It’s been a slow ramping up for me in Santa Barbara, coverage wise. I’ve had some Wi-Fi difficulties that are being sorted and I’ve posted when I can from where I can, but a couple of notes on the last two days.
Yesterday I took in a late afternoon screening of Tomm Moore’s “The Secret of Kells,” the film that probably served up the biggest surprise last Tuesday when it slid into the animated feature field over the populist, branch-respected “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and the less-respected “Ponyo,” which nevertheless comes from a titan of the medium.
The film is beautiful in so many ways, offering a rich, artistic palette of shapes and color to paint a portrait of a well-circulated Irish story revolving around the non-fictional Book of Kells. The artwork ultimately mirrors, in some way, the Insular art featured in the book, and the narrative itself, abstract as it feels at times, seems to be about the persistence of art and history.
I wasn’t as drawn to the film from a story standpoint as I was by the way it is told visually. The animation is wonderfully inventive, at times quite expressionistic. I would say I’m surprised it made the final cut with Oscar, but at the same time, I can fully understand the animation community being taken by vibrant and unique work such as this.
I’m hoping to speak with Moore about his film and his surprise nomination some time this week.
Meanwhile, earlier this afternoon Anne Thompson moderated her annual writers panel, “It Starts With the Script.” The panelists were Mark Boal, Pete Docter, Alex Kurtzman, Nancy Meyers, Scott Neustadter and Jason Reitman (who will be back tomorrow for the directors panel). Quentin Tarantino could not participate as he was under the weather.
As usual, it was an insightful conversation, topics running the gamut from the simple “What is your process?,” to more specific queries for each. Most interesting to me was when Boal copped to the Ralph Fiennes mercenary scene from “The Hurt Locker” existing solely for the purposes of getting the actor in the film and, therefore, “trigger the financing” (as if the somewhat jarring nature of the scene in the narrative — wonderful though it may be — didn’t give that away).
Originally, however, Boal had written an ambassador role for Fiennes, one that would be a mouth piece for some political hot button issues, an indictment of sorts, etc. But Fiennes responded by telling the filmmakers he thought it was “awful” and, in his estimation, totally inauthentic. So it was back to the drawing board and Boal cooked up this almost dreamlike sequence mid-film for Fiennes as a mercenary, which is of course a wonderful way to include notions of the privatization of the military.
“This is the first time I’ve admitted to it,” Boal told the packed Lobero Theatre. I think it worked out at the end of the day.
Meanwhile, Kurtzman told a touching story (that he may have told elsewhere, I can’t recall) about when he and the filmmakers behind “Star Trek” approached Leonard Nimoy about reprising the role that has become synonymous with his name. Nimoy’s autobiography being titled “I Am Not Spock” made the task feel even more daunting, but as Nimoy listened to their plan, tears started to well up. “He said, ‘You have to understand, this is quite emotional for me,’” Kurtzman recalled. “And then it occurred to us we were asking a gunslinger to strap on his guns one last time.”
There were plenty more anecdotes along those lines, and plenty of cutting up between the panelists. When the issue of an R rating popped up for Meyers’s “It’s Complicated,” Reitman joked, “So if you knew the pot was going to get you an R, would you have taken it further? Maybe they get involved with meth and just get totally out of control?”
Meyers, by the way, said the only thing that pushed the film toward that rating was the fact that there was no element of the smoking of marijuana having been a bad or regretful thing. One line — “That was bad.” — might have done it. But she didn’t know that until the film was cut and ready for release.
I spoke at length with “Precious” screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher backstage before the panel for a separate interview. We’ll be putting it together piece meal where and when we can, but he told me, of course, the nomination hasn’t fully set in for him. After all, just over a year ago the film was about to play Sundance, had no buyer, no guarantee of seeing the light of day beyond the festival circuit. A year before that he was standing in line, in the cold, at a comic book shop in New York waiting to get his Mr. Brown Special Edition DVD of “Reservoir Dogs” signed by Quentin Tarantino, and now he finds himself participating in the same events as the “Inglourious Basterds” writer/director.
The journey of “Precious,” quite frankly, might be the longest, most rewarding of the season.
Tonight we’ll have the Modern Master tribute for James Cameron, Santa Barbara’s highest honor. I’ll be sure not to ask him if I can take a look at it this time, lest he think it’s that guy back again to steal his awards. Tomorrow it’s the directors panel and a tiny little sporting event that I’ll be zipping down the coast to watch with friends, and on to the next week of films, celebrations and, hopefully, sunshine.