Film Festivals’s CINEVEGAS 2003

By • Jun 25th, 2003 •

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The 5th Annual CineVegas International Film Festival was held June 13-21 at the Palms Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas under the expert guidance of Trevor Groth, Director of Programming. A total of 85 films, including twelve world premieres representing eight countries, were screened at the festival. The Opening Night screening was the world premiere of First Look Pictures’s OCTANE, directed by Marcus Adams and starring Madeline Stowe, Mischa Barton, Norman Reedus and Bijou Phillips. Stowe plays a mother who must save her daughter from a bloodthirsty cult. Is there ever any other kind?

DALLAS 362 is actor Scott Caan’s writing and directing debut. While Caan also stars in the movie, he allows his able cast to shine. Rusty (Shawn Hatosy) teams up with Dallas (Scott Caan) to rob a dangerous criminal. The wonderful Kelly Lynch, as Rusty’s mom, does an unnecessary nude scene, while her boyfriend, played by Jeff Goldblum, stays smugly under the covers.

DALLAS 362 won CineVegas’s Best Feature at the Critic’s Award Luncheon held at Lawry’s “The Prime Rib.” Caan graciously thanked all the people who helped him on the movie. He said he wisely listened to everybody’s advice.

Holly Willis, editor of RES, a bimonthly magazine, and Mike Goodridge, the US editor of the international trade weekly Screen International and its daily news service, were the judges.

The last taboo to be conquered is male full-frontal nudity (see Danny Boyle’s 28 DAYS LATER) and writer/director Ash breaks the rule in THIS GIRL’S LIFE. Moon (Juliette Marquis) is a porn star/nurse angel. She is caring for her father (James Woods) who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Moon even cleans him after he uses the toilet. Apparently, famous porn stars like Moon do not make enough money to hire even part-time nurses. There is a lot of stylish nudity and nice looking sex in THIS GIRL’S LIFE.
I learned that porn stars are intelligent, kind, loving, and never have sex for money. They make terrific friends. They never have to humiliate themselves in the adult entertainment business, take drugs, or make strip club appearances. The only thing missing from Moon’s life is Ash forgot to show her work with AIDS babies. The life of a porn star looks fabulous! It’s having a father with advanced Parkinson’s that is tough.

A movie about two old ladies played by Louise Lasser and Renee Taylor? Luckily I made a screening of LADY KILLERS. This is an absolutely charming, delightful movie! Will Friedle and Chris Owen star as two idiot criminals who decide to marry and then kill the elderly Mundt sisters. But the Mundt sisters have murderous plans of their own. This is writer/director Gary Preisler’s directorial debut. Preisler has a light, devilish touch and a precious love for all his characters. LADY KILLERS was my pick for CineVegas’s best feature presentation.

First time writers/directors should absolutely NOT be allowed to edit their films. Can’t a Hollywood despot make a blanket ruling on this?

Who told Drew Johnson he could co-write and co-produce, direct, star in, and edit a movie? THE ROAD HOME is a vanity project showcasing Johnson as a baseball player in love with a Playmate, played by real-life Playboy Playmate of the Year Corinna Harney-Jones (who also co-produced). Apparently, Johnson and Harney-Jones were high school friends from Nevada. This is their true story. Johnson has a crying scene.

I wish Melanie Griffith would retire. Please. A 45 year-old sex kitten? Except for the misguided casting of Griffith as Sylvester Stallone’s former inamorata in SHADE, this poker caper is a surprising, well-directed treat. Stallone is back in an ensemble cast, playing his age and looking his age. Writer/director Damian Nieman (a card shark himself) was able, through a very clever script, to cast Stuart Townsend, Gabriel Byrne, Thandie Newton, Jamie Foxx and Hal Holbrook.

I’m tired of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s head downcast style of acting. OWNING MAHOWNY, directed by Richard Kwietniowski, is the true story of a bank executive who gambled away over ten million dollars of other people’s money. It is disappointing since Mahowny is dealt with in a rather cavalier light. Joyless, friendless, and miserable, Dan Mahowny got only six years in prison for his crime. While aimlessly squandering ten million dollars, Mahowny’s sole request of the beneficiary casino was a plate of ribs with a coke. Minnie Driver plays his clueless, dumb girlfriend who works for the same bank.

