Tag Archives: Newport Beach Film Festival

This is Your Death – Movie Review – 2017 Newport Beach Film Festival

This is Your Death is the Friday Spotlight Movie from the 2017 Newport Beach Film Festival. It tells the story of reality game show host, Adam Rogers (Josh Duhamel), after escaping near death, hosts a show featuring live on-air suicides.

2017 Newport Beach Film Festival
Writer:
Noah Pink
Director: Giancarlo Esposito
Cast: Josh Duhamel, Famke Janssen, Sarah Wayne Callies, Giancarlo Esposito, Caitlin FitzGerald

One thing I’ve noticed is that the more known stars you have in an independent film, the more you increase its chances of it being a bad movie. This is Your Death has a lot of stars.

This is Your Death is a television reality show, that spotlights stories of tragedy and each story ends with a live in-studio suicide by subject. The writer, Noah Pink, does a halfway decent job bringing plausibility to the show and how it might actually make it on real television. But from the beginning, This is Your Death is a showcase of over-the-top characters with no self-awareness, whatsoever and tries to mix real dramatic moments with surreal satire.

John Duhamel plays Adam Rogers, the host of a “Bachelor” type reality show. Adam is almost killed with the losing bride kills the show’s groom. Adam has a front row to the horror and almost quits the business altogether, thanks to the fake nature of his show and reality television in general. Adam is grounded to the real world by his sister, Karina (Sarah Wayne Callies), who is his only family and a recovering drug-addict.

Before Adam can quit the business, he is confronted by the head of network programming, Ilana (Famka Janssen) who wants him to host a new reality show about suicide. Adam is at first angered by the idea but finds that good can come out of the show. The first example of good is during the shows first suicide, viewers can call in and donate money to the victim’s daughter. Adam is paired up with Sylvia (Caitlin FitzGerald), who is forced to produce the show, find contestants or be in breach of her contract.

I forgot to mention, Mason (Giancarlo Esposito) the network’s janitor who is holding down three jobs to keep his family’s home out of foreclosure. Any guesses about Mason’s role in the show?

Here is the main problem with This is Your Death. The idea is just so over the top that we just can’t relate to the drama and tragedy of the subject matter. I’m sure at some point the director, Giancarlo Esposito, who also plays Mason, thought that they were making some statement about problems with reality television. But in order to make a meaningful statement, you’re story must connect with the audience. It’s the tongue-in-cheek nature of the film’s events are so surreal, it becomes more of a sad joke in the end.

The dying actors should be commended for admirably acting conflict, pain, and hopelessness, but they shoot themselves in the head and now the moment becomes comedy. The movie is full of good intentions but lacks serious execution.

The story is just a little too predictable. Soon, it denigrates into a struggle for ratings, keeping sponsors and the one person with any moral center getting fired at the end. The studio audience reactions feel forced and the demise of the show is not a lesson in the suicide debate but a quick police investigation.

Ultimately the problem with This is Your Death is the premise. We just can’t buy into it and becomes one of those movies you watch and laugh, while wondering how did this film get made in the first place.

The Queen of Crime – Newport Beach Film Festival Review

As part of the Pacific Rim Showcase of the Newport Beach Film Festival, The Queen of Crime is the Korean entrant to this year’s festival. It is the story of a mother, who investigates a $1,200 water bill that was mysteriously charged to her son.

Release Date: April 24, 2017
Writer: Lee Yo-Sup
Director: Lee Yo-Sup
Cast: Soo-Jang Baek, Som E., Ji-Young Park

Mi-gyeong (Ji-Young Park) is the owner of a local beauty salon just outside of Seoul. One afternoon, she receives a mysterious phone call from her son, Ik-soo (Dae-Hyeon Kim). Ik-soo is a law student in Seoul and has somehow managed to rack up a $1,200 water bill in his dormitory. Ik-soo is just 4 days away from taking the bar exam and does not need the distraction of a $1,200 water bill. Rather than just pay the outrageous bill, Mi-gyeong pays her son a visit in order to help investigate the bill.

Mi-gyeong’s arrival is not welcome by her son, who needs to concentrate on his studies in order to pass the bar. Mi-gyeong insists that she will not be a distraction and only needs two days to clear up the matter. In her investigation Mi-gyeong learns that her son’s dorm room shares the water bill with his next door neighbor. Mi-gyeong enlists the help of the building’s maintenance man, Gae-tae (Bok-rae Jo) to help her. In fact, she develops a motherly bond with Gae-tae who has no mother to look after him.

Mi-gyeong finds that her son’s neighbor is less than willing to help clear up the matter. In fact, the other neighbors complained about loud noises and suspicious activities coming from the apartment. It appears there is a larger mystery than the flagrant waste of water. Soon, Mi-gyeong’s meddling begins to interfere with her son’s studying, which leads to him wanting his mother to just pay the water bill and leave.

The Queen of Crime is a light comedy thriller, but very subtle at that. If this were an American film, the story would be littered with goofy over-the-top characters. Everyone would be mugging for a laugh. Refreshingly, The Queen of Crime plays the comedy grounded. These are real people with minor quirks but they could be someone you know. The supporting cast includes a law student, who likes to study outside and has a shoe fetish; a lonely gamer, who left the police academy where her father is the commissioner; and the maintenance man, who is a little slow on the uptake.

The crime story is not complicated. The movie reveals one clue after the other at a nice pace. The real fun is watching Ji-Young Park as the concerned mother, who only wants the best for her son. She plays it normal, not like the stereotypical meddling mother. She has good intentions with the aged wisdom that only a mother can have. She treats everyone vital to the case like only a mother can do with soft assurance that she is their advocate and the stern warnings of a mother lion protecting her cubs.

There are plot holes in the mystery. The film uses flashbacks when witnesses describe what they saw. We start to see the crime played out in interview segments. But there are moments when the camera follows the criminal and although we are a party to the motivation for the crime, there is no way for Mi-gyeong to know any of this information because only the criminal knows this part of the crime.

I enjoy the Pacific Rim Showcase at the Newport Beach Film Festival. It continues to blow my misperceptions of foreign films, thinking that the United States is the best at film and storytelling. There is a level of maturity in filmmaking you see in U.S. films, but one must not confused the cultural differences of foreign films as inferior.

The Queen of Crime is a fun mystery with a fantastic lead in Ji-Young Park. Foreign films are worth the work involved in reading subtitles, but the storytelling is just different than what we’re used to as well as the same.

The Long Excuse – Newport Beach Film Festival Review

The Long Excuse is the Japanese entrant in the Pacific Rim Showcase at the Newport Beach Film Festival. It is the story of grief as a man struggles to come to grips with the death of his wife and becomes the caregiver to the children of the his wife’s best friend.

Newport Beach Film Festival
Release Date: April 24, 2017
Writer: Miwa Nishikawa
Director: Miwa Nishikawa
Cast: Sôsuke Ikematsu, Masahiro Motoki, Eri Fukatsu

Sachio Kinugasa (Masahiro Motoki) is a famous author in Japan and a celebrity on Japanese talk shows. His drinking and temper has lead to an emotionally dead relationship with his wife, Natsuko (Eri Fukatsu). Natsuko and her best friend, Yuki Omiya (Keiko Horiuchi) leave one night on a bus excursion for a girls weekend of fun. While Natsuko and Yuki are away, Sachio takes the opportunity to have an affair with a younger woman in their home.

After a few hours of passionate love-making, Natsuko sees a story of a tragic bus crash on the side of a snowy mountain. The next day, Natsuko discovers that his wife was killed on that bus along with Yuki. As a public figure, Natsuko puts on a brave face for the national news and becomes something of a figurehead for the victims.

Natsuko must somehow deal with his grief but finds that he is unable to emotionally cope with his loss. Natsuko explodes at a party where his publisher wants him to write about his experiences. At the same time, his agent is worried because Natsuko’s last few books have not sold well. He suggests that Natsuko become the host of a show that spotlights his tragedy.

Natsuko pulls himself out of his situation by befriending Yuki’s husband, Yoichi (Pistol Takehara) and his son, Shinpei (Kenshin Fushita) and his preschool daughter, Akari (Tamaki Shiratori). Yoichi is a truck driver and does not know anything about keeping a house clean, cooking meals and caring for children.

Natsuko decides to watch the children during the day, while Yoichi works. Natsuko can write his next book as Shinpei goes to school and Akari watches television. It turns out that Natsuko is pretty good at this parenting business. It does not take long for Akari to pull away from the television and appreciate Natsuko’s cooking. Shinpei, on the other hand, is frustrated because he is unable to keep up in “cram” school because of the parenting duties he has to take over with the absence of his father.

The Long Excuse is a movie about grief and the inability to move on with life after tragedy. Sachio rarely spends time in his former home and would rather be at Yoichi’s home with the children. Yoichi, on the other hand, has decided to just disappear from life especially since Natsuko is there to “raise” his children. Both men dealing with the same grief in different ways.

