What follows are some news and notes and more "Orsovations" as the eight-day 2015 Newport Beach Film Festival (NBFF) opens tonight with The Water Diviner at Lido Live, followed by a gala blowout at Fashion Island.
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Newport Beach Film Festival opening night pictures have traditionally been shown at Edwards Big Newport at Newport Center, where viewers have faced the largest moviehouse screen west of the Mississippi. But tonight's 2015 opening nighter (and Russell Crowe's directing debut) The Water Diviner, is rolling across town at Lido Live. Why? Because Big Newps is undergoing a remodel, according to NBFF CEO Gregg Schwenk. Owner Regal Cinemas' goal is to increase that giant screen and reduce the number of seats, which are to be replaced with those leather recliners one finds at the fancy dinner-and-movie moviehouses like Island Cinemas, which was closed five NBFFs ago to undergo a similar remodel. The Fashion Island cinemas get heavy NBFF use again this year, natch.
Actually, the last-minute disclosure of the Island Cinemas remodeling had the festival staff scrambling in 2011, with officials confiding it almost shut the NBFF down … for good. Battle tested from that experience, the NBFF found this year's loss of Big Newport no big whoop. No, big whoop honors instead go to the last-minute word that NBFF would have to move out of their own offices on Campus Drive in Newport Beach. Schwenk learned this in a phone call he took in January in London, where the festival threw a reception to honor The Imitation Game on the eve of the BAFTA Awards. The fest staff had to scramble to find new quarters not too far away on Quail Street. (You could still smell the fresh paint when I visited earlier this month.) "We're looking forward to next year," Schwenk deadpanned.
At least Schwenk can look back at the London trip with fondness over the strong bonds his festival forged with the British film industry. This is being borne out this year with a solid slate of feature films from the Isles as well as an English short films program. It just goes to show what a solid reputation the NBFF has around the world. Or it could have something to do with the small talk Schwenk and his staffers engaged in. "It was snowing over there," he said of the January jaunt over the pond. "I let them know it was 80 degrees back in Newport." Cue that deadpan: "They took note."
Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights at the Newport Dunes camping resort (PCH & Jamboree), the Newport Beach Film Festival will present free outdoor screenings of movies Schwenk calls "guilty pleasures." Kicking things off at 7 p.m. Friday is Bring It On. ("Oh, it's been broughten …" Or was that from the spoof?) At the same time and place Saturday, it's Clueless. Closing out the freebies at 7 Sunday night is Back to the Future.
C. M. "Carty" Talkington's first feature film was released 21 years ago. His second makes its world premiere Saturday at the NBFF. From 1994, Love and a .45, which Carty describes as a western psychedelic drive-in road opera, was also the first starring role for Reneé Zellweger and features Peter Fonda (playing a handicapped version of himself), Rory Cochrane (Slater from Dazed & Confused) and Jack Nance (from Eraserhead and other David Lynch projects that followed) in supporting roles. It has a bit of a cult following; even Quentin Tarantino is a fan, having mentioned Love and a .45 in several interviews over the years, including this one in the Village Voice as he promoted Inglorious Basterds: "Love and a .45 was really good; it was very close to True Romance, Natural Born Killers and Reservoir Dogs all combined. That might be the only film that guy ever made, but he had a gift for really funny dialogue." Carty jokes, "It only took me 21 years to prove Quentin wrong. Funnily enough I didn't write the dialogue." Speaking of dialogue, these days Carty would much rather be "talkington" about his new documentary Mud Mules & Mountains, which has its world premiere Saturday at the NBFF. "The film follows a group of World War II veterans from the 36th Infantry Division as they revisit the battlefields of their youth at the end of their lives," Carty tells us. Despite all the cinematic attention that has been directed toward D-Day, the roles in the invasion of the subjects of Carty's film "is virtually unknown." Here's the trailer:
"We dredged up a lot of ghosts on the trip, and there are some magical moments," Carty says. "It's a story that should be told, and also one that still resonates strongly today. And they're dying off every day." Mud Mules & Mountains screens at 3:15 p.m. Saturday at The Triangle in Costa Mesa. Go here for tickets: http://newportbeach.festivalgenius.com/2015/films/mudmulesmountains_cmtalkington_newportbeach2015.
