Tuesday, June 20, 2006

CineVegas film report, part 1

It seems like ages ago that I posted about my first film festival--CineVegas. It was only last week, but time flies, I guess. Since then, I've seen a posting at aintitcoolnews.com from someone who was also at the festival. He didn't see the four movies I did, so it was interesting to get his perspective.

What I learned from that guy's post--and I should have known this--is that CineVegas takes great pains to screen movies that are a little more experimental than your average film. That explains a couple of flicks I saw, but I'm really happy that there's a festival around that does this. There are a lot of things I like about the festival (see last week's blog for details) but there was one thing that got my goat: I, along with many, many other patrons, didn't realize that if you buy a ticket to a screening, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll get to see it. What? Isn't that a lot like that Jerry Seinfeld truism about car rental reservations? (Doesn't a reservation mean that you've got a car reserved???) Anyway, next year I'll be buying a pass which will allow me to see a great many movies and will make me a first-class viewing citizen since pass holders are let into the theaters first. I missed one of my movies thanks to this policy; in fact, a lot of unaware ticketholders were ticketed off because we couldn't see MARY, a retelling of the Mary story from the bible.

But, onward, right? I did see four other selections, and I'll chat about two of them today, and the other two later....

The first film I saw was called THE FAVOR. It was a small offering from a first-time female director (Ack! I don't have my notes here, but you can go to www.cinevegas.com for movie details). The plot--more of a slice-of-life, really--goes something like this: Lawrence is one of those guys whose life just kind of lost air. He's not necessarily a definitely sad man, but he is a bit of a sad sack. He works at a small police station in Bayonne, New Jersey as a clerk; there, he takes mug shots. He moonlights as a pet photographer, too. He goes home every night to pet his adorable doggie (that is not a sexual euphemism, you) and eat dinner in front of the TV with said pooch. The next day begins just as the other one did. And so does the next day...until his high-school girlfriend--the big love of his life--reappears and invites him to dinner. See, just before college, she dumped Lawrence, then got into a crappy marriage in which she had a son. She's divorced now, taking care of an ailing dad, and dealing with that son, who is a sort of...well, I'll get to him in a second, because he's interesting. In short, the mom accidentally dies, and Lawrence decides to take the son, Johnny, in as a foster child as a favor to the woman whom he'd once planned to marry and have a family with.

THE FAVOR wasn't a fast-paced movie big on plot: it was a character exploration. One thing that really blew me away was the director's talent for using amazing faces. She often allows the actors' expressions and body language do all the talking, and that takes guts as a storyteller. Trusting your "props" or your actors instead of relying on dialogue you create is a virtue. And, my God, the faces on these actors--two in particular. First, let me tell you about the older lead actor; I haven't reacted to a face in such a visceral way since I saw Barry Pepper in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. The man who played Lawrence is one of those guys you just want to comfort: his smile is genuine, yet strained. He is the everyman no man wants to become. And the kid who plays Johnny? You might've seen him on The O.C. as a similarly troubled youth. I remember the sound of his name--Ryan Donawho--because I recognized him and I was really impressed. On The O.C., he faded into the Marissa's diva scenery, but in THE FAVOR, he more than holds his own. His face is pretty, but it's thrown off-kilter by a mouth that's too large for his face; and it's almost as if he doesn't know how to smile or communicate properly with that mouth, at times. His character does some awful things, too, but I was never able to dislike him. I felt incredibly sorry for him. Ultimately, all around, the acting was great, so kudos to director and cast. However, I did feel as if some of the plot was predictable, especially the ending, and I thought Lawrence had a tendancy to be too good for words. But those were small wrinkles in the texture of THE FAVOR. The audience really loved the film--it won an honorable mention in the viewer's favorite category.

And for the second film I saw.... SKIN CITY, a work-in-progress documentary about--where else?--Las Vegas. Living near the city, I guess I'm pretty aware of everything this doc covered: from the yearly porn convention to the Elvis impersonators to the rather large Bible contingent. All in all, I wasn't really enlightened by any of it, though someone else could've learned a lot. Also, for such a naughty-sounding film, the contents were pretty tame, as if the makers were painfully self-aware of being labeled "perverts." Technically, the film was polished, but I can't say I was wildly impressed.

Next installment: DANIKA (my festival favorite) and LOVESICK (both words are extremely operative)

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