Eric D. Snider June 17, 2009
Dude! You totally missed the CineVegas Film Festival! It ran from June 10-15, and I didn’t see you there. They had 28 features, seven documentaries, a few dozen shorts, and so much free Grey Goose and Stella Artois that the quality of the films was almost irrelevant.
I said almost! The 11th annual festival, on a condensed schedule of six days instead of nine, was the most energetic one yet, with plenty of high-caliber talent on display at the screenings. I didn’t see everything — even in Vegas, you have to sleep sometimes — but here’s what I did catch, along with the Vegas odds on whether it will ever come to a theater near you.
Winnebago Man. This documentary — about a hilariously profane man in a popular series of YouTube clips — played at South By Southwest, too, where it brought the house down. The foul-mouthed fellow turns out to be fascinatingly complex, and the movie is surprisingly touching.
Vegas odds on seeing it in a theater: 4-1. It’s been highly praised everywhere it’s screened, and response from potential distributors has been favorable. And yes, the filmmakers have lawyers looking into the legal aspects of using the name “Winnebago” in the title. (So far the company has not said whether it will object.)
500 Days of Summer. Laremy loved this one when it premiered at Sundance, and I concur. I saw it again in Vegas and was struck not just by how funny it is, but how truthful it is about love and relationships.
Vegas odds on seeing it in a theater: 100% Fox Searchlight will open it on July 17.
Adam. A lovely little comedy about a woman (Rose Byrne) who falls for a man (Hugh Dancy) with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of mental impairment. It’s not The Other Sister, though; the emphasis is their relationship, not his disability, and the whole thing is very sweet.
Vegas odds on seeing it in a theater: 100%. Look for it in theaters July 29.
Black Dynamite Think Airplane! or The Naked Gun, but with the satire aimed at blaxploitation films. It’s one of the most consistently funny parodies I’ve seen in a while, and if it catches on it could revive the spoof genre that atrocities like Dance Flick have tried to destroy.
Vegas odds on seeing it in a theater: 3-2. Sony picked it up and has it scheduled for a Sept. 4 release date, but that could change. Even if it doesn’t, the film is liable to be a cult favorite that plays at cool theaters, not a multiplex offering.
Humpday. One of Sundance’s best premieres, this low-budget comedy is about two straight guys who, in a moment of drunken artistic expression, decide to make a porn movie together. What ensues is a surprisingly insightful examination of male friendships. It’s pretty darn funny, too, and a good fit for CineVegas’ anything-goes philosophy.
Vegas odds on seeing it in a theater: 3-2. It opens in select cities on July 10; whether it ever plays anywhere close to you is up in the air.
In the Loop It’s British, and it’s talky, and there are a lot of characters, and it’s about politics, so you really have to pay attention to keep up with it. But if you do, you’ll find an amazingly funny and fast-paced satire of the inner workings of politics in the U.K. and the U.S. Any movie where James Gandolfini plays an Army officer who is derisively referred to as “General Flintstone” is OK by me.
Vegas odds on seeing it in a theater: 4-3. Watch for it in limited release on July 24; if it does well, it should wind up playing pretty much everywhere.
Moon. As I wrote at Sundance, Moon is a sci-fi film for grown-ups, favoring interesting ideas and surprising story twists over explosions and ray guns. It doesn’t spell everything out, but it’s not maddeningly ambiguous, either.
Vegas odds on seeing it in a theater: Even. It’s in select theaters now and will expand over the coming weeks. Don’t miss it.
World’s Greatest Dad. You know how Robin Williams is usually annoying in comedies, but every now and then he does something to redeem himself? This is one of those. Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, it’s a super-dark comedy about a frustrated writer whose a-hole teenage son dies accidentally (and embarrassingly), so Dad stages it to look like a suicide and fakes a suicide note — which then becomes a widely circulated piece of inspiring literature. Twisted humor at its most twisted.
Vegas odds on seeing it in a theater: 5-2. Magnolia bought it and plans to release it on Aug. 21. But a movie like this is a hard sell, so it’s hard to predict how wide that release will be, or whether it will even happen.
Saint John of Las Vegas. Steve Buscemi stars as a former gambler, now an insurance investigator, who must return to Las Vegas to look into a possibly fraudulent claim. The hook is that the movie’s story parallels Dante’s Inferno. The problem is that it’s not enough to make the film anything more than mildly interesting. It’s a C+ movie at best.
Vegas odds on seeing it in a theater: 6-1. Don’t bet on it. It has some other stars in it (Sarah Silverman, Peter Dinklage, and Romany Malco are among the most recognizable), but the movie hardly generated any buzz despite being CineVegas’ opening-night film.
