Pushing Boundaries & Making Movies: The 2010 SxSW Film Festival – Feature

The SxSW Film Festival continues to show its predilection for originality and virulent temperment (certainly where SX Fantastic lies) but the reality borders between surrealism, sardonic repression and simple brutality. This generally avails a border of morality versus the pressures of a global world dominated by a gestation of wills that doesn’t recognize certain conventions.

Films #1 The first three films create a vision of the ironic where the simple rules of general living are misplayed but ultimately redeemed functioned by the selfless accepting at times of others.

“The Good Heart” tells the story of crotchety old bar owner (played with authoratative vindictiveness by Brian Cox) who must put his faith in something after a series of heart attacks leaves him fearing for his heart. Paul Dano, late of “There Will Be Blood” fame, plays his protege, a depressed homeless suicidal who simply does not want to confront life despite being a very old soul. A woman in the form of a foreign stewardess who is afraid of flying and thereby loses her job reeks of forced complativeness but the simmering wills of both Cox and Dano keep the tension and retribution at a steady level.

“Barry Munday” also tells a story of a man trying to play himself but in a completely comedic way. A serial lothario who basically has no game, the lead character shoots himself once in the foot too often and ends up paying for it…with his testicles which he loses as the result of an unfortunate and painful but nonetheless humorous incident on his part. Patrick Wilson, who seems to enjoy more and more at the prospect of playing complete losers, works on a different frame than “Watchmen” since here he plays the guy as a complete physical wreck so every move is an utter lesson in hilarity. His schtick seems almost subtle next to Judy Greer as a woman he apparently impregnates but doesn’t remember doing. In a light subplot, his paternity is questioned in his mind even though he doesn’t take a maternity test. It all figures out in the end but it is some of the supporting players in light parts like Jean Smart, Cybill Shepherd and Malcolm McDowell as the painfully sarcastic father of Greer who understands that his daughter is different. What was throwing me off after I saw the movie was the dirth of killer 80s songs used as music cues. My thought immediately runs to problems of distribution since these songs by the likes of Toto, Chicago and Gerry Rafferty are big ticket songs and figure prominently into the montages that quickly at times define the movie. They might sound good at a festival but without a distributor on board, the thought process of rights becomes concerting. All this said, despite any cornball factor, they enhanced the comedy with aplomb. Post screening before leaving the festival I found that director is inherently involved with “Rock Of Ages” now playing on Broadway which got clearances from many other bands so there might be a trick tactic for negotiation up his sleeve. The soundtrack would be a lot of fun.

In “Cyrus”, which was seen a day before leaving for the festival, the movie, made by the local Deplass Brothers who also made festival rounder “Baghead”, uses two effective comedians in the form of Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly who both function from different modes via Judd Apatow and Adam McKay. The instigation here of a black comedy is almost in line with “Cable Guy” in its implication of sinister behavior. The one perception that can truly define the ideal of the film is “heart”. You can feel the intention in which these actors function within the script. Jonah mentioned later in our interview that this is the most drama he has played but it is in that version you see how serious comedians can be. We see the best takes on screen but it does take a series of cause and effect to make that happen. No one is better at that at times than John C. Reilly because he can play both ends with willing vulnerabilty. The character John he plays here seems almost like he could be a over-the-hill version of Reed Rothchild, his character from “Boogie Nights”, whose game has failed him in middle age. Another exceptional performance that undoubtedly grounds the film despite some odd scenes with Jonah is the consistently impressive Marisa Tomei proving that her Oscar years ago was no fluke. It is a matter of playing the right material. She seems to thrive in these off-center roles. The movie ends abruptly presenting a sense of responsibility of the audience to commit to whether or not their attachment to the characters bears more consideration.

Parties The one thing about South By Southwest which can be both good and bad in a strange way is the way with badges the inclusion of the parties is guaranteed. Some function better than others which is a law of the odds, although the logistics of the PBS Party which was comparative of all three of the festival angles (music, interactive and film) left that soiree with a severe shortcoming in that hardly anyone could get in adding to the fact that shuttles were required to get to the party.

