More About Christy Karras

Hear this woman

(Thee Emergency performing at Chop Suey in a shot from "$5 Cover." MTV photo.)

I went last night to a special screening of “$5 Cover: Seattle,” the MTV project I covered extensively during Sundance. This was the first time we all got to see Lynn Shelton’s 12 short narratives in a row, which is definitely the way to see them. Though each tells its own mini-story, with Seattle’s independent musicians as characters, they all weave together, and sometimes a story that arises in one is resolved in another down the line.

The shorts were great, as were John Jeffcoat’s mini-documentaries about the bands and the even wider-ranging “B-side” docs produced by Sue Corcorane. But the striking thing about the whole event was the over-the-top talent on display. If you’re not checking out the independent music scene in Seattle, well, then, you’re missing out on one of the best things about living here.

I also found it interesting that while Seattle’s all-male bands get a lot of publicity, and rightfully so, the women are just as worthy of note, if not more so. Among the standouts in “$5 Cover: Seattle” (which will hit the network’s website in June): the two-woman powerhouse Thee Satisfaction, garage-pop Tea Cozies, Thee Emergency, whose lead vocalist, Zana “Dita Vox” Geddes, proves she has screen presence and acting chops as well as a voice to die for. Thee Emergency is the last band you hear in this preview for the series:

Click here to see the trailer for “$5 Cover: Seattle.”

March 2, 2010   No Comments

Fishing the rivers of love

fishing

(photo: Fishing on the Skagit.)

A lot of folks thought I was crazy when I told them about my Valentine’s Day plans: going fishing on the Skagit River.

For one thing, isn’t Valentine’s Day the one day of the year many people know they WON’T be fishing? It’s not exactly viewed as a romantic couples activity. But that was kind of the point. We wanted to celebrate our love, but we didn’t want to be suckered into fighting for restaurant reservations. We hadn’t fished in Washington yet, and we’d long sought an excuse to hire a guide to teach us spey-rod technique (that means two-handed – the fish here are bigger than the ones we’re used to!).

And we had a wonderful day on the river. Sure, the air and the water were both a brisk 40 degrees. Sure, it rained much of the day and we lost feeling in our feet. And sure, the fish weren’t exactly jumping onto our hooks.

But it’s true that a day on the river is better than pretty much any day anywhere else. We and our guide, Ryan (who fortunately didn’t have a Valentine’s-Day date planned) had the normally busy Skagit pretty much to ourselves. Low-lying clouds shaped like cotton candy skimmed the treetops. We saw bald eagles and a beaver that slapped its tail on the water as we went by. We practiced our casting and a couple times were blessed with the singular feeling that comes with knowing we did it right.

And at the end of the day, as we headed home tired and cold, we knew we’d given and received the best possible present: time.

(photo: Ryan and his dog, Grover)

February 26, 2010   1 Comment

Battle of the Bands: Australia vs. Canada

Vancouver

(Tourists pose in front of an Olympic countdown sign in Vancouver. Photo copyright Christy Karras)

According to 2010 rankings by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Vancouver, BC is the most liveable city in the world. So geographically close to where I sit now, yet so far away in rank from any American city, none of which even made it close to the top of the list. Why? It all comes down to criteria. Americans may be shocked to learn that the UK-based publication doesn’t look highly on America’s lack of universal health care. And American tourists who tightly clutch their purses when they travel abroad might be surprised to learn about America’s higher rates of violent crime than in many other parts of the world.

Canada and Australia have the most cities on the top 10 list. I’ve traveled in both countries and have to say that life there, at least by objective standards, is good. Their citizens are well educated, healthy, and well paid. Much higher minimum wages mean few are poor or hungry. And nobody goes bankrupt because of hospital bills. Imagine that.

America does has some things going for it. After all, crime and uncertainty make life exciting. And I was appalled by the small number of Mac users in Australia. It’s a Microsoft monopoly over there.

The praises heaped on Canada and Australia today remind me of the “Australia vs. Canada” game we used to play in college. It boils down to this question: In a contest between Australia and Canada, which country has exported the most good music per capita? The catch is, you have to subtract points for the crappy acts. So, sadly, Celine Dion’s negatives outweigh the goodness of Diana Krall.

Who wins? It partly depends on how you feel about country music (there’s the Shania Twain juggernaut, though she goes up against the not-insignificant Keith Urban). But ultimately, there’s no question in my mind that Australia comes out way ahead, mostly because Australia has given us fewer big-name acts, and certainly nothing terrible enough to overcome the likes of of AC/DC and INXS (I’m sure those awful bands exist, but they – mercifully – haven’t made it to the States).

Yeah, Canada’s got Neil Young. But it’s hard to forgive Bryan Adams. And sure, everyone loves the Barenaked Ladies, but I just can’t bring myself to vote for a country that inflicted Nickelback on me.

Next time, maybe I’ll add the U.S. into the mix. Lord knows we’ve got some bad music right here.

But I bet we’d beat Canada.

February 12, 2010   2 Comments

Roger on screenwriting – it’s easy!

I spent the weekend investigating screenwriting classes (a great idea for anyone with a few hundred – or a few thousand – bucks to drop). So I was incredibly relieved when this arrived in my mail today.

Thanks to Bill Kenower and Author Magazine for the morning-brightener.

February 8, 2010   1 Comment

What makes a good show?

The Clumsy Lovers, a Vancouver, British Columbia, band, plays at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood. (Ron Wurzer/WPN for the Boston Globe)

As I mentioned the other day, I went to hear the Clumsy Lovers last night, and they were even better than I remember. They’re infectiously peppy, they combine genres that are fun even when they stand alone (bluegrass, Irish, thumping straight-up rock), and they just seem to be having a damned good time. Beside, you have to admire the cojones of any band that tackles AC/DC with banjo and fiddle.

