Here are 15 things I'm looking forward to at the Newport Beach Film Festival, which kicks off tonight and continues through April 29. These are based on preview screenings, festival descriptions and even less-informed nonsense.
1) Bai Ling on the red carpet tonight. Years ago, a colleague showed me an illustration he had whipped up to go with a story on women and porn. The illo seemed to revolve around a shapely woman in the center. “Who is that?” I asked. Bai Ling was the answer. “Who is Bai Ling?” I asked. She was the most downloaded somesuch on the Internet was the answer. “What's the Internet?” I asked. Anyway, she's supposed to be on the red carpet leading into the 8 p.m. opening-night screening of Five Star Day, which stars Cam Gigandet and Jena Malone, who are among the other “confirmed celebrities” to be in attendance. 6:30 tonight, Edwards Big Newport.
2) Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam.This documentary sounds really fun. It traces how the 2003 novel, The Taqwacores–in which author Michael Muhammad Knight imagined a
community of mohawked Sufis, skinhead Shi'as and riot grrrls in burqas with
band patches–spawned a real-life Muslim punk movement. 5:45 p.m. Tues., Regency South Coast Village Theatre, Santa Ana.
3) The Warlock of Black Star Canyon. You don't have to live in Orange County long before you start hearing freaky shit about Black Star Canyon. Pentagrams in the dirt, animal sacrifices at midnight, random killings of necking teens–the works. This documentary short from Orange Coast College's Will Gabriel shows there is much more to the Orange Hills' enclave than horror-movie plots. 3 p.m. Sun., Regency South Coast Village Theatre.
4) Machotaildrop. It's apparently like Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory if Gene Wilder's character was selling skateboards and there were Manwolves instead of Oompa Loompas prancing around. To say that this Canadian comedy–and debut feature from directors Corey Adams and Alex Craig–is odd is an understatement. But I already had myself at “It's apparently like Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory . . .” 2 p.m. Sun., Edwards Island Cinemas.
5) 8: The Mormon Proposition. Reed Cowman and Steven Greensheet's documentary, which made its world premiere at the last Sundance Film Festival, shows the Mormon Church was not only more responsible for Proposition 8 than anyone knew at the time, but it was part of a secret, organized, decades-long crusade against the LGBT community. 8:30 p.m. Wed., Edwards Island Cinemas.
6) Stagecoach. John Ford's 1939 classic western stars John Wayne and Irvine Co. Chairman Donald Bren's stepmother Claire Trevor, who the School of Arts at UC Irvine is named after. But seeing the late “Queen of Film Noir” is not the reason to attend this screening, seeing her, the Duke and Ford's first western with sound on the big screen is. Close your eyes and think of Wayne's voice saying, “Well, I guess you can't break out of prison and into society in the same
week.” 11 a.m. Sun., Edwards Island Cinemas.
7) Fictional depictions of Los Angeles Times reporters. The drama Case 219 is about a high school shooting as seen through the eyes of a Times reporter–played by Levin Rambin–assigned to interview students. In Melting the Snowman, Times political columnist Caroline Jamieson (Catherine Day) gets fired the same day she is to attend the 60th birthday party of her prominent novelist father. It's set in 1974. Wait, the Times had female political columnists in '74? Case 219 screens at 2:15 p.m. Wed. at Edwards Island Cinemas. Melting the Snowman is part of the Chapman Showcase at 6:30 p.m. Fri. at Orange County Museum of Art.
8) Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child. Graham Thompson cited the Neo-expressionist and onetime Andy Warhol collaborator as the first artist of African descent to become an international art star. Video director-turned-TV/film director (and wife of Beastie Boy Mike D) Tamra Davis pays homage to her late friend, who was was constantly dogged by racism and misconceptions. Davis' doc was up for the grand prize at Sundance. 2:45 p.m. Sat. at Edwards Island Cinemas and 3:15 p.m. Mon. at Regency South Coast Village Theatre.