What can you do with four minutes? My favorite short film was directed by Doug Shutte and presented in CineVegas’s recognition of the film department at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Shutte’s “UNLV Shorts Program” student film, ONE DOLLAR DIFFERENCE, was nicely crafted and emotionally moving. Someone should give Shutte a few thousand dollars and some film stock.

The selection of documentary films headlined as “Diamond Discoveries” included one I found personally fascinating, since I recently spent three weeks on a Nepalese trek and lived, a long time ago, in India. THE DAY MY GOD DIED is director Andrew Levine’s four-month investigation of the sex slave business in the Kamathipura district of Bombay. Over two hundred thousand young girls are sex slaves in “the cages,” which is the largest red light district in the world. Hundreds of girls, as young as seven years old, are kidnapped each year in Nepal and taken to Bombay. With the population of India taken into regard, I asked Levine why it was necessary to kidnap girls from neighboring Nepal. Apparently, Indian men prefer the light-skinned Nepalese. I would have liked to talk to Levine about the Dalits and the horrific treatment of the 200-400 million Untouchables in the “outlawed” caste system in India. Could the “outlawed” caste system be the underlying reason Nepalese girls are a commodity in the sex slave industry? (If even the shadow of a Dalit crosses a caste-Hindu, the Dalit will be beaten and the caste-Hindu must undergo strenuous purification rituals.)

While the film focused on the lives of several young Nepalese girls rescued from “the cages,” the men who frequent Kamathipura were not held morally responsible.

One film I enjoyed was in the grouping called “Area 52.” The films selected were identified as a “bizarre and freakish collection of cult and midnight movies for the most hardcore movie fans.” My favorite was called DADDY COOL directed by Brady Lewis. Lewis is the director of Pittsburgh Filmmakers and spent four years making DADDY COOL. It is a homage to 50’s horror films. A woman, who used to be a man, sees visions in her television. Her therapist happens to be a werewolf. It is in the same family problem terrain as David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD. In person, Lewis is so unassuming and mild-mannered that nobody could associate him with the tortured characters he created in DADDY COOL. Lewis also edited his film, but thankfully, did not act in it.

The most anticipated film was scheduled under the banner of “Nevada Filmmaking Showcase.” STUEY, directed by/written by/and edited by A.W. Vidmer, is based on the true story of the rise and fall of poker legend Stu “The Kid” Ungar. It stars “The Sopranos” Michael Imperioli as Stuey, Renee Faia, and Michael Nouri. Vidmer spends way too much time on Stuey’s childhood. It’s not a good sign when we are forced to wander aimlessly around the early, formative years. Will we ever get to the man’s thirties? So here is a half hour we will not be spending at the tables with Stuey or learning how he squandered his fortune. Indulgently edited by Vidmer, we are shown Stuey supermarket shopping twice, and then shopping for his “trademark” blue sunglasses. Did Stuey die of natural causes in a motel room in Las Vegas, a drug overdose, or commit suicide?

The demand to see STUEY was great, as was the world premiere of the NBC TV pilot called “Las Vegas” starring James Caan and Josh Duhamel. We were asked not to review the pilot since it was not officially ready.

The 5th Annual CineVegas was a huge success with all the evening screenings I attended sold out. This was due to Groth’s skill at burrowing through 400 submitted films and finding the most interesting and diverse ones to present. CineVegas attendees also had a full lineup of activities besides films. There was the “Krispy Kreme presents Doughnuts with” series every morning with well-known filmmakers, luncheons, receptions, and special events for filmmakers. Evenings were filled with movies at Brenden Theaters, parties held at “Little Buddha” at the Palms Casino Resort, “Venus” at The Venetian Resort Hotel & Casino, “Tabu” at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, “OPM” at The Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace and the “House of Blues” at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. There were even after parties at the hottest, coolest nightclubs in town. My new favorite is the gorgeous “Risque” at Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino.

