SoCal Independent Film Festival: Saturday out of the Sun

Nothing like a little suspense to kickstart one's Saturday.

I'm not just talking about the festival's first program of shorts, either, but the suspense over whether an actual parking spot would be had. It'd be great to say that the festival was just so popular due to our press coverage that fans packed the place, but that isn't exactly what happened -- rather, a jazz festival was going on on the adjacent grounds, and that brought in the masses like I wouldn't have thought jazz can.

Later in the day, though, word is that the festival centerpiece Permanent Vacation actually sold out. Good for the fest -- none of the shorts programs I sat in on seemed to come close, but features are an easier sell. I fully admit that I usually skip shorts programs at festivals if something else is playing opposite, but here nothing was.

The suspense program kicked off with Mischa Livingstone's "A Little Night Fright," which was quick, slick, and to the point -- a little kid tries to frighten his brother as to the whereabouts of a monster in the room, but the tables get quickly turned. A perfectly told joke.

Peter Brunner's "Loman's Tale" interestingly mixes charcoal drawings with miniatures and live action for a completely wordless story, but the story itself, unfortunately, isn't much. Basically, within a fairy-tale type milieu, a guy fantasizes about a random chick that runs into his house one night, and he draws two possible scenarios. Does either one happen? Probably not. The end. Good art direction, not much else going on.

Marshall McAuley's "quiet" was pretty damn outstanding, though. A young girl has her hearing seriously damaged by a car accident; from then on, the movie's soundtrack becomes her own, with bass-heavy vibrations, indistinct dialogue, and occasional piercing tinnitis high-pitches. As she tries to adjust to this, a scary guy follows her home. The sound design may seem like a gimmick to juice up a fairly simple story, but it's one hell of a gimmick, taking you into the thing the way 3-D does, but drawing on different senses.

Daniel Mulloy's "Son" has the benefit of a great location -- a big old theater that gets really creepy when each light turns off one by one -- but can't seem to decide what story he's telling. Is it about the kid on a movie set who screws stuff up for his mom? Is it a horror story about being stalked in an old building at night? Or is it about sexual trauma...I mean, WTF is up with the sudden rape stuff out of nowhere at the very end? Mulloy only commits partially to each possible theme, and leaves us, like his protagonist, adrift.

Michael Graves' "The Urge" deals with a man who turns stalker when some random dude accidentally bumps into him on the street and spills his drink. The initial stalking sequence is nicely handled, but then it gets all plot-heavy and adds a twist ending that isn't terrible, but feels overly heavy-impact for such a simple story. Not bad, though.

1:20 p.m.: In the media lounge, a kid who looks less than 10 points to a picture of David Carradine and says: "That's Kill Bill!" Nice job, mom and dad.

1:30 p.m.: I decide I don't need to see the Drama and Tragedy program, after yesterdays duds. Lunch is more important. I end up finding the first Del Taco I've been to in years where the bathrooms are actually inside and not out back requiring a key, as most have them. I love DT, but the bathroom thing usually grates.

45 minutes later, I wonder if leaving the lot was a good idea. Can't find a parking space, and people are being real a-holes, like Mr. Block-Your-Way-And-Won't-Back-Up, and Mr.-I-Have-A-Shiny-New-Car-So-I'll-Just-Take-Up-Two-Spaces-Haha. I finally give in and pay a buck to use the sports center parking.

Next up is a series of comedy shorts. Only four, each one about 15 minutes. I tend to think that with shorts, it's better if there are less and they are longer, or if there are many, they should be super-short. None of this in-between crap. Either make a quick snappy payoff, or give us a real story. This bunch mostly does the latter.

Tyler Stockton's "Bear Essentials" proves that it's hard to go wrong with a guy in a bear suit. Well, you can -- I recently saw a short that was just about a bear suit guy and a geisha dancing, and nothing else happened -- but if you put in any effort at all, you can make shit happen for the guy. Anyway, a dude's girlfriend breaks up with him, and he hires the bear suit guy to deliver flowers and win her back, but she won't have it. So dude insists bear suit guy keeps doing more and more stuff for him, or he won't pay the bill. Together, they get into some trouble, some of it involving gay sex (or so it's implied...or maybe not. Maybe that's just me. But you can project a whole bunch of stuff onto an inexpressive bear face).

"Room Sevice," by Kevin Castro, stars Howie Mandel as a minor celebrity in a hotel trying to watch a pay-per-view porno...only the TV breaks, and wacky repairmen come in and embarass him. It's every bit as funny as you'd expect from Howie Mandel, which is to say not really at all. Do people really still get this embarrassed about watching porn? If some do, do you really get the vibe that Howie Mandel is such a person? Not I. He seems like a total porn dude to me. One good line from one of the costars, though: "My eyes haven't been so good since the war...Not that I was in the war, but it's a good point of reference."

Kate Madison's "The Horsemen" involves four Englishmen sitting in a pub, all played by the same actor (Christopher Dane), and, as soon becomes apparent, displaying character traits reminiscent of the four horsemen of the apocalypse -- a face-stuffing Famine, sickly Pestilence, priestly Death (who should be the last to arrive, if we're going by Revelation, but isn't here), and fascist War. A fun skit, but not much more -- the punchline involves a fifth being asked to join. If you were expecting a Rupert Murdoch joke, you're close.

Finally, Shane Reid's "Tis the Season," possibly inspired by the Denis Leary movie The Ref, tells of a young man who needs to propose to his girlfriend, and the crazy buddy who tries to obtain the guy a ring via burglary. But they break into the wrong house, and end up at a Christmas party for cops. Reid's directing is a bit awkward at times, especially the overuse of cheesy pop songs, but the dialogue and characters are first rate, with pitch-perfect parodies of the kind of dumb-ass macho talk that cops probably do speak in private, as well as a lovingly weird turn by an actor named Kevin Burge as a sexually ambiguous dispatcher. There could be a feature in this concept.

There won't be any David Carradine at the festival, which is a letdown since he was the big celebrity name promised. Seems he's in China for some reason. But the band Skeeter Truck, featured in Permanent Vacation, play a live set, as free champagne is poured and cookies are passed around. Too bad the movie's not very good, because they're going all out for it here. I decide to duck out and skip the features, to get refreshed for the party later.

Will update this post after I attend that...

Okay, I'm back. Free pizza and fried shrimp was decent, drinks were free if you could track down people with tickets, and the whole thing was on the Hotel Huntington Beach's back porch right outside the swimming pool/hot tub. No-one dived in, but they totally could wasn't locked.


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