Film Festivals


By • Jun 25th, 2004 •

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QUOTE: Dennis Hopper hosted the 2004 CineVegas Film Festival with help from pals David Lynch, Sean Penn, and Jack.

The vicarious Robin Greenspun of the Greenspun Media empire and President of the 2004 CineVegas Film Festival spearheaded the most-fabulous-yet 9 day event in Las Vegas held June 11 to 19 at The Palms Casino Resort. The CineVegas Film Festival is now firmly in place as a premier showcase for filmmakers thanks to the dominance of hallmark directors and a gang of made men from the Tony Soprano crime family.

The Opening Night film was D.E.B.S. directed by Angela Robinson. It is quite possibly the gay CHARLIE’S ANGELS. The evening ended with a sensational party at Caesar’s Palace “Pool of the Gods.” I understand that 2,000 people were invited and 4,000 people R.S.V.P’d. There was extravagant food and free-flowing drinks for everyone. Even though there was a roped off VIP area, the Sopranos stars (Johnny Sack, Paulie Walnuts, Bobby Bacala and Big Pussy) mingled for photos with guests. CineVegas’s host, Dennis Hopper, was everywhere.

“The Half-Life Awards” were given to Sean Penn, Robin Wright Penn, and Holly Hunter. Jack Nicholson received the “Marquee Award;” “Vanguard Director Award” went to Bruce Conner, David Lynch and Julian Schnabel; and the “Changed My Life Award” went to Dean Stockwell. I campaigned for the “I Sat Through “Around the World In 80 Days starring Jackie Chan” Award” but Robin wasn’t interested in honoring my sitting through almost 300 movies a year.

The CineVegas Jury was comprised of director Darren Aronofsky (REQUIM FOR A DREAM was sensational!), Wendy Mitchell of indieWIRE, and actress Sarah Polley.

Last year Dennis Hopper was given the Marquee Award and he had such a great time that he not only joined CineVegas’s Creative Advisory Board as Chair, he brought along his friends, did commercials, walked around freely among the fans, and did a Frank Booth trailer demanding everyone “respect” filmmakers, turn off their cell phones and, putting an oxygen mask to his face, said: “And no smoking!” Hopper insisted on changing the pronunciation of CineVegas (from Sin-A Vegas to Sin-E Vegas). But will it stick?

Here is a brief capsule of the films I saw:

LUCK directed by Peter Wellingon. Set in the early 1970’s, a young man’s puppy love obsession with a friend’s girlfriend, played by Sarah Polley, drives him to gamble away money he doesn’t have, borrow $5,000 from a loan shark, gamble that away and then gamble away money from his father’s retirement account. He then decides to become a bookie and lose other people’s money. But he gets the girl in the end.

“Las Vegas: Come on vacation. Go home on probation.” James Ellroy.

I’m a new fan of the man James Ellroy. He doesn’t care about fans because he just wants to know how many of his books YOU BOUGHT. He hates talking about L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (“Did you f**king buy the book?,” Ellroy proudly recalled telling a sweet old lady at a book signing). The promise to dish about Dana Delaney never came though. Novelist Bruce Wagner (I’m no elitist – you decide – but Wagner did use the phrases “sisyphian act” and “poetic engine” in discussing Ellroy) sat down at The Lounge at The Palms for a “lively discussion” with his friend Ellroy. After viewing Showtime’s documentary on Ellroy’s mother’s brutal death and Ellroy’s table conversations with detectives, I knew what to expect from him. He didn’t disappoint me. Men of a certain age always brag about oral sex. And, with disgust, what Ellroy says is what his readers really want to know: Is Crowe really an ***hole? Is Leo gay? His book, THE BLACK DAHLIA, will be made into an over 100 million dollar budgeted film by director Brian DiPalma. To Ellroy’s frustration, cute Josh Hartnett stars.

A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD directed by Michael Meyer did not allow any press to the screening. (On the notice barring any press someone wrote: “This must mean it’s ****.) Colin Farrell stars but I cannot report if his full-frontal nudity is on display or was, as rumor has it, excised.