The key with SxSW (with the exception of the screenings at the South Lamar Drafthouse) is that everything is within walking distance or directly in the vicinity of the central Sixth Street area. There are literally dozens of hotels there but even staying out near 1-35, there is a quite effective (with the exception of Sunday night) metro system that can allow for late night screening and partying without having to resort to cab rides.

The day of the beginning structure, the Tweet House, which also had a significant presence at Sundance continued its prospect of showing how Twitter can indeed be a problem solving mechanism for the entertainment and interactive industry. Certain accounts of its effectiveness are replayed but the reality lies in if there can be a true monetization of its wares. That discussion was put to the test but some of the panels resonated as more promotional perspectives for the event’s partners than practical knowledge.

The one true highlight within the cocktails which began with the infamous Lone Star Beer was the reconnection with Ben Steinhauer, whom had been present showing his film Winnebago Man at the Edmonton Film Festival. Within that day, he had locked distribution with Kino Film International gauranteeing a theatrical engagement in NY along with with DVD outlay and foreign television rights proving another victory in the distribution battle for docs.

The Lone Star state of mind continued out on the patio where Maria Maria provided a stunningly tender short rib surrounded by a green bean chile concotion that went exceptionally smooth as bathtub filled with beer and ice compliment the girls relegated in Texas booth slinging the sponsor tequila.

The opening night film was Lionsgate’s superhero homage/send up “Kick Ass” which many related was much darker than expected. It started off purely as a more family friendly outing but apparently took on more of an edge. Because of its screening at Showest only days later, “A Good Heart” seemed more necessary despite finding out that it had already secured distribution through Magnolia Pictures. The after party at Buffalo Billiards proved energetic yet moderately subdued despite the venue’s rather roadhouse quality. The marinated sliders and pulled pork was sweet while the Miller Lite served in the circular bar remainder allowed one to keep an open watch on the particulars involved.

Unbeknownst to most coastal dwellers in LA and NY and probably beyond, the brand new state of the art facility: Spiderwood Studios, which contains many elements of what apparently Robert Rodriguez has been doing for years at his local Troublemaker Studios, has come to be. Located about 45 minutes outside Austin it boasts a rather large wrap-around green screen stage which is perfect for the virtual environments which both Zack Snyder (for “300”) and Darren Aranofsky (for “The Fountain”) ended up having to shoot in Montreal to keep budgets down. The party the studio threw on top of Speakeasy was a little too crowded for true interaction because of a poorly placed bar but its employees including a character animator from outside Los Angeles who attended Cal State but came to work in Austin, shows the pull that the area is gaining and the ability of jobs. The reality though is that what is necessary for a true filming approach (at least as far as the studios are concerned) is a place where execs can have a direct line to filming. New Mexico has that and to a lesser point parts of Louisiana. Austin does not have direct access from LA since travellers have to first go through Houston or Dallas which causes a direction problem.

Rodriguez’s operation is an exception to the rule because his entire function is self contained where everything from production to post to sound editing to score to visual effects are all done in house making him a one-stop shop. The great thing is that he is starting to expand the possibilities of his set up to other filmmakers coming under his wing which we are seeing with the upcoming “Predators” which he produced and “Machete” which he co-directed with his long time editor. The production and filming community in Austin is building but is a long way still from central despite its intentions. But what it does have is a city behind it.

The Big Stock Party at The Beauty Bar was, besides IFC, the most purely energetic and interactive party of the fest segmented into a small venue that many people did not find as it was slightly off the beaten path just beyond Red River road. Taking function up near the bar as the music permeated between rave, hip hop and 80s, Newcastle overcame the structure as party fouls were realized and rectified with a red motif that gave the place a light viscosity that made it almost warm while still being dirty. Bigstock’s claim was as the “Wal Mart of stock photography” as one partygoer described it. The reality is that if you are accessible with a quality product that is easy to use with releases built in, it is better than all the headaches using other methods would inevitably cause.

