The Las Vegas Film Festival, in it’s fourth year, ran July 15 – 17th for the second year in a row at the Hilton. I met Milo Kostelecky, the festival director of operations, as I went to the first function that I thought I could attend with my all access film pass. Apparently, the all access pass did not include the networking dinner at Piero’s Restaurant. He mentioned it cost $95. I’m a filmmaker. I don’t have that kind of money. So, after parking my car through the valet, I was outside again in five minutes to pick up my car. In-and-out! While waiting for my car, some employees were hanging out. One older gentleman asked me what the function was inside. I told him it involved a film festival. The man then informed me that his son had a film that was in Sundance. Really? I handed the man a flyer for an upcoming event I’m having with RAW Artists, screening a short film. Then the valet driver wanted to know what I handed the other employee so I handed him a flyer too. That night wasn’t a total loss. I was planning on dropping off flyers at Emergency Arts cafe and gallery off Fremont St. anyway. Not expecting much, I was very impressed with the LV Film Festival. Milo has done a fine job putting this festival together.
OPENING NIGHT – “The Story”
The first film I saw was the opening night premiere, “The Story” directed by Ski Channel’s Steve Bellamy. It was a very entertaining and insightful feature documentary about outgoing adventurers seeking to climb the highest mountains such as Mt. Everest and skiing down the steepest, most impossible mountains. The film stars many of the top winter athletes and features Olympic Gold Medalists Bode Miller and Lindsay Vonn. One very touching story involved a woman who had lost her legs. Well, don’t let that stop her. She had a special sky created so she could still ski. Another mountain skier extremist seemed to have a death-wish, jumping off ridiculously steep and high cliffs. Don’t try this at home or on any mountain top.
There was a festival party at a club on the Vegas Strip hosted by Michael Madsen. I was somewhat tired and discovered that there was an additional feature film screening that night at the Hilton. I am so glad I stayed! The film, “Oxy Morons” was a last minute addition to the festival. The filmmaker, Johnny Hickey, lived this twisted life in Charlestown, an area of Boston, Massachusetts, where bank robbing was a typical occurrence. You might have heard of that other film about Charestown, “The Town,” starring Ben Affleck. ‘Oxy Morons” is inspired by Johnny Hickey’s and his brother’s lives growing up and dealing drugs to survive. The drug that the boys discover is their ticket to making a ton of money is OxyContin. They turn the community onto the drug and eventually the boys land into prison. Their strength to survive is tested on many levels. Johnny had dreams of being an actor before he got deep into crime. Now, Johnny is turning his misfortune into a acting and filmmaking career. The cinematography is a little rough in the first 20 or 30 minutes as everything was handheld, but once the story kicks in you’re hooked and really care about these characters. It’s one of those films that gets better as you’re watching it.
DAY TWO – “Holy Rollers”
Mob Panel – “Forget about it!”
(L to R) Antionette Giancana, Henry Hill, Lou Martini Jr., Frank Cullotta, Meyer Lansky II, Tony Montana
Me (Right) and Lou Martini Jr. (Left)
“Goodfellas,” “Casino,” and “The Godfather.” These are some of the best mob movies ever! The Las Vegas Film Festival managed to get a group of old timers that were very involved with ‘organized crime.’ Even the mobsters don’t like to be referred to as mobsters. The usual suspects included Henry Hill, Frank Cullotta, Meyer Lanksy II, Tony Montanta and Antionette Giancana. The panel was moderated by Lou Martini, Jr. who was in episodes of “The Sopranos.” These ‘wiseguys’ were very open to discussing their lives in depth. The discussion went in so many directions. A woman in the audience who had read a book about Cullotta asked him about being a hitman. Cullotta responded that he was just following orders. He had to kill or be killed. When the panel was asked about how they were treated in prison, Cullotta mentioned that he’d take being in prison in America over anywhere else. He praised the United States. They all had to deal with the Justice system, but they respect the U.S. for being the fair system that it is. Giancana was the liveliest of the group. She was very full of spirit. She even showed up at the Artisan that night to party. Meyer Lansky II said that his famous grandfather was hard to figure out. There was also a discussion about the fact that Meyer Lanksy was not accepted by the Israeli government when he wanted to retire in Israel. I met and talked with Lou Martini, Jr. after the panel ended. Nice guy. To me, it was a thrill to see the real people behind such legendary movie characters. These are the real people that lived the mob life whether they themselves were criminals or just in the family.
