Film Festivals

CINEVEGAS FILM FESTIVAL 2009

By • Jun 20th, 2009 •

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The 11th Annual CineVegas Film Festival

The 11th annual CineVegas Film Festival, held in Las Vegas, opened with SAINT JOHN OF LAS VEGAS starring Steve Buscemi. I saw 15 CineVegas movies in 5 days (plus THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123), saw three genuine movie stars, chatted up Willem Dafoe at the screening of PALERMO SHOOTING (he didn’t have a choice. I realized he was sitting 2 empty seats away from me when I started loudly gossiping with another film critic. She kept making that gesture that says ‘look who’s next to you and shut up’! I took the opportunity to praise him and complain about his CineVegas interviewer – more about this forthwith. He was very gracious and I think he may have agreed with me), did one interview with the director of EASIER WITH PRACTICE (Winner of the Grand Jury Prize), and discovered the new star of comedies, Gavin McInnes, starring in the short film, ASSHOLE, that preceded HUMPDAY.

The Opening Night Party was held at Prive inside Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino. Nightclubs are so dark you have to bring a flashlight with you. I wore a miner’s headlight. Going to the bathroom in pitch darkness and heels requires hazard pay.

SAINT JOHN OF LAS VEGAS celebrates a degenerate gambler and the menagerie of characters that color the Las Vegas landscape. Somewhere in Las Vegas one can find wheelchair-bound strippers, men perpetually on fire, and arrogant midget bosses. Peter Dinklage can do no wrong! I even liked him in ‘Nip/Tuck’ as Julia’s love interest. SAINT JOHN’S co-star Sarah Silverman walked the red carpet. Didn’t you love her YouTude sensation, “I’m F**king Matt Damon”?. “I’m F**king Matt Damon” was her special gift to her boyfriend, ABC late night host Jimmy Kimmel, celebrating their 5 year anniversary. Kimmel than countered with his own video, “I’m F**king Ben Affleck”.

They broke up soon after. It has been rumored that maybe they are back together again.

Thursday I saw MOON and the documentary BEAUTIFUL DARLING. I knew Candy Darling, the subject of writer-director James Rasin’s documentary. MOON is directed by Duncan Jones, the son of David Bowie. However, this is totally immaterial. I’m against nepotism (and I’m talking to you, Scott Caan and Rumer Willis) when it forces untalented relatives down our throats. Duncan Jones can stand on his own.

MOON stars Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell, an astronaut working for a corporation on the far side of the moon. His three-year contract is about to expire. He is going home to his wife and daughter. Sam is alone maintaining a lunar facility and the automated machines which are harvesting the moon’s surface for Helium 3. The harvested material is then sent back to Earth to use as energy. Sam’s only companion is the ship’s HAL (voiced by Kevin Spacey).

An accident on the Moon changes everything for Sam and the story is very compelling and interesting. Rockwell is terrific and this is a must-see film.

“Why would you give up the winning hand?” Fran Lebowitz

Isn’t Fran Lebowitz terrific? Lebowitz cleverly summed up her opinion regarding men who want to radically change themselves into women. James Slattery transformed himself into Candy Darling, becoming one of Andy Warhol’s Factory stars. She died at 29 years of age. Jeremiah Newton knew James and when Candy died he retained all her diaries and much archival footage. A childhood friend, Michael J. Newman, lovingly financed BEAUTIFUL DARLING. I had a long talk with Michael, the Executive Producer of the film, and he is rightly very proud of the film. It is a wonderful, insightful documentary with extraordinary footage. I knew Candy well and always saw Candy as a woman.

On Friday I saw DAYLIGHT, ALL IN: THE POKER MOVIE and EASIER WITH PRACTICE.

I loved DAYLIGHT (everyone I talked to did). It was one of the highlights of the festival. Married couple Irene and Daniel are expecting their first child in a few weeks. Even though they are driving a Maserati sports car (the 2009 model begins at $128,000) they stop and pick up a hitchhiker! The hitchhiker puts a knife to Irene’s throat and makes Daniel drive to an elegant house. There they are victimized by three terrifying murderers. Irene’s, and especially Daniel’s, passivity only heightens the tension. It also shows what not to do when in this situation. Highly effective, frightening and ultimately satisfying, this is one of two movies I would see again. The other is BRONSON.

The best thing about the highly entertaining ALL IN: THE POKER MOVIE is how sharp and witty the poker stars were. Poker champions thought it was really funny that people want to consider poker players athletes. As one champion poker player said, “Poker players push chips across a table. How is that a sport?”

EASIER WITH PRACTICE. Everyone had an opinion about EASIER WITH PRACTICE. The entire cast was there including Davy Rothbart, whose GQ article (“What Are You Wearing?”) was the basis for the movie. Davy Mitchell (Brian Geraghty) is a lonely guy uncomfortable in his skin. On a road trip for his self-published book with his brother, he takes a call while in a hotel room. It’s a girl named Nicole, who engages him in highly satisfying phone sex. In fact, Nicole calls Davy all the time having phone sex.

