I am fairly new to the Las Vegas area, and did not realize until recently that Sin City holds an annual film festival. Coming from smaller college towns in the past that have held smaller scale film festivals, I couldn't help but wonder if Vegas puts together a promising selection of titles that are a step above your average ho-hum festival that thrives on long-run indies. In order to address this curiosity, I decided that the 10th Annual CineVegas Film Festival was a must-see.

With my press credentials in hand, I entered the festival's venue at the Palms Hotel and Casino for a weekend marathon of films. To my surprise, the CineVegas Film Festival has thus far proven to be a very promising get-together for A-list celebrities and up-and-coming filmmakers alike. Rather than just cramming screenings back-to-back, the weeklong event, like Sundance, also arranges nightly parties and conversation sessions with stars such as Don Cheadle, Angelica Huston, and Viggo Mortensen. There is even a low key headquarters room where press, filmmakers, festival staff, and stars can come together to rub elbows. This is indeed not just a film festival, but a dream come true for any film aficionado, such as myself, who likes to both party and critique.

As I am attending the festival in primarily two weekends, I will be dividing my coverage of CineVegas into two parts. Therefore, I bring you Part 1 of 2 of CineVegas.

Your Name Here:

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The first film I managed to preview on Friday evening was the world premiere of Your Name Here. The film stars Bill Pullman, who was on hand for the premiere along with co-star/former porn star Traci Lords. I managed to have a brief conversation with Pullman prior to the screening after he happily agreed to photo opportunities with a group of young men who excitedly referred to him as "Mr. President" in reference to his role in Independence Day. While there are some stars that prefer to stay out of the fan limelight, Bill Pullman is clearly the type of actor who embraces and appreciates his admirers. Should I have known this, I would have brought my Lost Highway lunchbox for an autographing.

Despite Mr. Pullman's warm personality, I cannot say the same about his new film Your Name Here. The film stars Pullman as William J Frick. Frick is a writer of science fiction who is clearly not successful at his career or life in general. He is in serious debt and has neglected to take care of his ex-wife (Traci Lords) or his daughter. He is also obsessed with completing his latest novel and treats the final page as if it will make or break the world. Part of the problem with creating his masterwork is that Frick is obsessed with film starlet Nikki Principal, and wishes she would respond to his creepy fan letters with words of reassurance.

Frick's creative process comes to a screeching halt when he suffers a stroke. He awakens in a limonene with Nikki (Taryn Manning) and finds himself in a world where he is admired and revered by everyone, including Nikki. Thus the film begins and does not follow classical narrative conventions. Frick is taken through a whirlwind of emotions and worlds that both excite and frighten him. Just when it seems everyone loves him, he is suddenly betrayed by those he trusts. The main villain is an intimidating creep named Kroger (M. Emmet Walsh) who torments Frick by injecting him with a drug that causes him to re-experience bad memories. Somewhere in the mix we also get Harold Perrineau as a mysterious Shaft-look-alike and a baffling lesbian scene between Traci Lords and Taryn Manning. Could it be that Frick is really experiencing these things, or is he trapped in a work of his own fiction?

I am a big fan of films that royally mess with the head and do not leave viewers with the usual sense of closure. Sometimes such projects are not fully comprehensible, but they at least invite viewers to come back for multiple viewing in order to understand. Your Name Here did no such thing as it either frustrated or left me feeling underwhelmed. I was not detecting a clever subtext here, but rather the filmmakers' attempts to confuse just for the sake of confusion. The film is an overall messy experience as it jumps from one place to another. Most of these experiences are tormenting for both the protagonist William Frick and the audience. Perhaps experiencing such negative emotion vicariously through Frick is what the filmmakers want. Director Matthew Wilder even commented before the film that he wanted to capture the ups and downs of filmmaking. However, I found the project to be psychologically exhausting and mind-numbing. Plus there is Bill Pullman turning in his usual bland performance in the lead. As much as I appreciate the actor as a person, he is not the best at carrying the weight of a project on his shoulders.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Dark Streets:

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Saturday proved to be a much more optimistic experience with the world premiere of Dark Streets. The film is directed by Rachel Samuels and stars Gabriel Mann, Bijou Philips and Elias Koteas. Prior to the film's screening, I had a conversation with the very approachable Mann about the unfortunate demise of Paul Schrader's Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, which originally had Mann in a starring role. Renowned party girl Bijou Philips was also in attendance for the screening chewing up the scenery in real life just as much as she does on film.

