Wednesday, July 25, 2012

LAS VEGAS FILM FESTIVAL: THE MOVIES I SAW, PART 2



Day 3 at the Las Vegas Film Festival, began at 9am, with the first couple movies, which I didn't see, 'cause I was just waking up three hours later than I asked my family to wake me up, and then, they decided to not rush from there. It was off to a really bad start, but luckily, I was able to bring my Cousin for part of the day. He'd  never been to a film festival, and I would've liked for him to see more, but we did get to check out a lot, including, and especially short films, and we also got to see Louis Gossett Jr. collect an Award, and he got to see "An Officer and a Gentleman," for the first time. Oddly, while I always loved Gossett's performance, I'd never particularly cared for that film, but I will note that the movie plays a lot better on a big screen than it does on TV. Let's start with some of the newer things we saw.

For "A LITTLE BIT OF ZOMBIE", we came in late, but we caught up quickly. I've always had an inherent problem with zombie films, in that I've never understood why a slow-moving mindless, brainless zombie would be such a problem, but here, an HR rep named Steve begins resisting the urge to become a zombie as much as he can, at least until his wedding, anyway. This leads to him and his gang searching for brains to feed him, and hiding him from an evil zombie hunter, and a zombie doctor, who believes he may be a cure for zombies. This one was pretty funny actually. Just once I'd like to see really intelligent people caught in a zombie movie instead of dumb good-looking kids, but minor quibble. It makes of the genre in the right places, and has a very creative ending. 3 1/2 STARS

It was after that where we say Short Film Block of movie, one of about half a dozen, and they all were on days 3 & 4, they should really spread them out a bit next year. I'm only really gonna comment on a few of the shorts, I saw a lot of them, and I'm not going through reviewing them all, but by far the worst of them was Bailey Kim's "DAVE'S WORLD". It was 40 minutes of a guy, moping and drinking and moping and drinking. At one point, Dave buys uber-amounts of products for, what could only be for an end-of-the-world scenario, but they don't even explain that, and they don't follow through either, and it was so terrible. 40 minutes of this, they couldn't given four other filmmakers a spot there, instead I spent the time yelling at the screen for Dave to kill himself or do anything really that drives this movie forward, or in any direction, and explain to my cousin that not all short films are like this. Thankfully, the rest of that block was considerably better. My cousin like "WORST RACE SCENARIO" a lot, a comedy about a pothead trying to learn to dance in order to have a friend that's black. I liked "BIRTH OF AN OUTLAW," best, it wasn't perfect, but had lots of drama, full of conflict, and did a good job of using the Western motifs in a somewhat modern way.

We then caught a special screening of "26 YEARS: THE DEWEY BOZELLA STORY", a film by ESPN Film about a man who was the Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion in Sing-Sing prison, while in jail for a murder that he didn't commit. When he got out finally after evidence revealed statements that were long withheld from the original trials, Bozella, now in his early fifties, went out to try and get just one professional fight in his career. There were people screaming, and excited while we were watching this movie, it's very inspirational in all the right ways. The most interesting part of the film for me, oddly enough, was watching Bozella go through the process of getting his boxing license in California. I know boxers and most violent sport athletes actually have to be licensed, I never knew exactly what that process entailed until seeing this film, I found that to be the most informative, but as a film, and it's only a fifty-minute documentary, it's very uplifting, and incredibly well-made. Keep a lookout on ESPN channels for it in the future.

My cousin went home after after we finished "An Officer and a Gentleman," which went on right after, but I stayed for a couple more blocks of short films. An early highlight was "MASQUE," a very well-made film that I believed was shortened from a feature by Director: Robert Hatch, and that was a good decision, any longer the movie wouldn't have worked. It has equal part epic, gangster film, fantasy elements to it, very intriguing and creative combination of a lot of different genres, and it's done with very careful and great skill, and has some unusually good actors in it, including Wilford Brimley, I was happy to see him.

