It's back: CineVegas, "the world's most dangerous film festival" at the Palms.
I loved attending last year's festival (I even posted my thoughts about its general vibe as well as some of the movies last June), so it was a foregone conclusion that I would go again this year. The event feels more crowded this time out, but that doesn't suprise me because it seems as if the advertising budget went up, and it looks like they attracted more stars and visibility. I think that's evident when you consider that OCEAN'S 13 opened the festival. Man, I hope this little gem hasn't already turned into Cannes....
Anyway, I got my Friday work done on time, so I decided to reward myself by going yesterday. Right off the bat, I scored two very good films: THE GRAND and CHOOSING CONNOR.
First, THE GRAND is one of those mockumentaries that follow in the tradition of THIS IS SPINAL TAP. The characters are blazingly colorful and have moments of truth in spite of their overkill. And they're hellaciously funny. Basically, the plot revolves around a big poker tournament in downtown Vegas, and if you've ever watched the game on TV, you'll be familiar with the ins and outs of the process. I, however, do not watch this stuff and I am a poker dummy, so I had no idea what was going on card-wise most of the time. But, thankfully, that wasn't a big deal. The games were still fairly suspenseful (sidenote: Zak Penn, the writer/director was on hand in the theater to tell us that the final game wasn't even scripted--the actors played for real and no one knew who the winner would be.), but the poker was almost beside the point. The real attraction was those loopy characters, including Woody Harrelson as a recovering addict who's playing to win back a casino he'd somehow lost, Cheryl Hines as a sassy female card sharp, Chris Parnell from SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE as an absolutely hilarious genius who cannot shut up at the table, and even Werner Herzog--the wild German filmmaker--as "The German," a player who sacrifices small animals for luck. Those actors are just the tip of the iceberg, as many others show up, too. Their surprise appearances are all a part of the fun though, so that's all I'm going to tell you.
If you ever get to see this one, you're going to get some good belly laughs. Definitely worth your dough.
The second movie, CHOOSING CONNOR, was interesting in execution as well as background. It's a story about Owen, a 15-year-old overachieving idealist who wants to be a politician. When a local congressman, Lawrence Connor, comes to speak at a ceremony for an award Owen has won, the upstart arranges to meet the politician. Owen's smarts impress Connor, and the older man invites the younger to come to his office for a chat. Things snowball from there, and this film turns into a disturbing, sad, and even creepy look into what's wrong with our political system these days. The politician is played by Steven Weber, lately of STUDIO 60 fame (and you'll remember him as Brian from WINGS), and he's the perfect blend of appealing and smarmy; his Connor is a man who doesn't really know political content as much as he knows how to work "the system," and this is scary as hell because you know it's not a fictional or isolated portrayal. The young leads, Alex Linz and Escher Holloway, are strong, too--Owen (Linz) is the audience's link to the story, and he's a solid actor. Holloway plays Connor's nephew, and he'll break your heart. Most intriguing is the fact that this movie was written, directed, and produced by a group of young filmmakers. At the Q&A session following the screening, the director, Luke Eberl, looked like a teen, even though he's older than that. He began writing this when he was 17 though, and it's cool that he constructed such a thoughtful yet accessible movie at this stage.
I won't be attending CineVegas again until Monday, after I've gone through a weekend of nose-to-the-grindstone stuff. Movies are my just reward! ;)