The festival airport driver moved to Vegas from New York when his band competed on a reality show hosted by Wayne Newton. They won. The prize was to be managed by Wayne, and booked across town as the next hot entertainer. But after the show aired, Wayne stopped returning calls cold. When they tried to book gigs on their own, they found Wayne Newton’s name preceded them. Even after severing all ties, no one seemed to want to work with a band remotely associated with Wayne. While it’s hard to discern why from the backseat of a mega-Cadillac (a CineVegas mega-sponsor), one thing seems clear–Vegas doesn’t have much of an appetite for the old. It wants the new. It already has the 20-somethings locked. It’s now striving for the 30-somethings. It’s even set its sights on the cynical art house crowd, once so proud of their immunity to the game floor’s whirling and beeping.
But as those cynics look at the Morrissey concert ads mounted all over the Palms Casino–his sad eyes cast away from his deep crow’s feet–they start to finally feel Vegas’s hands in their pockets. There is your high school muse. You dressed in black and smoked herb cigarettes listening to The Smiths on cassette. He looks older in these ads, looks almost like he needs help. And the scalper playing the “Star Wars“-themed slots next to you does have some good seats. That’s Vegas. It doesn’t care if you don’t like it. It’ll find a way in.
So, yes, the Morrissey show was pretty good.
CineVegas is disarming. It is impossible to be a spectator here. Part of that is artistic director Trevor Groth, relaxed and smooth, who won’t let you walk by without a handshake and a smile. His Sundance stripes help, too. And while the selection was more hit than miss, judging the program is almost meaningless. When you’re talking to actor Jason London about the monkey hand-job in the comedy “Throwing Stars,” where does the conversation go when two MTV rejects, nude in the hottub next to you, are screaming to the festival crowd “Shake your titties!” See, Vegas finds a way.
Todd Breau‘s “Throwing Stars” does everything it can to make you not like it. Bad poster, bad title, bad slugline about four best friends helping one to conceal a murder. A few minutes in, buyers were looking at their watches. By the time the dead drug dealer/animal porn manager gets the aforementioned monkey scrolling, the audience had finally realized this was a comedy. The ensemble of London, Scott Grimes, David Deluise and Scott Michael Campbell worked very well inside some amateur indie film constructions. While their relationship is funny and has remarkable depth given they’re dragging a corpse around town, the package might keep buyers away.
Awkward Cinema had its place in “The Living Wake,” about an annoying, dying man’s last hurrah. The problem was that there was nothing beyond annoying in this tedious and strained period piece. The opposite was true in the awkward “Eagle vs. Shark” about two off-centers in love. Director Taika Waititi wrote every deliriously infantile male trait into Jarrod, effectively played in deadpan by Jemaine Clement. The breezy, funny film was a certain crowd pleaser, and Taika, who’s been on the fest circuit non-stop since Sundance, is a superstar at every Q&A.
Ming-Liang‘s beautiful “I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone” opened to a skeptical Vegas audience. But Ming-Liang’s luminous study of sympathy and quiet dignity between three wounded people in Kuala Lumpur had avid fans twenty minutes in who shouted the ringing cell phones out of the theater. But the truly committed–the nation’s fanboy army–turned out big for B-movie icon Bruce Campbell‘s “My Name is Bruce.” Taking the mic before the movie, Campbell patiently waited several minutes for the standing ovation to cease. The movie–about a small town that kidnaps Campbell (playing himself) to help defeat the Chinese God of War they’ve unwittingly unleashed–mixes its B-movie elements into jokes about Campbell’s B-movie stardom. It’s a funny set-up that unfortunately doesn’t lift off. The film was shown as a work-in-progress and there was little consensus it could get better.
En route to a Golden Nugget party, JP used his dated limo bus as a battering ram through the perpetually rubber-necked Vegas traffic. His ex-brother-in-law committed suicide after gambling the family savings. The suicide nixed the life insurance, leaving nothing to his wife and kids–“The guy couldn’t even do that right.” But the driver was happy here–“I clear $3200 a month. This may be the last place to have a middle class life. Just don’t be a resident gambler and you’ll be fine.”
Later at the poker table, the resident gambler to my right said he’s a former New York theater actor who hasn’t gone back since he left in ’88. He was one of the original members of the Ensemble Studio Theater whose founder, Curt Dempster, recently committed suicide. I tell him the limo driver’s gambling advice, but he claims he’s a lucky man. He just lost his car in a terrible accident that severed the other party’s arm. He walked away without a scratch. He considers himself so lucky that he pays to see most every flop. Like Geoff Gilmore across the table. Like me. And while curiosity may be a strength in our jobs, it’s not here. We paid for it. Vegas finds a way. It’s okay with small victories.