This year’s Cinevegas Festival held June 10-15 at the Palms Casino resort is five days shorter than last year’s offerings but still packed with interesting entries and well worth the reasonable $40.00 day pass to attend three screenings with a party, or $150.00 to attend all five days of events.
I skipped the red carpet premieres in order to focus on Indie premieres of American low budget movies, like Jennifer Kroot’s absorbing documentary ” It Came From Kuchar” the story of those eccentric advent garde filmmakers and twin brothers George and Mike Kuchar who were honored with the festival’s Vanguard Award for their 60 years of filmmaking followed by the screenings of their newest remarkable shorts. (Mike’s 70 year old femme fatale is seduced by a teenage fairy Puck, and George talks back to a nun on the television screen.) This surprisingly low key but well crafted documentary is touring film festivals, and many of the Kuchar shorts are available through the Video Data Vault and Amazon books.
It is hard to resist the flashy neon environment of the Las Vegas strip but the Palms Casino is elegantly comfortable with a range of places to explore including the legendary Playboy tower, and the festival lounge was a user friendly spot to meet up between premieres. Most of the filmmakers hung around for informal interviews which made it seem more like a coffee house than a high pressure screening .
The festival award for a feature film went to Kyle Patrick Alverez’s” Easier With Practice” an absorbing and surprisingly poignant tale based on a true story (” What Are You Wearing?” ) by Davy Rothbart for GQ magazine. A sexy random phone caller disrupts and then haunts a young writer’s life as he travels the country promoting a book he hopes to publish shortly. The opening moments are as hilariously sensationalistic as Meg Ryan’s smugly feigning orgasms in a sandwich shop but the final act takes a credible uturn into a state of dysfunctional hell as the author meets his seducer.
Another one of the unexpected treats was Thor at the Bus Stop, an ulta low budget homegrown fare by two brothers Mike and Jerry Thompson. Plotline: A God comes to Vegas to meet his fate and save the world while a few crazy residents go about their business delivering pizzas, carjacking vehicles, and investigating strange CSI events. It is zany, good fun, bizarrely entertaining and at times touching. The lovely part is that Thor never pretends to be high brow and it is refreshingly PG..
Other high profile films about love and angst included the premier of Scott Caan’s drama Mercy which featured father James Caan. ” Womanizing author meets and then quickly loses the love of his life sending him into a tailspin which his very supportive friends and distant father can not help him navigate.” Beautifully shot on the Malibu coast,in the end it was just a little too conversationally unrealistic for me:. I honestly don’t think grown men sit around all day talking sensitively about females.
Asiel Norton’s debut film Redlands is so visually arresting to watch that you almost forget the cliche ridden plot : A young girl’s sexuality and her irrational actions threaten the family’s survival in depression era Appalachian woods Presenting all the things you associate with a parade of the delusional South include an illiterate father, a deliriously religious mother, and incest of course. But this is not a parody and we don’t relate to the characters as authentic people. Another desperate family is portrayed by writer/director Robert Salzyk’s Godspeed . Also set in a lusciously desolate environment, Alaska, The set up is so terrific but the writing gets bogged down in monologues where characters keep telling us what they are going to do next.
One of the most professionally written tales is the Austrialian based thriller The Square directed by Nash Edgerton and written by brother Joel Edgerton with Matthew Dabner, This spellbinding flick center on two lovers whose plan to escape town goes terribly awry when a house fire has unintended consequences.
Writer/ director Talmage Cooley’s Patriotville is a slowly unwinding comedy about a young man, (well played by Justin Long) attempting to save his town from internal corruption in the form of a strange band of Indians who demand brides to build a casino and the greedily lusty mayor who gives away school funds to arrange it. The premise is fun but the story’s execution in Act 1 and 2 is so leisurely paced I almost walked out, and missed the payoff at the end.
Veteran Writer/ Director ( The American Astronaut) Cory Mc Albee’s Stringray Sam succeeds with an amusing and innovative film that stays on track. Narrated by the exceptional actor David Hyde Pierce, it blends 1940’s Western genres with Sci fi in an ex convict’s mission to save a little girl abducted to a strange planet where men reproduce and women have become obsolete. At the heart of the absurdity is a simple tale which makes the characters, including Cory’s adorable real life daughter Willa convincing in their absurd collage filled world.
Novice Director and writer Rania Ajami deserves light round of applause for the experimental Asylum Seekers which features a fascinating open sequence where we meet the six potential mental patients, but the story just sagged in places —- An inmate talent show which should have been marvelous but induced mostly yawns —- Thereby missing a few great opportunities to stun and illuminate our pathetic existence
This long weekend of entertainment was capped off by a screening of the B movie Attack of The 50 Foot Woman at an authentic drive in theatre which seems really appropriate for this fantasy prone desert.