Daylight. The premise of this thriller sounds promising (or at least profitable) enough: a man and his pregnant wife are abducted by bad guys and taken to a house where doom may await them. But the film, which only runs 73 minutes, squanders its potential to focus on the woman’s religious beliefs. It has a few suitably creepy moments, though, and the performances are strong.
Vegas odds on seeing it in a theater: 10-1. It’ll most likely go straight to DVD, or maybe show up late at night on the Sci-Fi Channel.
Easier with Practice. An outstanding drama (with comic undertones) about an awkward man who develops a relationship with a woman he knows only over the phone. Oh, and their relationship is primarily based on having phone sex. It won the Grand Jury Prize and got universally positive reviews at CineVegas, which could translate into a distribution deal and mainstream attention.
Vegas odds on seeing it in a theater: 4-1. On the other hand, the explicit subject matter could be a turnoff to potential distributors, and winning a CineVegas prize isn’t quite as prestigious as winning a Sundance prize … yet.
Etienne!. A directionless young man learns that his pet hamster is dying of cancer, so he embarks on a bicycle road trip to show the ailing mammal the world before he must be put to sleep. It’s a cutely goofy idea, and the film is at first charmingly low-fi and no-frills. But it wears thin before long and starts to just feel amateurish.
Vegas odds on seeing it in a theater: 50-1. If it goes anywhere, it will be to DVD. But it’s such a low-budget production, and such a weird product, that I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t even make it that far.
Godspeed. In Alaska, an ethically questionable faith healer is reeling after a tragedy strikes his family, whereupon he is approached by a young woman with a link to his past. Is it a revenge thriller? A crisis-of-faith drama? Yes, all of that. What it needs to do, though, is get to the point faster. There’s also the troubling matter of not having a real protagonist to root for: The faith healer is a sham and a louse, and everyone else is either awful or nondescript. The cinematography is beautiful, but that’s not enough to sustain it.
Vegas odds on seeing it in a theater: 25-1. No stars, hard-to-describe subject matter, drawn-out story — this will probably just be a demo reel for the filmmaker.
Mercy. Scott Caan wrote and stars in this romantic drama about a womanizing writer who changes his ways after finding true love. Sound familiar? Of course it does, and Caan doesn’t bring anything new to the tired old formula.
Vegas odds on seeing it in a theater: 7-1. Life isn’t fair, though — with its recognizable stars (Caan, his dad, Dylan McDermott, Troy Garity, etc.) and the Caan family’s clout, it will probably get picked up for small-scale theatrical distribution.
Patriotville. Justin Long plays a nerd who loves his New England town’s minor role in American history and tries to stop the mayor (Rob Corddry) from spoiling the battlefield with an Indian casino. Long and Corddry are funny, but not enough to save the movie, which is sometimes embarrassingly amateurish. (It seriously has a character produce a tape recorder at just the right moment to record an incriminating conversation.)
Vegas odds on seeing it in a theater: 15-1. I don’t think the star power will be enough to take it anywhere other than DVD and late-night Comedy Central runs.
Vegas: Based on a True Story. Here’s a movie that could be excellent if it were remade by a better director with better production values and better actors. The raw materials are there: A man with an addictive personality becomes obsessed with the possibility that there’s a stash of money buried in his front yard, and this obsession tears his life apart. The film’s do-it-yourself aesthetic quickly becomes a liability rather than an asset.
Vegas odds on seeing it in a theater: 100-1. Not gonna happen. A Hollywood remake, on the other hand….
Redland. First-time filmmaker Asiel Norton scores big-time with this dreamy, surreal drama about a dirt-poor mountain family trying to survive during the Depression. Featuring some of the most gorgeous cinematography I’ve ever seen, it’s a trippy film with thought-provoking (and disturbing) ideas lurking beneath its non-linear story and gauzy images.
Vegas odds on seeing it in a theater: 10-1. With enough positive buzz (it did well at CineVegas), it could become an art house hit, if someone will step up to the plate and buy it.
The Square. This is a terrific Australian thriller about a man and woman, both married to other people, who plan to escape their spouses and run off together. A duffel bag full of cash is involved. So is an arson-for-fire. And everything goes horribly, horribly wrong. If you like that kind of movie, you’ll be blown away by this one.
Vegas odds on seeing it in a theater: 3-2. It’s already on DVD in Australia, but a limited U.S. release is planned for July 17.
Categories: No CategoriesTags: 500 days of summer, Black dynamite, Humpday, In the loop