebellion.” One student, familiar with Dickinson’s unique style and enigmatic works, liked the poem “because it reflects the poet’s slantwise mind.” Another student noted that Dickinson herself might have been “straightway dangerous” to “the Majority”: she did not assent; she demurred. She was an innovator, a rebel, a rocker of the boat. That idea opened the floodgates to a naming off of other innovators and rebels, a list that included Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Albert Einstein, Frida Kahlo, John Lennon and Jay Z. “What about Steve Jobs?” I asked. The class responded with oh-yeahs and uh-huhs.

A while earlier, David had shown Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs in the Dick Clark Productions Screening Room. I’d been excited about the film, mainly because of Danny Boyle’s direction and Aaron Sorkin’s writing. Those two heavy-hitters are consistently knocking the ball out of the park. I wanted to see what they could pull off together. As far as I’m concerned, it’s another home run.

First off, there’s the structure. Whereas the 2013 biopic Jobs (starring Ashton Kutcher) follows a more typical formula, unfolding chronologically (except for the opening hook) and hitting the big points in Jobs’ life, Steve Jobs (starring Michael Fassbender) is structured around three major product launches: the first for Apple Macintosh (1984); the second, for NeXT Computer (1988); the third, for the iMac (1998). The film opens with Jobs putting out (or adding fuel to) fires as the clock ticks down to the first launch. That sequence’s frenetic and claustrophobic feeling works for the film, keeping viewers riveted. With five minutes before Jobs must take the stage, Boyle seems to stretch time. Then the act ends, and we viewers can breathe before the lead-in to the second launch.

During the messiness that goes on behind the scenes—the complications and distractions that pull Jobs in a dozen different directions—there is also Sorkin’s dialogue, sometimes slick, sometimes tumbling out, always crafted. If I’m flipping through channels and hear characters speaking Sorkinese, I will stop and watch, transfixed. Take, for example, The Social Network, another story about a real person—an often difficult-to-work-with person, according to the film—who changed life as we know it. Through his words, Sorkin sculpts out Zuckerberg’s character, and he does the same here with Jobs’ character.

Then Fassbender takes those words and brings the character to life. Fassbender is as engaging as ever; he is Steve Jobs. The rest of the cast is solid, as well: Kate Winslet as marketing executive Joanna Hoffman; Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple; Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, the CEO of Apple, 1983-1993. Three different actors play Lisa Brennan, one for each launch, and Jobs’ changing relationship with his daughter reflects his character’s maturity.

The father-daughter dynamic is one of the film’s nice touches. Others include the witty repartee and one-liners (Sculley ribbing Jobs about the actual skinheads that appear in his “1984” commercial; Jobs, after one of his many heated discussions, saying, “It’s like, five minutes before a launch, everyone goes to a bar and gets drunk and tells me what they really think”); the giant image of a great white shark projected on the screen behind Jobs, as he tears into Wozniak; Lisa’s Sony Walkman and the scene on the parking garage, in which Jobs tells her, “I’m gonna put music in your pocket.”

That line reminds me of my dad, a civil engineer with an inventor's brain. I remember a conversation we had way back in 1983, when I was a big eighth-grader, and when compact discs had just come out. I was talking up the CD, amazed at that new technology. "How can it get any better?" I asked. "It will," my dad said. And then he described a small device—much smaller than a Walkmanthat held hundreds of songs. "All people will have one," he said, "listening to music wherever they go." I just scoffed, still thinking, What can be better than a CD? I couldn't know then that he was predicting the future.

"Much Madness is divinest Sense," Dickinson wrote. "Here's to the crazy ones," Jobs said. Those words begin his 1997 "Think Different" commercial, and they, too, have a sense of the poetic. I'll leave you with Jobs' message in his own words.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Because It Is There


In September 1998, I moved to Japan to teach English at Urawa Tandai Junior College (now Urawa University). I lived in a fourplex subsidized by the college, and the three other residents were also gaijin instructors. The teacher I replaced had left behind stacks of books, and one night, lying on my futon, I cracked open Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. I couldn’t put the book down and finished it that night.

Into Thin Air came out in 1997, and in it, Krakauer gives a detailed account of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, of which he had first-hand experience. Krakauer was one of the climbers who set out on May 10, 1996, to summit Everest, and while he did make it to the top and back, eight other climbers lost their lives that day and the next.

Despite its tragic, cautionary-tale aspects, the story can stir awe and wonder in us adventure-seekers. The summer after reading Into Thin Air, I climbed Mount Whitney (14,505 feet), and the year after that, Mount Fuji (12,389 feet). If those heights look like a long way up, consider that Mount Everest (29,029 feet) is twice as high as Whitney. That’s where the awe and wonder play in.

Two weeks ago, having just watched To Sir, with Love, members of the DC Crew were chatting in the parking lot outside of the Dick Clark Productions Screening Room, when David asked, “Any interest in Everest?” I had an interest, but it was Jo who really wanted to see that film. (Driving home, I asked her why. In a nutshell, Jo likes man-versus-nature stories because they show how characters react in extreme situations. Also, she’s something of an adrenaline junkie.)

