This is a repost from my now defunct multiply.com blog. I am rescuing old posts and adding them here.
Instead of reviewing each film separately, I thought I would review my overall experience at the film festival and briefly comment on the films I saw.
Last year, my first experience with CineVegas, I attended a few movies, each by buying an individual ticket. A couple I was unable to see because they were sold out or waitlisted. This year, I decided to buy a pass. The local’s pass was an incredible deal. It included all the films, most of the evening parties (with to and from shuttle service), all panels and tributes, and the CineVegas lounge (which had free food and cocktails). Pass holders are granted access to the theaters before any ticket holders so I was able to see everything I wanted to without dealing with too many lines. I did miss some movies, but that was more because of my own conflicts (work and social).
Overall I would say the experience was amazing. I will definitely plan to do this every year (and maybe next year take some vacation time off work so I can enjoy the parties a little more). It isn’t just about seeing movies. Many of the screenings are followed by Q&A sessions with people involved in the film (including Directors, Actors, Writers and Producers). This behind the scenes look at the films is really exciting.
I attended the panel discussions for Charlize Theron and Sir Ben Kingsley (scheduling conflicts permitted me from attending the Anthony Hopkins and Mike Newell panels). When Charlize entered the room, I myself and the people sitting on both sides of me exclaimed ‘wow’. She was stunning, and seemed extremely intelligent too. They showed clips from a few of her upcoming movies (one in particular, Battle in Seattle, penned by her beau Stuart Townsend, looked terrific). Sir Ben Kingsley was absolutely entertaining. I didn’t know he could do so many impressions. He was extremely impressive and humorous in his story telling (and had Dennis Hopper chuckling quite a bit as well). I am a huge fan!
I attended the late night Q&A session with Dennis Hopper and David Lynch, prior to the screening of 1986’s Blue Velvet. I was thrilled to see the Bruce Campbell’s Q&A before and after his new film, My Name is Bruce.
There were parties and events every night, but I didn’t take any time off work, so attended only a couple, and only for a short amount of time. I did go to the Las Vegas Weekly hosted party at the top of the Stratosphere (I had never been up there before). Lots of food at this one… I also attended the party at the Beatle’s Revolution Lounge at the Mirage (mostly because I hadn’t been there before either).
The closing night party was a joint event between Vegas Magazine’s Anniversary and CineVegas’ closing. It was at the beach at Mandalay Bay. It was a huge and wildly ‘Vegas’ party. Katherine McPhee was the entertainment.
About the movies…
There were many I heard were great that I didn’t get to see for whatever reason. I picked and chose based on the brief synopsis, the schedule, maybe the cast, maybe the director/producer. I did my best to see as many as I could. I won’t say any were bad. I walked out on one, but I would guess it is someone’s taste, just not mine. Without further ado…
There are approximately 30 million surveillance cameras in the United States capturing covert images of average Americans as much as 200 times a day. They’re watching in department stores, gas stations, changing rooms, public bathrooms—seemingly no one and nowhere is free from the dispassionate eye of the hidden camera. LOOK lets you do just that: several interweaving storylines are expanded over the course of a random week in a random city…with all action experienced from the point of view of the security cameras.
My Take: 5 stars. This was one of my favorites, and I was not alone. This film won the 2007 CineVegas Jury Award. It wasn’t even on my list to see, but a few people saw the first screening and told me it was a must. They were right. I thought it was going to be a documentary. It wasn’t. It’s a scripted film with actors. It is just all shown to us through the lens of surveillance cameras. And what those cameras catch, at times, is shocking.
Q&A Tidbit: The director said they actually tried to film it using real surveillance cameras, but the quality was too grainy. They filmed in high quality HD then added the noise to make it seem authentic.
Fifteen-year-old Owen Norris (Alex Linz) wants to know how the world works…and he’s about to learn. Owen is at the top of his graduating middle-school class, has no friends and spends almost all of his time studying. But his boring suburban life changes when he meets Congressman Lawrence Connor (Steven Weber) and his young nephew Caleb.
Impressed by his intelligence and wit and seeing his budding friendship with Caleb, Connor offers Owen an entré into politics by acting as his “youth campaign spokesman” for the upcoming Senate primaries. What starts as a fun way to make some extra summer cash takes a turn as Owen learns some terrible truths about his erstwhile new profession.
My Take: 4 stars. My review of this film is slainted because I was so impressed with the writer director, Luke Eberl, who was all of 17 when he wrote this story. I added an extra star just for that. Also, Steven Weber (Wings, Studio 60) gives what I think is probably one of his finest performances as the candidate Connor.
