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Talking with SBIFF’s Cinema Vanguard.
When Michael B. Jordan told me that 2018 has been “incredible; it’s been a crazy ride,” he wasn’t exaggerating. The 31-year-old had three films come out — blockbusters Black Panther and Creed II, and HBO’s Fahrenheit 451 — and is now doing the awards circuit, as Panther has garnered a slew of recognition, including seven Oscar nominations and two Screen Actors Guild wins, one of which was for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Jordan will also receive the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Cinema Vanguard Award on Thursday, February 7, at The Arlington Theatre.
Jordan began acting at the tender age of 12 and has plied his trade ever since. His résumé is impressive, weighted with intense, complex characters such as the 16-year-old drug dealer Wallace on HBO’s The Wire and quarterback Vince Howard on the TV series Friday Night Lights, as well as BART police shooting victim Oscar Grant in the film Fruitvale Station. More recently he took on the Rocky franchise with 2015’s Creed, playing the emotionally layered protagonist Adonis “Donnie” Johnson Creed, the illegitimate son of Rocky Balboa’s opponent-cum-friend Apollo Creed.
While Jordan has in innumerable other television and film roles under his belt, his 2018 films Creed II and, particularly, Black Panther have launched him into the cinematic stratosphere. I recently spoke for a few minutes over the phone with Jordan, who was in Utah at Sundance Film Festival.
In Creed, Adonis embodies a multifaceted masculinity that we don’t typically see on film. And then there is Black Panther's Killmonger, whose behavior seems more stereotypical male. What do you see as their similarities and differences? I never thought about it until just now. [Pauses.] I’m just trying to be thoughtful about [my answer]. Killmonger’s a very aggressive, very passionate, very emotional person who has a lot of hurt, a lot of pain. He has a lot of pain that’s deep inside him that’s rooted from childhood, from a lack of identity, a lack of knowing where he comes from, from growing up in systemic oppression … but kind of outcast from this Wakandan culture in the world of Marvel.
Then you have Adonis, who comes from the world of Rocky, who didn’t know who his father was either. He grew up in the shadow of legacy, of history. One who doesn’t know his history and his legacy at all, who didn’t really get any type of attention … that was brought up kind of in the shadows as well, but kind of been running from his legacy, his father’s shadow, so to speak. He’s very passionate as well. He fights for what he believes in. He’s very hot-tempered. He’s very emotional as well. But just grounded in a world where they don’t have superpowers or superheroes. … They’re both very passionate about what they believe in, and the differences are all of the obvious ones. One has vibranium, and one doesn’t. [Laughs.]
In Black Panther, the story was changed from New York City to Oakland, where Ryan Coogler is from. Was there a particular reason for that? I think the purpose behind that was to ground the history and backstory of the character to something that’s relatable [today]. You have this fictional world, these fictional characters, but trying to ground it in things that audiences can actually relate to. … The question that Ryan kind of proposed and then tried to answer and flesh out … is what does it mean to be African? What does it mean to be African American? … Black Panther had such a huge impact on the culture, on African Americans taking a stand and fighting for what they believe in, fighting for their own safety and their own equal rights in America. So to have that tied into the struggle of what Killmonger’s father was trying to do [in Oakland], what his mom was trying to do, and to have him take that dream to the next level, I thought was genius, and just ties perfectly into who Killmonger was.
Black Panther is a very layered film, and the story allows probing into a lot of current issues. I don’t know if that’s how you perceived it, but as an audience member, that’s definitely how I perceive it. That’s exactly how I perceived it. When you give somebody like Ryan Coogler the opportunity to make a movie on this scale, you know what you’re going to get. It’s going to say something. It’s going to mean something. So he’s not your typical Marvel filmmaker that kind of came through that system. The fact that we were able to get the support and the platform that Marvel [offers], the worldwide broadness of it, and be able to give it to a filmmaker who can make something that’s so specific and that’s going to say so much, I think you get the perfect ingredients between the two.
Its success seems to me to fly in the face of the industry that often claims people only want to see films about white men. Clearly that’s not true. I naively hope that they don’t say that anymore. Just because you get one black president doesn’t mean prejudice and racism is over in America, you know what I’m saying? So once you get one film like this doesn’t mean it’s all over. I know that’s wishful thinking and a lot of optimism, and I love it and I appreciate it. … It just proves that this is a system with a model that works, and hopefully we have more support and backing to tell more stories like this, but by no means does it mean that it’s all over because we have Black Panther. But it’s a huge, huge step in the right direction.
That’s how I felt about Wonder Woman. Exactly. That’s exactly how you feel about Wonder Woman. Exactly. That’s a huge win. It’s amazing to talk about it. But there’s so much more work to do.
Michael B. Jordan will receive the SBIFF Cinema Vanguard Award at 8 p.m. on Thursday, February 7, at The Arlington Theatre (1317 State St.). See sbiff.org.
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Academy Award nominee receives the SBIFF Maltin Modern Master Award.
“I like pretending to be someone else,” said Glenn Close to Leonard Maltin in the opening segment of her Modern Master tribute at the Arlington on Sunday, thus making a remarkably varied and dynamic career sound simple, which it clearly was not. Maltin interviewed Close for a little over an hour about her career not only in film, but also on Broadway (in the musical Sunset Boulevard and on television (in the series Damages).
