Day 1 (Saturday, June 11):
The most noticeable thing about Las Vegas is the heat. Some of the natives today were talking about how it’s been “mild” so far this June, meaning it’s only been around 90. Fiery Las Vegas hosts a film festival in June; the arctic mountain town of Park City, Utah, hosts one in January. Obviously, the dates should be reversed. Maybe in August I’ll attend a film festival on the surface of the sun.
I have never liked Las Vegas, with its gaudy glitz and smarmy pseudo-entertainment, not to mention its oppressive heat and the ubiquity of leathery skanks trolling the sidewalks. But I do like movies, and CineVegas is jam-packed with them, and so I am pleased to be here. I have friends here, too, which makes the trip even better (not to mention cheaper, as they have a guest bed).
For readers whose experience with film festivals, like mine, has been limited to Sundance, let me explain a few differences. CineVegas is much smaller. Where Sundance has 120 movies playing three or four times over the course of 10 days on more than a dozen venues, CineVegas has 38 films playing once or twice on three screens — and all three screens are in the same multiplex, the Brenden Theatres at the Palms Casino. (Of course the film festival is held in a casino. Where else would you hold an event in Las Vegas?)
There are fewer people in general at CineVegas, and not as many celebrities. And while everyone at Sundance dresses in black, anyone wearing all black in Las Vegas in June would burst into flames. The fest has only been around a few years, but it has grown impressively in that time. If it continues on the path it’s currently on, in a few years it could be as big as Sundance, both in size and reputation, if it wants to be.
I rolled into town at about 2:30 today, hoping to quickly check in and catch a 3 p.m. screening. (There are no press screenings at CineVegas, only public ones to which the press are granted access.) I found the movie theaters and a festival merchandise booth quickly and asked a pair of volunteers where festival headquarters are. They were stymied by the word “headquarters,” responding like foreigners who had never heard the term before. “Headquarters?” they said, looking at each other. To further explain, I added, “Where I can pick up my press pass?” Then the lights went on and they said, in unison, “Oh, the Hub!” and explained where the Hub was (past a lot of slot machines, down a hall). I don’t know why “headquarters” didn’t register as a synonym for “Hub,” but what can you do? They’re volunteers.
I found the Hub and picked up my press pass. The nice lady told me my pass would admit me to all screenings and that I would not even have to wait in line. This last part turned out to be untrue, but again, what can you do? I found my HollywoodB****slap.com friend Erik, also in line for the 3 p.m. screening, and waited with him.
The movie was “Firefly,” a low-budget comedy-drama about a handful of people whose paths crossed on Halloween but who now have only vague memories of the night. It’s got a touch of the supernatural about it — one of them now wakes up each morning with a premonition of a stranger’s death and must try to prevent it — and a fantastic final 15 minutes, when all is revealed and all the clues are explained. Unfortunately, it’s often tedious before that, with many scenes feeling pointless, even when it’s over and you know everything. I’d like to see the screenplay tightened a bit and the whole thing re-directed by someone like M. Night Shyamalan. It could be a great film.
Erik and I parted ways after the movie, as he had to have dinner with friends and then attend the Jerry Seinfeld show elsewhere in Vegas. (Jerry came to Salt Lake City, where I live, a few months ago, and did the same show. The tickets in Vegas cost 2 1/2 times as much as the ones in SLC, and I couldn’t afford to go in SLC, either.) I hopped back in line for the next film, something called “Turning Green.”
If the festival had begun somewhat inauspiciously and amateurishly for me, it immediately picked up with this quirky little gem. Shot in beautiful Ireland and bursting with crisp, clear colors, it’s a coming-of-age comedy about an Irish-American teenager who, upon his parents’ death, is sent to live with his three old-biddy aunts in a rural Irish village. He hates it, wants to get back to America, runs afoul of a local bookie, begins selling nudie magazines to the deprived locals — your standard coming-of-age comedy, really.