9) Douchebag comes home. Speaking of Sundance, former Santa Anan Drake Doremus' dramedy got a lot of ink, virtual and otherwise, from yours truly here and on this blog. The quick recap: two brothers who hate one another bond, or at least try to, as one faces his wedding day and the other seeks his long, lost, fifth grade love. She, by the way, is named after Doremus' real fifth grade girlfriend, you'll recognize West Newport in at least one scene, and the non-douchebag brother is played by Ben York Jones of Corona del Mar by way of Irvine. Doremus' debut feature, Spooner, played at the '09 NBFF. Tues., 8 p.m. Edwards South Coast Village Theatre.
10) Playing “Spot Justin Kirk.” The talented and hilarious actor who has treated us to Weeds' Andy Botwin turns up in two NBFF films: Elektra Luxx, which is about a porn star whose life gets turned upside down when she discovers she is pregnant, and See You in September, a romantic comedy set in Manhattan about a group therapy session set up through craigslist by patients pissed that their therapists have abandoned them. Elektra Luxx, screens at 8:30 p.m. Fri. at Regency South Coast Village Theatre and 9 p.m. Tues. at Edwards Island Cinemas. See You in September screens at 5 p.m. Wed. at Edwards Island Cinemas.
11) Pornucopia. So, as mentioned in the previous item, Sebastian Gutierrez's Elektra Luxx is a mainstream feature film that revolves around a porn star played by Californication-bound Carla Gugino. Dick Rude's mainstream feature, Quit–which is about a couple that escapes to the desert to quit smoking–includes in its cast Sasha Grey, who since breaking into the porn industry in May 2006–two months after turning 18–has appeared in 209 adult films. She was also famously in Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience. Finally, you've got Sarah Silverman's sister and The Sarah Silverman Program co-star, Laura Silverman, appearing in Andrew Drazek's Cummings Farm, which concerns three couples going in for an evening of group sex. Pass the tissue. Quit screens at noon, Sat. Cummings Farms screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 29. Both at Edwards Island Cinemas.
12) Even hotter action. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) is scheduled to participate in a Q&A following the screening of Climate Refugees, a documentary that examines the massive continental migration that is already under way due to global warming. Filmmaker Michael Nash traveled the planet for two years and discovered the quickly submerging islands of Tuvalu in the South Pacific, drought-affected regions of Sudan, storm-susceptible coastlines of Bangladesh, and rapidly expanding deserts in China are forcing millions to relocate beyond their borders. The Q&A follows the 3:30 p.m. Sat. screening at Regency South Coast Village Theatre. It will also be shown 10:15 a.m. Sun. at the Muth Center in Newport Beach and 2:30 p.m. Wed. at Edwards Island Cinemas.
13) Bouncing Cats. It's tough to be a kid in Uganda. In the south, children face the threat
of poverty and disease. In the north, brutal war reigns. Nabil Elderkin's documentary chronicles one man's attempt to create a better life for youth–with hip hop and break dancing. He creates a workshop that teaches kids three times a week about b-boy culture,
break-dancing and hip hop. Many students are homeless, cannot afford proper schooling and walk miles to attend. You've got to love a flick whose cast is headed by a cat named Crazy Legs. 7 p.m. Tues. at Regency Lido Theatre.
14) Holy Rollers. Jesse Eisenberg has made some interesting choices in his young acting career (Roger Dodger, The Squid and the Whale, Zombieland), and more buzzed about work is in the pipeline (the Aaron Sorkin-scripted, David Fincher-directed, and Justin Timberlake
co-starring Facebook movie, The Social Network, and Christopher McQuarrie's The Stanford Prison Experiment). Hopefully, the tradition continues with Kevin Asch's drama Holy Rollers, which is based on a true story about Hasidic man in Brooklyn who got caught up in drug smuggling in the 1990s. 8:15 p.m. Tues. at Edwards Island Cinemas.
15) Somewhere Near Tapachula. Stefan Hunt's amazing documentary about Alan and Pam Skuse, who in November 2000 left their home in Australia for a yearlong hitch volunteering at an orphanage in Chiapas, Mexico–somewhere near Tapachula, a coastal city at the base of a volcano.
But the organization they signed on with closed after six months, so the couple had to decide whether to head home or take over care for the remaining children on their own. With no resources, the couple create a surf
community that fills the forgotten with hope. 3 p.m. Sun. at Edwards Island Cinemas.
Read 10 more NBFF recommendations here.