Here's the thing about several films screening at the 10th annual Newport Beach Film Festival, which opens Thursday, April 23, and continues through April 30: many entries have been shown at earlier festivals in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere. Since the Weekly is part of a chain with papers in those towns and others, we can check out how critics there felt about some of the repeat pictures. So, to joining our "10 for the Tenth"--reviews of some of the best festival features, documentaries and shorts--we add 5 More NBFF Recommendations (and 4 Other Ones):
PRODIGAL SONS Like Jonathan Caouette's 2003 Tarnation, Kimberly Reed's Prodigal Sons shows that DIY cinematic autobiographies can be much more than just indulgent grad-school-thesis navel gazes. Sons has all the pitfalls of the genre--self-realization, troubled past, lack of structure--and yet it transcends them thanks to Reed's ability to get out of the way and let a great story tell itself. The film begins as a record of Reed's return to Helena, Montana, where she grew up as Paul McKerrow, a co-captain of the high-school football team, only to later undergo successful gender-reassignment surgery and start a new life back east. Reed's homecoming is upstaged by her adopted brother, Marc, who's still jealous of Kim/Paul's childhood popularity and confused by the fact that his brother is now his sister. Marc, who suffers from the effects of a massive head injury in his youth, then finds out he's the biological grandson of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. And this is still only the first half-hour. While Reed's doc lacks the wild iMovie exuberance of Tarnation, she has a patient eye, and this is what ultimately makes the rough but entirely captivating Prodigal Sons a true documentary rather than a freak show, personal essay or rant. Reed keeps the camera rolling as her filmed diary develops into a portrait of an entire family--one that's bizarre, unbelievable and, deep down, not that different from most others. (James C. Taylor) Edwards Island 4, Fashion Island, 999 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 640-1218. Mon., April 27, 5:30 p.m.
IDIOTS AND ANGELS
Cult animator Bill Plympton's hand-penciled expressionism is most recognizable from his shorts, likely because his deadpan, spatial-distorting sight gags often can't sustain momentum in feature form, almost by design. Yet his beautifully creepy fifth film somehow transcends this limitation and proves his most fully realized yet--a grim fairy-tale comedy, told without a word of dialogue, about a truculent businessman who discovers angelic wings sprouting from his back. The mean bastard undergoes a spiritual awakening as his new appendages thwart his every transgression, a humiliating rise-fall-and-rise tale that affects a bar owner and his salsa-dancing wife, a conniving surgeon and a town full of arson victims. Less concerned with gags than nimble storytelling and wide-screen aesthetics (every brooding corner of the frame is blotted in monochromatic noir hues), Plympton mines elegance from the utterly gonzo. (AH).Edwards Island 4, (949) 640-1218. Sun., April 26, 4:30 p.m.
A QUIET LITTLE MARRIAGE Despite a wobbly third act, A Quiet Little Marriage is that rare indie drama that has something meaningful to say about matrimony--specifically, how a marriage's early years can be pivotal in determining its future. Olive (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) and Dax (Cy Carter) seem to be a contented young couple until Olive suggests having a baby, which Dax was pretty sure they had already decided against. With a lovely understated style, writer-director Mo Perkins interweaves the pair's building tension with the agony of ailing parents and shiftless siblings, highlighting the unforeseen family factors that impose their will on any long-term relationship's hopes for a happy ending. (Tim Grierson) Edwards Island 7, (949) 640-1218. Sat., April 25, 8 p.m.
THE WORLD WE WANT "We the People: Project Citizen" is a U.S.-sponsored program that encourages young people all over the world to become community activists--rabble-rousers, in effect. In this inspiring film, director Patrick Davidson tracks eight high-school-age groups from around the globe who each chose one burning issue in their community and then hit the streets to fix the problem, by organizing petitions and getting in the face of local officials. Their work, much of it astonishingly effective, includes an effort to get the Russian government to regulate out-of-control public gambling, and a 300-kid street march demanding clean water for a Senegalese village. Heroes all. (Chuck Wilson). Edwards Island 5, (949) 640-1218. Tues., April 28, 3 p.m.
THESE FILMS ARE NEITHER RECOMMENDED NOR UNRECOMMENDED:
AUTO-MORPHOSIS Documentarian Harrod Blank is an admittedly eccentric fellow who has a thing for "art cars." I mean, he really has a thing for art cars. These are not classics maintained to factory specifications or cherried out street rods. These are (generally) used hunks of rust adorned with all kinds of crap. The so-called "mobile works of art" include a German American gift shop owner's rolling hamburger, a telephone on wheels driven by a normal office guy who transforms himself into a costumed telecom superhero and an ode to Satan-worshipping owned by a Northwest punkette who hated everyone before people on the street approached her genuinely intrigued by her late-model sedan. It's clear attention, not art, drives these folks. Or maybe that drives all artists. (Matt Coker) Edwards Island 5, (949) 640-1218. Sun., April 26, 3:15 p.m.
BEAUTY OF THE FIGHT Photographer John Urbano explains in his narration to his documentary on Barraza and El Chorrillo, two impoverished barrios that remain decimated by the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama, that he had been encouraged by a friend to snap pictures there. Urbano displays these on film and in an accompanying book, which describe the fight as the three great competitions in Barraza and El Chorrillo: boxing, cockfighting and the daily struggle to survive. But the documentary could use less of Urbano, his motivations and his feelings about the people in the streets. It's fine that Urbano loves the vivid colors, is anguished that once happy souls have been overtaken by dejection and can recognize the incongruity of a boxing gym next to a church next to cockfighting rings. Just show us! There's no need to verbally telegraph your punches. (MC) Edwards Island 3, (949) 640-1218. Mon., April 27, 3:30 p.m.
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THE DRUMS INSIDE YOUR CHEST A magician emcee (Rob Zabrecky) and seven poets/spoken word types (Buddy Wakefield, Beau Sia, Bucky Sinister, Mindy Nettifee, Derrick Brown, Jeffrey McDaniel and Amber Tamblyn) are captured on- and off-stage at a sold out, one-night-only Los Angeles performance. After watching the first round of monologues, often accompanied by a musician, each performer seems uniquely engaging, brimming with keen observations and interesting word play. But it starts to wear on you in the later rounds captured by director Stephen Latty. Still, those who regularly attend local poetry readings, who have probably seen many of these artists, should get a kick out of watching them on the big screen. A special berets off to Tamblyn, the event's "curator" and an actress you may have seen in Joan of Arcadia, for staging something like this without Henry Rollins off the bill. (MC) Regency Lido, 3459 Via Lido, Newport Beach , (949) 673-8350. Sun., April 26, 6 p.m.
FOOD FIGHT No one gets a pie in the face in Chris Taylor's cheeky documentary; instead, the director argues that the nation has been getting Twinkies and other processed food shoved down its gullets for decades. In the wake of books like Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma (whose author, Michael Pollan, is one of many talking heads here), Food Fight pits organic farmers against the Industrial Agriculture Complex. While Taylor's film serves up the history and politics of how America eats in a breezy, amusing way, its extended, hagiographic portraits of celebrity chefs (including Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck and Suzanne Goin) are a bit hard to swallow. (JCT) Peter & Mary Muth Interpretive Center, 2301 University Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 923-2290. Sun., April 26, 1:15 p.m.; Edwards Island 3, (949) 640-1218. Tues., April 28, 4 p.m.
Tickets are $8-$12 per screening. Galas, parties and receptions generally cost extra. Call (949) 253-2880 or log on to newportbeachfilmfest.com for tickets and other festival details. More reviews, news and on-the-scene reporting from NBFF is forthcoming on ocweekly.com.