THE TALENT GIVEN US directed by Andrew Wagner is the story of an elderly New York City couple, played by Wagner’s parents (Judy and Allen), who drive across the country to visit their reclusive son in Los Angeles. Their two unmarried, thirty-something daughters, also played by Wagner’s real life sisters (highlighting the very quick and amusing Emily Wagner), tag along. Somewhere in the mid-west they pick up a long-suffering friend, Judy (the adorable Judy Dixon) who has to listen to the Wagners complain about their lack of a sex life and past hard-to-forgive infidelities. This is a fascinating family comedy and Wagner was insightful enough to know his parents and siblings would make a funny, charming film.

PHILEINE SAYS SORRY directed by Jan Westdijk is from the Netherlands/USA. Phileine is a wild girl who likes to hit her boyfriend and fight with her girlfriends. She follows her boyfriend to New York City and tries to ruin his life. I liked this film because the girls were so mean, selfish, crazy, and out-of-control, and everybody understands.

UNTIL THE NIGHT directed by Gregory Hatanaka stars the charismatic Norman Reedus. The stream-of-conscious film is a muddled mess but Hatanaka shows a strong director’s hand. Most of it did not make any sense. Perhaps a better script with a linear story will work better next time.

Director Julian Schnabel was on hand for the screening of BEFORE THE NIGHT. I loved this film the first time I saw it and enjoyed seeing it again. After receiving his CineVegas Vanguard Director Award, he sat down with Dennis Hopper and Elvis Mitchell. Schnabel, a world renowned iconic painter, loved talking about his films and was a joyful, appreciative guest. He, and the audience, would have gladly stayed another hour. Schnabel, a heterosexual, infused the film with lustful and passionate gay sex that is often shunted aside in films. Consider how un-sexy the implied gay sex is in DE-LOVELY. Unlike Irwin Winkler, Schnabel knows a few gay people.

Along with getting Hopper, the Penns, David Lynch(!) and Jack Nicholson, CineVegas’s Program Director Trevor Groth arranged for MGM to give the festival an advance screening of Irwin Winkler’s DE-LOVELY starring Kevin Kline as Cole Porter and Ashley Judd as his long-suffering, but lavishly rich, socialite wife. While the audience loved it, I cannot say that I enjoyed all the singing by Kline, the ponderous opening and closing with Jonathan Pryce, and the constant screaming about how beautiful Judd is (required because it is in a female star’s contract). I still do not know a thing about the Porter’s marriage except he kept telling her he worshiped her while having sex with tons of waiters.

NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, directed by Jared Hess and starring Jon Heder is fabulous! I encourage everyone to see this movie. It is absolutely precious. This was a huge favorite and played to two sold-out audiences. Filmed on a total budget of $400,000, it was brought by Fox searchlight for $3 million. DYNAMITE takes place in rural Idaho. Napoleon is not even a nerd. He is the school’s non-being. When his grandmother falls in a motocross accident and is hospitalized, Napoleon’s uncle comes to babysit him and his 32-year old brother who is having a relationship with a lady in a chat room. Napoleon befriends the new kid in school, a Mexican with righteous self-esteem. The entire cast is sensational.

With David Lynch, Dennis Hopper, and Dean Stockwell attending CineVegas wouldn’t it have been terrific if Lynch chose BLUE VELVET and ERASERHEAD? Lynch asked that ERASERHEAD be screened and perhaps the response will indicate to someone that it should be re-released theatrically. The sold-out screening of Lynch’s 1977 first masterpiece was a triumph. It was one of the first laserdiscs I brought. After the screening, Lynch was given his “Vanguard Director Award” by Hopper and joined for a discussion by Hopper and Stockwell. Moderator Elvis Mitchell did not ask any questions about ERASERHEAD. I was very disappointed Mitchell did not delve into the dominance of psycho-sexual images in ERASERHEAD and query Lynch about the film’s meaning. (Lynch has said that no one who has written about the film has understood it.) While everyone seems to studiously avoid interpreting the film, I will not allow this to intimidate me. Briefly, it is Lynch’s masterpiece because he brilliantly took his nightmarish masturbatory fantasy and visualized the guilt and disgust that sprung from his troubled libido. And what is the masturbatory penalty? Penalty images are everywhere: The deformed, diseased creature-baby, the lady in the radiator with the puffed-out, scarred cheeks, and the diseased man at the machine, to name just a few. Who is not distorted by Henry (Jack Nance) Spencer’s haunted id? The man at the machine symbolizes God, but he is a diseased god who created man in his own flawed image.