Dark Streets stars Mann as club owner Chaz Davenport. His club radiates with toe-tapping sounds of old school jazz and swing. Crystal (Bijou Philips) is the club's main singer and dancing girl. She is also a close friend from Chaz's past who seems to harbor romantic tendencies. Chaz's father once successfully ran the city's power company before mysteriously passing away and not leaving his son a cent of inheritance. Therefore, Chaz is left in debt while his late father's power company is suddenly causing blackouts throughout the city.

In the spirit of true film noir, shadows begin to loom over Chaz's once-innocent life. A mysterious goon clad in leather (Elias Koteas) comes out of nowhere to offer Chaz financial and physical protection if he hires as a singer the beautiful, blonde-headed Madelaine (Izabella Miko). Of course, Chaz takes a liking to the angelic voice and face of Madelaine, whilst he experiences tension and disapproval from Crystal. Meanwhile, murders occur and the city continues having black outs. If only Chaz knew he was a protagonist male character in a film noir plot just ready to take a plunge into betrayal and seduction.

Dark Streets is thus far the best and most original film I have seen at the festival. It is not a contender for being a classic, but it certainly succeeds and trying something new. There are clear inspirations here from German Expressionism, old film noir, and neo noir projects such as Dark City. Director Rachel Samuels also mentioned at the end of the film Baz Luhrman as an influence. This is a very visually pleasing film with nostalgically-warped settings and dramatic cinematography. The actors also play their roles well, particularly Gabriel Mann who adds just the right touch of naivety to play a film noir lead caught in a world of scandal and femme fatales. However, the highlight of the film is the addictive soundtrack featuring prominent jazz and blues musicians. Singer/actress Bijou Philips proves that she does have pipes as she does vocals on a majority of the songs in the film. I thoroughly enjoyed Dark Streets because it dares to be different. The sinful neo-noir plot grabbed my attention from the initial get-go and did not let go until the finale. Should this film receive distribution, it is an ambitious film noir musical that is sure to entertain fans of either genre.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Get Smart:

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I do realize that Get Smart does not exactly scream "indie", but it was a major screening at this year's CineVegas as a charity event. Dwayne The Rock Johnson was on hand to introduce the film as profits from the screening were going to go toward the actor's Rock Foundation. While not being released until Friday, this is a brief, early review of the film.

Steve Carell stars as beloved television character Maxwell Smart. Once a detailed analyst, Smart is called into action to serve as an agent for the organization CONTROL after a sinister organization known as KAOS destroys CONTROL headquarters and kills many of their field agents. Smart is teamed up with the beautiful Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) to take down the baddies, whilst tough guy assassin Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson) is relegated to tedious office work by The Chief (Alan Arkin). Wackiness ensues as Maxwell Smart takes his first foray into secret agent territory with a few pratfalls along the way.

Many films require two or three paragraphs of summary to get to the root of the complex plot or its rich characters. Predictably, Get Smart does not require such an introduction. It is a comedy with action and goofiness, and that is sometimes all comedies should be. When walking into the film I left my brain at the door and wanted nothing but to laugh. The problem here is that the film as a whole just isn't funny. At least it is not funny in the same way that Steve Carell is. The comedic actor and the film almost exist independently from one another. Carell's impeccable line delivery had me in stitches, and I would venture a guess that the actor improvised many of these classic moments.

Aside from these moments, the film's script couldn't be more predictable, which is why it is not funny. Director Peter Segal has established a track record with safe, mediocre comedies such as 50 First Dates and Anger Management. I very much wanted to revel in the stupidity and slapstick, but it was hard to do so when its highlight gags involve Steve Carell somehow injuring himself and muttering something to the effect of "that hurt." Call me a comedy snob, but when you assemble such great talent, I at least expect some solid writers to be on board.

Rating 2.5 out of 5