Eventually, Davy wants to meet Nicole.

I enjoyed talking with the writer-director Kyle Patrick Alvarez and pointedly asked him, “Did you really believe Davy Rothbart?” Because I certainly did not. Davy was not being played by Nicole. And this is why EASIER WITH PRACTICE was one of the more successful films of the festival. Everyone had an opinion that they wanted to discuss. Also, as a director, Alvarez gave the material a poignancy that many other comedies try to achieve. That is not easy.

I remember reading about a housebound woman who spent months talking to Robert DeNiro and other stars on a daily basis. They started to confide in her! And she was a fraud, but she was, apparently, an interesting conversationalist! Or, DeNiro was lonely.

On Saturday I saw GODSPEED, HUMPDAY and one of my CineVegas favorites, the short ASSHOLE. Gavin McInnes (pictured) will be a star stepping into the spot made vacant by Will Ferrell. Of course, Will could always re-team with his Funny or Die co-star, Pearl McKay.

I heard Pearl retired after her triumph in THE LANDLORD. But, given the right perks and contract, she might reconsider a comeback.

All I have to say about HUMPDAY is: They blew the ending!

GODSPEED was directed & written by Robert Saitzyk. It is a thriller set in Alaska. Charlie Shepard (Joseph McKelheer) is a modern-day faith healer who ekes out a blue-collar existence from his “healing” sessions to support his wife and young son. But just as his business starts to fail and an old drinking habit comes back to haunt him his family is brutally murdered by unknown assailants for seemingly no reason.

Six months later, Charlie has abandoned his former life and meets a young girl named Sarah (Courtney Halverson) who has come looking for him. She asks him to go with her to heal her ailing father. Charlie goes but never meets her father, instead, he finds out who killed his family. McKelheer’s gives a riveting and layered performance.

Sunday was my marathon. I saw YOUTH KNOWS NO PAIN, the indulgent MERCY, ASYLUM SEEKERS, Willem Dafoe’s first starring role in THE LOVELESS, and the 11PM screening of the fantastic BRONSON. After Vanguard Actor Award recipient Willem Dafoe’s shortened discussion with Elvis Mitchell (Jon Voight used up Dafoe’s allotted time making a political speech), I went to see John Travolta gleefully enjoying himself in THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123. I hated the ending. Elegant planning and then a silly, contrived ending! Sometimes people get away with crime. Just look at the Madoff sons, Mark and Andrew! And what about Bernie’s wife Ruth? In my opinion she was squirreling away millions for decades (unbeknownst to Bernie) getting her own sweet revenge against evil, philandering Bernie. Serial killers wives always know. Ruth Madoff knew.

YOUTH KNOWS NO PAIN. When the documentarian puts themselves in the movie, they should follow the example of Michael Moore and YOUTH’S director Mitch McCabe. Bill Mahler’s self-importance and exalted self-image ruined RELIGULOUS. But, everyone wants to be in movies, right?

Rule Number 1: You never mock your subjects. You put them in the best light and allow them to make fools of themselves. Never judge your subjects.

Mitch McCabe is 38 years old and the daughter of a plastic surgeon. (McCabe was at CineVegas and is lovely.) She’s the real star of YOUTH. However, in YOUTH she lets her disinterest in her own beauty create a charming presence. She does not insult any of her subjects. She likes them. And, McCabe freely admits, divulging into the subject of plastic surgery made her begin to see wrinkles and jowls she never noticed on herself.

Her father never let her think there was anything wrong with her!

All I will say on the subject is this: When I went on a cruise to Antarctica I saw what women look like who have never even put a cream on their faces. It’s terrifying. I hope to follow in Joan Rivers’ footsteps when I am 80 years old.

One plastic surgery maven bluntly told her: “Face it. You let yourself go.”

MERCY. Scott Caan wrote the script, stars, and produced MERCY. He wrote a father-son confrontation scene. The cast was at CineVegas and graciously did a Q&A after the screening I attended. Caan plays a very successful novelist who has lots of Hollywood celebrity friends. He’s a player! But he does not know how to love! He’s a sexy beast too! He starts seeing a journalist named Mercy, who is dangerously thin and a blank slate. He falls hard for her, but why? There is nothing interesting about her. Mercy is not an object of desire.

As a screenwriter, Caan is only interested in showcasing himself as a leading man. This is Caan’s audition reel. Why cast actors and actresses who show how tiny Caan is? MERCY fails as a story because we don’t care about Mercy.

The cast walked up to the front of the theater for a Q&A. Only veteran movie star James Caan positioned himself at the end of the line, thus placing himself in the spotlight. Everyone else was standing in the dark. That’s the sign of a real star!