I was disappointed I was not able to attend more screenings. I missed seeing Alex Proyas’s “Garage Days,” Thomas Trail’s “Klepto,” Damon Santostefano’s “Last Man Running,” Ken Loach’s “Sweet Sixteen,” Kim Bartley and Donnacha O’Briain’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” Peter Mullan’s “The Magdalene Sisters,” Chen Kaige’s “Together,” Chris Fisher’s “Nightstalker,” and Niki Caro’s “Whale Rider.”

While the evening events and extravagant parties are always a memorable part of CineVegas, the 2003 Film Festival came to a fanciful, highly publicized close due to the non-appearance/appearance of gonzo journalist Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.

On closing day, CineVegas honored actor and artist Dennis Hopper with its Marquee Award at a luncheon at Postrio Restaurant at The Venetian. It was reported that Hopper had such a great time at CineVegas that he has agreed to join the Board of Directors. CineVegas showcased a newly remastered 35mm print of Hopper’s 1971 film, THE LAST MOVIE. The luncheon was followed by an Art Panel discussion with Hopper, Grace Slick, Dave Hickey – Professor of Art theory and criticism at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and infamous journalist (and self-described as the “most elderly dope fiend in America”) Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. It’s been some 32 years since Thompson wrote the groundbreaking cult classic “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

It was not a triumphant return.

A rumor spread while I was on line: Thompson wasn’t coming. He was refusing to leave his suite at the Palms to come to The Venetian. The young independent filmmakers, bearing new copies of Thompson’s books, hoped he was drunk with prostitutes instead of suffering from an “attack of arthritis.” “Who gets arthritis in the desert?” queried “Lord of the Dead” filmmaker Greg Parker.

The large crowd patiently waited a full half hour for the Art Panel, moderated by The New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell, to begin. I shouted over a few rows to CineVegas’s Chairman Mark Tratos: “Kick Thompson’s ass and get him over here.” Tratos laughed off Thompson’s no-show: “You can’t do that with artists.”

It was announced that Thompson would not be coming and Wayne Ewing, director of the closing night attraction, “Breakfast with Hunter,” would be representing Thompson. Former Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick, who in her own words was “63 years old and deteriorating,” enthralled the audience with tales of her rock star drug use. While Mitchell frequently attempted to coral the panelists to discuss their “iconography,” all Slick wanted to talk about was drugs and the horror of seeing old people have sex. Even the thought appalled Slick. She does not want to have sex anymore! Since Slick looked over at sixty-seven year old Hopper, he countered with the fact that his wife was 35 years old and his new baby was just twelve weeks old.

We don’t know Hopper’s thoughts on old people having sex but he did reminisce about his well-known dalliance with LSD and other drugs. Hopper had some interesting theories about the CIA developing LSD in the 60’s as a way to control young people.
Professor Hickey memorialized his own legacy: “All I wanted to do was get fucked up and then drive real fast.”

Hopper deflected talk about his own “iconography” and finally said: “Where the hell is Hunter?” to the delight of the crowd.

It’s not as if the assembled crowd would have been shocked if Thompson turned up in crumbled clothes, unwashed, drunk, and carried by Benicio Del Toro. Since Thompson wouldn’t turn up for the Art Panel, I didn’t turn up for the evening’s screening of “Breakfast with Hunter.” (That’ll show him!) Thompson did arrive at the gala closing night party at SKIN, the outdoor nightclub at the Palms. Supported by Del Toro and arriving by golf cart, Thompson was completely inaccessible to his fans. I managed to get a blurry photo of Thompson in a cabana having his head swathed with ice by new bride Anita Bejmuk, who is 36 years younger, and was formerly Thompson’s personal assistant. He was said to have had a sore foot that made walking unbearable.

I’d like to thank Andrea Weinberger, COO and President of CineVegas, Kelli Maruca of The Greenspun Media Group, and especially Judy, Kim, and Susan Dixon of Dominion3 Public Relations Company for approving my press credentials to attend the CineVegas International Film Festival.

The Entertainment Development Corporation (EDC) of Las Vegas, producers of CineVegas, is a private, membership-based non-profit organization, which works to promote film and television production through education and events like‘s CineVegas International Film Festival. For information on next year’s CineVegas International Film Festival, go to

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