The biggest news as the Newport Beach Film Festival opened its 15th run last night was not the opening night world premiere of Lovesick, a romantic comedy starring Matt LeBlanc of Friends and Episodes fame. It's that after more years and hangovers than I can remember, the official vodka sponsor is no longer Absolut but Tito's Handmade Vodka.
We'll see (or be rendered unable to see) how the free-flowing elixir out of the Mockingbird Distillery in Austin, Texas, alters our brain chemistry after samplings from the opening-night party at Fashion Island, in-between parties all over the place and the closing-night party at Lido Village.
Come to think of it, the mind melding already began with the previews of the following seven short films (which include some music videos: deal!) playing during NBFF 2014. Each blend animation with live action and/or still images to produce something akin to your favorite vodka-infused dream/nightmare.
1. The Last Time I Saw Richard
Jonah is a teen who pretty much runs the mental health clinic holding him as a patient. But his new roommate Richard is not the only one moving in, he's just the only one seen in the waking state. Writer-director Nicholas Verso's freakout dream sequences are the best parts of this 22-minute creeper out of Australia that relies on animated little buggers who'll suck the life out of your open mouth as you sleep just like your pet cat does. This screens as part of Sunday's 8 p.m. Horror Shorts program at The Triangle in Costa Mesa.
Frankly, I don't know what all the Czech Republic's Jakub Kouril relies on in this six-minute ditty, but if I had to guess I'd say stop-motion animation and puppetry mostly. And silhouetted live action, perhaps? Sure looked real. Guess I should have paid more attention during that Pixar tour. Anyway, whatever Kouril has in his bag of tricks it effectively helps tell his lonliness tale about a granny relying on M.O. (mail order, or is it male order?) to get herself a fella. Look for the irony at the trash can. This screens as part of Sunday's 8:30 p.m. Mind Over Short Matters program at The Triangle.
3. Hsu Ji Behind the Screen
Thomas Rio's 23-minute shorty out of France starts like a typical live-action movie as it follows the moon-faced little girl of the title struggling to stay with her father who is apparently wanted by the law. Living in near squalor, they find enjoyment together watching silent movies projected onto a sheet. Then cartoon characters appear on walls and make life difficult for Hsu–until screwball comedy characters leap off the sheet in Purple Rose of Cairo fashion to sort of help her. It looks even freakier than it sounds and screens as part of Wednesday's 5 p.m. Strong Girls shorts program at The Triangle.
4. Shugo Tokumaru's "Katachi"
Writing-directing-editing-shooting duo Kijek/Adamski's video technically blends live action with animation. About 2,000 silhouettes extracted from PVC plates using computer-controlled cutter are presented in stop-action fashion that's sped up or slowed down to go with Japanese singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tokumaru's whistle-y/clappy/bass-y song. It's amazing to behold but check with your doctor before viewing if you're prone to epileptic seizures. This screens with the Music Videos program at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at The Triangle.
5. Kolin's "Mountain King"
For anyone over 20 and of this continent: I just found out Kolin is a Hungarian band that has won and MTV Europe music award. For anyone who has also just seen their Flash Gordon-meets-Devo 3D video, I just found out director Danila relied on live action, stop motion, a green screen and paper cut out miniature sets by artist Miss Margrin. The accompanying song is fuzzy, falsetto-y and very catchy. As for the story being told, all you really need to know is that in the middle of the night a million creatures care about the fire flaming in the mountain. So they keep the light alive. (Duh.) This screens with the Music Videos program at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at The Triangle.
6. Ruben Samama's "Stardust"
Dutch filmmaker Mischa Rozema made the short film Stardust about Voyager 1, the unmanned spacecraft launched in 1977 to explore the outer solar system, and Ruben Samama composed the music. Computer generated images of the craft and universe, which is at once beautiful and violent, are interspersed with every-day still and moving shots of the refrain repeated in the song: "life on Earth." That's a homage to Voyager 1's payload: indelible human memories. Looks like we've got a double bill for "Dark Side of the Moon" at the planetarium. This screens with the Music Videos program at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at The Triangle.
7. Kiev's "Been Gone Dull Cage"
This video has the members of the Orange band–best indie group at the 2011 Orange County Music Awards, woo-hoo!–riding upright drums, only sideways (the drums, not the guys) through an otherworldly landscape. Director Scott Peters splices in a toxic-looking pond, black magic mushrooms and performance footage. Just go with it, as I did gladly thanks to the dramatic anthem pushing us star chasers forward. This screens with the Music Videos program at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at The Triangle.
Actually, screw Tito. These demand herbal assistance.