June 14, 2009
By Kim Voynar
These folks at Cinevegas sure know how to throw some parties. I've skipped out on most of the bigger shindigs, but did make it to late-night bowling the other night (awesome time, and, for the record, drunk film biz people bowling = much hilarity if you're not drinking yourself) and to last night's smaller party in the Kingpin Suite at the Palms, which was just crazy. Bowling lanes in the suite, two tables of distributors (and a few non-distributors who managed to get in on the games) playing poker, DJ cranking out the tunes, amazing views of Vegas and a bathroom bigger than most NYC apartments.
I heard they shut the party down at 5AM, and even then a group of folks headed downstairs to a bar to keep the party hopping. I hung out at the party for a while before heading downstairs to get in on a poker game at the casino (and also for the record, guys should never assume a chick doesn't know how to play poker ... though I do thank the drunken gentlemen playing at my table for their heavy alcohol consumption, generally poor betting decisions, and mistaken assumptions about my poker naivety).
Since we've pretty much been inside the Palms non-stop since getting here on Wednesday, I took a brief break from the Palms last night to catch a Vegas show with my husband. We opted for Fantasy at the Luxor, which featured some nice choreography, a comedian, and dancing girls who were very ... cheerful and enthusiastic about their jobs.
Highlights for me, though? An older couple sitting at the end of the front row: the woman apparently thought they were going to see Menopause: The Musical or perhaps Carrot Top, because she about had a stroke when the dancing girls came out and sat through the entire thing with her lips pressed in a firm line, defensively clutching her large handbag to her chest as if someone might expect her to join in and take her own shirt off; and post-show, another older lady who turned to me in the bathroom following the show and said indignantly, "My husband told me that show was just going to be like seeing the Rockettes! He didn't tell me there would be ... naked bosoms!" What can you say to that? It's Sin City, lady. I just nodded and made some appropriately sympathetic noises.
You might think with all the distractions Vegas has to offer, it would be hard to focus on the movies. Actually, it's not, thanks to a schedule that starts the movies late in the day (for a fest) without too much overlap with other fest events. I have to give some props to artistic director Trevor Goth and the programming team for the fest slate, too; while not every film I've seen has been great (which is true of any fest, even Sundance, Toronto or Cannes), the Cinevegas programming staff has put together a nice balance of more accessible mainstream-ish films with some interesting, gutsy, artistic selections.
Black Dynamite (which, by the bye, just won the Audience Award at the Seattle International Film Festival) was well-responded to here, and was great fun. I was talking to a fellow female fest attendee last night about nudity in film, and the difference between the gratuitous nudity versus nudity that's actually relevant to either the storyline or the style of the film. In Black Dynamite what nudity there is, falls squarely for me in the context of being appropriate to the mock-Blaxploitation tone of the film, and is no more offensive than the director's choice to cast a lot of black guys as pimps and dealers, or to make the stereotypical belief about the size of black male penises pivotal to the plot. It is what it is, and Black Dynamite works very, very well, thanks largely to excellent direction from Scott Sanders, who knew exactly what he wanted to do with this film and accomplished it. Also, Michael Jai White is great in the role, and seems to be having a great time kicking the ass of "The Man" from start to finish.
By contrast, I'm not sure exactly what the director of Etienne! was going for. He has a kind of interesting idea here about this dorky, lonely guy who lavishes all his attention on his pet dwarf hamster, Etienne. When he learns his beloved pet has cancer and needs to be put down, he decides to take Etienne on a vacation to show him some of the world before he dies. It's a quirky idea, and there are moments when the idea works, but the acting is mostly wooden and awkward (perhaps that's intentional, but I found it annoying). Also, sweet as the story idea is, the overall execution is overly clunky and way overlong (by which I mean, the last half hour at least doesn't even need to be there). Actually, I think Etienne! would have been better as a short film, because it largely feels like a small idea stretched way too thin in the attempt to make it feature length. On the plus side, the hamster is cute, there are a few funny moments here and tehre, and there's some great music, particularly by Great Northern.
Another interesting film at the fest is Asylum Seekers, about a group of six people vying for one empty slot in an insane asylum. This is one trippy, original, fantasy/horror/comedy film of the type that feels very much as if it was conceived under the influence of psychotropics (not that I'm saying that's the case, of course, just that it feels insane and hallucinogenic in that kind of way). It felt kind of like a bizarre combination of Alice in Wonderland on LSD and Shock Treatment (the wretchedly bad sequel to Rocky Horror Picture Show), and while I frequently found myself thinking, "What the hell?" while watching it, it grew on me by the end. While it isn't artsy-experimental like Redland, it is artistic in its own freakish, over-the-top way, and it's certainly imaginative and completely different from any other film you're likely to run across at a fest. Director Rania Ajami displays a fairly sure hand with her execution, and given what I assume must have been a typically small indie-film budget, the film looks great.
I also very much enjoyed Winnebago Man, in which director Ben Steinbauer became obsessed with tracking down Jack Rebney, better known to many folks through YouTube as The Winnebago Man (or, alternatively, The World's Angriest Man) courtesy of a viral video of outtakes of Rebney taken during an industrial video shoot for the recreational vehicles, in which he rants and swears most impressively. Steinbauer managed to track down Rebney, considered by found video afficionados to be a "holy grail" of sorts, to find out what happened to him. While I'm not normally in favor of the director of a documentary being in the film itself, this particular case is an exception, given that the story is somewhat about the relationship that evolves between Steinbauer and his crusty, curmudgeonly subject.
Winnebago Man is an immensely enjoyable film, and that's at least in part due to some excellent editing choices by Malcolm Pullinger. It's also worth noting that one of the cinematographers credited on the film is Brad Beesley, who also shot and directed the surprisingly poignant Summercamp!, which is one of my favorite underappreciated documentaries.
The fest is winding down, more or less, with the awards ceremony tonight, followed by the after party at the Playboy Club. For reasons I don't exactly recall, my flight home isn't until later in the day on Tuesday, so hoping to catch up with some screeners of films I missed during the fest tomorrow ... and maybe a wee bit more Texas Hold 'Em before heading home to Seattle for a week with the family before taking off again for the Los Angeles Film Festival.