Q&A Tidbit: The director and a bunch of the actors were present for the Q&A. The kids (ok, they were maybe 20) were so adorable and so talented. After the Q&A I ran into veteran actor Erick Avari and asked him what it was like filming with all these kids. He said, “Weren’t they incredible? Fuck em.” He was joking of course.
Following on his cult success of Incident At Loch Ness, director Zak Penn gives the mockumentary treatment to the overexposed world of professional poker in THE GRAND, the hilarious story of six poker players who make it to the final table of the world’s most famous high stakes tournament.
The stellar cast is led by Woody Harrelson, who is almost a parody of himself as a stoner prone to vices (75 marriages). He is about to inherit his dead grandfather’s casino, but only if he can win the tourney and get the casino away from real-estate developer and scene-stealer Michael McKean. Meanwhile, the king of cards might actually be a queen: Cheryl Hines steps into the spotlight and out of the shadow of her card shark husband Ray Romano and brother David Cross. Not enough fun for you? Then watch out for eternally cool tough guy Dennis Farina and über-director-turned-actor Werner Herzog, playing a man who must “kill a living thing every day.”
By the end, this simple-sounding poker comedy morphs into a portrait of the strains and bonds of family that turns out to be as intelligent as it is hilarious. The characters learn plenty, and not just about poker. You’ll definitely laugh, but the surprise is that you might even cry a bit.
My Take: 5 stars. This was my favorite of the festival. I am positive it will be coming to a theater near you. It has a huge cast of well known faces. I happen to watch poker on TV a lot and I think I enjoyed this even more because of that. It was a very ‘Christopher Guest’ type movie. If you know what I mean by that, then you should go see this film.
Q&A Tidbit: The final scene, the final table at the poker tournament, was played for real. The writer/director had multiple endings ready and no one knew which they would go with because it all depended on who actually (real life) won their fictitious poker game.
Eagle vs Shark
Which is the more dangerous predator: an eagle or a shark? That’s a trick question. Don’t try to answer it. You’ll have your own opinion by the end of Taika Waititi’s deliciously tangy, deadpan feature debut about two colorful misfits thrown into each other’s orbit.
Lily is one of those weird, sweet-natured girls with stringy hair who is quite lovely and charismatic under a surface of shy awkwardness. She cashiers at a fast-food joint and pines for Jarrod, the self-aggrandizing, clueless geek from the computer store across the way. Fiercely optimistic, Lily crashes Jarrod’s animal/video-game extravaganza, impressing him enough with her shark suit and gaming prowess to score a hookup with Eagle Lord (Jarrod) himself. Soon Lily and her brother are driving Jarrod back to his hometown to confront his childhood nemesis. But here Jarrod’s self-absorption blossoms so mightily that it may drive even the most adoring of girlfriends away.
My Take: 2.5 stars. It was cute, but it was a little quirky. And normally I like quirky but it was trying to be quirky and that isn’t good…
Nora (Parker Posey) isn’t broken; she just acts that way. She is actually sexy, funny, and creative, and her only fault is being cursed with that modern affliction of wanting more out of life than what others want for her. She must suffer quietly her best friend’s “perfect marriage,” a job she has outgrown, and a mother who constantly reminds her of it all. After yet another disastrous date, Nora meets Julian, a quirky Frenchman who won’t take no for an answer, and they embark on a romance that could either be exactly what she needs…or send her over the edge for good. For Nora, the edge is not far away.
My Take: 4 stars. Add a star if you love Parker Posey (I do). I saw this one with a fellow single thirty something female friend of mine and unfortunately we both could relate :). This film is definitely a chick flick. My rating is directly tied to the fact that I empathize with the character. The plot is formulaic, but it works (because Posey pulls it off so well). I recommend it if you are a female 25+ and remember the difficulties of dating.
My Name Is Bruce
Part BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, part INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS and part, yes, EVIL DEAD, MY NAME IS BRUCE is the story of the residents of Gold Lick, Oregon, who decide to kidnap EVIL DEAD star Bruce Campbell, who surely can help them defeat the evil monster (the Chinese God of War) that is terrorizing their small town.
Unfortunately, the belligerent, boozed up B-movie actor “Bruce Campbell” has no skills, so their shot at salvation seems to amount to nothing more than a monumentally bad idea. Yet, there may be hope for Campbell yet—if only he can find the faith in himself that the Gold Lickers have found.
My Take: I can’t rate it. I loved it, but I can’t rate it. First, it was a work-in-progress. The film wasn’t finished yet and parts still needed visual and sound effect work. Second, Bruce has a huge cult following (Army of Darkness, Evil Dead). These movies are ‘horror’, but funny horror- B movie horror. And this one is no different. The fact that Bruce Campbell plays the character of B Movie actor Bruce Campbell is awesome. He is self deprecating and egotistical and I loved it. But I would guess if you are not a follower of Bruce Campbell, you won’t get it. That’s ok. He has such a huge existing cult fan base; he isn’t trying to win you over.