The film is no Manchester By the Sea, which takes a heavy hand at grief. In this case, it takes a real look at the average man left behind after tragic circumstances. It is also interesting to see it all from a Japanese perspective. There is a poignant discussion between Natsuko and Shenpei as he tries to explain why it is good not to cry at death, while at the same time explain that Shenpei’s father’s crying is appropriate.

There is also two separate moments with Natsuko and Yoichi need to slap sense into one another, while at the same time both men have no real authority to say anything. Instead they admonish each other from their own flawed viewpoint.

The Long Excuse is a sweet film about two men struggling to go on with life, when grief leaves them emotionally paralyzed. Culturally speaking, it’s hard to see watch scenes of corporal punishment against children, especially when they don’t deserve it. There are also times when you may wonder if the actor is over acting or acting like a person from Japan.

Class Rank – Newport Beach Film Festival Review

Class president Veronica helps her fellow student Bernie run for a seat on the school’s board of education. At the same time, they push one another out of their comfort zones.

Release Date: April 21, 2017
Writer: Benjamin August
Director: Eric Stoltz
Cast: Olivia Holt, Skyler Gisondo, Shawn Kavanaugh, Bruce Dern, Kristin Chenoweth

For Veronica Krauss (Olivia Holt), her high school education is a stepping stone to her aspirations of sitting on the United States Supreme Court. Her dreams are threatened when she finds out that she is currently ranked second scholastically in her high school. She believes that her below perfect position will make it impossible to attend her choice Ivy League school.

Bernie Flannigan (Skylar Gisondo), on the other hand, is an awkward teen who feels his education is being diminished because his school chooses to fund French classes, while Bernie knows that Chinese is the language of the future. Week after week, Bernie attends his local school board meetings in hopes of one day enacting real change in his high school.

Veronica decides that the whole idea of a class ranking system is flawed and wants it abolished. The current school board is not willing to change precedent. With no hope of abolishing class ranking, her only hope is to help Bernie run for a seat on the board of education.

Bernie is somewhat of a social misfit. He lives with his grandfather Oswald Flannigan (Bruce Dern) because his parents passed in skiing accident. He is content writing blogs and submitting articles to the local newspaper. Veronica lives with her mother, Janet (Kristin Chenoweth) who works on Law and Order: Special Victims Units. Janet dispenses wisdom that is best suited for Benson and Stabler, instead of her teenage daughter.

Both Veronica and Bernie are forced to step out of their comfort zones to win the election. They find that they the need each other to help them grow into maturity.

Class Rank is a sweet film about the friendship of Veronica and Bernie. Surprisingly, it is less about the cutthroat world of small town politics, but it’s a story about finding love in unexpected. It is lite storytelling with heart and innocence. This may not be the most original story, but writer Benjamin August and director Eric Stoltz tells an engaging story, that you will fall in love with.

In a day of contentious politics, Class Rank puts the political ideology in the background. Bernie’s ideas for the local school will make any liberal and conservative cheer and boo.

Ultimately the acting and character interactions are what makes this movie fun. The character of Bernie is awkward and quirky and could be considered borderline Asperger, but Gisondo manages to give him sympathy while at the same time make him a viable candidate for the small town. Holt manages to walk the line between being a school leader and the insecurities of being a school loner.

There is also the joy of watching Bruce Dern play Bernie’s grandfather. What easily could have been the grumpy old man, Dern’s portrayal of Oswald shows a man who loves his grandson, wants to see him succeed and take advantage of his senior status.

Class Rank is a simple story of pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones and allowing our friends and family become the catalyst for change.

Take My Nose Please – Newport Beach Film Festival Review

Joan Kron, Editor-At-Large for Allure, dives straight into the center of image, aging and plastic surgery. It is easy to believe that Hollywood favors the beautiful far above the average. Take My Nose Please is screening at the 2017 Newport Beach Film Festival.

Newport Beach Film Festival
Screening Date:
April 22, 2017
Director: Joan Kron
Cast: Emily Askin, Jackie Hoffman

Take My Nose Please follows two comedians before, during, and after their journey into cosmetic surgery. Emily Askin is an improv comedian and actress, who desires a more refined nose. Veteran Broadway comedian, Jackie Hoffman considers herself ugly and has made a career from it, finally decides to get the face-lift she wanted since she was a teen.

