Welcome to the Grindhouse

Scanning the lineup for the eighth annual Newport Beach Film Festival, one is struck by a nagging realization: there doesn't really seem to be an "It" picture this year. This is an extravaganza that presented—often in their world, U.S. or West Coast premieres—several films that would go on to be heaped with mountains of praise once they were distributed nationally. Films like last year's much-praised The Illusionist, the previous year's Oscar-winner Crash, and solid indies such as Spellbound, Layer Cake and Mad Hot Ballroom.

But even as that last paragraph was being written, I glanced back over at that festival list and noticed all the pen marks I had made next to titles, plot descriptions and filmmakers who intrigue me. Honestly, my list is so marked-up it looks as if it withstood flying shrapnel from a detonated IED in Fallujah. (And don't bother: I've already registered that story idea with the Writers Guild.) It's like a cinematic grab bag of attention-getting features, thought-provoking documentaries and the always-appreciated wild shit you only find on the festival circuit . . . or in a Rodriguez/Tarantino double bill.

So, no, maybe this is the year there won't be an "It" picture. Or maybe we won't know the "It" picture until we actually see "It." Or maybe we wouldn't know an "It" picture if "It" bit us in the arse.

The festival opens April 19 with actor Chad Lowe's directorial debut, Beautiful Ohio, which "follows a dysfunctional family coming of age in the 1970s." William Hurt and Rita Wilson lead the cast. Lowe's wife (or whatever she is) Hilary Swank co-produced. Don't know if it's an "It" picture, but two films we do like quite a lot are Paprika, which our newish staff writer Luke Y. Thompson fawns over in these pages, and Chasing the Dream, which won over yours truly. Thompson also offers 12 other festival titles he simply must check out (and eight he'll avoid like the plague), and I chip in some thoughts on American/Orange County icon John Wayne, who gets a festival retrospective in honor of what would have been his 100th birthday.

Elsewhere in this issue is a special pull-out guide listing the 400-some-odd features, documentaries or shorts that will flash on screens at the Regency Lido, Orange County Museum of Art, the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center, and Edwards Island Cinemas, Big Newport and Newport Cinemas from April 19 to 29. There are also galas, seminars and closing-night awards.

So mark away, crazy diamonds!


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