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Café Society – Opening Night Gala - Rounding up the Usual Suspects
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Café Society – Opening Night Gala
SIFF's capsule summary: "Woody Allen's new film, set in 1930s Hollywood and New York City, is a bittersweet romance starring Jeannie Berlin, Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Kristen Stewart, Corey Stoll and Ken Stott." (USA, 2016, 96 minutes, Woody Allen)
SIFF link: Café Society: Opening Night Gala

Jewish New Yorker Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) moves to Hollywood to work for his uncle Phil (Steve Carrell). He falls for Phil's secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), in spite of Vonnie's warning that she has a boyfriend. Meanwhile, back home in New York, his family gossips about his gangster brother Ben (Corey Stoll), who runs a night club that eventually provides the title of the film.

5 Fair Woody Allen wrote and directed the film. On the directing side, he's excellent; it seems he can direct films like this one in his sleep. The shots are composed very nicely, and the cinematography (by Vittorio Storaro) is beautiful. The sets and costumes are nice, but they don't try to compete with Downton Abbey or the Baz Lurhmann Gatsby. The music is wonderful. The acting is excellent throughout.

But although Allen is spot-on as a director, this is not one of his showpieces as a writer. The story just doesn't go anywhere – or at least not anywhere all that interesting. The jokes are generally funny, but not numerous enough to carry the film through the dead spots in the story. The bit-part actors get the best jokes, particularly the death jokes. There are quite a few older-man, younger-woman jokes, and although they're mostly funny, I often cringed after laughing because of Allen's personal history. For this to be a good film, it needed either a better story, or so many laughs that the story didn't matter. The comedy is almost-good, and the story is poor; overall the writing is lackluster.

In spite of the first-class directing, acting, cinematography, period details, and music, the film fails on the weakness of the writing. Overall, I rate the film fair.

Maybe Woody Allen should think about slowing down his pace to give his writing more time, or if he wants to crank out a film every year, he might consider alternating between directing someone else's writing and directing his own.

Language: English.

Rating: This film has a US rating of "PG-13", which seems on target.

Screening: 7 pm, McCaw Hall (Seattle opera house). The opera house is wonderful for opera, but it's just not a good place for film. The sound doesn't fill the space evenly, and the screen's aspect ratio looked squashed (from the 2.0:1 it was shot in down to maybe 1.85:1). At least the shortcomings of the venue didn't spoil a great film this time.
Audience: mostly full, 2963 seats (advertised capacity).

Snacks: lots of party goodies.

Ads and announcements:

  • SIFF artistic director Carl Spence spoke.
  • SIFF board chairman Brian LaMacchia spoke.
  • Seattle Deputy Mayor Kate Joncas presented the Mayor's Award to Washington Film Works and Amy Lillard.
  • SIFF 2016 trailer — I recognize hardly any of the film clips in this one, but it's cool.
  • Presenting Princess Shaw — I already saw this film in a press screening. As a documentary, it's OK, but as a collection of music, it's wonderful.
  • Thank you volunteers — Time for applause. This clip had a Lord of the Rings theme, appropriate because Viggo Mortensen is one of this year's guests of honor.
  • (More that I don't remember; I didn't take notes this year.)


Presenting Princess Shaw – Live

One of the films featured at this year's SIFF is Presenting Princess Shaw. I saw the film, and as a documentary it tells a good story, but doesn't tell it very well – but the music is so good that I enjoyed the film anyway.

The true highlight of this Opening Night Gala was a live performance by "Princess Shaw" (Samantha Montgomery) herself. She sang with an off-stage (presumably recorded) accompaniment, and she was excellent. Her singing was right on, and she had stage presence that held the attention of the almost-3000 audience.

I wish we could have had 96 minutes of her singing instead of the film.


The Red Carpet Experience

Like most years, "J" and I support SIFF. This year, we did so mainly by buying the "Red Carpet Experience" upgrade for the opening night party. We arrived through a mess of rush hour traffic (fortunately light, by Seattle standards) and a valet parked our car. (I forgot to give the driver my wireless key, and had to give it to a valet supervisor so they'd be able to lock up the car during the evening.) We checked in, and straightened out a small ticket mix-up (SIFF sent us two copies of one ticket, rather than two different tickets) with a volunteer, then stood in a short line to be photographed on the red carpet. I look forward to figuring out where to view the pictures.

Inside, we got our gold wrist band and went in to the fancy area of the party. Treats included a tasty pasta salad, a nice fresh spinach salad, cheese and crackers, and probably some less healthy goodies that I didn't seek out. Beverages were abundant, as usual at SIFF parties; I indulged on a little merlot.

We mingled, and met lots of perennial SIFF acquaintances and friends. One introduced us to the acting managing director of SIFF; I had met her before at the members' preview event, but didn't realize that until we met her again. We saw an assortment of SIFF staff, including the programmer credited with bringing my favorite-so-far SIFF 2016 film, The Lure, to Seattle.

As usual, my film-themed necktie drew quite a few compliments, even though I didn't make a new one this year.

At the appointed time, opera house staff started herding us into the main hall for the announcements, the singing, and the film.

After the film, we returned to the fancy party area. They had some of the same treats as before, plus some additions: sliders (tasty, but not one of my usual indulgences), spicy gazpacho (yummy), and desserts (including some very good cheesecake). The space was more crowded than it had been before the show, so it was harder to spot people we knew.

While we were there, we picked up our Red Carpet gift bags. The contents included the big SIFF book, a hard-cover 50-year retrospective book about the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, a portion bottle of tequila, a larger bottle of vodka, some sample items from Babeland, a really nice camera strap, a DVD about Chihuly glass art, assorted smaller trinkets, lots of coupons, and lots of snack foods. It all came in a nice black SIFF-logo bag. And because there were two of us, we got two of everything.

Although the food was (presumably) better and the lines almost certainly shorter than the main party for the hoi polloi, my guess is that the main party was more fun. We probably would have migrated there if we had stayed later, but unfortunately J's feet were killing her; she was wearing new shoes, and they just didn't agree with her feet. So we called it a night fairly early, bringing home some samples of cheesecake for "L", who had spent the evening at our house with "T".

In spite of the dud film and our (relatively) early departure, it was a very fun evening. Just dressing up, going out, and playing it fancy was nice. And the "Princess Shaw" song was a treat – live singing in a venue that's meant for live performances.


Notes to myself:

SIFF statistics: 8 films (all features), 8 time slots, one party. ("J" missed three.)

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