It’s a funny movie, with the requisite tenderness underneath, and a shload of people using my favorite Irish profanity, “feck.” (It’s apparently not the same as the other F-word, because they use that one, too. Maybe you have to be Irish to fully appreciated the nuances that separate them.)
Directly in front of me were five seats reserved for someone named Johnny Brenden. I glanced at the program and did not see this name attached to the movie; besides, if he were involved, the seats would just say “filmmakers” or something. Who was this Johnny Brenden, and why did he have five seats reserved?
Finally it hit me: Johnny Brenden is the man who owns the Brenden Theatres, where I was currently sitting. He arrived shortly after my realization. He appeared to be in his mid-20s, wearing a shaved head, diamond stud earrings, a gold necklace and … a basketball uniform. The shorts, the jersey, the whole thing. I thought: Does Johnny Brenden live in a world where it’s OK to go out in public dressed like a basketball player? IS Johnny Brenden a basketball player? That would explain his appearance, I guess, though it wouldn’t exactly excuse it.
He was accompanied by a tittering bimbo and a man whose type I had theretofore seen only in movies about Vegas, and never in real life: the stout, swarthy man with slicked-back hair, impeccable pin-stripe suit, and a pinky ring. He looked like HE should be named Johnny Brenden, and that Johnny Brenden should be part of his celebrity entourage.
(I later discovered that Johnny Brenden is the grandson of Ted Mann, the millionaire who ran the Mann Theatre chain of yesteryear. Johnny got his money the old-fashioned way, by inheriting it.)
The Mafioso stayed for the whole film, but Johnny Brenden did not. He left about a half-hour into it to get snacks, which were delivered by a theater employee. Johnny himself returned a few minutes later, then left again 10 minutes after that. The tittering bimbo followed shortly, and neither one ever returned. I guess owning a movie theater doesn’t mean you have to actually, you know, like movies.
The co-directors were on hand to take questions afterward, but alas, I had to scurry off to meet my friends and hosts for dinner. We ate at the Claim Jumper, as is our custom when I am in town, and had a fine time, devouring enormous portions of food and for dessert sharing an eclair the size of my head. Vegas, baby!
Day 2 (Sunday, June 12):
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.
Day 3 (Monday, June 13):
I awoke today jonesing for Entertainment Weekly. It usually arrives on Saturday, but the mail hadn’t come yet when I left two days ago, and the friends I’m staying with don’t subscribe to it. (They don’t have high-speed Internet or TiVo, either, so staying with them is like being a pioneer.) I’ve been spoiled by Sundance: EW is a sponsor of that festival, so Park City is always lousy with thousands of free copies of the latest issue. CineVegas has no such partnership. I’d already picked up the copies of Hollywood Reporter and the local Las Vegas alternative-weeklies that were lying around and read them in the idle moments before screenings started. And now I had no more reading material, and I felt disoriented anyway, knowing there was a new issue of EW out there that I hadn’t seen.
So on the way to the Palms today, I stopped at a grocery store and a Borders Books, neither of which had any EW, current or otherwise. If I get it in the mail in Salt Lake City on Saturday, I don’t know why stores in Vegas wouldn’t get it the same day. Surely SLC is not a higher-priority market than Vegas when it comes to fluffy entertainment coverage.
EW-less, I arrived at the Hub at about 11. The Bugs Bunny cartoons had been replaced with Harvey Birdman (love him!), and it was a little busier than yesterday. The buffet table was just being filled with little creme puffs, muffins and croissants, free for the taking. (Take note, Sundance!) I ate and wrote for a while and chatted with HBS.com’s Erik, who had stopped by the same lame Bellagio party last night before embarking on what I assume was a drunken tour of the Strip with his buddies until 4 this morning. Clearly I am missing out on all the things Las Vegas has to offer.
At 1 p.m., Erik and I saw “In Memory of My Father,” a very funny comedy about a dysfunctional family (is there any other kind in movies?) reuniting for a wake when the father dies. That premise Ã¢â‚¬â€ quirky family gathers when someone dies Ã¢â‚¬â€ has been done a million times, especially in indie films, but if “In Memory of My Father” doesn’t get points for originality, it makes up for it with high marks in establishing comedic situations and droll, deadpan performances. Erik and I both noted that it occasionally reminded us of “Arrested Development,” and it even shares an actress with that show: Judy Greer, who plays Kitty the secretary.