The IFC Party at Karma Lounge, like last year, was even more in tune than the comparable and gritty “Observe & Report” shindig. Being derailed from a screening takes some doing when one is focused but conspirators in the form of a triple threat of a festival director, an exceptional fun female line producer and her local married friend who claimed to have no knowledge of the industry except that “shots are good” motivated the evening. The key between a good party and a great party is the breaking down of people’s barriers so that honesty comes through and they can relax without worrying as much about “the job”. With So Co shots racing at a mile a minute, dancing on platforms brought back a similar situation from last year which shows a consistency of energy and action on the part of the organizers. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, especially if it is working correctly.

Hangouts Every once in a while from a film festival, you have to take a break from the rigamoroll which requires one to step outside the official spots. Unlike last year, your narrator found himself spending infinitely more time on 6th Street and not at the convention center unlike last year. The key is that 6th Street wants your business, and being that this is a college town, finding the deals and places to chill are as easy as opening your eyes, because you always find networking and contacts waiting to be made in these places without even trying.

The Blind Pig was the first spot that caught the eye on the second day of the fest. On the front of its windows, it was promoting its Crawfish Boil. Now most people on the coast and everywhere but the South and Mid South don’t get a chance. Austin is pretty much still a bit away. However this bar flew in crawfish (about 300 pounds) since it needs to be fresh and set about boiling immediately.

Being able to chill for a bit, drinking $2 Ziegen Bocks and working on plates of crawfish begets many conversation from a former model with a thick Texas accident whose boyfriend works at the bar relating that “girls have to get dirty to eat crawfish” to a former Florida resident just transplanted to Texas who missed lobstering off of Key Largo to a just graduated college student with a short in the fest called “Kelp” about a love affair of the aquatic kind, there was no shortage of discussion and trips to the outside where both locals and out-of-towners working on the little monsters. Another things to mention is that the crawfish were free along with potatoes and sausage as they lasted. The inference was just to keep drinking.

Before the last day’s quick video interviews in front of The Alamo Ritz, The Jackalope, which having read the local literature was ranked among the best bar food, prompted a quick lunch stop. The art on the walls is the first element that catches the eye with almost cartoonish but inherently stilted vision of horses with elements of movie personas while semi nudes reminiscent of those seen in “The Shining” but with white women baring breasts in almost sepia shadowed visions, give the bar a genuinely altered mindset that is both titilating and curious. But back to lunch, even without beer needed, the Black & Bleu Burger which was cooked in a blackened style was truly filling and exceptional along with waffle fries: quick, tasty and to-the-point, no frills but what you need.

Films #2 The second batch of films run from the optimistic to the excessively brutal past the line of depravity. All have a place with the latter two being one of five films selected as part of the midnight sidebar called SX Fantastic curated by Tim League, who is both one of its founders as well as the local maven responsible for the Alamo Drafthouses. Because of “Aint It Cool News” and Harry Knowles, Tim is now world class because the guy gets it. Filmmakers like Tarantino and Rodiguez love this guy because he pushes the boundaries, shows where guys like them came from, and has fun doing it.

Point in fact, during the introduction of “Outcast” on the first night, Tim set forth that he would be doing drinking contest. Being one not to be left out, others including yours truly committed to a chugging contest which would lead up to a pyrotechnic gunpowder burst on the front of the stage which didn’t happen. But the intention was good.

The intent before “Serbian Film” two days later was more deliberate but seemingly appropriate since the actual shot they did (which was called a Polish Tequila Shot [thanks Zebra Room!]) is meant to cause physical pain since it involves snorting salt, downing the shot and then squeezing line into your open eye. It was the perfect antecedent to that film.