The next short film block had some really good films. I have to mention "IN MEXICO," by Actor/Director Ash Adams, who was a constant presence at the festival, running many of the panels, and interviewing some of the stars. He made quite a powerful film about an Iraq war veteran, suffering from PTSD. There were three film that were even better during the block though. Julian Higgins's "THIEF," that tells a story of Medhi, who has two very unexpected encounters with Saddam Hussein, one when he was a kid in 1959, after he was part of a ploy to kill the Qasim, and in 2003 when he was on the run from, hiding in spider-holes from the U.S. Army. Very intriguing film. Possibly my favorite short of the whole festival was "SHOOT THE MOON," a tale of a recently-divorced and laid-off Mom who, in the throws of depression and poverty, becomes obsessed with trying to get on her favorite game show. It takes place in Detroit, right after Ford went bankrupt, and it really shows of devolving that people caught up in the throws of this recession can go through, and turn to, very good short. As was the correctly-titled "HOMECOMING", about a young Indian-American girl, who's attempts to get her strict parents to get her to go to a Junior High Homecoming dance, take more than a few unexpected turns, totally shifting the dynamics of the family.

There was also a very late feature film screening of "WELCOME TO DOPELAND," and I stayed for about, half an hour or so, but I left after that. Partly 'cause my ride was coming, but mostly 'cause either I was really tired, or the movie wasn't funny. I could tell it was supposed to be a comedy, but nobody laughed, and frankly the audience was pretty zombied out, as was I. If anybody sat through it, and can give a better, more sober perspective on the film, let me know, I was too out of it to give a qualified opinion on it at the time, so I'm not even gonna give it a star rating, just to be safe.

The next and final day of the festival, started with another short film block, a lot of good films in this one, my favorite was the musical-comedy "I MET HER IN A COFFEE SHOP," from Director Eric Logan. A ten minute short, where a guy gets a door slammed in his face, then breaks into song after seeing the girl. A lot of fun with this film, playing with genre, and student-film cliches and styling, the songs were good and funny. It's a very clever film, and clever, in a few different ways and it wraps itself up pretty well.

Now I have a confession to make regarding the screening of "MODEL MINORITY," the film by writer/director Lily Mariye. What I saw of it, which was the first hour, and the end, was quite good. It's a very good slice-of-life film about a half-Asian, half-White L.A. family that's going through a divorce, and the two daughters, as they're stumbling their way through high school, and fighting, what seems like everything. The way that the complexity of their lives, keeps getting more layered, is especially well-done. We seen these movies about how kids going through divorces and they begin to degenerate, (and how the adults reveal their true selves during such times) but it was done extremely well here. However, I slipped out and across from the Shimmer room where the film was playing, back to the Las Vegas Hotel's main theatre, to watch the short film "STUFFED," cause I had promised the filmmaker Gabriella "Gabby" Egito, that I would see it. She was very nice to me, we had a couple conversations during the festival, and at one particularly trying time, she helped me find a cheap diet coke when I desperately needed one. "Stuffed" was a very good little film about a private eye, who really gets all the dirt he can out of his clients, and I'm glad I saw it, but it did make me miss about 15 minutes of "Model Minority," but what I saw of that film was incredibly good, 4 STARS so far, keeping in mind, that's an unofficial star rating at this time.

I did catch the rest of that short film block, after "Model Minority" ended, and and their was a great short film called "RETURNING HOME" by Director Jason Honeycutt, and this was how you make a 40-minute short film. After suffering through "Dave's World," earlier, and then sitting through "Returning Home," the differences are staggering. The story is about a guy, who suddenly finds himself out-of-gas, in the middle of the desert, where he's told by a mysterious homeless person that home is over the mountains, but on his journey, he runs into some disturbing and troubling characters, including another lost stranger, a girl running from her ex-husband, and two tough guys, that seem like they're dressed for Comic-Con. It's not exactly what I'd call a new story, but it's a really well-made and well-told, and the ending is earned. I have a theory that, especially when were talking a film festival, the longer a short film, the better is has to be, this movie was worth forty minutes of my time, to sit through, very good film.

After that, their was a couple rock'n'roll themed documentary feature they were showing. The first one was called "LOUDER THAN LOVE: THE GRANDE BALLROOM STORY", about the Grande Ballroom in Detroit, which was the premiere place during the late '60s, for rock bands of all kinds to play, not only 'cause of the building's acoustics, and then ravid audiences, but also 'cause of it was the premiere hippie and social hangout of the Midwest. This was the equivalent to the Fillmore's in both New York and L.A. It was the spot in the Midwest where the San Francisco scene, exploded in Michigan. Artists like Ted Nugent and The MC5 started out there,  a lot of the other Detroit bands, and pretty much everybody played there, and they wanted to play there during the Woodstock Era. It is looked at as a forgotten piece of Rock'n'Roll History; it's also now, in a little bit of disrepair, and they're trying to make it a landmark I'm told. It should be a landmark, although I'm not sure exactly, how important the place is to have it's own feature-length film devoted to it, but at 75 minutes, it's a good and entertaining documentary. 3 1/2 STARS