With about an hour to kill before my next screening, I drove down Flamingo Drive to look for a) something to eat and b) a copy of Entertainment Weekly. I tried two grocery stores, one of which had no EW and the other of which had last week’s issue. I was so disgusted with my fruitless search that I punished myself by going to McDonald’s.
At 4 p.m. was “Little Athens,” which Erik saw yesterday and panned. I found it unsatisfying but not dreadful. It follows a day in the life of a handful of 20-year-olds as they perform their aimless tasks in boring Athens, Ariz. The characters are your typical post-high school slackers who sleep late, do drugs and get in fights. If the film had come out 10 years ago, it would be called “Reality Bites,” and I have the same problem with it that I had with that film: I don’t like people like this in real life, so why would I like them in a movie? (At least none of them is played by Ben Stiller, though.)
Leaving “Little Athens,” I happened to chat with a couple fellows from a small distribution company in L.A. who are at CineVegas looking for potential movies to get behind. One of them said he liked “Inside Out” a lot, which worried me, because I was certain NO ONE could possibly like that pile of crap. I don’t mind being in the critical minority, but I honestly couldn’t see how anyone could like “Inside Out.” So the distribution man intrigued me.
Anyway, we went straight over to “Buy It Now,” a quasi-documentary about a 16-year-old girl who sells her virginity on eBay. The first half of the film is footage the girl shot herself of the events leading up to her, um, delivery of the merchandise to the highest bidder; the second half is the same story, retold in narrative form (i.e., scripted, with actors, etc.). Except when it’s all over, you realize (or maybe you don’t) that the ENTIRE movie is fictional, including the “documentary” part. It was all made up, and the first half was only made to LOOK like a doc. The joke’s on us! Ha ha!
Sigh. Movies like this make me yearn for a simpler time, a time when movies didn’t lie to you or play tricks on you. This post-modern world we live in now, it wears me out sometimes. It isn’t enough to watch a movie anymore. You have to watch what the movie ISN’T showing you, too. Honestly, I’m not sure what the point of “Buy It Now” is. I can think of several things that might have been the point, but in each case, I can think of lots of ways that the point could have been made better. I stayed for a few minutes of the Q-and-A with the director, but he was being evasive, and I had to go anyway.
Next up was dinner with my friend Brandon, who lives in Las Vegas and works as head nerd for some company that puts on trade shows or something. He’s explained it a few times, but I don’t really get it. Anyway, we ate at the Palms’ buffet restaurant, where a friendly elderly woman talked to me about what films she had seen. (Her favorite so far: “Inside Out,” I kid you not.) Brandon fretted over how much of a tip to leave the woman who brought us our drinks, but I assured him that if the woman had wanted to earn big tips for a living, she wouldn’t have gotten a job at a buffet restaurant.
It was my plan to see “The Aristocrats” at 9:30. This was a hot ticket, having earned a lot of buzz from its screenings at other festivals (including Sundance, where I saw it), and we knew it would be packed. I got in line with Erik at 8:30. His two friends from Chicago, whom he had shmoozed passes for, soon joined us. In front of us was a pack of six young men who were the following things:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ UNLV film students
They were very eager to see “The Aristocrats,” having heard that it is full of comedians telling filthy jokes, and they were drinking the free beer they had acquired from the Hub’s after-hours speakeasy. (In Vegas, it is legal to drink anywhere, including in lines for movies.) We learned that they agree with us about “Inside Out” being crap, so that was a little comforting.
The movie was supposed to start at 9:30, but at 9:30, they still hadn’t let anyone into the theater. Several of the comedians in the film were arriving for the mini-red carpet festivities, delaying things, milking their time in the limelight, being self-important jerks, that sort of thing, and I guess they have to be seated before regular people are allowed to enter the cinema.