Take My Nose Please is a masterful treatise on fixing beauty for women, who for the most part struggle with imperfect appearance far more than their male counterparts. It examines the facts that from the dawn of Hollywood beauty is what sold and many actresses lost their jobs by the age of thirty. In the early years and even today, women have become victims of fake plastic surgeons and/or succumb to the addiction of plastic surgery.

Director Joan Kron also features celebrities, who are most notable for their enhanced appearances including: Roseanne Barr, Phyllis Diller, the late Joan Rivers, Judy Gold, and Lisa Lampanelli. While following the leads Askin and Hoffman, their decision to get plastic surgery was less a decision but more of a convincing to do it now and a soothing of guilt for the decision they made.

Take My Nose Please is not an anti-plastic surgery movie. While at the same time, it is not a pro-plastic surgery movie. It is a complicated subject about a complicated decision with complicated ramifications and Kron does a masterful job in presenting plastic surgery with all its complications.

Kron made the smart choice of following two comedians. As comedians, Askin and Hoffman are deeply introspective about their thought and feelings about the procedures they undertake. They can express their conflict and experiences in a way that the average civilian or even ordinary actress can do. You feel for the plight of Askin and Hoffman and ultimately feel great sympathy for the decision they made.

Take My Nose Please does what exactly what a documentary should do: tackle truly perplexing issues, present the facts, drop us in the middle of the struggle and give us enough information to form a personal opinion.

‘Sled Dogs’ Sheds Light on Animal Cruelty in the Sled Racing World – Newport Beach Film Festival Preview

Explore both sides of the Alaskan Iditarod: Sports Entertainment vs. Animal Cruelty. Sled Dogs comes to the Newport Beach Film Festival this Tuesday, April 22 at 5:45 PM at the Island Cinemas at Fashion Island.

What happens to huskies before and after the Iditarod? That’s the question that director Fern Levitt set out to answer in Sled Dogs, the hard-hitting new documentary that has been described as the Blackfish of the dogsledding industry. The film, which will debut in the U.S. in July, recently nabbed two awards at the Whistler Film Festival in British Columbia, where part of the documentary is set.

Sled Dogs exposes the Iditarod’s dark side, from breeders who kill dogs who don’t make the cut to the barren summertime kennels to the deadly race itself that claimed five lives this year alone.

In many commercial dog sled companies, dogs are continually tethered to a chain and euthanized when they’re deemed no longer useful. In 2011, the public finally learned this disgusting truth after in incident in Whistler, B.C. where 100 dogs were brutally murdered and thrown into a mass grave by a tourism company after an unprofitable season. Sled dog companies and the B.C. government decried the practice, claiming it to be an isolated occurrence; but animal rights activists maintain that this practice is pervasive throughout the entire industry. This explosive documentary weaves together various characters and narratives to explore a truth about the dog sledding industry while posing the question: “Is the abuse seen against “man’s best friend” disguised as entertainment?

The True Story of Survival Comes to ‘Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story’ – Newport Beach Film Festival Preview

In Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story, director Phillip Baribeau tells an intimate and riveting look into the complex layers of trauma, healing, and relationships. The film premieres at the Newport Beach Film Festival today at 5:15 pm at the Triangle Cinemas.

The documentary feature film, “Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story,” which had its World Premiere as the Opening Night Film at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, provides extraordinary access into the emotional and inspiring journey of Eduardo Garcia. In a few short moments, this accomplished chef became the survivor of a freak accident — alone, near death and miles from help deep in Montana’s backcountry — hit with 2400 volts of electricity, the strength of a primary high voltage wire.

Miraculously despite severe shock and weakness, Eduardo found the strength to take his first steps toward finding help. The result of the accident was the loss of his left hand and forearm and a recovery which included 21 surgeries. It was during his 48 days in ICU with his former long-term girlfriend and business partner Jennifer Jane with him every step of the way, Eduardo faced yet another health scare — he was diagnosed with Stage 2 testicular cancer.

After months of surgeries and chemotherapy, Eduardo was ready for his next and perhaps greatest challenge — asking, “How am I going to get back to being me?”

There will be a second screening Monday, April 24 at 5 pm.

The Search for Family and Redemption in The Scent of Rain & Lighting – Newport Beach Film Festival Preview

A young woman begins to question evidence surrounding a recently released convict, convicted of murdering her parents. The story plays out in The Scent of Rain & Lighting. The film premieres at the Newport Beach Film Festival today, April 21 at 8:15 pm at The Triangle Cinemas in Costa Mesa.

