10 for the Tenth
Don’t miss these feature-length films, documentaries and shorts at NBFF

1. PUNCHING THE CLOWN
Every year, while pre-screening Newport Beach Film Festival entries for human consumption, a little indie gem invariably jumps out at us. Gregori Viens’ fable on fame and the record-industry meat grinder is 2009’s leaper. Henry Phillips, who co-wrote the script with Viens and supplied all the music, plays himself, a troubadour drifting the country performing in coffeehouses, pizza parlors and bowling alleys before landing in LA for one last shot at stardom. His niche is original folk songs that drip with satire and sarcasm. Through a misunderstanding, he quickly finds himself the next hot thing. Just when it appears he’ll be able to leave the couch he is sub-subletting in the apartment his struggling actor brother (Matt Walker) sublets from his roommate girlfriend, another misunderstanding turns Henry into the next vilified thing. Punching the Clown won the Audience Award at the 2009 Slamdance Film Festival. (Matt Coker) Edwards Island 3, Fashion Island, 999 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 640-1218. Tues., April 28, 8:15 p.m.

 

2. POUNDCAKE
Rafael Monserrate’s dysfunctional family comedy follows a brood in 1987 Buffalo shuffling to the patriarch’s revelation over dinner that he is losing his crappy customer-service job at a department store. Oh, and Cliff and Carol Morgan (Jay O. Sanders and Kathleen Quinlan) are divorcing. Can one of you kids pass the butter? Poundcake rises thanks to the travails of the empty nesters’ three (barely) grown, underachieving children trying to cope while clinging to childish sibling rivalries and, in the case of Robby (Troy Hall) and adoptee Brooke (Deshja Driggs-Hall), dealing with an attraction stronger than Greg and Marcia Brady’s. Co-writers Hall (who rocks a mullet seemingly glued, stapled or stitched on) and Kevin Logie (who plays the third sibling, fucktard Charlie) dish most of the best lines to themselves, and Rob Bogue, as a slimy real-estate agent missing a hand, nearly steals the picture. It’s at times uneven, but by the end credits, it all rings true, mostly due to the emotional heft veteran actors Sanders and Quinlan supply with just their wounded expressions. (MC) Edwards Island 6, (949) 640-1218. Fri., April 24, 1 p.m.

3. LYMELIFE
Talk about dysfunctional families! NBFF’s dark opening-night dramedy has two: the financially well-off Bartletts and the Lyme disease-wracked Braggs are coming apart on Long Island at the turn of the 1980s. While suburban-tract developer Mickey Bartlett (30 Rock’s Alec Baldwin) rules his roost (and screws around), wife Brenda (Crossing Jordan’s Jill Hennessy) longs for a return to Queens and freaks out about Lyme-infected neighbor Charlie Bragg (Timothy Hutton). Son Jimmy Bartlett (Igby Goes Down’s Kieran Culkin) is back from the Army, protecting his picked-on younger brother Scott (Culkin’s little brother Rory). Sensitive and horny 15-year-old Scott has had a thing for Charlie’s daughter Adrianna (Emma Roberts) since they were 8. Like son, like father: Mickey hires Adrianna’s mom, Melissa (Sex & the City’s Cynthia Nixon), out of lust. Lymelife is like The Ice Storm with more gunplay, less pretentiousness and no swapping of car keys. It’s based on the wonder years of Derick Martini and his younger brother, co-writer/co-editor Steven Martini. Pity them. (MC) Edwards “Big Newport,” 300 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 644-0760.Thurs., April 23, 7 p.m.

4. CRUZANDO (CROSSING)
Nowadays, border-hopping dramas are a peso a dozen, most overwhelmingly Aztlanista or with so much manufactured pathos you figure Frank Capra is collecting royalties somewhere in the afterlife. Few dare find the funny in such a large-scale human tragedy (the Citizen Kane of the genre, of course, is Born in East L.A.), but one of the bold ones is Cruzando (Crossing). In a bit of Woody Allen-esque bravado, writer-directors Michael Ray Escamilla and Mando Alvarado play a buddy team crossing the Rio Grande in the hopes of Escamilla’s character, Manuel, meeting his father (who crossed into the U.S. decades ago) before his execution. Diego (Alvarado) films every godforsaken step of the way. With beautiful cinematography, expert acting, and a story that doesn’t drag (but can someone PLEASE outlaw Spanish-style guitar flourishes in Mexican films?), Cruzando won’t legalize millions but might teach gabachos a thing or two without shoving amnesty down their throats. (Gustavo Arellano) Edwards Island 5, (949) 640-1218. Mon., April 27, 5 p.m.

 

5. FALLEN ANGEL: ?THE OUTLAW LARRY NORMAN
Garden Grove filmmaker David Di Sabatino, who packed the Lido Theatre for his 2005 NBFF entry Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher, returns with another fascinating documentary on a born-again Christian outcast. San Jose rocker Norman crossed over to the cross in the 1970s and is now hailed as the “father of Christian rock,” influencing everyone from Jars of Clay to the PixiesFrank Black. The unfamiliar will be blown away by Norman’s music and stage presence, just as Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan were back in the day. But while Norman unleashed revolutionary Christianity onstage, he indulged in the Behind the Music antics that invariably torpedo secular artists. Worse, as the head of his own label, he dragged down other Christian artists, especially Seal Beach’s Randy Stonehill and Daniel Amos, the group that emerged from Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. They and others burned by Norman willingly dish to Di Sabatino, who suffered the wrath of Norman up until his February 2008 death—and that of Norman’s family and worldwide fans ever since (as the Weekly described in “Rock Angel,” Oct. 15, 2008). Fortunately, these stone-casters did not derail this compelling look at a broken man who turned scores of searchers on to the Lord. (MC) Edwards Island 6, (949) 640-1218. Thurs., April 30, 5:15 p.m.