But before the integration of that visceral darkness of epic and disgusting proportions, the local inventiveness of “Mars” shows an utter paradox to that later film in its optimisism and comfortabily. Director Geoff Hartlett is also a teacher at University Of Texas and understands the maintenance of balance in this situation. Optimizing proprietary software similar to what Richard Linklater did with “Life” and “A Scanner Darkly”, Hartlett uses the narrative structure to incur what for him would be the most interesting background to set a love story against, the looming presence of Mars and possible life. Less “2001” and more “Mission To Mars” without the reveal, the film understands its structure but owes in some ways a more than passing ode to that Brian De Palma film. “Mission” was undistinct with the exception of a scene outside the space ship where one of the astronauts, played by Tim Robbins, must sacrifice himself. Coupled with Ennio Morricone’s music, it is still a phenomenal moment of filmmaking. It however does prove that this arena of space has much drama that can still be played out in our lifetime. Some of the best moments in Hartlett’s “Mars” come inside the space ship where close quarters make one think of the different between life and oblivion. While not as inherently dramatic, the fact that the comparison can be made is a good one and shows the possibilities of the process.

“Outcast”, the first of the SX Fantastic films screened, takes on the vision of Irish folklore and magic. Taken from intentions of the craven overlords, there is a gritty realism to the way two warring sides take on the motivation of their survival. On one side is a rising soldier vying for power but needing a mission to bring it around. Like “Katalin Varga” [seen at the 2010 Santa Barbara Film Festival], one begins to see the political and sociolgical influence seeping into the popular culture [a fact that it is not lost on the later “Serbian Film”]. The Monster within is protected by his mother who is all too aware of her responsibility to keep her blood safe though the reveal shows a double edged sword. The romantic subplot meant to envision the two-faced mutation’s lack of control over his fate is rather plainly executed as a paradox in the end. The build up works but the pay off seems a bit undone despite best efforts.

In terms of a experiential ride that bring one full broad, “Serbian Film” is a motherf**cker. It is truly one of the most disturbing films this critic has ever seen. The only other one I can think of recently is “Cargo 123”, a Russian film which played at the Los Angeles Film Festival a few years back. “Serbian Film” and its sheer presence at the festival is polarizing among many as shown in discussions right after the screening. Even revealing the depths of its darkness cannot begin to explain it. It simply has to be seen to be believed and most should not. Quentin Tarantino mentioned some weeks ago at a panel in Santa Barbara that a “ride” of a film is one where you are totally immersed and almost want to escape. “A Serbian Film” does that. It is a jaw dropping mind f*ck of sheer horror that is utterly “horrible” in every bit of a “real” sense [if that is the right word]. It is monumentally brutal. The sheer hell that the lead goes through along with everyone he knows is simply too real in all respects despite realizing it is a movie. The last film that did that was “Invincible” by Gasper Noe but he did it only in one scene which lasted for 5 minutes. This one does it for a whole movie.

“Serbian Film” is not a movie for the faint of heart. In fact, it is a movie very few people would sit through. A good comparison is the film “Antichrist” which premiered at Cannes last summer. People were utterly polarized by that film with moviegoers walking out in the first five minutes. That film seems like kid’s play compared to this. The reality is that I would see “Antichrist” again. If I had known with this film what was coming, I would probably would have never stepped into the theater. But that is what the film is meant to do: kick your ass completely allowing you for the fact that you never saw it coming. That is its strength. The allegory, as related by the writer and director, presents the fact of the Serbian horror that is intermingled by its sheer brutality. This is evidenced in the villain of who believes he is making art when he has clearly lost connection with all reality but he has the brutality of others to force him along.

The filmmakers relate that this is a lesser version (in their minds) than the reality that was the stuff of life with the inherent genocide which spread through that country only a couple years ago. Being in the United States, many cannot possibly fathom that kind of suffering or degradation whereas in other countries it simply becomes their “reality”. While one cannot condone the level of sheer torture and suffering this film presents, it does present a very distinctive viewpoint that requisitely makes you question ultimately where media is taking us in a society where things have to be taken so far beyond the line to have impact.

