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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

CineVegas Dispatch: Saint John of Las Vegas

My trip to CineVegas almost got off to a very bad start on Wednesday when I got to the airport and belatedly realized that my driver license had expired two days earlier on my birthday. Oops. Fortunately, my oldest daughter was kind enough to drag herself out of bed at 6:30AM in response to my frantic phone call, pick up my passport from my house, and schlep it out to the airport for me in time for me to catch my flight, so all was well.
It’s my first time at CineVegas, and my first trip to Las Vegas at all, and I have to say, this is one fun festival. Given the many distractions Vegas has to offer, I’m pretty pleased with myself for catching four films so far (though I’ve still managed to make time for some Vegas-style fun as well). The fest opener was a curious film called Saint John of Las Vegas, the first feature by director Hue Rhodes, who also wrote the script.
While the rest of the fest takes place at the Palms Casino and Resort, the opener was held at Planet Hollywood and enthusiastically kicked off by Dennis Hopper, rising up from a stage trapdoor to the tune of “Born to Be Wild.” The theater at Planet Hollywood, according to the many large breasts on display on larger-than-life posters at the venue, normally hosts a burlesque show called Peepshow (which is apparently pretty popular, as we were unable to score tickets to it this weekend). There’s no shortage of scantily clad women here in Vegas, though, so I’m sure fest attendees inclined toward experiencing the fleshy, sexy side of Vegas won’t find it too hard to find other options.

As for the film, it stars Steve Buscemi as a (kind of) ex gambler who’s given up the fast life for the security of a desk job at an insurance company and a nice house in a gated community in Albuquerque. I have to imagine Rhodes is a pretty bright guy, given that his script is roughly a parallel to Dante’s Inferno envisioned as a road trip for Buscemi’s character, John and his co-worker, Virgil (Romany Malco) to investigate a possibly fraudulent claim, with John fighting his personal demons along the way. This is much more obvious in retrospect once you’re aware of it than it is if you’re watching the film cold, which to me is indicative that the idea didn’t translate quite as well to the screen as it might have.
In spite of a promising supporting cast including Peter Dinklage (excellent), Tim Blake Nelson and Sarah Silverman (completely wasted here as John’s perky, smitten co-worker with a penchant for smiley faces), the film mostly sputters along; the stakes (har-de-har) never seem that high, and many of the film’s quirks (a stripper in a wheelchair performing a lap dance, a guy who keeps catching on fire) tend to feel more like ideas that the director wanted to stick into the film rather than being inherent to driving the plot.
Buscemi is always great, of course, and Malco is quite good as well, but the weakness of the script is a big hurdle to get over, even given the overall strength of the performances. It’s not a terrible first effort by the director, whose bio says he’s a recovering software engineer-turned-filmmaker, and, given the loosely Vegas theme, not inappropriate for this fest, but it kind of made me wish The Hangover wasn’t opening until, say, August or something, so the fest could have opened with a more solidly comedic film instead. Nonetheless, I’m intrigued enough by the idea of a first-time director having such an intellectually ambitious idea that I’m interested to see what he does with his upcoming projects.
I’m not big on fest parties, but we did briefly stop by the opening shindig at Prive at Planet Hollywood (nice venue, if you’re into that sort of thing), where the goody bag, oddly enough, included a Texas Hold Em-Dreidel game, a pin promoting kosher ham, and bacon-flavored lip balm (because everything should smell like bacon, or so the balm tells me). I’ll take their word for it.

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One Response to “CineVegas Dispatch: Saint John of Las Vegas”

  1. bunnybeth says:

    Sounds like a fun and productive time, Kim. Sorry things started out kind of stressful, but I’m glad oldest daughter was close by to save the day.
    I look forward to reading more.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon