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Walter was a big hit at the Palm Springs International Film Festival on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 4. The quirky comedy/drama with a solid cast and a unique storyline was screened in three theaters at once at the Palm Springs Regal 9, with the director and various members of the cast present.

Walter begins with an introduction to the title character (Andrew J. West), shown as a child at his father’s funeral. The self-narration explains that Walter is the son of God and judges whether or not a person goes to heaven or hell. He’s then shown waking up in the morning to three separate alarm clocks in a room that is an obsessive-compulsive’s paradise. Walter lives with his mother (Virginia Madsen), who is always cooking him scrambled eggs, and he begins his day by getting dressed for his job as a movie-theater usher.

At the theater, he works with a verbally abusive and crass co-worker named Vince (Milo Ventimiglia); his boss, Corey (Jim Gaffigan); and a beautiful concession-stand worker, Kendall (Leven Rambin). Walter’s OCD comes into play as he vacuums the lobby and uses a magnifying glass to inspect his usher stand for spots. As he takes tickets, walks down the street or otherwise encounters people, he usually utters “heaven” or “hell” with every person he sees.

One day, after the movie theater closes and he begins his trek home, he encounters a mysterious ghost. Greg (Justin Kirk) explains that he is dead, but hasn’t been sent to heaven or hell, and harasses Walter to send him to either one. Walter responds that he cannot do that, given he can’t make a judgment about him. Greg annoys Walter so much that he winds up going to therapy with Dr. Corman (William H. Macy).

Walter and his back-story are revealed in a series of flashbacks involving his father (Peter Facinelli). It isn’t long before Walter begins to understand himself better.

Walter mixes comedy and drama in a way that isn’t often done. Most of the comedic scenes involve his time spent at the theater with Vince, Corey and Kendall, while his relationship with his mother—and his relationship with himself—are certainly troubled. After an intense story climax, you’ll walk away agreeing: Walter is outstanding,

During a Q&A (see the photo below), producer Brenden Patrick Hill explained the film was based on a short done in 2010 that was written by Paul Shoulberg, who also wrote the full-length film.

“Paul (Shoulberg), Andy (West) and I all went to Indiana University together, and Paul sent me some stuff he was working on. I said Walter would be a great short film, but he said it would never work,” Hill said. “We turned it into a short film that Andy was the lead of, and then because we had a short, we knew we wanted to make a feature, and to show people like (director) Anna (Mastro) how great Andy was as Walter, and sort of build off on that short film.”

Mastro said she was immediately drawn to the project.

“I fell in love with the script, the character and the themes of it,” she said. “This is a quirky movie that falls into no genre and is hard to be made into a film, but luckily, we had a couple of actors who believed in it enough to help us on this journey.”

In response to a question, West said he’d never have another role like Walter.

“(Walter) is probably the most unique character I will ever play,” he said. “Paul (Shoulberg) has a knack for creating the most vivid characters on the page, and you have to fill in the blanks. That wasn’t the case with this. For me, the trick to this guy is that he’s profoundly uncomfortable.”

Published in Reviews

The Coachella Valley has finally cooled off, and it’s time for the holidays! Per usual, December is one of the slower non-summer months in terms of entertainment, but there are still some great local events to consider.

At 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 6, The Festival of Lights Parade will take over Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs, with lighted floats, equestrians, cars and celebrities. One suggestion: Dress warm. Get more information at psfestivaloflights.com.

The Ace Hotel and Swim Club has some great events worth noting. At 10 p.m., Friday, Dec. 5, the Amigo Room will host Katie Burden. Originally from Colorado, she moved to Los Angeles in 2012 and formed a band which released its first EP in June. Admission is free. At 10 p.m., Friday, Dec. 12, the Fullerton psychedelic band Cosmonauts will stop by. Again, admission is free! Ace Hotel and Swim Club, 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-325-9900; www.acehotel.com/palmsprings.

The McCallum Theatre is bringing the yuletide cheer this December. At 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 12, and Saturday, Dec. 13, the Irish Tenors (right) will be bring their Christmas-themed show to the McCallum. They are one of the most successful Irish touring acts, and their Christmas shows have been well-received—so you should definitely consider this one. Tickets are $35 to $85. At 7 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 17, the Moscow Classical Ballet will be performing the Christmas staple The Nutcracker. It’s a treat for the whole family! Tickets are $25 to $85. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, per usual, has some great offerings this month. Singer-songwriter Phillip Phillips will be stopping by at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 6. Phillips’ unique folk-music sound helped him win American Idol’s Season 11, despite his struggles with a painful a kidney condition. Tickets are $49 to $69. Celtic Woman will be stopping by for a special Christmas show at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 13. Despite the singular name, there are actually four members. After a decade of performing in America, these Irish women managed to gain the attention of PBS, which led to a rush in album sales. Tickets are $49 to $89. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 800-827-2946; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa will host some fun shows during December. At 9 p.m., Friday, Dec. 5, Mr. Universe, Jim Gaffigan, will be stopping by. The successful comedian, actor and author is known for his hilarious jokes about laziness. Tickets are $65 to $85. Country-music singer-songwriter Gary Allan will be performing at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 13. California native started his career by playing older country-music covers in honky-tonks. He’s gone on to release 11 albums since 1996. Tickets are $55 to $75. Frances Yip will perform a special Christmas concert at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 27. The Hong Kong Cantopop singer has made a name for herself by singing in English, Indonesian, Thai, Mexican-Spanish and many other languages. After beating breast cancer in 2012, she’s back and touring around the world. Tickets are $58 to $118. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com

Morongo Casino Resort Spa has an interesting schedule this month. Indie-pop sensation Ingrid Michaelson (below) will be stopping by at 8 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 7. After busking in Manhattan, she recorded her first album, Slow the Rain, and released it independently in 2005; today, she sells out venues around the world. Tickets are $29; A Great Big World will also perform. Sublime With Rome will perform at 9 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 18. After the death of frontman Bradley Nowell in 1996, Sublime was pretty much over. However, in 2009, surviving members Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh revived the band with Rome Ramirez, who was only 21 at the time. Gaugh left the group shortly thereafter, and the remaining members now perform as Sublime With Rome. Tickets are $45 to $65. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace is hosting some fine shows in December—and many of them are free! Check the website for details. A sneak preview of a January event: At 7 p.m. on New Year’s Day, you can celebrate with Pappy’s regulars The Palominos. The San Diego honky-tonk outfit is known for its West Coast country sound and is a delight to experience live. Admission is—you guessed it—free! Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

The Hood Bar and Pizza was still working on the December schedule when we went to press, but one great event is already on the books: At 9 p.m., Friday, Dec. 5, Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss will perform; local band Waxy will also play an acoustic set. Admission is free. The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-636-5220; www.facebook.com/thehoodbar.

Published in Previews