10 Things to Get Excited About at 2014 Irvine International Film Festival … in Laguna Hills

Irvine is one of the largest cities in Orange County as well as the safest and best-run city in America, according to recent rankings. The University Town Center theater across from UC Irvine has been heralded as the best independent movie house so many times by the Weekly we routinely get embarrassed and choose another joint just so we don't get accused of bias. Irvine has other great places to catch movies, including at the aforementioned UCI. And so, the third-ever Irvine International Film Festival's seven-day runs kicks off this afternoon at … Laguna Hills Mall? WTF!?!


The amazing Ms. SR Davies gives a brief overview of the IIFF in our Calendar: Irvine International Film Festival. That's also where you will find the links to the program and ticket information.

Here are 10 things I'm looking forward to:

1) Karen Black: On Acting

You would have never known it by looking at her, but Karen Black was a Hollywood “it” girl in the 1970s, when it seemed as if she appeared in every other flick just as Jennifer Lawrence does today. Black was pursued by leading men in many of these. As a tween and teen at the time, I never got it. But, there is no denying you could not take your eyes off her crossed-eyes and compelling performances. She sat down in January 2013 with director Russell Brown to share 40 years' worth of insights into the craft of acting. Three months later, Black revealed she had been battling cancer for years, and by that August she was gone. Fortunately, Brown had cameras rolling when he spoke with Black, and the result is a 75-minute film that screens for free, followed by a panel discussion, Saturday morning.

2) Torn

The next best thing to watching Karen Black in Airport 1975 from your seat in a jetliner? Watching Jeremiah Birnbaum's drama in a quiet suburban California town's shopping mall. Torn has two teen-age boys dying in an explosion at a quiet suburban California town's shopping mall, with the tragedy bringing together their mothers, a working-class single mom and an upper-middle class Pakistani immigrant. Their deep bond is strained when the Pakistani's Muslim son is fingered as the prime suspect in the blast. This film opens the festival tonight.

3) Running From Crazy

This is something I've always wondered about but would have found too indelicate to ask Mariel Hemingway: What's it like having a grandfather (Ernest) who famously committed suicide and sister (Margaux) who famously died of an overdose? Fortunately, Barbara Kopple is not me, and she got the actress to open up about her family history of mental illness and personal search for ways to overcome a similar fate. This screens Saturday afternoon.
4) Ed Fucking Asner

Loved him as Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Shore, loved him even more as Lou Grant on Lou Grant and was ready to have him adopt me when he told Howard Stern he rubbed one out to Ms. Mary Richards. My view of the actor dimmed with these goddamn telemarketing recordings of him trying to get me to convert to solar power–I'll do it when I can afford to, you huge ball of incandescent plasma at the center of our Solar System (which is not a reference to Mr. Asner). But a long career of solid acting, lefty activism and being an open book make one quite worthy of the Lifetime Achievement Award the Irvine festival hands out to Ed Fucking Asner late Sunday afternoon.

5) Blood Brother

I read about director Steve Hoover's documentary when it won both the Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award and have wanted to see it ever since. Over 92 minutes, we see Rocky Braat move to India to restart his life among the dispossessed, his search for meaning leading him to an orphanage for children living with HIV. It is there he discovers the unmistakable power of love. It is shown Wednesday afternoon.

6) Facing Fear

I checked and re-checked to make sure director Jason Cohen's 23-minute film was a documentary and not scripted because the story sounds so unbelievable. But it is truly about the gay victim of a neo-Nazi hate crime attack meeting his tormenter by chance 25 years later–and both embarking on a journey of forgiveness. Amazing. It's part of Monday afternoon's shorts program.

7) Mr. George Fucking Takei

Oooooooh, myyyyyyy … Yep, I've listed to much too much Stern. I don't see that George Takei will be teleported to Irvine (I mean, Laguna Hills) for the festival, but his rich, unmistakable voice will be there. He narrates the seven-minute animated short The Missing Scarf, a black comedy that comes from Ireland. It explores life's common fears–like fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of death–just like Star Trek! It plays with Lion Ark (see No. 10) Tuesday night.
8) Rumer Willis typecasting

The imdb page of Rumer Willis is not quite packed enough for there to be the required distance between her 2009 guest starring role on NBC's Medium and her lead role in Six Letter Word, the short drama rolling at IIFF. Why is that a concern? Because she plays a whore in both, and no actor likes to be typecast. In writer/director Lisanne Sartor's final student project at the AFI Directing Workshop for Women, which was reportedly made for $25,000, Willis plays an unlikely mom who is forced to confront her son's autism after an encounter with a john. The first line of dialogue in the 17-minute short is, “I don't do anal.” Ironically, that was also Bruce Willis' first line of dialogue on Moonlighting. Six Letter Word is part of Saturday's 4:30 p.m. shorts program.

9) The Curse of Edgar

Leonardo DiCaprio disappeared into his character and fake nose for Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar, which was a bit of a snooze fest despite being based on the controversial life of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Director Marc Dugain's The Curse of Edgar, which is based on his novel, is a work of “original docu-fiction.” That apparently means “unique” archival footage is mixed in with fictional dramatic scenes that already reads on paper as more believable than J. Edgar thanks to the better-cast actor playing the FBI director: Brian Cox. The aim is to shed light on Hoover's clash with the Kennedy clan and his own morality, including the “secret” J. Edgar barely touched upon. Here's hoping The Curse of Edgar, screening Wednesday afternoon, rings more true.

10) Lion Ark

Director Tim Phillips is the vice president of Animal Defenders International (ADI), the activist group that successfully lobbied the Bolivian government to ban animal circuses due to abuses. This feature-length documentary is about circuses defying the ban, ADI returning to Bolivia and the amazing rescue of 25 African lions that are airlifted to Colorado. The recent winner of the Audience Choice Award at the San Diego Film Festival roars Tuesday night.

Email: mc****@oc******.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!

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