Never trust Moviefone's directions. As an OC noob, I actually expected to get the correct map to Edwards Island Theaters, but the step-by-step instructions left me in the middle of Newport Beach before giving up. Fortunately, I found the Lido Theater, and the owner was more than happy to give me directions for a small fee of $25 that he waived (just for me, I'm sure).

So I made it to the theater well on time -- though a rather odd planning quirk of the festival meant that the will-call desk and the press desk were each on opposite sides of a teeming throng of rich people (dress code was specified as "black-tie optional," so like every other day of my life, I exercised the option not to wear one). This wouldn't be so bad if I had known precisely which desk to go to, or if the people at the desks themselves didn't keep telling me I should be at the other one. But we worked it out, and I only had to push through the throng three times or so.

Nobody ever cares about the opening speeches at film festivals, but here's a synopsis for those who weren't there:

Greg Schwenk, festival director (paraphrased): "Hundreds of people helped make this happen, and I shall thank each and every one of them by name right now!"

Sports Agent Guy, allegedly the basis for Jerry Maguire, and whose name I've forgotten already: "One day this festival is going to be bigger than Sundance and Cannes!"

Chad Lowe (synopsis): "Hey, I'd come down here more often, but man, that freeway traffic sure is bad! Cannes and Sundance are way too corporate. You guys have a purer love of film." The man knows his cheap pops, and we welcomed them.

Then, what sucked is that even though Greg Schwenk had already named every single sponsor, we got commercials for each one on the big screen. Hope that doesn't happen at every screening. It was longer than your average TV commercial break. But finally, Chad Lowe's movie Beautiful Ohio started.

Review to come. For now, let's talk about the after-party, held in the courtyard of the Fashion island mall outside Bloomingdale's, which had installed a runway and prepared a fashion show of some kind for us that nobody seemed to pay much attention to.

 Every year around film festival season, Absolut Vodka busts out a new flavor, and this year it's pear, which is their best choice since Kurant. Unfortunately, there wasn't a wide variety of mixers -- an apple martini made with Absolut Pears ought to be good, and I always like trying flavored vodka with Coke, but no, just cranberry, orange, and soda here. Cranberry works okay, subsuming its flavor almost totally to the almighty pear.

Food = outstanding. I've been to many festivals where some fancy restaurant is advertised as the caterer, only to have them serve just the three crappiest things on their menu (the worst ever was one party I shall not name where all they gave us was polenta, a cheese biscuit, and some endive thing, each totally flavorless and supposedly made by a great restaurant).

Anyway: tuna tartare with wasabi cream. Crab cakes and sea scallops. A chocolate fountain with mochi dippers. And some awesome white trash food too -- pulled pork barbecue, and deep-fried macaroni and cheese. It seems that anything, even county-fair-type food, can be made swanky if you serve it on a black plastic plate and stick a toothpick in it. Not that I'm complaining; the barbecue odor brought back pleasant memories of my uncle's restaurant in southwest Virginia. The only difficulty is trying to eat all this stuff standing up.

At the Thai food booth, I asked the guy what he was serving. "No question, just eat!" he yelled back. "If you like, come back for more and I tell you!" As a fan of live sushi, I was mildly miffed that he didn't trust me to eat weird food...and disappointed when I came back and he told me it was chicken and tamarind-flavored noodles.

Biggest celebrity sighting of the night, other than Beautiful Ohio's Chad Lowe and Michelle Trachtenberg: Robert Davi, who'll always be Franz Sanchez from Licence to Kill in my mind. You cannot miss that face.


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