Michael Madsen – Indie Icon Award
“Are you gonna bark all day, little doggie, or or you gonna bite?” – “Reservior Dogs”
Michael Madsen accepts Icon Award
After a screening of Michael Madsen’s latest film, “Vice” which he starred in and was the Executive Producer, Actor/Director Ash Adams sat down on stage to interview Michael. Before the interview, Ash screened a video tribute, showcasing all the people Michael has worked with. It was a very interesting and entertaining discussion about Michael’s acting career. Madsen said he didn’t think his career had a chance to go the distance until he was in “Donnie Brasco” (1997), surrounded by Al Pacino and Johnny Depp. Madsen talked about getting advice from his close friend, Dennis Hopper. Madsen was down about his career and tells Hopper maybe he should have been a carpenter. Madsen then repeats what Hopper told him, “Look what happened to him” (referring to Jesus). Although Madsen has portrayed many similar characters, he has been some great films; “Reservior Dogs,” “Kill Bill I & 2, “Donnie Brasco,” “Free Willy” and “The Doors.” Congrats Michael!
“Behind Your Eyes”
OK. This was not one of the better films I had seen. I knew the caliber of films couldn’t stay as good as what I had seen the night before and “Holy Rollers” that morning. The cinematography in “Behind Your Eyes” was good. The acting was pretty good. It was a good ‘bad movie.’ It had an interesting twist. It was watchable and entertaining. This innocent woman goes away for the weekend with her boyfriend. The boyfriend keeps the destination a secret. A stranger abducts them, ties them up and keeps them in this house. He hits the boyfriend with a belt. While the couple escapes, the boyfriend trips and hurts himself…supposedly. The girlfriend runs to a neighbor’s home to seek help. The older couple next door are not what they seem. Their welcoming gets weird. They tie the girl up. It turns out that the boyfriend hired the ‘stranger’ to abduct himself and his girlfriend so that he could offer both the stranger and his girlfriend up to his bizarre parents he left years ago. The stranger is now a victim along with the girlfriend. Again, the twist is interesting, but not a great film.
Shorts – “The Secret Friend”
After the shorts program in the Hilton Theater, I walked towards the nearby Tempo Lounge and there’s Lou Martini, Jr. He asks me if I’m going to the Artisan. He mentioned taking a cab and at the same time he asked me about getting a lift and I offered to take him. So, now I’m taking a ‘Soprano’ to an after party. You never know where the day takes you. Lou played Anthony Infante under Johnny in the NY ‘crew’ on “The Sopranos.” It was an interesting party. It wasn’t a crazy, film festival, raunchy party although there was a busty chick in a bikini who finally ripped off her top and swam around the pool topless. That’s always a plus. I had a brief conversation with Antionette (mobster panel). She actually told me that the girl was too big to be wearing a bikini. I told her that I liked women with a little meal on their bones and besides that busty bikini girl took pride in herself to wear the bikini. The girl was not fat, but Antionette was probably very accustomed to women being of a proper size and wearing the proper things. After all, she’s a lady that could get whatever she wanted. I just hope I didn’t piss her off. Perhaps I should lay low for a while. It was a nice party. I met some people. I actually ran into someone I knew.
It’s still very disheartening that the film community here in Las Vegas doesn’t attend their own film festivals. A few people I recognized were present throughout the event, but how do these people expect to go anywhere if they’re not out there meeting people. People from all over the world come here to Vegas to screen films and network. You don’t even have to go far. It’s in our backyard.