Every night the organizers arranged a big VIP evening held at the trendiest nightclubs in Las Vegas. Local Strip performers held a semi-concert at Crustacean Restaurant & Nightclub inside The Aladdin Hotel. Many headliners, including Las Vegas favorites The Scintas, Clint Holmes, and Penn of Penn & Teller entertained. There were also after-parties and a bowling party hosted by the filmmakers of another audience favorite, THE LEAGUE OF ORDINARY GENTLEMEN. There were two big private concerts: a Billy Joe Shaver Concert and Party at the OPM Club at Caesar’s Palace, hosted by “The Portrait of Billy Joe” director Luciana Pedraza and her boyfriend of many years, Robert Duvall, who produced the film (I haven’t yet forgiven them for indulging their vanity in ASSASSINATION TANGO) and a concert by Jason Mraz at Mandalay Bay’s House of Blues. For stars and filmmakers, a private party was hosted by George Maloof at the Real World Suite at the Palms Casino Resort Hotel. If nightly parties were not enough, there was a boat cruise at Lake Las Vegas.

GOZU directed by Takashi Miike. A newly circumcised virgin Yakuza must kill his older insane brother, until the brother disappears and a lactating woman and a half-man, half-cow demon get in the way. What’s not to love about a film celebrating a circumcised virgin and a cross-species demon? Add brother-brother incest and a horrific birth of a grown man and you have the strangest, boldest movie I’ve seen in years. The lactating old woman was so creepy I’ll never drink milk again in Tokyo. Takashi Miike, who attended the screening, has a huge cult following. His fans crowded two sold-out screenings and had an intimate knowledge of his vast body of work.

HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE directed by Danny Leiner. Super-stoned, Asian Harold and East Indian Kumar take a “Vision Quest” obsessy to eat at the hollowed icon of fast food – White Castle. Along the way they meet college girls, security guards, cheetahs, hillbillies, and Neil Patrick Harris. Harold and Kumar are the next big stars. Neil Patrick Harris has arrived back from Limbo. There is enough gay sex in HAROLD & KUMAR to make DE-LOVELY look chaste.

ZATOICHI directed by Takeshi Kitano. This is a new version of the long running and popular Japanese character who is a blind masseur/swordsman. It was too long but nevertheless entertaining. I really liked the transvestite geisha and the ending is fabulous – the entire cast does a wild, uninhibited dance number.

MARMALADE directed by Kim Dempster. A very smart move for Jill Sorensen, who is one of the film’s executive producers, co-writer, and star. Sorensen plays “aging” model Kim fashioned after her own experiences reaching the ripe old age of 32. Creepy agents, drugs, bi-sexuality, model jealousies, and vicious agency jumping are brushed aside as MARMALADE focuses on Kim looking for work and love. Crafted as a showcase for Sorensen’s acting talents means there are a lot of tears, she gets insulted for being old, and she is often made to look sympathetic. Even though Sorensen is gorgeous, she allows herself to look silly. This is a decent debut by Sorensen to develop a movie career and I would say she invested wisely in herself. Yet Charlize Theron certainly raised the bar for models and starlets who want acting careers. In a few years would Sorensen be willing to transform herself as Theron did in MONSTER?