As the screening drew near, my interest in the film grew. I wondered how Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur would handle the story, which involves several players. And how closely would the film follow Krakauer’s book?

On Sunday, September 20, Jo and I took our seats in the screening room, ready with the stylish 3-D glasses that David provides for special screenings. (On that particular night, we noted, the 3-D glasses resembled mountaineering goggles.) “Never let go” is one of the film’s taglines, and for the next two hours, Everest pulled us in and didn’t let go.

Everest works on several levels. It has crisp scenes, a riveting score and stunning, realistic visuals. Early on, Base Camp’s colorful tents and flags, set against the snowy terrain, make you want to be there. Later, especially farther up the mountain, once the rogue storm hits, it’s the last place you’d want to be. Depicted in this way, Everest becomes a character, which transforms from tranquil beauty to punishing beast.

Although the story involves several players—including Adventure Consultants expedition leader Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), Mountain Madness expedition leader Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), climber Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) and journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly)—the film rounds out its characters and makes them visually distinct (with Rob in red, Scott in turquoise, Beck in black and blue, etc.). The characters and action are easy to follow.

Another plus: Everest is not the film version of Into Thin Air. I loved the book, but it is a personal account, and Kormákur made a wise choice in presenting the story as an ensemble piece (although Krakauer may not think so).

One part of the ensemble that stood out to me, while reading the book and again while watching the film, was Beck Weathers. What a name, similar to Pamela Dare's character name: each contains a verb, and each defines the individual. The difference is that one is a fictional character, while the other is a real person. Beck Weathersand he does.

In the end, it was another top-notch time in the Dick Clark Productions Screening Room. David was in peak performance, as usual. Jo and I left the place feeling elevated.

I'd like to leave you with this apt line of dialogue, spoken by Russian guide
Anatoli Boukreev (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson): “The last word always belongs to the mountain.”

Jason Clarke and the real Rob Hall.
Jake Gyllenhaal and the real Scott Fischer.
Josh Brolin and the real Beck Weathers.
Michael Kelly and the real Jon Krakauer.

Monday, September 14, 2015

To Jo, with Love

Hello, world! Welcome to the first post of the blog for the Dick Clark Productions Screening Room. I am M.J. Hamada (call me Mik), a member of the DC Crew: a group of filmmakers and film aficionados who attend David Garonzik’s weekend screenings.

A little about David: He is the projectionist and manager for the Dick Clark Productions Screening Room. He’s a cool cat, a consummate professional, a down-to-earth guy, the type of person you feel you know immediately. David has a wealth of film knowledge and does a variety of impressions (which he’ll break into if you ask him kindly, and sometimes even if you don’t).

As for the screening room, it’s an awesome space: elegant, modern, comfortable, with 21 seats arranged in four rows, each raised a step so that everyone has a clear view of the screen. The leather chairs are big and plush; the picture and sound quality, impeccable.

As you may divine from the title, this first post doubles as an introduction to the blog and as a way for me to honor Jo (Joanna, my better half), who introduced me to David and the DC Crew. For our third date (our first dinner-and-a-movie date), we watched Something Wild in the screening room, after which we shared our first kiss. So you could say that the Dick Clark Productions Screening Room is partly responsible for the relationship we have now.

Mik and Jo in the screening room.

Since that memorable third date, Jo and I have viewed a dozen films together in the screening room. Most recently, on Saturday night, we watched James Clavell’s 1967 film To Sir, with Love, and that screening was an extra-special one: sitting among the crowd was Judy Geeson! In the film, she plays standout student Pamela Dare alongside Sidney Poitier’s new teacher, Mark Thackeray. (Her character name is telling: In an early scene, Pamela dares to ask Mr. Thackeray and Ms. Blanchard, another teacher, “Do you two shake?” And later, Pamela offers to carry a flower wreath to the home of her half-black classmate, daring to cross social lines.)

Judy and David in the lobby.

To Sir, with Love is a great film, in the tradition of other inspirational teacher-student stories, such as Stand and Deliver, Dead Poets Society, Lean on Me and Dangerous Minds. If you’re a teacher, it’s a must-see. I like Thackeray’s approach. Initially rattled by the recalcitrant students, he eventually figures out how to connect with them: by tossing out the textbooks and treating the students as adults. My favorite bit of dialogue, though, is this early cutting remark Thackeray makes (when the students’ laughter eggs on the class clown): “lt’s encouraging that you have a sense of humor. It seems you know so little and are so easily amused, I can look forward to a very happy time.”

After the screening, Judy Geeson answered questions and shared behind-the-scenes tidbits. We learned about the struggle to greenlight the film, about the casting process, about the wardrobe (Clavell had the young actors wear their own clothing), about the final dance scene. This last story stood out to me: both she and Poitier were nervous about doing the dance. You’d never know from watching the film. Pamela Dare can shake.

Now it's time for me to shake on out of here. Thanks to Judy Geeson, to David and to the rest of the DC Crew for making Saturday night another "very happy time" at the Dick Clark Productions Screening Room. And thanks to you, curious reader, for tuning in to this first post. Check back latermore good stuff is on its way.