Wiley Roth (Colin Hanks) finds a severed human finger in his kitchen one night. Understandably freaked out, Wiley and his best friend Mitch (Fran Kranz) set out across Los Angeles trying to solve the mystery of the finger. Along the way they come in contact with psychics, ineffectual police, crooked taxidermists, mysterious neighbors who might be drug dealers, and a nine-fingered woman named Cheryl (Rachel Blanchard) who might, improbably, be the girl of Wiley’s dreams.
My Take: 3 stars. This movie was ok. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad. It had me curious and it had some great casting (Tony Shaloub for one). Can I recommend it? I don’t know… ask me again in a couple months.
I Have Never Forgotten You: The Life & Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal
Only a few weeks after being released from the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, Simon Weisenthal, originally trained as an architect, started on what would be his life’s work: finding and bringing to justice fugitive Nazis. He went after it with boundless enthusiasm and a passion to make sure we will never be allowed to forget.
This inspiring documentary comprehensively traces his life and career with a wealth of archival footage and revelatory interviews with his colleagues, family, and world leaders. Nicole Kidman narrates the story of his fascinating quest. Weisenthal helped bring to justice more than 1,100 Nazi war criminals and made plenty of enemies along the way, but it never deterred him. Oscar-winning director Richard Trank illuminates the core of Weisenthal’s being, what drove his search and kept him going. Combining the gripping mystery of a detective story with a haunting remembrance of the Holocaust, I HAVE NEVER FORGOTTEN YOU reveals Weisenthal’s courage, humility and jovial humor.
My Take: 5 stars. My only negative comment is that I forget to bring my Kleenex and I am sure my mascara was running down my face. It’s such a fascinating story and way they put together the footage was beautifully done. I knew of the story, but not this in depth, and I am so glad I know it now. If you get a chance, go see this documentary. It won the 2007 Audience Award for documentary.
In the Land of Merry Misfits
IN THE LAND OF MERRY MISFITS is a hilarious romp appropriately narrated by John Waters. Fearful of losing his gorgeous girlfriend—not to mention a cushy job with her wealthy father—Will Best hops in his old car and sets out to save his future. But when he opts for a shortcut through a mystical tunnel, his car breaks down and he becomes stranded in an alternate universe where a band of whimsical misfits believe he is “the chosen one,” sent to lead them in their quest to capture “the Grail of Popularity.”
My Take: Like I said in my intro, someone probably would like this movie, but not my taste. I tend to not like watching movies with characters that are, well, idiots. I didn’t watch Napoleon Dynamite, I don’t watch Jackass… you get the idea.
On the Road with Judas
On the Road with Judas is a film based on a real novel, written by a writer, played by an actor, about the real characters and the actors playing those characters in this story. It is also a delightful and fun romp about crime, love, and David Lee Roth.
Lask, the novelist, lives in two worlds, and both exist inside his mind. His characters are both “real” and “actors.” His main character, Judas, is also a man living a double life as an entrepreneur and a petty criminal.
My Take: 5 stars. A couple I met while attending the festival told me they walked out on this film. I was shocked. I asked why. They said they came in 10 minutes late, were completely confused, thought it was horrible and then left. Well that actually made sense. This is not the easiest of films to sit in, especially on day 10 of a 10 day movie festival. But I am glad I made the effort. It is confusing. There are actors playing real people and actors playing the actors playing real people and a writer who wrote the story of the fictional real people and all of this while a TV entertainment show interviews them… all of them. So yes, it is confusing. But not beyond understanding and totally worth it in the end.
Q&A Tidbit: JJ Lask said he hates movies today. He says the stories are just handed to you on a plate- beginning, middle, end. And you as the viewer do not need to be involved in the story. Hearing him say this, after watching this confusing yet entertaining movie, made perfect sense. I told him I appreciated his work. I saw him again at the Vegas Magazine party. I would have bought him a drink, but, well, drinks were free :).
You Kill Me
Director John Dahl made his reputation with the hard-boiled, film-noir, one-two punch of RED ROCK WEST and THE LAST SEDUCTION. With YOU KILL ME, he takes characters that could have come from that genre but delightfully plunges them into a romantic comedy. The result is a quietly outrageous film that works on many levels.
Frank Falenczyk (Ben Kingsley) loves his job as the hit-man for his Polish mob family in Buffalo. But Frank’s got a drinking problem and when he messes up a critical assignment, his uncle (Philip Baker Hall) sends him to San Francisco to clean up his act. Out on the Left Coast, Frank attends AA meetings and gets a job at a mortuary, where he falls for the tart-tongued Laurel (Téa Leoni), who is devoid of boundaries and clearly not mourning her stepdad’s sudden passing. Meanwhile, things get worse in Buffalo, where an upstart Irish gang threatens the family business. When violence erupts, Frank is forced to return home, and Laurel follows him.
