CineVegas Film Festival: Day 2 (Sunday, June 12, 2005)
Another difference between the hectic, over-scheduled Sundance and the more relaxed CineVegas is that the earliest screening here on any given day is 1 p.m. (Sundance sometimes wants you somewhere at 9 a.m., which is madness.) So I started today by spending a couple hours in the Hub (aka festival headquarters), writing.
The Hub has several tables, plenty of chairs, a few couches, and a bank of computers (the new iMac G5s that I covet lustily). It also has a big-screen TV on which some DVDs of Warner Bros. cartoons were playing. It also has three arcade games: Ms. Pac-Man, Area 51 and Cruis’n Exotica, misplaced apostrophe and everything. Many of the festival volunteers are the kind of guys who like to play video games (i.e., tools), so it makes sense.
My first film was at 1:30, a documentary called “Mad Hot Ballroom.” It already has distribution and in fact had its premiere at this year’s Slamdance, making it one of the few movies ever to actually go anywhere after bowing there. In the vein of “Spellbound,” it will surely be one of the year’s top documentaries, focusing on three New York City elementary schools’ ballroom dancing programs. It culminates in a tournament, of course, and there is much suspense over who will win. The kids are fifth-graders, which is perfect: They’re old enough to be developing distinct personalities, but not so old that they’re trying to act like adults. It’s a funny, exuberant movie, a crowd-pleaser in the best sense of the term.
Up next, with barely a break in between, was “The Outsider.” This is another documentary, about maverick movie director James Toback (“The Pick-up Artist,” “Two Girls and a Guy,” several others that you haven’t heard of, either). It follows him during the 12-day shooting schedule of his 2004 film “When Will I Be Loved?,” and is basically 90 minutes of Toback fawning over his past and present actors (Brooke Shields, Neve Campbell, Mike Tyson), while actors and other filmmakers gush about what a genius Toback is, and how he’ll never sell out, and how he’s the very height of awesomeness. I suppose if you’re a huge James Toback fan, this is probably a great movie for you. Me, I yawned a lot.
Only five minutes after THAT movie ended, I was in ANOTHER one, yet another documentary, and another doc about how dancing keeps kids off the streets. It is “Rize,” which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, has distribution, and is not nearly as good as “Mad Hot Ballroom,” the movie it will probably be compared to due to similar material and film-festival origins.
It’s about a Los Angeles guy named Tommy the Clown who more or less invented a frenetic, jerky style of street dancing called “clowning.” The film reports that there are more than 50 clown groups, whose members paint their faces, often wear goofy costumes, and perform at parties, street festivals, drive-by shootings, etc.
The clowning movement inspires a break-off group calling “krumpers,” krumping being an even faster, more angry-looking style of clowning. There is a rivalry between the two movements, culminating in a dance-off.
Now, normally I consider any movie that ends with a dance-off to be beyond reproach, but “Rize” leaves a lot to be desired. It never shows us the kids doing anything other than dancing and/or talking about dancing (and talking about how dancing took them off the streets). We don’t see them living their daily lives, and hence don’t come to know them or care about them. Or at least I didn’t. Maybe I’m just a jerk. I do like saying the word “krump,” though.
This film let out at 7, and my next one wasn’t until 8:30. Good thing, because I was hungrier than an Ethiopian Gandhi. Right between the theaters and the casino itself at the Palms is a food court, with McDonald’s, Panda Express, and a few other establishments, their prices all jacked up to near-airport heights. This is convenient, but I’d been inside the Palms for eight hours straight and I wanted to see what daylight was like. I stepped outside to see if there was another eating establishment within easy walking distance, but I didn’t see anything. So I went back inside and got some Panda Express. Fresh air is overrated anyway.
Signs say the Hub is only open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., but upon passing by it after eating my Panda, I discovered those hours only refer to the volunteer staff being on hand to answer questions and play video games. Now, after hours, it was a sort of lounge/nightclub, with a DJ playing easy-going dance tunes and a little bar set up. Maybe this is the norm in Vegas. Maybe here, no matter what kind of establishment you run, when you turn the “OPEN” sign off, it turns into a nightclub. At any rate, I relaxed in the Hub for a while and did a smattering of writing.