At almost 10, they let half the line in. The rest of us kept waiting. Then they let some more people in, and dismissed the people at the back of the line, declaring their situation hopeless. We remained. The drunken UNLV students (pardon the redundancy) became more animated in their desire to see “The Aristocrats.” They announced they had room for 10 more people, and that was it. The seven people immediately in front of the UNLV guys went in, but then there was a dilemma: The six drunk guys didn’t want to go in unless all six could go in, and there were only three spots left. That brought it to me, Erik and his two friends. Erik and I had seen the movie already, so we deferred to his friends and to a lone, creepy man who was in line right behind us.
It was now 10:15, and they declared the theater full. The UNLV guys were horrified, too happily drunk to be belligerent, but quite loud in their protestations nonetheless. (Just prior to this, their conversation had centered around what, exactly, constitutes getting to “second base” on a date.) After a few minutes of pointless arguing with the people running the screening, they wandered off into the casino.
But Erik and I remained at the front of the line, silent and professional. We knew the theater was not full. We knew good and well that they had reserved about a million seats for cast and entourage, and that not enough Important People had actually shown up to fill all those seats. We knew with 100 percent certainty that at that very moment, in the theater declared “full,” there were at least a dozen seats unfilled and unaccounted for, seats that were waiting for the blessed butt cheeks of Don Rickles or somebody to grace them, and that Don Rickles was never going to show.
So we waited. Sure enough, after a moment a man came and said there were three seats left, and that THAT was it, no more. Three seats, and then the theater is so full that it borders on being a fire hazard. Three people, absolutely no more. Erik and I were unquestionably the next two in line. After us, though, the line had become misshaped, and it was unclear who the third person should be. There was nearly a fight between two women, but the more obnoxious one emerged victorious. She, Erik and I were led to the theater, just as the movie was starting.
We saw three empty seats with Penn Gillette’s name on them, being closely guarded by a woman who insisted they would soon be filled, apparently with three Penn Gillettes. There were six empty seats on the front row, and at least one empty seat on the third row. This made seven empty seats, not three, and it means those UNLV idiots could have gotten in if a) they hadn’t been idiots, and b) the people at CineVegas were more familiar with the principles of “counting things” and “being organized.” I’M JUST SAYIN’.
Anyway, Erik and I sat on the front row and laughed ourselves silly at “The Aristocrats.” The woman who had pushed her way in as the final audience member sat next to us and didn’t laugh one time. I hope it was worth it for her.
“The Aristocrats” is a good fit for Vegas. It’s bawdy, shticky and full of people like Penn Gillette, George Carlin, Phyllis Diller and Don Rickles. Afterward, directors Gillette and Paul Provenza took questions, and introduced the film’s stars who were present. They included Carlin, Teller, David Brenner, Andy Richter and several others. Our front-row seats made this part of the evening especially groovy, because all these folks were right in front of us. I love me some George Carlin. He didn’t say much, but he was there, and that was enough.
When I left the theater and made for the parking lot, I saw the UNLV guys sitting around a table in the food court, still loud and still drunk. I don’t know if they made it to second base, but they definitely didn’t get to see their movie.
Day 4 (Tuesday, June 14):
Victory! I found a Barnes & Noble and bought the new Entertainment Weekly, the one with noted gay cultist Tom Cruise on the cover. At last I had a steady supply of entertainment-related puns to examine between screenings!
I got some writing done at the Hub and then drove to In-N-Out to have lunch with the friends I’ve been staying with, who have hardly seen me. The 1.5-mile drive from the Palms on Flamingo to the In-N-Out on Tropicana took 25 minutes, due to obscene traffic, poorly timed stoplights and Satan’s general dominion over Las Vegas. Oh, and did I mention it was 105 degrees today? Well, it was. I didn’t think I could like Las Vegas any less, but there you go. The fresh, delicious food at In-N-Out was indeed a balm on my cankered soul.