Far and away however, the biggest film being screened at the festival was the documentary "MARLEY," about the life of Bob Marley. I happened to run into and then watch it with Lisa, Henry Hill's wife who I talked about in an earlier blog, who was a huge Bob Marley fan, she was very excited to see this film. I was somewhat familiar with his, entire life, but I knew enough to know that in order to do a Bob Marley documentary, that the film would have to, incredibly extensive. You reallly can't go into Bob Marley and discuss him for a like hour, and with this film, and Kevin MacDonald, a great filmmaker, "The Last King of Scotland," "State of Play," also the documentary from last year, "Life in a Day", he is incredibly extensive. They really took good care, made this documentary the right way. Talking to people from his earliest childhood, right up to his death, going to all the places that Bob Marley went to in his life, from his schools, to Trenchtown to London to Germany at the end, this was a comprehensive a biodocumentary, maybe since "Tupac: Resurrection", especially in terms of the rock biopic. It was the premiere showing at the festival, it deserved to be the premiere showing. Great film, 5 STARS

One last short film block after that. The memorable films in that one included "OUT", a story of a man who's spent most of his son's life in prison, finding out that now that he's gay, and in a relationship with an affeminate man, and also "HOLLYWOOD AND HAMMER," about Thor, the actual Norse God, who's currently working as a L.A. street performer, and living out of a van with a Gene Simmons impersonater, when his brother Loki shows up, trying to get him to come home. There was also what started out as a great film called "A HERO'S RETURN", about an Soldier returning to his home in New York, right as his kid is getting in with the wrong people. That movie for about 30 minutes, and then, the last five, Writer/Director Daryl Denner chose to add a completely unnecessary twist, that just was wrong. If he had ended the movie at the half-hour mark, it would've been great, instead, he completely undermined everything the film had done up 'til then. A poor storytelling at exactly the wrong time; somebody needs to get that guy, into the editing room, make the movie that it could be, and that it should be.

The last movie at the festival was "SERVITUDE," a surprisingly fun comedy about a bunch of waiters at this terribly goofy Western-themed restaurant, where they find out they're about to get fired, and decide to finally take their revenge out on their annoying customers. The film focuses mainly on Josh, who's been pressured to quit his job and go to law school by both his girlfriend and his father, but in the meantime, he's got a major fan of his blog about his waiting job, that he's started taking pride in. It's got a lot of surprising good comedic actors in small roles, including Dave Foley and Enrico Colantoni, as well as an appearance by Margot Kidder, it's always good to see her. It was also quite funny, and you actually kinda believed, that a restuarant like this, could exist, although I'm not sure how important it was to make the owners German, and have some Nazi undertones to their depiction, but Colantoni did a really good job selling it, so I'm gonna let that go. It was a good, light, fun way to end the festival actually, so 3 1/2 STARS for that one.

I stayed for a little bit of the Awards ceremony at the end, but I had to leave soon, and they were still in the midst of them, giving away a lot of student Awards to films that weren't even show at the Festival. I think that's a little strange to me, but I guess it's all part of the festivities. I'm looking at the Awards now on lvfilmfest.com and I'm very impressed with most of the winners, although, "Welcome to Dopeland," winning Best Feature Film, is really puzzling to me, but maybe that film just got a bad screening spot, 'cause if you were in theatre, you were not impressed with that film, but it's possible you might have been tired, but I wasn't the only walkout, by the way, there was a lot. I don't have a problem with the film "The Op Shop" winning Best Comedy, but that actually didn't screen in it's alotted slot, for some reason. It was listed as being apart of one of the Short Film Blocks I attended, but they skipped over it. I don't know why, I informed Milo Kostelecky, who runs the festival, about it the next day and he didn't seem to be aware of it until I brought it up to him, but for some reason, their was a problem screening that film. All in all however, a fun festival, mostly good movies, and I hope to attend again next year. That'll involve me at some point, digging through a bunch of DVD and screeners at some point in the future, and writing more notes than I do even here, but, I might do it again. If nothing else, I got some good blogs out of it, and hopefully, some good movies.
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