THE HILLSIDE STRANGLER, directed by Chris Fisher, was one of the films people were most interested in seeing. It is two serial killers with instant name recognition. It also had a lot of nudity. A psychologist, who stages orgies, is bi-sexual, and takes drugs, works with the LAPD. She brings women home for her drug-dealing boyfriend, has sex with his friends, and has nude photos of herself framed on her home office walls. When she is brought in to interview suspected serial killer Kenneth Bianchi, she sashays in wearing a backless dress barely covering her aureoles. This is her typical professional attire! Yes, serial killers are popular and the screenings for THE HILLSIDE STRANGLER were sold-out. Kenneth Bianchi did “hoodwink” a psychologist and psychiatrist with claims of multiple personalities but it was Dr. Martin Orne who finally exposed Bianchi as a fraud. (I know this stuff because I do weekend research on serial killers.) Skillfully directed on a small budget, this very promising director needs to craft another story leaving dialogue and plot to other writers.

Sean Penn was gracious after the screening of his film THE INDIAN RUNNER. He talked with Elvis Mitchell and the audience loved him. Unfortunately, Robin Wright Penn was dismissive and graceless. Hopper had to announce she was “held up” coming to the Brenden Theaters after the screening of SHE’S SO LOVELY. When she finally arrived, she waltzed over to Mitchell and Hopper, took her award, barely glanced at the audience, and left by a side door. Perhaps like most of the audience, she did not know why she was being honored.

Jack Nicholson, who walked the red carpet with Penn, posed for photos and introduced his 1971 directorial debut. He made everyone feel good, except for the people who had to sit through DRIVE, HE SAID. That said, there were plenty of nude scenes featuring Karen Black and full-frontal nudity of lots of guys. Jack, what does all this mean and why did every man in the film want to have sex with Karen Black? Lucky for us, Jack has left directing to others.

There were two filmmaker’s luncheons held at Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine Restaurant and Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio. At Roy’s I spoke at length with Judy and Allen Wagner of THE TALENT GIVEN US. They tried to interview me; however, I learned that there was indeed a script they hardly ever strayed from, the story is not from their “real life,” and Judy’s bold line of dialogue was secretly filmed while her son Andrew – who wrote and directed the film – slept.

CineVegas and the entertainment law firm of Quirk & Tratos presented a 4-hour seminar for attorneys, law students, and filmmakers at the Bali Hai Golf Club. Filmmakers were especially catered to with subjects ranging from contract negotiations, music rights, and intellectual property rights. The seminar was packed and hopefully CineVegas will make this a featured event every year.

I overheard a thought-provoking comment while waiting on line to see ERASERHEAD: “More people visit Las Vegas every year than visit Mecca.”

The Filmmakers Award Luncheon was held at Postrio’s Restaurant at The Venetian Resort, Hotel and Casino. The Jury Prize went to THE TALENT GIVEN US with honorable mention to writer/director John Harkrider’s MITCHELLVILLE. The Audience Award went CROSS BRONX, written and directed by Larry Golin. Having lived in New York City and the suburb communities that Golin grew up in and highlights so well, I can confirm that he did a terrific job allowing the neighborhoods of The Bronx, Yonkers and Westchester County to represent themselves in a colorful and daring way. (Here in Las Vegas there are no distinctive neighborhoods. We have strictly-planned communities with rules and regulations.) Golin should not have been surprised his film took the Audience Award since I kept hearing attendees praise the film. This is one of many films shown at CineVegas that looks guaranteed to get a distributor.

I already saw an advance screening of CineVegas’s Closing Night film, THE NOTEBOOK, directed by Nick Cassavetes and starring James Garner and Cassavetes mother, Gena Rowlands. Garner reads to Rowlands every day from her diary. She has Alzheimer’s. I’m not insensitive: My mother died from Alzheimer’s last month, but I still do not like movies where I am read to by elderly people.

CineVegas’s Closing Night Party, held at The Palms nightclub “Skin,” is always a huge event. Among the celebrities enjoying themselves was Josh Coxx of the cable TV show “Strong Medicine.” I’m a big fan of Coxx’s character, the mid-wife Peter Riggs. Coxx told me he was at CineVegas as an attendee because he is a big supporter of young filmmakers.

With Vladimir Lacas
Photographs by John Bradfield

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