Back to the Palms for a movie, “Red Doors,” about a Chinese-American family that, um, does stuff. No, I’m only kidding. They don’t do anything. They have three daughters, one in high school and two grown-up, and one of them is sort of a lesbian, and one of them is about to get married, and the teenager has a crush on a boy. Oh, and the dad just retired and keeps trying to kill himself, but don’t worry, it’s always funny, not sad. It’s a well-acted movie, but an unremarkable one.
More writing after this, and I finally played some Ms. Pac-Man at the Hub. I was amazed at how out-of-shape my joystick hand was. Within a few minutes, it was tired and beginning to cramp. I was glad not to have been a teenager in 1982, or surely I’d have come out of it with paralysis.
While in the Hub, I overheard a staff member on the phone arranging transportation for some celebrities arriving in the next couple days. These included Rob Zombie, director of “The Devil’s Rejects,” screening later this week. The staff member said, “I need to arrange a car for Rob Zombie…. Zombie…. Z-O-M-B-I-E.” Made me laugh.
The main event today was the tribute to Christopher Walken. CineVegas is fond of giving awards; there are seven of them this year alone. Nicolas Cage and Samantha Morton are each getting a “Half-Life Award”; Ann-Margret gets a “Centennial Award”; Rhonda Fleming (I’ve never heard of her, either) gets the “Centennial Legend Award”; Wim Wenders and George A. Romero get the “Vanguard Director Awards”; and Christopher Walken gets the “Marquee Award.” In Vegas, everyone’s a winner! And CineVegas has the loosest slots in town.
Anyway, many people were already in line at 6 p.m. for the 7 p.m. Walken-fest. I joined them and began reading Entertainment Weekly. The girl behind me, who bore a “Local Student” pass (meaning she was probably another UNLV scholar), lit up a cigarette. I don’t grasp the reasoning of a person who believes that simply because she is ALLOWED to smoke means that it’s OK for her to do so. You’re in a line, for crying out loud! The people around you who don’t like cigarette smoke CAN’T GO ANYWHERE. I set my bag on the floor to mark my place and stepped away several feet, then returned to the line when she had finished. In my mind, I pushed her down.
The plan was to present Walken with his award and then screen “King of New York,” the 1990 film in which Walken plays a crime lord recently released from prison and seeking to re-take his throne. While we were waiting, one of the CineVegas volunteers was walking up and down the line making sure everyone had tickets or passes, and very matter-of-factly he announced, “They couldn’t get a print of ‘King of New York,’ so they’ll be showing ‘Country Bears’ instead.” What was funniest about this joke was that he didn’t follow it by smiling and saying, “Just kidding.” He just left it at that, leaving us to determine whether he was joking or not. One of the other volunteers didn’t get it, and she started passing along the change in schedule to others. “Yeah, I guess they couldn’t get ‘King of New York,’ so it’s ‘Country Bears’ now….”
Also while I was in line, I saw Johnny Brenden again, the wealthy man with poor taste who owns the theaters that host CineVegas. You’ll recall that last time I saw him, he was wearing a basketball uniform. This time, he was wearing: a different basketball uniform. Not only does he live in a world where a basketball uniform (I’m talking the long shorts, the jersey, everything) is appropriate to wear in your everyday life, but it’s SO appropriate that he owns several of them. Dear Las Vegas: WTF?
I had no problem getting into the theater and finding a good seat, which was a welcome change from last night’s “Aristocrats” debacle. And what a star-studded affair it was! Dennis Hopper, who is on the CineVegas advisory board, was there to present the award, and New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell, who has long dreadlocks that make him look like the title character in “Predator,” was on hand to do a Q-and-A with Walken. Joining them onstage were Laurence Fishburne (with whom Walken starred in “King of New York”) and Walken’s old buddy Joe Pesci. They all sat on a couch while Elvis talked to them. Hopper and Pesci lit up cigars.
Walken, Hopper and Pesci have been buddies forever — they and DeNiro were a recognizable foursome in New York in the old days — but I got the impression Fishburne hadn’t seen Walken since “King of New York.” He was definitely the odd man out among the three old pals, who swapped stories and inside jokes between Elvis’ attempts to direct the conversation.
