There was a threat of existential angst that ran through the films I saw yesterday at Newport Beach Film Festival. But the films were all very different and approached those questions in different ways.
The documentary Courses shows us chef Jake Bickelhaupt, who has worked in some of the great restaurants. But he tired of that work and started an unlicensed restaurant in his Chicago apartment where, each weekend, he and his wife Alexa would serve ten people a 15-course meal. He eventually opens an actual restaurant with a similar format. The food sounds and looks wonderful (and we have to assume it tastes just as good). Jake sees feeding others as an act of giving but it is also a very stressful undertaking—and Jake can be a bit demanding of those who work with him. At the end of the film, Jake and Alexa reflect on what they had “put on hold” to make this happen. Good foodie movie in the vein of Jiro Dreams of Sushi (which if you are a foodie and haven’t seen, you certainly should find it.)
A more directly philosophical-ish film was Zen Dog, the story of Reed, a mildly OCD man who is trapped in a daily routine. He’s also having a recurring nightmare. When an old friend, Dwayne, shows up he tells him about lucid dreaming to take control of the nightmare and move past it. He then provides a special tea that will help him. Soon, Reed is using this hallucinogen to dream his way on a cross country trip. Eventually, he learns that he must take his dreams into life to escape his unsatisfying life. The film is built around Alan Watts’ writings which were very influential in the 60s counterculture.
For a bit of action and excitement, I saw Dead Draw¸ a caper film, where it all goes wrong. The film opens with a bank robbery, but when the thieves get to the airport where a small plane is waiting to fly then to safety, they find the pilot murdered. It becomes obvious that someone knows their plans. Is someone involved a ‘rat’? The film flashes back to the preparation for the job and the relationship these men have built. Although they thought they were loyal to each other, that loyalty quickly dissolves under the pressure of the situation. One of the crew has become Christian while he was in prison, and is conflicted about his involvement. As they turn on one another, we wonder if survival is all that matters or are there deeper issues that should take precedence?