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.