Walken confirmed what those who admire his work have always suspected, which is that he learns the lines as written and then “plays” with them once the cameras roll. His favorite kind of director is the one who says, “You know your lines, I’ll just leave you alone.” And “motivation”? “People think actors talk about ‘motivation,'” he said. “But they really talk about the same things: Girls. Restaurants. Movies.”
Pesci reported that one time between films, Walken went to New York and did a play for $500 a week Ã¢â‚¬â€ just because he likes to keep working. This explains his choices in recent years, appearing in small roles in every piece of crap from “Gigli” to “Joe Dirt” to the aforementioned “Country Bears.” The guy likes to act. It’s fun for him.
Anyway, once the chatting was over, the celebrities all left and “King of New York” started. (I guess they’d seen it before.) It’s a rather average movie, but it was a good choice for the Walken tribute. He’s the lead, so he’s onscreen a lot (when he’s not, the film suffers), doing full-fledged character acting along with his usual quirks and oddness. He’s tremendous fun to watch, and this film spotlights that. I only wish it had a little more cowbell.
Day 5 (Wednesday, June 15):
My last day at the festival, and an abbreviated one at that. The fest continues through Saturday — and indeed I’ll be missing such anticipated films as “Land of the Dead” and “The Devil’s Rejects” — but I need to get back to SLC and pack, because I’m moving to Portland on Saturday. Whoever thought it was a good idea to go to a film festival for five days right before moving was an idiot. (Hey, me, I’m looking in your direction….)
Anyway, I only saw two movies today, and I slept through one of them. Totally my fault, not the movie’s. It was “Radiant,” a low-budget semi-experimental sci-fi thing about a group of people with mysterious illnesses wandering the desert after the compound where they were being treated by a forward-thinking scientist is raided. I liked the ideas being introduced, and I liked how the film was progressing. And then I just plain fell asleep. It’s not like I’ve been out all night partying (and by the way, when they say “partying,” what they really mean is “drinking”) during the festival. I’m sure my Vegas experiences are quite tame compared to most. But my sleep schedule has been off, and I’m not as young as I used to be, and “Radiant” is such a quiet, non-explosive film, and the theater was so cool and relaxing, and … heck, I’m starting to get drowsy just thinking about it.
In the Hub after the movie, I heard some of the “Radiant” people talking to a reporter. They were a little frustrated, I think, and wondered if their movie would ever see the light of day after CineVegas. I wanted to go over and tell them to keep their chins up because surely the movie would find a home, but I was afraid they’d ask me questions about its content that I wouldn’t be able to answer, what with my having missed half of it.
At 5 p.m. I saw “Charlie’s Party,” a little comedy/drama about a wife-swapping party gone awry. I’m not sure if there’s a way for a wife-swapping party to go other than awry, actually. Seems like awry is really your only option. Anyway, the film’s director introduced it by saying she was exhausted from her Vegas merriment. “You guys really know how to party here,” she said, and I already told you what “party” means.
After this film, I made like Nicolas Cage and left Las Vegas. As I headed north, I reflected on my CineVegas experience. I said before that the festival could be as big as Sundance if it wanted to, but I kind of hope it doesn’t. I like the relaxed atmosphere, the sense of there being a lot of movies but not TOO many movies. I got to see everything I wanted to that was playing during the five days I was here, because there aren’t many overlapping screenings. At Sundance, it is often impossible to see everything that looks good because they all screen at the same time, and often at 9 a.m. and/or midnight. And I LOVE that all of CineVegas’s venues are in the same multiplex. Yeah, riding the shuttle buses at Sundance is fine, and you overhear some funny things, but after a few days of rushing around Park City in the snow, it gets old. Seeing four movies a day at CineVegas wasn’t nearly as tiring as it is at Sundance.
My thanks to the eager volunteers and staff members who are working to make CineVegas great. I hate the city of Las Vegas, but I’d go back again for the festival in a heartbeat. A sweaty, tobacco-scented heartbeat.