Bigger Than Life: Our Exclusive Preview of the Best (and Worst) at the Newport Beach Film Festival

During the eight days of the Newport Beach Film Festival, you’ll be lucky to see even a small fraction of the more than 150 feature selections culled from all over the world and other festivals. But over the past few weeks—doing practically nothing but eating, sleeping, letting a beard grow, and watching movies non-stop—this critic has managed to see 54 of them, approximately a third of what’ll be on display, in the hopes of helping you make the most educated choices at our biggest area film festival of the year.

In keeping with the odd juxtaposition of this eclectic, populist festival at highbrow Fashion Island, many of this year’s selections center on the idea of the unlikely hero: From the out-of-shape failure who rises to face a mighty foe (305, Big Man Japan) to unheralded real-life heroes like Max Lesnik and Barney Rosset, this is the year of protagonists who are more than they seem to be at first glance.

Not unlike the fest itself.

Not to be missed:  Big Man Japan
Not to be missed: Big Man Japan
Not too bad:  Garage
Not too bad: Garage

For show times and tickets, visit And starting April 24, stay tuned to our staff blog, Navel Gazing, for ongoing festival coverage.


About Crying (Lo Bueno de Llorar). In a series of long takes and uncomfortable silences, a couple walks the near-empty streets of Barcelona at night, searching for a party and the right things to say to each other. Matías Bize’s film is artsy with a capital “A,” but also kind of brilliant. Very minimalist, though, so avoid it if that scares you.

Accuracy of Death
. A Grim Reaper named Chiba (Takeshi Kaneshiro), tasked with deciding whether mortals destined for premature death merit a reprieve or not, roams Japan in the past, present, and future while judging a mousy office worker with superstar potential, a yakuza thug who cares for a helpless protegee, and an aging hairdresser with a robotic assistant. A bit sappy, but totally compelling.

Adjust Your Color: The Truth of Petey Greene. Don Cheadle gave an acclaimed performance as groundbreaking Washington, D.C., radio/TV host Petey Greene in last year’s Talk to Me, but even Cheadle is no substitute for the man himself. Built around archival TV footage thought to be long-lost, Loren Mendell’s documentary tells Petey’s story through the eyes of those who knew him best, and captivating clips of the man at his best, including a noteworthy one-on-one with a young Howard Stern in blackface.

Amal. A humble rickshaw driver (Rupinder Nagra) in India is bequeathed a fortune by an eccentric millionaire, but doesn’t know it yet. Will the dead man’s family, who have debts and problems of their own, do the right thing and inform the lucky beneficiary? And if so, what will he do with his sudden windfall? Probably not what you think.

American Teen. Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Nanette Burstein chronicles a year in the life of a handful of high school seniors in Indiana: an insecure jock, a glamorous and popular student council president, an aspiring filmmaker, and a girl-crazy gamer geek. Billed as a real-life Breakfast Club (which it isn’t at all—no Judd Nelson character, or any bullies whatsoever, are to be found), it is instead a sign of both the changing times and the things that never change, as well as a refreshing antidote to the overly beautified “teenagers” and excessively clean buildings that populate Hollywood’s phony high school stories.

Big Man Japan. The giant monster movie has been the subject of much reinvention lately, from the social satire of The Host to the hand-held stylings of Cloverfield. Now it’s time for the mockumentary, as we follow middle-aged bachelor Dai (writer-director Hitoshi Matsumoto) around Tokyo while he feeds his cat, rides the subway, and periodically transforms into a 50-foot tall tattooed wrestler who battles giant monsters. The ending is completely batshit insane.

Captain Abu Raed. The first feature film from Jordan in 50 years is as crowd-pleasing as family melodramas get. Aging airport janitor Abu Raed (Nadim Sawalha) finds a captain’s hat in the trash and is soon delighting the neighborhood children with his stories of glorious traveling adventures. But when he learns that one of the kids is being abused, he has the chance to be a real hero. If there’s a flaw to the film, it’s that the hero has none—he’s such a saint that this sometimes feels like a scripture lesson.

The Caterpillar Wish. In a small Australian town, a teenage photographer (Victoria Thaine)—whose mother (Susie Porter) works as a topless barmaid—uncovers some unpleasant truths about her past while trying to discover herself and play matchmaker for mom. A well-done movie all-around—but what teenager today uses film in her camera?

The Edge of Heaven. Germany’s official entry for last year’s Oscars is an international affair in three languages. Turkish widower Ali (Tuncel Turkiz) lives in Bremen, Germany, and falls for a prostitute who’s also Turkish. When the relationship takes a tragic turn, Ali is deported; Meanwhile, the woman’s daughter Ayten (Nurgul Yesilcay) searches Bremen for her mother, while Ali’s son Nejat (Baki Davrak) searches Turkey for Ayten, unaware of his father’s current whereabouts. And you thought you had trouble connecting with your parents!

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