Newport Beach Film Festival

Since April 20, the Newport Beach Film Festival has been in full force in our very own backyard. Over 300 films have been screened for the top prizes, which are set to be announced next week. Here is a wrap up of the more anticipated movies for students at the festival:

‘Art School Confidential’: This is my new favorite film. Through hilarity and tragedy, director Terry Zwigoff (Bad Santa, Ghost World) and screenwriter Daniel Clowes (Ghost World) eloquently tackle fresh new territory—art majors and their infamous narcissism. As the film’s protagonist Jerome Platts (Max Minghella) pursues his lifelong dream by attending Strathmore Art School in New York City with the hopes of some day becoming the ‘greatest artist of the 21st Century.’
Art School Confidential is at its best when it satirizes the ambitious lives of art majors. Every character portrayed desperately wants to break into the field of film, art or fashion and will take every unique approach possible in order to open as many doors.
No character is more ambitious or talented than Jerome Platts, but unfortunately he garners the least respect. His paintings are frighteningly realistic and effectively capture the beauty of their respective subjects. Despite his extraordinary ability, Jerome finds no love from his peers, who often criticize his works by frequently claiming that ‘it looks like a machine made it.’ Distraught by failure and his inability to win over Audrey, the woman he claims to love, Jerome spirals into a depressive state of apathy, compromising his ability to produce original pieces of work.
Although the film’s narrative loses a bit of steam in the middle and stagnates towards the end, the film’s conclusion rewards patient viewers with a surprising twist that simultaneously piques Jerome’s character development as well as satirizes the notoriety of accomplished artists.

‘The Illusionist’: One of the highlights of the festival, this slow-moving period drama combines magic, romance and deception into a terrific film which ends up way more than the sum of its parts.
Set in 1900 Vienna, Edward Norton plays Eisenheim the Illusionist, a stage magician who performs such masterful tricks that he catches the attention of the Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) and the Duchess Sophie (Jessica Biel), who are about to be married for political reasons. But Eisenheim and Sophie were childhood lovers who were separated, and having found each other again, they plot to run away together.
When Sophie is found murdered, Eisenheim is sure who did it, but Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti, in a role that might have been written just for him) is not convinced. Eisenheim shuts down his old magic show, and begins a new one in which he seems to conjure spirits from the dead (including Sophie), moving Leopold to have him arrested.
The plot sounds complex, but it is handled perfectly, combining the political intrigue of the Leopold character with the potentially supernatural powers of Eisenheim in a remarkably intelligent way. The acting, too, is top-notch: Norton is perfect as the enigmatic magician, but Giamatti has the most interesting performance as the inspector who is torn between his loyalty to the prince and his sympathies for Eisenheim.
From the moving score by Philip Glass to the gorgeous location shooting in the Czech Republic to the intelligent plotting and use of illusion, ‘The Illusionist’ was easily one of the best films of the festival.

‘Typhoon’: This movie begins as a run-of-the-mill action film, but ends as something entirely different (much to my surprise). The opening scenes feature a killing spree involving Korean Pirates and members of an American Navy vessel. Needless to say, the Korean pirates slaughtered the Americans in order to steal the missile guidance kits on board. With these kits and with the nuclear waste they were about to receive from the Russians, these pirates could exact their revenge upon South Korea and kill millions of innocent citizens in the process.
Korean film is becoming more and more influential in world cinema and is poised to deepen its roots with the upcoming release of ‘Typhoon.’ However, I must admit that I was not entirely impressed with ‘Typhoon’ until midway through the film when the most compelling conflict is firmly established.
Poor editing stymied the flow of select action sequences, thus putting me in a perpetual state of confusion.
The film takes a 180-degree turn once the plot reveals the motivation behind Sin’s (an appropriate name for the film’s villain) all-consuming vengeance and hatred of South Koreans. ‘Typhoon’ then becomes an emotional thriller that keeps you rooting for both the protagonist and antagonist.
Sin consumes himself with a fiery hatred because he was denied entry into South Korea as a child and suffered tremendously as a result. In order to thwart Sin’s nuclear holocaust, the South Korean government sends Kang Sejong, a highly respected naval officer, to stop Sin at all costs.
The final scenes feature brutal battles between Sin and Kang and are both action-packed and uniquely tragic, but ultimately satisfying in the end.

‘Great New Wonderful’: There haven’t yet been many films exploring how Americans have dealt with the attacks of Sept. 11, but this ensemble drama draws a very compelling picture of that very subject without being either preachy or clich