 

6. DIRTY HANDS: THE LIFE & CRIMES OF DAVID CHOE
About two minutes into Harry Kim’s tag-along documentary, the LA street artist is already loathsome. But audiences are treated to so many quick cuts and eye candy (thank you, ADHD-addled MTV generation!) that they should stick with it another 91 minutes. Back and forth across oceans, from 2000 to 2007, Kim captures Choe vandalizing, confessing, exploiting, fucking and fucking up. Maybe you’ve seen his giant whales and faces on the sides of Southland freeways. He also laps up the praise of commercial art buyers, the porn magazines that gave him his start and fellow street artists like Shepard Fairey of Obey fame. By the time Choe’s many stints in jail are capped by a year of solitary in Japan, it is clear he is what the experts call “flipping nuts.” (The film explains it as near-schizophrenia, or some shit.) He’s still a dick, sure, but, come on: He’s sick! Therefore, you must root for him, although it’s his girlfriend you pity most. Put this flick in a time capsule in case Choe creates a masterwork, really goes over the edge, or both. (MC) Edwards Island 4, (949) 640-1218. Fri., April 24, 5:30 p.m.

 

7. BLUE GOLD: WORLD WATER WARS
Based on the book by Maude Barlow, the documentary by Irvine’s Sam Bozzo begins with a very sober explanation of what happens to a human body that goes one week without water (don’t try this at home, kids). His camera then goes around the world and into the faces of talking heads to damn our planet’s looming water crisis. We’re talking shortages, corporate corruption and wars already being mapped out in the halls of power. The naysaying grows wearisome because the other side, no matter how defenseless, is not asked Blue Gold’s underlying question: Does anyone have the right to deny someone else a precious resource required for life? If the answer is yes, look next for Sparkletts oxygen trucks rumbling into your office park. (MC) Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center, 2301 University Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 923-2290. Sun., April 26, 11:30 a.m.; Edwards Island 4, (949) 640-1218. Mon., April 27, 7:30 p.m.

8. CENTER STREET RISING
This true story is the stuff of good drama: A boxing coach who gives his life over to a rickety boxing club in the heart of one of Santa Ana’s troubled neighborhoods—and to the two poor young boxers who rise above it all and get a shot at going to the Olympics. Director Tracy Sabeti and the group of local producers who made this half-hour documentary short about TKO Boxing Club obviously saw the story’s potential and tried their best to tell it well. We hear from the pugilists, their coaches and community members who love what the club is doing for kids who might otherwise join gangs. The film could do with fewer fluffy sound bites, a less-obtrusive score and more intimate, sustained examinations of its most compelling characters. These include pro boxer Luis Ramos, who lives in a tiny home with his Guatemalan parents and who narrowly missed qualifying for the 2010 Olympics; young pro boxer Ronny Rios (see the Weekly cover story “Ronny,” Aug. 2, 2007), who was raised by a single mother in a tiny trailer park, climbed to national championship status in just a few short years and came within a hair of making the Olympics; and their hyper-driven, volunteer coach Hector Lopez, who was once a boxer himself, has no sons and works tirelessly to build the kids into top boxers (and students). Despite its shortcomings, Center Street Rising shines a rare, positive light on the gem that is the TKO Boxing Club and the endless hours of volunteer training and kid-mentoring done by its founders and coaches. (Daffodil J. Altan) Edwards Island 2, (949) 640-1218. Wed., April 29, 6 p.m.

 

9. SAVING THE BOOM
How would you begin a documentary short on a doomed gay bar? With same-sex couples soaking in strobe lights and dancing to loud thumpa-thumpa-thumpa disco? Then you, mister, think just like producer/director John Keitel, whose camera goes on to chronicle the sad demise of the world-famous Boom Boom Room. When the center of gay nightlife in Laguna Beach (if not all of Orange County) is sold and slated for redevelopment in its 61st year, longtime resident Fred Karger mounts a campaign to stop the wrecking ball. Keitel follows Boomers into the streets, local businesses and outside the Century City offices of AIG Insurance, the parent company of a firm presided over by a partner (with or without Brad Pitt and George Clooney) who purchased the building the Boom was in and surrounding properties in 2005. Refreshingly, Karger and co. encounter more supporters than foes, although a man who only identifies himself as a 30-year resident of the village tells Save the Boom petition circulators, “This cause is an abomination to God, I gotta tell ya.” When it becomes obvious that chap’s God won this round, closing night is marked in typical Boom fashion: same-sex couples soaking in strobe lights and dancing to loud thumpa-thumpa-thumpa disco. (MC) Edwards Island 2, ?(949) 640-1218. Tues., April 28, 2 p.m.

 

10. HIS GOOD WILL
This short film from director Cayman Grant finds Will (Donis Leonoard Jr.), a poor little black boy, collecting bottles anywhere he can find them in a small town on a hot summer day in the 1950s. After turning his bounty in for spare change from Mr. Cooper (James Avery), Will goes to a diner filled with white customers and waitresses for a plate of “fried potatoes.” Don’t watch what ensues if watery eyes and a lumpy throat bother you. (MC) Edwards Island 2, (949) 640-1218. Fri., April 24, 2:30 p.m.

 

Tickets are generally $8 to $12 per screening, although it’s $125 for the Lymelife opening-night screening and party, or $80 for the party alone. Call (949) 253-2880 or log on to newportbeachfilmfest.com for tickets and other festival details. Read more reviews of NBFF films on our staff blog, Navel Gazing.

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