To bring a bit of brevity that has nothing to do with this film, the Alamo Drafthouse both on South Lamar and at the Ritz on 6th Street excel in their comforting and hearty libations during the course of their films. The chocolate and peanut butter shake is simply heavenly in its countenance while the Bleu Burger is lusciously cool and vivacious with its intensive crumbles. Even when simply maintaining a hydration quotient with an ice filled glass of water, the seasoned fries, salted to perfection with queso and/or ketchup simply satisfies. The layout of the theaters with bar room like tables in front of all seats is utterly practical and fun adding to the moviegoing experience in ways that major urban areas could learn from.

South By Southwest continues to grow and build in its draw. The balance of its pertinance revolves in its ability to draw big name talent with the tendecies of indie cred. The festival itself sits close on the boundary to what Sundance once was: a commercially viable outlay threatened by the possibility of corporate overun on its outskirts. The cohesion of the festival and its function just below the radar make its a essential festival stop on the circuit with its balance of genre films (surrepticiously selected on par by SX Fantastic and Tim League) and the indeniable energy of Sixth Street which gives it the balance of a college town, the Wild West and Hollywood Central.

3D Love Affair & Star Spinning: Showest 2010 – Feature

Showest is always about showing the evolution of the movie theater experience. Whereas two years ago, the worry was that home theaters would take away the element of going to movies, the advent of 3D in the past two years has completely turned that angle on its ear. Last year’s argument involved the greater thought of how to afford to fit the current theaters to have 3D capabilities but the realization with “Avatar” is that there is always possibility. This motivated a new level of capital involvement because the films opening now do not have enough screens with audiences screaming for their inclusion. The paradox is quite humorous in its overall irony. This jolt of energy reflects in the intent of the studios and the inclement of star involvement which in recent years had been waning. The business is cyclical as ever.

Toy Story 3, Big 10 Award & Disney Opening Day Luncheon For the opening of Showest proper, Disney brought, through the voice of John Lasseter, the next installment in the Toy Story saga. While not directed by him, but rather by his longtime editor, his thought was that he wouldn’t give the films he made to anyone. After accepting the award from NATO for having 10 successful films at Pixar in a row, Lasseter introduced a new 3D short, “Night & Day”, shown for the first time outside the studio which he is says is the most creative piece he believes they have done to date. After this short, which uses Master Image 3D as an alternative to Real D, the producer and director of Toy Story 3 came out. Reflecting an earlier sentiment from John Lasseter that this screening would be in 2D and not 3D because post still had 5 or 6 weeks to go, illicited some questions. They also spoke that there was still temp score and that some shots near the end were not fully completed. Afterwards Disney held a luncheon in the main ballroom lining up the posters for all the Pixar Films side by side while Nathan’s served hotdogs and an 80s band worked the crowd. Buzz and Woody were present for pictures before the day moved on.

Letters from Juliet & Summit Dinner After a one/two punch last fall with “New Moon” and with a newly minted Best Picture Oscar in the form of “Hurt Locker” only a week ago, Summit is occupying the slot once beheld by Dreamworks. The key now is the types of films they present which is always in a general sense across the industry a crap shoot. This year they brought “Letters To Juliet” starring Amanda Seyfried set in Verona Italy which releases in the next couple months. The dinner following highlighted the Italian essence while the intermittance of Budweiser motivated conversation with theater owners on the pros and cons of restaurant integrated theaters and the hope of their return to major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles.