It still baffles my mind that Ordinary People won the 1980 Oscar for best picture over Raging Bull, which did at least win Robert DeNiro the best actor statue for his tour de force portrayal of middleweight boxing champion Jake LaMotta. All these years later, I wonder how 92-year-old LaMotta feels about the Academy Award slight. Fortunately, we can ask him Saturday night, when he is scheduled to walk the red carpet and take audience questions after the 8:30 p.m. world premiere of the indie feature LaMotta: The Bronx Bull. Based on his autobiography, the film deals with his violent childhood, rise as a world-class boxer and his life after leaving the ring. "I loved working with director Martin Guigui, the entire cast and everyone at Main Street Films," LaMotta says in an invite from the Irvine production company. "Reliving some of these stories isn't always easy, but the end result is amazing. I'm excited to be adding another piece to the Jake LaMotta legacy." Also scheduled to participate in the audience Q&A after the Newport Beach Film Festival screening at Regency South Coast Village in Santa Ana are veteran actor Tom Sizemore, who plays Tony in the film, and newcomer Mojean Aria, who portrays the young LaMotta. "Mojean Aria is a real discovery and definitely someone to watch out for," says Main Street Films president Harrison Kordestani. "He did a remarkable job and it'll be an amazing photo to have both the real Jake and the film's Jake together." A third Jake will be missing, however: veteran actor William Forsythe, who plays the older LaMotta. You may also bump into the other two Jakes at the NBFF's Saturday Night Centerpiece Party that begins at 10 p.m. at Room & Board, which is near the theater in South Coast Plaza Village at 1661 W. Sunflower Ave., Santa Ana. (Screening and party tickets: http://bit.ly/1ybTIlg) Main Street Films' muckity-mucks will also be celebrating another of their films that is an NBFF Saturday Night Centerpiece: Ami Canaan Mann's Jackie & Ryan, a quirky rom-com starring Katherine Heigl and Ben Barnes. It screens at 7:30 p.m. at The Triangle in Costa Mesa. (Screening and party tickets: http://newportbeachfilmfest.tix.com/Event.aspx?EventCode=749914).
Actress Clea DuVall, who you may not know by name but will recognize from her roles in Argo, American Horror Story, Better Call Saul, Lizzie Borden Chronicles, etc., also appears in Jackie & Ryan as well as another festival entry, the short Ma/ddy. Written and directed by Devon Kirkpatrick, Ma/ddy is about a gender-queer widow who carries a child using their late wife's embryo, "creating a family that will forever link them to the love of their life," as producer and pride of Mission Viejo High School Christine Treibel put it in an email. Ma/ddy stars Mel Shimkovitz, who had a small role in a memorable episode of Transparent. Actually, ALL the episodes of Amazon's Transparent are memorable; it's among the best shows on television or streaming Internet or whatever the cool kids are calling the platform these days. So let's just say the episode Shimkovitz appeared in was even more memorable as it was the only one of the series totally told in flashback. Ma/ddy promises to be memorable as well, with gender non-conforming protagonist Shimkovitz in the starring role. "We are witnessing a radical change in American culture as ideas of family are being redefined personally and projected in the media," Kirkpatrick explains. "The queer community especially is at the heart of this idea of 'alternative families' as legal support increases for gay adoptions and marriage equality state by state. Ma/ddy represents a current generation of the queer community contending with the unique challenges in creating a family and creating one that is authentic to them. These challenges aren't just within the larger context of mainstream society, but also in the nuanced ideas of gender and identity among fellow queers. The story of Ma/ddy essentially re-defines preconceived notions of the 'single mother' and what it means to be a parent in an evolving society in which gender identity is less binary." It screens at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at The Triangle in Costa Mesa. Go here for tickets: http://newportbeach.festivalgenius.com/2015/films/maddy_devonkirkpatrick_newportbeach2015.
