In the many years that this paper has been publishing (11 next month, thanks for asking!) we've seen a lot of film festivals come and go. And no matter whether it's some huge, glitzy deal sponsored by Absolut, or it's just some cute, scuzzy little deal thrown together by the French club at a local junior college, there are almost always plenty of growing pains early on. Sure, there may be a handful of gems on the bill, but most of the movies are probably very student film-y and pretentious and awful, created by would-be artistes blowing their trust funds. While the Newport Fest is now highly respected, it took them years to get their shit together; seriously, some of those shows back in the late '90s hurt.
Of course, we were ready to cut the Fullerton Film Festival a lot of slack, given that this is their very first year. (The fact that the proceeds are partially going to restoring the historic Fox Fullerton Theatre also puts them on the side of the angels.) But we're pleased (and surprised) to report that the festival organizers have put together a genuinely impressive show, mixing some interesting new films with plenty of classics that don't get the big-screen treatment nearly so often as they deserve.
Assuming you picked up this paper the day it hits newsstands—Thursday, Aug. 3— you can still catch the festival's debut picture. So, grab your umbrella and fly over to an outdoor screening of the classic 1964 Disney animation/live-action hybrid, Mary Poppins. It's an absolute charmer, this one is, but it's also one of those pictures—not unlike The Wizard of Oz, say—that probably works much better if you first saw it as a kid and carry some nostalgia for it. Approach it for the first time as an adult, and you'll quite possibly be driven to fidgets by Julie Andrews' spoonful of sugar and Dick Van Dyke's highly dubious cockney accent.
The fun continues Friday with Some Came Running, a punchy, 1958 melodrama starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine. Sinatra is a jaded author who returns to his hometown after many years, bringing the lovestruck MacLaine along even as he starts making the goo-goo eyes at a local schoolteacher (Martha Hyer). Steven Peck, who plays a feller who (understandably) has the hots for the young MacLaine, was an actor/dancer who was also well-known in these parts as the proprietor of Angelo's and Vinci's Ristorante, formerly housed on the backstage of the Fox Fullerton. The evening is presented as a tribute to the man who was a unique triple threat, delighting your parents with his thespian skills, his moves and big, carb-laden meals.
Things really get cooking Saturday with a screening of the restored edition of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (see "Touched by an Evil"), a gorgeously lurid, 1958 thriller about duplicity and sleaziness south of the border, with the "Latin" hero earnestly portrayed by a youngish Charlton Heston tricked out with an eyeliner mustache and a shoe polish tan.
Saturday also sees the SoCal debut of The Actress, a zestfully bleak Australian drama about a group of roommates who form a tense romantic quadrangle (is that even really a word?) when a sinister, Liv Tyler-esque beauty flits into their lives, starts screwing everybody and then sits back to enjoy the resulting carnage. Other reviewers apparently see this film as a comedy, but I thought it played more like a slacker noir, as we watch these former friends turn on each other like rabid beasts, clawing one another's eyes out for the love of a girl who clearly loves fucking with their heads far more than their bodies. Filmed in a kind of grungy Acne-Vision (it's the sort of lighting that makes even the femme fatale look like a bit of a pizza face), The Actress is a poisonously effective bit of nastiness.
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Other Saturday gems include Woody Allen's classic, angst-y comedy Annie Hall, and Mia Trachinger's Bunny, a darkly comic, magic realist fable about an Eastern European couple—well-played by newcomers Petra Tikalova and Edward Dratver—whose marriage survives fleeing their war-torn homeland but hits trouble when they come to America and get jobs as bunny-suited mascots.
You might as well camp out on the sidewalk overnight, because Sunday you'll just have to trek back out to catch a whole lot of neat stuff, including not just Robert Altman's still-scorching 1992 Hollywood satire The Player, not just Christopher Guest's still-hilarious mockumentary Best in Show, but even the freaking Breakfast Club. Don't you forget about this screening of John Hughes' beloved '80s dramedy! And yes, I did just use the words "John Hughes" and "beloved" in the same sentence. (I'm kind of surprised myself.) When you were a kid, this movie seemed amazing, insightful and funny, like it really said something about your life. All these years later some of the jokes fall flat and some of the drama feels forced, but is that because the movie is dated or because, in the words of Ally Sheedy, "When you grow up, your heart dies"? All we can say for sure is that this is a welcome, big-screen outing for a hugely influential '80s film, and seeing it again after all this time will make you feel very, very old.
We've seen a lot of crazy stuff go down in 11 years, but a film festival this solid in its first year? Oh, brave new world!
FULLERTON FILM FESTIVAL IS PRESENTED AT VARIOUS VENUES. THURS.-SUN., AUG. 3-6. CALL (714) 870-0069 OR VISIT WWW.F3FILMFESTIVAL.COM FOR TIMES, PLACES AND PRICES. THE FESTIVAL BOX OFFICE, LOCATED IN FRONT OF PLUMMER AUDITORIUM, 210 E. CHAPMAN AVE., FULLERTON, IS OPEN 10 A.M. UNTIL CLOSE.