Lionsgate Reception, Kick Ass & Dinner The essence of Lionsgate this year rests in their progression of “Kick-Ass”, their take on the superhero genre. Lionsgate and the distribution team presented the screening to packed house along with a test consumer audience which allowed for a more organic interaction. It was proceeded by a new trailer of “The Expendables”, the new action movie directed by Sylvester Stallone and starring nearly every action star on the planet. The day before at the Bellagio at a private reception, Stallone interacted with the theater owners which is always important in terms of extending goodwill on the basis of the film. Crown shots and Patron Screwdrivers swirled with fondue as guests could take pictures in a green cape where their heads are photoshopped on top of one of the “Kick Ass” characters. The dinner proceeding the screening featured a great performance by all-female string quartet Phat Strad who played everything from “Moon River” to “Live & Let Die” as the character banners of “Kick Ass” flowed behind. With other films coming this year whose titles flew by on the party screen including “Killers” starring Ashton Kutcher and “Buried” (acquired at Sundance) starring Ryan Reynolds, Lionsgate as evidenced by the speech of one of its executives at the screening, is moving to evolve to the next level but realizes that the motion picture division is still what motivates the entire ancillary market whether it be digital home distribution, on demand or home video.

Back-Up Plan & CBS Films Luncheon CBS’ first foray into feature films plays into the aspect of its strengths but also in highlighting from possibilities in its TV archive. The first film “Extraordinary Measures” showcased Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser but in a structure more suitable to a TV movie. “The Back-Up Plan”, the second outing in more in structuring with a formative genre outlay. This romantic comedy stars Jennifer Lopez in a role both truthful for her but also formative as her comeback vehicle after taking some years off to be with her twins with husband Marc Anthony. Joining her in the film is Alex O’Loughlin who starred in the Joel Silver vampire series “Moonlight” and then the short lived “Three Rivers” both on CBS. It speaks to cross medium interaction which will be key to the introduction of new talent. With Lopez guesting on “How I Met Your Mother” in advance of the film opening, this kind of symbiotic element is in congruence of a new way of reaching audiences.

Post screening at the luncheon, Lopez took the podium, poised and business-like as she has always been, knowing the product that she is selling but also the importance of the business. She indicated her love of the genre and that it was the correct film to return in as she moves back into her movie career after her maternity break. Amy Baer, the head of the film division, seems to understand the aspect of demographic but also the necessary breakdown of different ideas at play.

“Beastly”, CBS’ next film, keys into the teen demographic but understanding that the young population is more adept to needing more stylistic substance as “Twilight” has shown. Stars Vanessa Hudgens and Alex Pettyfer approached on stage but not to be undone by Neil Patrick Harris, who after hosting the Tonys and the Emmys, knows how to control a room. His humor spoke to the fact that Vanessa was hot but that Alex cannot be denied. In seriousness after showing a clip, Harris says that the key is giving this young person’s story the slickness of an ultra Hollywood production. He enjoyed watching it beyond being in it which speaks to his taste.

Aside from announcing the film adaptation of “Gunsmoke” which has not yet set its cast or director, Baer and her crew brought forth Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Billy Bob Thornton straight from the set of “Faster” which is only two weeks into production. They showed a quick clip reel of what has been already shot which looks like a return to hard action form. Johnson spoke that after doing the family films, it was time to return to the genre he loves. He understands the balance needed. Thornton, a little thinner with dark hair, plays to the fact that these types of films are cool but that having the right studio behind you is necessary.

New Visions & Corner Spots Outside the ballrooms and screening theaters in the corridors of the Paris Convention area, the halls are covered with posters and standups providing trailer looks at new material to entice the theater owners. “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” [Fox] tells of the return of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) as he seemingly draws in the young Shia Laboeuf who is involved with the former magnate’s estranged daughter. The poster is seemingly reminiscent of “Devil’s Advocate”. “Knight & Day” [Fox] by comparison in its trailer has paradoxes that can be effective and interesting depending on how it plays out. There are some feelings of a “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” though Cruise’s performance seems to play a bit broader with his comedy. It is actually refreshing to see him in this form. At one point he places on sunglasses and you see that glint of Maverick. Cameron Diaz is playing more to a bumbling form of physical play but you don’t get to see as much of the character persona in this short look but the action seems less CG motivated and more practical based. “The Other Guys” [Sony] involves a cool teaser where both Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell are vaulting through the sky in slow motion but ends with them in the rigging that they use in the actual production so it is uncertain in terms of what the plot will revolve around. “Takers” [Screen Gems] plays to the dealer incentive and boasts an interesting street cred cast including Paul Walker, Matt Dillon, Idris Elba, Michael Ealy, Hayden Christensen and recording star TI but gives no true indication of the narrative flow.