From acclaimed actor/director Blake Robbins (the award-winning The Sublime and Beautiful), and starring Maika Monroe (Independence Day: Resurgence, It Follows) in a nuanced breakout lead performance, THE SCENT OF RAIN & LIGHTNING features a veteran acting ensemble, including Maggie Grace (Lost, Taken, Twilight: Breaking Dawn), Mark Webber (Green Room, Scott Pilgrim vs the World), Bonnie Bedelia (Parenthood), Will Patton (The Good Wife) and Justin Chatwin (American Gothic).

Evincing an evocative and authentic mood, look, and feel for life in the American Midwest, director Robbins and producer Twenter, who both grew up in Kansas, ground the story with a vibrant emotional authenticity and layered performances from the acting ensemble (Robbins also has a supporting acting role) to create a sophisticated, performance focused drama.

With layered and subtle cinematography from Robbins’ longtime DP Lyn Moncrief, THE SCENT OF RAIN & LIGHTNING portrays the humanity of small town life and one young woman’s search for family and emotional redemption – and how grief, revenge, and family secrets test the strength in an entire community.

There will be a second screening on Monday, April 24 at 4:15 pm.

A Subversive Look at Plastic Surgery – TAKE MY NOSE PLEASE – Newport Beach Film Festival

Allure’s Joan Kron looks at the pressures women have to be attractive and fit in society and seeking plastic surgery as the answer. Kron’s Take My Nose Please premieres at the 2017 Newport Beach Film Festival on Saturday, April 22 at 6 p.m. at the Triangle Square Cinemas in Costa Mesa. An encore showing will take place on Thursday, April 27.

TAKE MY NOSE PLEASE is a seriously funny and wickedly subversive look at the role comedy has played in exposing the pressures on women to be attractive and society’s desire/shame relationship with plastic surgery.

More than 15 million cosmetic procedures were performed in the US in 2014. And 90% of them on were done on women. Yet, for those who elect to tinker with Mother Nature, especially for high-profile women, plastic surgery is still a very dark secret. Funny women, though, are the exception. From Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers to Roseanne and Kathy Griffin, comedians have been unashamed to talk about their perceived flaws, and the steps taken to remedy them. For these dames, cosmetic surgery isn’t vanity, it is affirmative action – compensation for the unfair distribution of youthfulness and beauty.

By admitting what their sisters in drama deny, comic performers speak to women who feel the same pressures, giving them permission to pursue change (or not to) while entertaining us.

TAKE MY NOSE PLEASE follows two comedians as they deliberate about going under the knife. Emily Askin, an up-and-coming improv performer, has always wanted her nose refined. Jackie Hoffman, a seasoned headliner on Broadway and on TV, considers herself ugly and regrets not having the nose job offered in her teens. And maybe she’d like a face-lift, as well. As we follow their surprisingly emotional stories, we meet other who have taken the leap – or held out.

Putting it all in perspective are psychologists, sociologists, the medical community and cultural critics. And for comic relief and the profundity only comedians can supply. The film includes commentary from Roseanne Barr, Phyllis Diller, the late Joan Rivers, Judy Gold, Julie Halston, Lisa Lampanelli, Giulia Rozzi, Bill Scheft, and Adrianne Tolsch.

David Chesky’s ‘The Mice War’ Comes to Newport Beach Film Festival This Saturday

“The Mice War,” a new animated musical created by Grammy-nominated composer and writer David Chesky, will open at the 18th annual Newport Beach Film Festival on April 22.

Geared to children ages 5 to 11, the film tells the story of the money-hungry Blue Mice of the North who, in order to satisfy their greed, go to war with the peace loving Red Mice of the South.

As the story unfolds, the Blue Mice initiate a conflict after noticing that the Red Mice prefer a different color of cheese. “The moral of the tale is that these mice must learn to accept one another’s differences if they ever hope to succeed as a species,” Chesky says.

“This message makes the story meaningful and timely because it teaches children about the absurdity of war and how we have to learn to resolve conflicts peacefully,” he adds.

“My students are champing at the bit to see the movie again,” says 2nd-grade teacher Megan Mitchell, “I can’t stop talking to other teachers about the impact I have seen it have on my students and my children.”

The movie features a cast of some of the most talented Broadway singers and actors today, including Tony Award winner Gregory Jbara voicing the warmonger General Kan, and Tony nominee Alison Fraser as the voice of Lucy, the lovable sea monster; Rock of Ages star Mitchell Jarvis narrates the story.

“Featuring rousing musical numbers supported by a large orchestra, ‘The Mice War’ delivers a powerful message in a fun way that children and parents will understand and enjoy,” Chesky says.