My Take: 4 stars. I want to give it 5 because I fell in love with Sir Ben Kingsley during the panel discussion, but that has really nothing to do with this film…so I will keep that star to myself. He was magnificent (like that is a surprise). His character, although a hitman, is extremely likeable and it is not surprising that Tea Leoni’s character falls for him. At times Kingsley’s character and this movie reminded me a little bit of that awesome 1994 movie ‘The Professional’ with Jean Reno and Natalie Portman. This is one reason I am not giving this movie 5 stars. These characters are likeable and the ending is happy and what more can you really ask for in a love story about a hitman…?
Q&A Tidbit: The director said this script has been floating around Hollywood for over 10 years. Ben Kingsley got his hands on it and decided to help produce it. Many people weren’t sure if a love story about an alcoholic hit man would fly with audiences. AND in addition, would a romance between Ben Kingsley and Tea Leoni be accepted. He asked if we liked it. We all clapped.
Four friends, one monkey and a dead guy… . A lot can change in a night.
What would you do for your best friends? Take a punch? Wreck your car? How about hide a body? Deftly mixing comedy and drama, Todd Breau’s THROWING STARS introduces us to Mark, Bobby, Laith, and Hutto, four buddies who do all of these things—and a lot more—over the course of one wild night.
Like so much trouble, it all starts with good intentions, as Mark’s friends band together to rouse him from a personal and professional funk. Unfortunately, their tools for therapy are their favorite childhood toys, the titular weapons better known as ninja accessories. So, as you might have already surmised, this leads to the inevitable and soooo clichéd feud with a crazed meth dealer/animal porn impresario. Then things start to get really weird.
My Take: 5 stars. I really enjoyed this movie. Apparently CineVegas audience members agreed because this movie won the Audience award for narrative film. It is the quintessential buddy movie. The chemistry between the 4 friends (and the monkey) was undeniable and you instantly felt that not only have they all been friends since childhood, but you have known them all along too. The comedy comes at you at unexpected moments and leaves you with a lasting smile on your face.
Q&A Tidbit: The director said he and the 4 actors hung out and partied together for a while before shooting began. He believes that is what helped with the realism of their friendship.
While campaigning in Ohio for John Kerry in 2004, John Logue (Breckin Meyer) vows to move to Canada if George W. Bush wins the 2004 election. Bad idea. With the results tallied and Kerry’s concession speech in the can, John returns to San Francisco to find his job and girlfriend gone and his friends egging him on to keep his campaign promise. The liberal safe harbor group “Marry-A-Canadian” offers John their support, and before he knows it he’s on the road to Winnipeg, literally and figuratively.
My Take: 4 stars. This was very cute and I think I enjoyed it most because I could relate to the premise. I actually knew a few people that said they would move to Canada if Bush won the second term. Of course none of them did. That might be why this was so humorous, b/c the main character ends up following through with that promise and it is quite hilarious. In the end I liked this because it was about the ways you can take a stand or try to protest something and, not to spoil anything; I felt it was both inspiring and patriotic.
Penelope is a magical modern-day fairy tale about love and self-acceptance. It is the story of a young woman, Penelope Wilhern (Christina Ricci), born to wealthy socialites (Richard E. Grant and Catherine O’Hara). Penelope is afflicted by a secret family curse that has turned her face into that of a pig. But there is hope. According to family lore, the curse can be broken when she is loved by one of her own kind. Hidden away in the family’s majestic home, she is subjected to meeting a string of blue-bloods through her parent’s futile attempt to marry her off and break the curse. Each suitor is instantly enamored with Penelope (and her sizable dowry)…until her face is revealed.
My Take: 5 stars. This was absolutely wonderful. I am certain this will be in general release soon. It was an adorable tale about love and self acceptance for all ages. The cast of characters were terrific. Reese Witherspoon stood out in a role uncharacteristic for her (she also produced the film). It was delightful and could be a good date movie or a great family movie.
When a college student returns to his hometown, he finds a severed ear and decides that finding the owner will take some sleuthing of Sherlock Holmes proportions. What he finds instead is a sensual woman and a group of evil misfits, and his world is changed forever.
My Take: 4 stars. This 20 year old movie is a cult classic and I feel strange even rating it. I hadn’t actually seen it before and was really glad to, not only see it on the big screen, but also enjoy a Q&A with David Lynch before the screening. This movie holds up after all these years and has David Lynch written all over…