We waited on line for well over an hour to be seated for the Discussion with Willem Dafoe. The interviewed was conducted by self-icon Elvis Mitchell who was more interested in solidifying his friendship with a movie star instead of interviewing him for the audience. I find Mitchell embarrassingly pretentious. What the hell was he talking about? Something to do with the philosophical meaning of Dafoe’s choices? Mitchell offered that Dafoe’s roles all had to do with “fear”. Huh? Didn’t Mitchell ever see TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.?

Dafoe has had an amazing and varied career! Imagine what we could have learned about his working with Oliver Stone in PLATOON, starring opposite Madonna in BODY OF EVIDENCE and becoming The Green Goblin! Though Dafoe kept mentioning his latest film, Lars von Trier’s ANTICHRIST, Mitchell wasn’t interested. Well, I was!

One of the most daring movies, and one of my all-time favorites, is von Trier’s BREAKING THE WAVES. He is a notorious tough director. After a toxic working relationship with him on DANCER IN THE DARK, Bjork vowed she would never act in films again. And von Trier had an infamous three-hour screaming match with Nicole Kidman when they were making DOGVILLE. Kidman later pledged, in front of hundreds of journalists, to extend the film into a trilogy. Then Kidman backed out.

Mitchell never even asked Dafoe, ‘Who is your co-star in ANTICHRIST?’

What was it like for Dafoe to work with von Trier? Don’t know. What about the controversy surrounding the explicit scenes of violence, including genital mutilation in ANTICHRIST? Don’t know. Dafoe asked us to give the movie a chance. Mitchell wanted to talk about the last time they met.

Since Marquee Award recipient Jon Voight’s political monologue ran long during his Conversation With Elvis Mitchell, Dafoe did not answer any questions from the audience and was given only a half hour.

Trier was raised by nudist Jewish Communist parents who did not allow much room in their household for “feelings, religion, or enjoyment,” as von Trier later said. His mother revealed on her deathbed in 1995 that the man he thought was his father was not. After an initial meeting with his real father, his real father refused to speak to him. After these revelations von Trier rebelled against his past and converted to Catholicism.

In the brief time he had, Dafoe spoke not to Mitchell but directly to the audience. His charm was evident. He appeared humble, gentle, and honest. But what he thinks about Oliver Stone, I have no clue. When I told Dafoe how sexy and devastatingly handsome he was in THE LOVELESS, he said, “So you want to know what happened to me, right?”

I wasn’t bold enough to tell Dafoe that his very high cheekbones and pronounced brow ridge are acknowledged as signs of extremely high testosterone thus telegraphing a sense of pleasure in danger (i.e., naturally aggressive) and a signal of high sexuality.

I study genetics on weekends.

An aside to pompous Inside the Actors Studio’s James Lipton: pompous Elvis Mitchell is nipping at your heels and eying your job. He doesn’t need index cards and he knows every movie star personally!

BRONSON. “My name’s Charles Bronson…and all my life I’ve wanted to be famous”. BRONSON is the story of the U.K.’s most famous and notorious prisoner, originally born Michael Gordon Peterson. He renamed himself Charlie Bronson and has spent 34 years in prison – for minor crimes. He has spent 30 years in solitary confinement!

Tom Hardy as Bronson is spectacular and spellbinding. Hardy consulted with Bronson prior to filming and not only transformed himself physically into Bronson but has taken from the man his joy and lust for violence.

Bronson makes no apologies.

If you thought Viggo Mortensen’s notorious six-minute nude fight scene in EASTERN PROMISES was daring, BRONSON now takes pride of place. There is no fancy camera work here. Charlie, in true gladiator fashion, strips off all his clothes to fight with multiple guards hurling clubs several times while in various prisons. He gives speeches in full frontal nudity.

This film is highly original and is one of the three films I keep thinking about. CineVegas was lucky to be able to show BRONSON. Unfortunately, it was screened only once at 11PM.

Monday was my sacrifice to the God of Cinema. I sat through THE HEADLESS WOMAN and PALERMO SHOOTING. Wim Wenders, the director of PALERMO SHOOTING, is finished. He either has a house in Palermo he rented out for the shoot or wanted an Italian vacation. PALERMO SHOOTING is about a very wealthy, lionized photographer, Finn, who survives a minor car accident. Selfish, self-indulgent Finn (Campino) is traumatized and starts thinking about his mortality. He gets to meet Death (Dennis Hopper). Unfortunately, Finn doesn’t die. (Death doesn’t want him. He’s a crybaby and a bore.) PALERMO SHOOTING was matched with the equally terrible THE HEADLESS WOMAN. (Willem Dafoe sat through both with his son!)

No one knows what THE HEADLESS WOMAN was about. I asked.

And finally, I ended the festival with ADAM starring Hugh Dancy as young man with Asperger’s Syndrome.

While watching ADAM I couldn’t stop thinking about the sage advice from TROPIC OF THUNDER’S Kirk Lazarus (pictured): “Everybody knows you never go full retard.”

Adam doesn’t go full retard.

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