When in Las Vegas, it is always nice to get away to essential regulars and a new transition. Hidden on the other side of the 15 on Charleston, Frankie’s Tiki Room shelters itself from the knowledge that it loves what it is. The drinks have a verve of possibility from the Mutiny to the Bender Ender. Off Strip spots cater to the locals and understand the vibe. From the ultra grooved decor to the chilled bartender and specifically the sound appropriate set up, the cool spot to be was here. Not to say, that evenings don’t evolve. Always a place of infinite fun, especially when talking back to the girls behind the bar, Hogs & Heifers is a mainstay in downtown. Michelle Dell’s transplanted roughhouse from New York is the original inspiration for Coyote Ugly. Tequila shots go down every which way and balance especially on top of the bar received applause. With Fremont Street reaching South ever so succinctly, The Griffin Bar shows it dark coolness late into the evening. The Irish purmutation of the night requires Irish Car Bombs post Jameson with the pouring reaching generously into the night even as the signal light remained dim.

Warner’s Big Picture 2010 Warner has always been known for pulling out the stops at Showest. In a return to form, many studios understand the power of bringing talent out to meet the exhibitor since it shows an essence of enthusiasm on the part of stars themselves. This of course is buoyed by some script writing of course but the reality is that you can see when Alan Horn, head of Warner, believes in something. He gave the go ahead to “Harry Potter” when he became the top dog at the studio and the franchise has performed with flying colors.

Dan Fellman begins the presentation by bringing his distribution staff on stage. Warner has always been about making sure the right angle hits the screen. It is a very specific process which has become more and more refined over the years. When Horn comes onstage, he speaks of the record breaking year Warner has had and speaks to the success of “The Hangover” as a good example of cooperation between the studios and the exhibs as the longer it played, the more money it made everyone. He also hails the extreme success of 3D and that most of their films will be upgraded to the format to meet demand. This intrinsically painted the structure for “Clash Of The Titans”.

Director Louis Letterier who spoke of being an inherent fan of the original at the age of 8 also made reference of the man who they would all ask their 3D questions to in the form of Sam Worthington, the star of 2009’s monster hit “Avatar”. The 3D footage of “Clash” shown represents a cross section of what was completed in advance of the film’s anticipated release date. Christopher Nolan then came to the stage, professional, cut in a suit that has become his trademark. He explained that he wanted to give a little more of a glimpse into “Inception” without giving too much away so the exhibitors could have some sense of what they would be playing. He summarized the gist with Leonardo DiCaprio being a type of investigator who is able to enter other people’s dreams. The extended footage speaks to the more noir specifics of this perception.

John Patrick King next unveiled a more worldly approach with “Sex & The City 2” speaking of the essence of Morocco and the absence of Kim Catrall as his lovely ladies approached the stage with finesse in the form of Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon and exec producer Sarah Jessica Parker. Catrall he speaks was starring in a production in the West End of London and could not be there. Zack Snyder, deep in post on his new “Sucker Punch” movie, presented his “Guardians” animated family picture. He admits that his kids wanted to know why they never saw his films which motivated him into this space at the motivation of Animal Logic whom he had worked with on “300”. This angle for him seems like a natural extension though the edginess needs to be maintained.

“Life As We Know It” brought director Greg Berlanti to stage in a romantic comedy format starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel in advance of his next directing duties on “Green Lantern”. Heigl spoke of her love of the genre and doesn’t intend to slow down though Duhamel seemed a little uncomfortable on stage rather letting the material speak for itself. Todd Phillips, who brought “The Hangover” to Showest the year prior, precluded the volleying daredevil antics of Zach Galifinakis and Robert Downey Jr.as they perpetrated their new comedy “Due Date” which keeps the “Road Trip” mentality clear. Zach and Downey’s seemingly easy prankish carefree idealization in no small way helped by the smoked-out coolness of Phillips himself who knows how to keep the ball rolling.

