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NBFF Midway: Reflexoes de um Liquidificador, High Road Premiere, Aaron Sorkin, California State of Mind: The Legacy of Pat Brown

Checking in on the Newport Beach Film Festival at its halfway mark, viewers have been treated in this 12th year to the option of sticking to one genre of presentations--say, only shorts or comedies or Spanish-language movies--or creating their own cultural bouillabaisse.

My dance card has so far included an edgy Brazilian black comedy, a totally improvised stoner comedy, a talk by Hollywood's hottest screenwriter and a bittersweet documentary on arguably California's greatest governor.

Friday afternoon I ducked into a Triangle Square theater screening Andre Klotzel's Reflexoes de um Liquidificador (Reflections of a Blender) not knowing much other than it was from Brazil, involved a woman's missing husband and featured a talking blender.

Sold!

Ana Lucia Torre is excellent as Elvira, a tireless wife who is introduced discovering that her husband of 40 years has gone missing. When she reports this to police, she is told he probably ran off with another woman. If not, a cop informs, Elvira will be the No. 1 suspect in his disappearance.

She becomes just that. She also becomes a conversationalist with her old electric blender, who seems to know a lot about the hubby's departure. What starts as a rather light (and weird) comedy grows darker (and weirder), and I must report that a couple older folks in the early afternoon audience walked out when . . . Well, let's just say if you can stomach Delicatessen, you can stomach Reflexoes de um Liquidificador. My, what a perfect movie-poster endorsement.

Friday night brought the world premiere of Upright Citizens Brigade co-founder Matt Walsh's High Road, whose cast includes--ahem--Party Down's Lizzy CaplanThe Mighty Boosh's Rich Fulcher, Tenacious D's Kyle Gass, Breaking Bad's Matt L. Jones, Superbad's Joe Lo Truglio, The Daily Show's Rob Riggle, Prison Break's Joe Nunez, Players' James Pumphrey, The Office's Ed Helm and Zach Woods, Saturday Night Live's Abby Elliott and Horatio Sanz and newcomer Dylan O'Brien.

No poo sticks were harmed in the making of this film.
 
Speaking before a packed Lido Theatre house that included Mad Men's Jared Harris Saturday morning, Aaron Sorkin showed why he is no slouch with dialogue, whipping out one liners and funny stories concerning his career as a playwright, Emmy-winning television writer (The West Wing) and Oscar-winning film writer (The Social Network).

First, he mentioned that since winning the Academy Award for best screenplay adaptation earlier this year, "It's like every day is my birthday." But he conceded adaptation is a misnomer because he was writing his script the same time Ben Mezrich was writing the book it was supposedly based on. That explains why Sorkin turned to interviews, blog posts and court records to craft his story in 13 months as per the studio's amped-up desires.

And 13 months is a misnomer to the outside observer because, looking at that time frame on a pie chart, only a sliver was spent actually pressing keys on the keyboard while the rest of the pie "looked a lot like someone watching ESPN," Sorkin explained.

"Facebook is not something I know much about now," Sorkin said in response to a question from the film festival's Rand Collins, who moderated. "I'd heard of Facebook, but I'd heard of Facebook like I'd heard of a carburetor. I can pop my hood and point to it, but I can't tell you what it does."

The Facebook story was one of power, envy and genius, and Sorkin was "just happy Paddy Chayefsky was not around to do it." 

He soon figured out there were three different truths to the Facebook saga, depending on who was telling it. Rather than choosing one, Sorkin decided to incorporate all three and let the audience figure it out. "I like courtroom dramas, I like Rashomon," he said. "I liked the idea of telling the story from three different versions."

Collins mentioned how Sorkin began as an actor, prompting the Man of the Hour to quip, "Saying I was an actor for a little while is like saying I was a cowboy for a little while."

Watching plays, he loved hearing dialogue, the way the words were strung together. After college, while staying on an ex-girlfriend's apartment floor in New York City, Sorkin got a weekend alone with an aquiantance's grandfather's old typewriter. He's been writing ever since--and paying attention to his critics. "I've been accused of writing dialogue like a guy on  a first date desperately trying to get a second date. And [he] probably won't."

But Sorkin always had to contend with plot getting in the way of his dialogue--an "intrusion," he called it. He's obviously made it click as his credits include not only the aforementioned but TV's Sportsnight and the play and film A Few Good Men. Upcoming are Moneyball, which is based on Michael Lewis book about the front-office brains behind the Oakland A's, and what's tentatively titled More As This Story Develops, about a news program actually doing the news.

That last project is for HBO, which Sorkin said he was drawn to not because he can have his characters swear without getting bleeped but because the cable channel is dedicated to critical acclaim over boffo ratings. And no commercial interruptions.

He also has in the works a musical based on the life of Houdini for Broadway. But he'll take his first crack at directing with a film adaptation of Andrew Young's book about presidential candidate John Edwards' baby scandal. The idea of Sorkin at the helm drew loud applause from the audience, and this warning from Sorkin: "We'll see."

He said he's been blessed to work with great directors, great actors, heck, a great career. "I'd love to see a day come when people go to a movie because of who wrote it," he said to more approving applause.

One fan asked if he'd ever consider revisiting The West Wing. While Sorkin did not rule that out, he did say, "Obviously, I don't want to do A Very Brady Christmas."

His teeth did not come out until he was asked about reality television.

"First of all, I think we should stop calling it that. I am not a fan of reality television. . . . Something really bad has gotten into the schoolyard."

Instead of giving up (or giving in), he called on filmmakers to make better films and television programs, saying it was the lack of good programming that forced networks to turn to the cheap alternative in the first place. In the meantime, he said, "don't watch it."

That afternoon I did watch California State of Mind: The Legacy of Pat Brown, his granddaughter Sascha Rice's enlightening documentary on the governor who preceded Ronald Reagan. I must admit that into the first several minutes, I feared this would not be a warts-and-all portrayal given the lineup of Democrats (and lone Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger) singing the late Brown's praises, one after the other.

Fortunately, Rice goes on to lay out the bumps Brown faced along the way with student demonstrators, entrenched legislators and the untested-but-ultimately gifted politician who would succeed him. Because of what she knows herself and her access to family, the viewer ultimately knows more about how her subject and those closest to him felt about the big political wins and losses. We witness first-hand how Kathleen Brown was daddy's favorite to assume the mantle of governor, as well as the old man's thorny relationship with son and now two-generation Gov. Jerry Brown.

Balancing things out are the likes of journalist Tom Brokaw, historian Kevin Starr and author-journalist Karl Fleming, who calls Pat Brown "the last great American builder" thanks to the hospitals, universities, community colleges and 1,000 miles of freeway constructed while he was governor. It's no wonder those on opposite ends of the political spectrum like Schwarzennegger and former Assembly speaker Karen Bass look back at that times in state politics with nostalgia. Hopefully another Brown will bring them back some day (and soon).


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