The Iceman

I watch as Ariel Vromen and Ray Liotta, the director and one of the stars of "The Iceman," the opening night film, enter the room and are politely swarmed. Liotta belies his scary filmic persona by cheerfully submitting to a constant barrage of picture requests, posing with all and sundry.

As Kevin McNeely says when ebulliently introducing the opening film, 80% of the films in the festival have filmmakers in attendance: "Why wouldn't they want to come to Sonoma? They're certainly going to get enough to eat and drink!" He introduces the mayor of Sonoma, Ken Brown, who is wearing a black Netflix t-shirt, black pants, and has a braided ponytail down his back: he looks like an aging grad student, except an aging grad student would probably be wearing shoes. "We love that you spend money," he says candidly to the audience.

The intros are blessedly brief. I'm even entranced by the festival promo film, an odd but beguiling mash-up of a CG robot who writes down a Jack London quote about Sonoma -- "The afternoon sun smolders in the drowsy sky. I have everything to make me glad I am alive. I am all sun and air and sparkles…" -- before donning Charlie Chaplin attire and walking off through the vineyards.  And also an adorable promo for Mia's Kitchen, full of pasta-eating babies and toddlers, that surprises with its credit: made by the students of the Sonoma Valley High School Media Arts Program. The romantic Oscar-winning animated short "Paperman" screens before the feature, something of an odd tonal choice with "The Iceman."

I saw "The Iceman," back in September, also in Telluride, when it was starting its festival career, and was impressed with its uniformly excellent cast, especially the wonderful Michael Shannon in the title role as the hit man who tells his loving and clueless family that he's in the currency business. It's fun to see it again, in a sold-out house that's hanging on every word. This time I'm more impressed with the production design and costumes -- the film covers a twenty-year period, from the 60s to the 80s --  and cinematography by the prolific, gifted Bobby Bukowski, as well as performances from Liotta, Winona Ryder, James Franco, David Schwimmer, Robert Davi, and a nearly unrecognizable and decidedly unsuperheroic Chris Evans.

Afterwards there's a spirited q-and-a. Liotta, who's just finished his second Muppet movie -- "me and Danny Trejo singing and dancing" --  allows as how he'd like to vary his usually intense fare with a romantic lead: "I'd like to kiss the girl without having to choke her first." Vromen says he cast Liotta because he needed someone who could be as dangerous as Shannon -- citing a scene in which Liotta pushed a gun into Shannon's cheek so forcefully that you can see the mark it left when he pulls the gun away. We learn that the New York and New Jersey-set film was actually shot in Shreveport, Louisiana, thanks to tax incentives. And that Chris Evans,who plays Shannon's partner in crime, switched roles with James Franco at the last minute, after Franco's father died and he couldn't make the schedule. Liotta says that he used to do more preparation and research for his roles, but after a while you just realize it's pretend, and the most important thing is the script, to which you just submit. Vromen just received a text, at dinner, from the wife of the character Shannon portrayed, with whom he didn't have contact during the filmmaking -- she's just seen the movie and liked it, and she and her two daughters will attend the upcoming New York premiere to support the film.

I could use a drink, and luckily there's an afterparty at The General's Daughter, an event space housed in an 1864 house once the home of, yes, the daughter of General Vallejo, who presided over California's transition from a Mexican district to an American state, and her husband, who founded California's first winery. Wine is flowing, but I choose an expertly-made Old-Fashioned, because -- wait for it -- I'm an old-fashioned girl.