Day Three – “Virgin Alexander”
What ever happened to Balky? Remember “Perfect Strangers”? Bronson Pinchot is now doing something ‘perfectly strange’…giving handjobs to guys in this cheesey, wannabee a good feel movie. Yes, this was another bad movie. It takes a lot for me to walk out on a movie especially if I have an all access film pass. I stayed until the end for this movie. It was a very bad script. First draft? The actors were not funny. It’s about a young male virgin, ‘ALEXANDER,’ in his mid-2o’s who’s grandfather leaves him his house until the grandson discovers it’s going into foreclosure in ten days. He meets this girl who becomes a call girl in order to raise money for college. Pinchot is her pimp. Eventually Alexander and the girl set up a brothel in Alexander’s house in order for both of them to raise the money they need. It was pretty dumb and not funny. The best part of the film shocked the hell out of me. Here’s this really quiet guy playing the lead male virgin. His deadpan ‘paleface’ expressions actually reminded me of Buster Keaton in a good way. The actor steps out onto a floor after the film part is over. He then starts tap dancing like nobody’s business. WHAT? Why didn’t they change the character to a dancer instead of a piano player? Are you kidding me? So, I’m getting lunch at the Pizza Hut at the Hilton. On my way back I recognize the actor on a poster and his name, Rick Faugno. He’s in “Jersey Boys” playing at the Hilton. It doesn’t take one too long to figure how that film got in. Who knows? Maybe the screeners didn’t know who he was. It wasn’t the worst film I’ve seen and certainly not the worst film at this festival. That film came later in the day.
WOW! Every now and then comes a feature film documentary that actually makes a difference in the world. Director Lauren Parsekian set out with a girlfriend to travel across America to interview hundreds of women about ‘mean girls.’ Lauren and her friend would visit middle schools and high schools. They’d get a group of the girls together to discuss being victims and being bullies too. A truth box was set up so girls could talk straight to the camera in privacy to talk about their feelings. In groups and classes the director and her friend passed out apology notes so girls could apologize to each other. The girls did exactly that. It was a very powerful and moving occurrence. They interviewed mothers that went through the same issues. The film often mentions how men are different then women in the fact that they abuse each other one minute and they’re friends the next. Girls and women often don’t work that way. With women, their appearance and social standing are critical to surviving their school years. Much of what the girls go through lives on in adulthood. A lot of the reasons girls become bullies is because they’re either taught it at home are because of something going on in their home that makes them that way. Bullies are often bullied at home so they look for others to bully while at school.
This documentary not only achieved critical acclaim and is being picked up for a theatrical run in NY and LA, it’s gone above and beyond expectations. Lauren Parsekian has started the Kind Campaign which is an educational program for girls teaching them about bullying. Parsekian is going to additional schools with the Kind Campaign and hopes to take it to every school in America. This film really did a fine job of hitting an increasing issue in America at a much needed time as more and more teens are being bullied and committing suicide. Bullying has been around for ages, but social media has recently taken it all to unbelievable levels. I highly recommend seeing “Finding Kind.”
Shorts – “Misdirection”
The standout from the last shorts program that I saw was “Misdirection.” I can see why it’s won some awards at other international film festivals. Peter, the grandson of the legendary magician, Castulo the Magnificent, discovers the real magic behind a set of secret cards his grandfather has. Evil magicians are out there in the world trying to track down these secret cards and it’s up to Peter to stop the cards from getting into the wrong hands. This was a very clever story told extremely well with some visual effects that truly added magic to the film. It had very good acting and direction.
“The Encore of Tony Duran”
Hanging with Chad Plummer
Overall, I had a great experience at the Las Vegas Film Festival. Of course, the festival had its kinks, but all festivals have that no matter how long they’ve been running. Viva Las Vegas Film Festival!
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