The conversation touched on the audition process, on rehearsal methods, and on creative control when projects reach critical decision points. It was punctuated by the unexpected arrival on stage of Sir Pippin of Beanfield, Close’s Havanese dog, who joined her for the second half of the event, first sitting quietly on her lap, and later stealing the show during Close’s acceptance speech by executing a handful of frisky rolls at center stage. The award was presented by Roger Durling, a last-minute substitute for Jeff Bridges, who was not able to make it after the event was rescheduled from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon. Durling handled his role with customary aplomb, citing the many Broadway performances by Close he has witnessed over the years, many of which were favorites of his father.
The conversation’s high points revolved around Close’s most groundbreaking roles, including Jenny Fields in 1982’s The World According to Garp, Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction (1987), the Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisions (1988), Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmations (1996), and Patty Hewes in the television series Damages. It was particularly interesting to hear Close’s version of how the ending of Fatal Attraction had to be rewritten and reshot after a disastrous test screening caused the studio to decide against having Close’s character commit suicide. She was angry, and fought the change for two weeks, asking her co-stars repeatedly how they would feel if this happened to their characters. Eventually, according to Close, Michael Douglas answered her by saying, “Babe, I’m a whore,” presumably meaning that he would be willing to go along with whatever changes were proposed by the studio and the director. Close said that in the end, she felt that, difficult as it was to accept at the time, the decision to change the ending of the film was correct, as the audience needed some kind of catharsis after being subjected to the harrowing behavior her character exhibited earlier on.
It was a great pleasure to spend this Super Bowl afternoon in the Arlington with one of the greatest American actors of our time. Close exemplifies the supreme patience and watchful intelligence it takes to sustain a significant career over a lifetime, and, in her acceptance speech, she speculated that her most recent success with The Wife could potentially herald a new era for women in Hollywood.
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Behind the scenes with the five honorees.
The Santa Barbara International Film Festival honored the accomplishments of this year’s five contenders for the Best Director Oscar — Alfonso Cuarón (Roma), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), Spike Lee (Black KkKlansman), Adam McKay (Vice), and Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War). Each director was met with a standing ovation as they crossed the stage following a clip from their award-nominated films.
Hollywood Reporter columnist, Scott Feinberg moderated the evening, earning compliments from the likes of Adam McKay for “doing his research.”
A recurring name this awards season Alfonso Cuarón, director of Roma. Roma’s stylistic passion is a product of Cuarón’s perfectionism behind the lens, he said during his time in the hot seat. He let out a sigh when Feinberg mentioned that this was the longest shoot of his whole career. “I was devoted to time,” Cuarón said, “shooting in chronological order, recreating my childhood home and the area around it, and having the actor’s wear clothing and look as much like the original people.” Cuarón’s diligence and devotion clearly attributed to Roma’s Academy Award front runner status.
Yorgos Lanthimos nominated for the female-led The Favourite, likened his film’s quirkiness to his “natural quality.” “I observe people in extreme situations and understand in our own terms that life is an exploration,” he stated. His unusual directorial techniques, such as making actors recount lines while “panting as if they were giving birth,” according to Emma Stone, and implementation of daring cinematography, such as using a fish-eye lens in certain scenes, help create a unique cinematic result that allowed audience’s to engage fully with the complexities of the story.
Legendary director Spike Lee received a resounding round of applause when he took the stage; BlacKkKlansman is his first Academy Award nomination for Best Director. Lee was praised for his ability to seamlessly integrate humor into a profound narrative that parallels the racism in contemporary United States. “Black man infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan,” were the six words uttered by Jordan Peele that sold Lee on the BlacKkKlansman narrative. Lee said that his intention was not to create a comedy, but “the absurdity of the situation” is what elicits laughter. Often, Lee gets pigeonholed in creating films that speak on behalf of African Americans. “As a black man living in this country, felt that I needed to tell that particular story [BlacKkKlansman],” he stated.
Adam McKay’s comedic sensibilities infused the evening with moments of light-hearted laughter. He said his politically and socially minded Vice and The Big Short are the visceral films that balance out his Will Ferrell collaborations such as Step Brothers and Anchorman. McKay shared a story that occurred during the production of Vice that he found particularly amusing. He was exercising when he realized he was having a heart attack — actor Christian Bale, who plays Cheney, had thoroughly researched the symptoms of a heart attack since his character had three throughout the course of the film so McKay recognized immediately what he was experiencing. While at the hospital being treated, McKay, high on the pain pills they gave him as they attempted to remove the blockage, he felt that “the doctors and nurses needed to know how ironic this is that I’m doing a movie on Dick Cheney and here I am having a heart attack.” He tells the medical staff about it and from the corner of the room hears, “Cheney, great American.” The audience erupted in the clutching-stomach laugher.
Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War is roughly based on the sprawling love between his parent’s after World War II. Feinberg asked Pawlikowski if making the black-and-white film was cathartic. “It was cathartic to survive the film,” said Pawlikowski’s sarcastically, which elicited chuckles from the audience. He recounted that if his parents were alive they would have been very proud of the film.
When all five directors were called to the stage for the last few questions, there were no signs of competitive animosity brewing, just admiration. Feinberg allotted extra time for the directors to go on a little longer about how much they valued the creativity of the directors’ sitting next to them. When asked what other 2018 films struck a chord with them, Alfonso Cuarón summed up delightfulness of the night saying, “I liked Incredibles 2.”