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Jacqueline Monahan

CineVegas Film Festival’s Tenth Anniversary – Part I

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by Jacqueline Monahan
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CineVegas Film Festival’s Tenth Anniversary – Part I

CineVegas X (10) rolled into town on June 12th and hung around until the 21st, stuffing the Brenden Theatre at the Palms Casino Resort full of celebrities, filmmakers, film aficionados and press. It was the first time I’d seen the top of the resort’s parking garage due to the extra crowd, but the twelfth time I’d laid eyes on Festival Chairman, Dennis Hopper, always a distinguished and committed presence among the red velvet seats.

CineVegas Advisory Chair Dennis Hopper and wife
CineVegas Advisory Chair Dennis Hopper and wife
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

Artistic Director Trevor Groth introduced most of the selections for which I was able to secure a ticket. Dreadful new lottery-like regulations coupled with three-tier press permits of varying access made for a greatly curtailed film-going experience this year, but your humble correspondent persevered, and was able to sit in the dark for ten features, four shorts, and three “Conversations With” sessions featuring Don Cheadle, Viggo Mortensen and an elegant Anjelica Huston.

CineVegas Artistic Director Trevor Groth
CineVegas Artistic Director Trevor Groth
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

The following six-pack of cinematic offerings took place on various days and times, usually before a full house, and attended by the director and some of the actors. I’ll say this for film festival audiences – they are a most open-minded, intelligent and respectful crowd, ready to embrace talent or at least reserve judgment until the bitter end in most cases (not always). With that, I offer a small cross-section of CineVegas offerings as follows:

The Rocker: This opening night comedy was so well attended that there was not a single empty seat in the house. Rainn Wilson, in the audience watching himself blown up to blue whale proportions, stars as over-the-hill rock drummer Robert Fishman, who gets a second chance at superstardom. The Rocker is a feel-good film with a never-too-late-to-follow-your-dream message. British director Peter Cattaneo was also on hand, along with cast members Jane Lynch and Emma Stone. A real crowd pleaser that should do well commercially.

Red Carpet arrivals for premiere of 'The Rocker' at the Palms
'The Rocker' star Rainn Wilson (with headband), CineVags Advisory Chair Dennis Hopper (center) and CineVegas Artistic Director Trevor Groth (center kneeling)
Red Carpet arrivals for premiere of 'The Rocker' at the Palms
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

'The Rocker' star Rainn Wilson
'The Rocker' star Rainn Wilson
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

Cocaine Cowboys II: Hustlin’ with The Godmother: Grueling and brutal documentary about the life of Colombian-born Griselda Blanco, notorious cocaine kingpin and ruthless murderer as recounted by her employee/lover Charles Crosby, using archival footage and photos along with interviews. The true story made me appreciate my mundane, bling-less life by contrast. This sequel, like its predecessor, Cocaine Cowboys, was written and directed by Billy Corben, who can also add Raw Deal to his list of critically acclaimed feature documentaries.

She Unfolds by Day: Pseudo-documentary about a complex mother/son relationship. She’s slipping into the heightening delusions of advancing Alzheimer’s. He’s contending with Cystic Fibrosis and an unsatisfactory social life. A fox terrier stars as the creature most in love with his own existence in this story of passing days, cycles of nature, and the changes they bring. Director Rolf Belgum spent fours years collecting images for his film and was hand for a post-screening Q & A. Grand Jury Prize Winner. Preceded by: Clear Glasses – a 4 minute short that explores what happens when an ordinary item is viewed in a more historical context. In this case, the titular glasses worn by Weatherman revolutionary Mark Rudd. Directed by Sam Green.

Memorial Day: Another pseudo-documentary taking the viewer from a spring break-like binge of young people drinking, stripping, copulating and in general acting crudely, to an Iraqi prison patterned after Abu Ghraib, where the abuse continues, this time perpetrated on others by the same revelers, now in U.S. Army uniforms. The film is a raw, unvarnished look at the “Ugly American” in attitude and behavior. More than 20 people walked out of this screening, but many more stayed, mesmerized. Attended (and fiercely defended) by director Josh Fox and an entourage of actors and production crew.

Get Smart: This highly anticipated festival blockbuster (and charity event) was screened in the theater that normally hosts the live Las Vegas favorite STOMP! The screen was relatively small, with some seats having an obstructed view, but the house was packed as Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway attempted to reprise the beloved roles that made the television series a long-running hit. Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) made a special appearance on behalf of The Rock Foundation’s special program, Project Knapsack supplying pen-pals and school supplies between American students and their peers in developing countries. Johnson was also presented with a Brenden Celebrity Star by Johnny Brenden, president and CEO of Brenden Theatres, at the Palms Casino Resort.


Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

Visioneers: A great futuristic premise about the stresses of daily life, with citizens literally exploding from the pressure. Protagonist George Washington Winsterhammerman works in a mind-numbing world where the middle finger has evolved into a polite greeting. All of the country’s elite, from politicians to industry leaders coalesce to create a sanitized, lobotomized society where everyone is happy and given tips to remain on an even keel. Original thought is discouraged to the point of being prosecuted. A weak ending mars this otherwise original vision of a world gone stoically insane. Visioneers received the CineVegas Dramatic Audience Award, presented by Cadillac. Directed by Jared Drake.

Stay tuned to this space for four more features, three shorts, and party scene commentary in the next issue’s second and final installment of CineVegas X.

For further information:

http://www.cinevegas.com

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