You want another Ma/ddy and Jackie & Ryan connection? Ma/ddy was produced as a part of the 2014 American Film Institute's Directing Workshop for Women. The community partner supporting the NBFF screening of Jackie & Ryan is the Alliance of Women Directors. Established in 1997, AWD is the only organization solely dedicated to the education, support and advocacy for women directors in the entertainment industry. Support lady directors at both screenings.
Following my cover story that was chock full of "Orsovations," I have been invited to moderate Sunday's Orson Welles Centennial Celebration discussion by Welles scholar Lee Wisch Gordon, who coordinated the NBFF event, and artist/film analyst/former OCC professor Arthur Taussig. First, Welles' 1952 Shakespeare classic Othello screens at 11 a.m. at Island Cinema (Fashion Island) in Newport Beach. That's followed in the same theater by Fade to Black, a 2006 fictional drama that has Danny Huston playing Welles in Europe in the late 1940s. And that's followed at 3:15 p.m. by our chat, which will have Irvine resident Gordon plucking gems from Orson Welles in Italy (2013, Indiana University Press) by Alberto Anile. (Start here for more info and tickets: http://www.newportbeachfilmfest.com/2015/orson-welles-centennial/) Until then, here are a few more Orsovations I meant to include in my story but were in books that were buried under papers on my messy desk: Thirteen months before Citizen's Kane's May 1, 1941, premiere in New York, The New Statesman film writer Anthony Bower wrote that no picture to date had enjoyed as much advanced publicity–and wishes within the film industry of a failure by freshman Welles. "[A]fter all, the man had no previous cinema experience, and if reports are true he had walked into the studio and produced on a very low budget a film which was a masterpiece," Bower writes. That made a tremendous impression in Hollywood, he adds. "Charlie Chaplin is reported to be prepared to back any venture that Welles may have in mind. Perhaps when the uproar has died down it will be discovered that the film is not quite so good as it is considered now, but nevertheless Hollywood will for a long time be in debt to Mr. Welles." … David Thomson scoffs at the notion that Kane was a prime example of "Hollywood outsiderdom" in his book The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood (2004, Knopf Publishers). "Any close inspection" of Kane shows Welles relied on "Hollywood men" like cinematographer Gregg Toland, art director Van Nest Polglase and special effects expert Vernon Walker, Thomson notes. "It's not that he filmed in new ways; rather, he plunged into studio style–special effects and matte shots–with the fervor of a kid with a new train set." Moreover, Welles had the full support of an RKO administration–"chiefly George Schaefer, who would be canned because of Orson"–that believed in the maverick and never deviated from his contract, "not even when he behaved badly." … Allison Anders, speaking with The Nation's Peter Biskind in 2000 about the challenges female directors face, bemoaned "the mythology of the young independent filmmaker, the new Orson Welles. It's like everyone is looking for this new Orson Welles. You want a guy who walks off his second movie and goes to Mexico and doesn't finish it and the studio re-cuts it. Why is that myth so powerful? I am to the point where I wish he had never been born."
There is invariably a little comedy from Canada that hooks me at each NBFF, and based on what I have read, my money is on the latest from Joel Ashton McCarthy as my fave of '15. Shooting The Musical, which makes its U.S. premiere here Tuesday, has going for it McCarthy, whose first feature, the $10,000 documentary Taking My Parents to Burning Man, sold out two theaters and won an audience award at last year's NBFF. Also, Shooting The Musical, which was shot for half of what McCarthy burned through to make Burning Man, was the winner of three awards at last month's Canadian Film Festival: the William F White Reel Canadian Indie Award, Newcomer to Watch (McCarthy) and Best Actor in a Feature Film (Bruce Novakowski). But it's the plot that I suspect will really slay me. Young Canadians going nowhere after film school decide to make the most controversial movie of all time from the script written by a colleague who committed suicide: a musical about high school shootings. No, seriously, look …
Shooting The Musical screens at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday at Regency South Coast Village. Go here for tickets: http://newportbeach.festivalgenius.com/2015/films/shootingthemusical_joelashtonmccarthy_newportbeach2015.