The 8:30 movie was “Inside Out,” a world premiere about an upscale suburban street that is knocked for a loop when a mysterious man moves in. I think the movie wants to be a psychological thriller, and perhaps even a dark satire of suburbia, but man does it ever suck. It has a few “name” actors — Steven Weber, Eriq LaSalle … OK, two “name” actors — and I don’t know what possessed them to do the movie, with its preposterous twists, lurid story lines and unbelievably predictable “surprises.”
Oh, and the dialogue. Let’s play a game: Imagine you’re improvising a scene where your neighbor is making a lot of noise very late at night. It has woken you up. You walk across the street to confront him. What do you say?
“It’s 2 o’clock in the morning!”
Was that the first thing that came to your mind? I bet it was. And I bet you even thought of that exact time: 2 o’clock. That’s the standard “really late at night” hour that movies and TV shows always use. “Inside Out” uses it twice. On two different occasions, someone indignantly declares, “It’s 2 o’clock in the morning!”
I’m sorry, but was this the rough draft of the script? Did no one give it a once-over to look for lame, obvious or generic dialogue? Ugh.
By the time this trainwreck was finished, it was nearly 10:30, and time for a CineVegas-sponsored party. The Sundance-sponsored parties are usually kinda lame, but you have to figure the people in Las Vegas know how to throw a shindig. So I was looking forward to it.
It was at the Bellagio, a few blocks from the Palms, on the Las Vegas Strip. I changed into party-appropriate clothing (I’d been wearing shorts and a T-shirt all day, and that sort of thing is not allowed at these upscale places) and drove over, stopping at the security checkpoint at the front of the Bellagio’s parking structure. They were making everyone open their trunks before they could pass. What are they afraid of, that we’re smuggling Gamblers Anonymous representatives into the casino?
Once inside the Bellagio, I realized I had no idea where, exactly, the party was. It’s a vast place, with conference rooms, convention centers, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, brothels, slaughterhouses, convents, you name it. I picked up a courtesy phone and called the Bellagio operator to ask where the CineVegas party was being held. She had no idea. She checked her lists and found nothing. She asked someone else. No one knew. I thanked her for her trouble and hung up, wondering if, as with the CineVegas volunteers when I had asked for “headquarters,” I had confused her by failing to use the right terminology. Maybe if I had asked for the CineVegas “soiree,” rather than “party,” she’d have known exactly what I meant.
Anyway, I walked around the casino some more, hoping to spot something that said “CineVegas.” The Bellagio is much nicer than the Palms. Where the Palms is littered with tobacco-stained octogenarians pulling slot machines, and large-bosomed cocktail girls smiling lewdly at passersby, the Bellagio seems altogether more upscale. I hesitate to use the word “classy,” but it’s definitely less nightmarish.
After a few minutes, I noticed a place called Light. That rang a bell: The info sheet had said “Light at Bellagio.” It hadn’t made sense before, but now it did. Light was the name of one of the Bellagio’s nightclubs, and all CineVegas passholders were allowed entrance tonight. It was open to the public, too, though, so dozens of young people, the men overdressed and the women barely dressed, were clamoring to get in. I made my way to the front, showed my badge to the phalanx of swarthy Italian-Americans serving as bouncers, and was admitted.
The club was dark, loud and smoky, like you’d expect a nightclub to be. DJs were playing dance music, and a crowded dance floor was the club’s central feature. I soon realized this was no “party” that CineVegas was “sponsoring.” This was a regular old nightclub, open to the Bellagio-going public seven nights a week, and CineVegas had merely worked out a deal where passholders could get in without paying a cover charge. That’s nice and all, but drinks weren’t free, and there was no food. So how is that a party? If I invited you to my house for a party and then charged you for beverages and offered no refreshments, you’d say I was a poor host who didn’t know how to throw a party. In fact, you’d probably question my grasp of the meaning of the word “party.” I’m just sayin’.
Weary from the day’s labors and seeing I had no reason to stay at the Bellagio, I headed home. I saw four movies today, with four more scheduled tomorrow. I needed my beauty sleep, more so than usual.