4 Newport Beach Film Festival Hits: I Wish, Servitude, H2indO, Memorial Day

There's a line from

I Wish

, Monday night's heartwarming Pacific Rim Spotlight film from Japan that showed at Big Newport, that will resonate with independent filmmakers.

A boy looking at a CD cover of his father's rock band asks his younger brother what "indie" means.

The kid answers, "I think it means you have to work harder."

The hard work paid off for many indie filmmakers whose projects have screened during the 2012 NBFF. But some worthy pictures have been one-and-done, meaning that unlike others that have repeat viewings you can still catch, you'll have to look in the future for the following recommended titles in theaters, on demand or through online services.

Writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda's I Wish is a fascinating look into the lives and minds of Japanese schoolchildren. But what audiences around the world will really relate to are the difficulties families have dealing with divorce and abandonment issues.

Koichi, the older brother, lives with his mother and her parents in Kagoshima. His brother Ryunosuke, or "Ryu," lives with his dad in Fukuoka. Koichi gets it in his head that by making a wish at the moment two bullet trains pass one another, he can cause a volcano to erupt and wipe out Kagoshima, forcing the family to reunify.

Cinematographer Yutaka Yamasaki's camera drinks up the boys and their classmates as they embark on a journey to make their wishes, Koichi's included, come true. As with any road picture--or road trip for that matter--the journey is the payoff, not the destination.

They probably don't want to go in there.
They probably don't want to go in there.

Filled with barf, fart jokes and inappropriate humor that is most often directed at Germans--how can you not love Warren P. Sonoda's little picture Servitude?

Having screened Sunday night at Island Cinemas, the low-budget flick is about a guy named Josh (Joe Dinicol, who has this whole Jay Baruchel thing going) giving it right back to shitty customers and the new owners of Ranch Steakhouse on his supposed last shift as a waiter before heading off to law school. Josh enlists co-workers played brilliantly by John Bregar, Jeigh Madjus and

Paddle, paddle, paddle . . .
Paddle, paddle, paddle . . .

The best action sports film I've seen at the 2012 NBFF so far is San Clemente director Brent Deal's H2indO, which was helped by a rowdy crowd that filled the movie palace and yelled so often at the screen you'd think you were in a Magic Johnson Theater.

The movie follows seven world-class Stand Up Paddling (SUP) athletes to Indonesia, where viewers will find great action sequences in the waves, a touching scene about recent devastation to the islands and some laugh-out-loud funny scenes in and out of the water.

The entire cast showed up at the world premiere screening and related tales about sneaking extra boards through customs, breaking many of them in the breaks and of their mutual love and respect for one another. I missed the previous night's world premiere screening of Deal's other documentary, Decade of Dominance, which is all about champion paddler Jaime Mitchell, who was also featured in H2indO. It was said to have also played to a packed and enthusiastic house.

In his early 20s, Deal had worked on crews for movies made by Tony Scott, including Crimson Tide, The Fan, G.I. Jane and Seven. When I interviewed Deal a couple weeks ago, he said he'd love it if Scott caught his new films and told the freshman director, "Nice job, Brent."

Hold it a beat.

"If he even remembers who I am."

Deal remembers what a pro Scott was, how he never yelled at his crew, how he elevated everyone around him with his enthusiasm.

"I learned so much from him. He truly led. You hear these negative things about directors, but Tony Scott was not that. He's a tremendous man."

"What's in the box?"
"What's in the box?"

Memorial Day, which screened Saturday, left a lot of elderly men at Triangle Square with the sniffles and watery eyes. It begins with a battle scene as realistic as anything in The Hurt Locker, moves on to a porch in a Minnesota prairie town, and then shifts to World War II battlegrounds in Holland, Belgium and Italy.

James Cromwell plays gramps on the porch in La Center, Minn, on Memorial Day 1993, sharing war stories with his grandson--stories that in the movie are reenacted by John Cromwell, the veteran actor's son who resides in St. Paul. The grandson grows up to fight in Iraq, where he is played by Jonathan Bennett.

It's a very effective film that was, amazingly, shot entirely in Minnesota, in 29 days. Indeed, the entire pre- and post-production, except for sound editing done in Santa Monica, was also performed in Minnesota. Two World War II-era technical advisers were hired, and all actors in war scenes--be they from 1944 or current day--had to go through boot camp.

Director Sam Fischer says he worked through John Cromwell to get to James, showing Marc Conklin's script to the son, who then exposed it to his father.

"The next thing I know," Fischer told the NBFF crowd, "James Cromwell is on the phone with me."

* * *

Reviews of recommended films you can still catch are on the way. In the meantime, here is a  previously reviewed and recommended movie playing tonight: No Room for Rockstars, 7:45 p.m., Triangle Square.

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