The eclectic crowd was stomping and clapping, hoedown-style, setting aside PBR tallboys to fully join the fun.

Which got me thinking: what makes a great concert? Is it the mood? The songs? The energy? The venue? The beer? All of the above, of course. Specifically, I’ve found certain things to be good predictors of a better-than-average show:

banjo

fiddle

accordion*

upright bass

PBR

floors made of natural material (cork, wood, grass)

a smallish to mid-sized venue

club-style, not seated audience

spontaneity (last night, for example, the band let a woman come from the audience and sing her choice of song because it was her birthday)

I could go one. And this is, of course, just my own opinion. If you have thoughts of your own along this line, please comment below and, as always, feel free to send a private message.

February 7, 2010   No Comments

Sundance proves Seattle filmmakers are doing fine

Here’s my latest story for the Seattle Times. If you’re reading this because you followed the link from the Times, welcome! Please do let me know (via the form on this page) if you or your organization is doing something I should check out. My aim is to make this a compendium of the things that, on any given day, make life worth living – especially helpful on particularly gray ones.

By the way, in my earlier stories, I discussed the Moondoggies, a local band in MTV’s $5 Cover series. They played at the Seattle film-industry party at Sundance and both impressed onlookers and reminded us of home. Here’s a YouTube shot of the band at the Crocodile:

February 6, 2010   1 Comment

Work before play (but yes, play)

I spent the day at a fiction writing workshop presented by Mary Buckham, one of many (many, many) successful writers who live in the Puget Sound region.

Yes, I’m going to start writing fiction, too. Everyone else does.

And tonight, I’m dashing off to the Tractor, our home away from home, to hear the Clumsy Lovers. I’ve seen them before; honestly, there was a lot going on that night, so I don’t remember all the details. I do know that I had a great time. And I expect to again: You really can’t go wrong with the Tractor.

the Clumsy Lovers

the Clumsy Lovers

February 6, 2010   No Comments

NetworkedBlogs is a go!

I’ve finally figured out how to link my blog to Facebook. Now all my stalkers can follow me (sorry, stalkers – it’ll be more about things going on in the world than about me. Just kidding – I don’t friend my stalkers. As far as I know).

February 4, 2010   No Comments

Sundance is a wrap – sigh

Most years, by the time the Sundance Film Festival‘s over, I’m really ready for it to be over. This year, the snow and the work flew fast during the first weekend, while it was hard to tell which movies were really turning audiences on. By the second weekend, though, a few films were standout favorites, and of course I hadn’t seen some of them. And of those, some may never get U.S. theatrical distribution, so this was my last chance.

But it was time to get back to Seattle, leaving me to wonder what I’d missed.

One of these years, I’ll become one of those champion film-watchers, like Sean P. Means at the Salt Lake Tribune. Or Jeremy Mathews, who talks about all things movie on his Same Dame podcast/blog. By the time I saw him at the festival, he’d watched 40 or so movies, which averaged out to 7 a day or so. These guys have butts of steel. Alas, I didn’t bring my donut cushion – and I’m still young enough to care about parties, panels, and other assorted goings-on to sit through that many movies. I’d rather let the iron butts figure out which ones I should see and try to catch those. Avoiding the “dogs” has always been a good strategy for me.

For my take on Sundance overall, as well as the state of the Seattle film community in general (well, as much as I can fit into 500 words), see my story in Sunday’s Seattle Times.

James Rolleston

James Rolleston played the title role in the movie "Boy," a charming New Zealand film you may never have the chance to see after Sundance. (photo by Jill Orschel/Sundance Institute)

February 4, 2010   No Comments

Bloody well done

"Tucker & Dale" Q&A with director Eli Craig. Photo by Brandon Joseph Baker for Sundance

If you love campy horror that gives uppity teenagers their due, or hillbillies, or movies that simultaneously take the piss out of and show a lot of respect for classics in their genre – or if you just want a crazy bloody hilarious good time, then “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil” is the Sundance movie for you.

It was for me. After many hours over the last couple days dealing with email, Web, photo, AND phone malfunctions (why do all these blow up at the same time – and of course right when lots of people are trying to reach me…or at least I think they are, but how do I know, when they can’t?), I was ready for some blood.

Every year, the festival’s Midnight series gives us some doozy genre movies that make up with enthusiasm what they lack in budget, and this is a classic example. “Tucker & Dale” concerns a couple humble hillbillies who get on the wrong side of some snooty college kids when they both head for the deep, dark, possibly killer-infested woods. Although it supposedly takes place in West Virginia (of course), it was filmed in Canada (of course).

The leads are sympathetic and funny and never cheesy. The movie features a few great lines (“I should have known that when a guy like me talked to a girl like you, somebody would end up dead”) and scenes that had everyone laughing out loud even as they cringed.

Another nice touch: Writer/Director Eli Craig‘s entertaining Q&A after the film, which was also both sweet and hysterical. Craig said the reason his movie ended up low on the nudity scale was that none of his Alberta-based cast was willing to take her shirt off. A local stripper volunteered to be a stand-in for one of the actresses, but when she appeared on the set, “She was about 40 years old and extremely rugged-looking,” Craig said. So the shot ended up being filmed from a distance – a great distance.

Turning more thoughtful, Craig mused on his film’s underlying themes of “our classist society” and marveled on getting into Sundance: “I can’t believe the things people always told me would pay off – hard work, believing in yourself, never giving up – all paid off.”

Tucker & Dale movie

(A scene from "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil." Photo by Dan Powers)

January 28, 2010   1 Comment