The closer of “Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows” involved some unfinished sequences and shots that showed some of the darkness coming forth buoyed by the fact of Alan Horn’s announcement of the continuation of the 3D proliferation within their biggest franchise. Warner keeps the pace going understanding that the necessary is a nice cross section filled with energy and star power.

Prince Of Persia & Showest Awards Dinner Jerry Bruckheimer, in town to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award, introduced his next big screen outing in the form of “Prince Of Persia”, being released this summer starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Post screening, the press interaction before the awards brought through three of the ensuing recepients. Jerry Bruckheimer spoke of “Pirates 4” which is set to start shooting in June but unsure if the film would be done for 3D. The market, he says, is saturated but what allows him to keep going at this level is his executives. In terms of “Persia”, he describes it as a romantic adventure, albeit one set in the 6th Century and says that is the kind of fun “Pirates” was but clarifying that it is much more plot driven. He also spoke of a new project entitled “Horsehunters” set in Afghanistan which was based on a NY Times article.

Comedy Director Of The Decade Jay Roach, best known for “Austin Powers” and whose “Dinner For Schmucks” comes out later this year, says no one knows what is funny. You tend to find it in the uncertainty. Steve Carrell, for example, he says, has a way of playing off-center delusional characters. In the end it all becomes about casting. Next, Katherine Heigl, recently a mother, came out with a new black hairdo which was seen earlier at the Warner function. She says she didn’t understand before what Showest really was about but now realizes that the theaters are trying to keep it current. She says that the hairdo is in anticipation for a role she is hoping to get off the ground which is Stephanie Plum, the heroine of Janet Evanovich’s “One For The Money” which is part of a franchise of books. She doesn’t she doesn’t feel like her native German/Irish with this hair. She also laughingly talks that she is beating comedies to death but that she loves them. She said also her next film which is in the can (“Life As We Know It”  spotlighted at the Warner presentation) allowed her to “learn on the go” for her new role as mother.

With Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood” hosting, the dinner sped by with chicken, salad and asparagus leading the way. Jerry Bruckheimer accepted first speaking of the point that the Lifetime Achievement Award is usually given when somebody is approaching the end of the career. He says though that his mother lived to be 104 so by that standard he has over 48% of his career still ahead of him. He also referenced his roots as a Detroit boy. Jay Roach balanced his perception as Comedy Director Of The Decade saying that “comedy is about exagerration so this is a very funny award”. The young in play were highlighted in the stars of tomorrow in Vanessa Hudgens and Alex Pettyfer, both of CBS Films’ upcoming “Beastly”. Hudgens says that in this business she already feels old while Pettyfer gave his props to CBS Films Head Amy Baer who picked him from obscurity though he did have the lead in Weinstein Company’s “Stormbreakers”.

Amanda Seyfried, who received the Breakthrough Star Of The Year Award for her roles in “Dear John”, “Chloe” and the upcoming “Letters From Juliet” which also screened at Showest, maintained a humble structure calling the award “encouraging”. Katherine Heigl, picking up Female Star Of The Year, seemingly set her dress aflutter as one strap came undone as she was walking up to the stage. Billy Bush then became the designated holder as he tried to keep from breaking into a laugh on-camera. Heigl’s first comment revolved around “Thunder Down Under”, the male revue show in Vegas describing that the advertising couldn’t be any more obvious. Drumroll.

Sam Worthington, honored with Male Star Of The Year, said the honor was “embarassing” but also “gives you a shitload of confidence” adding that he has “the best job in the world” despite starting off as a bread maker in Perth Austrailia. Zach Galifinakis, with a newly forming beard collecting his Comedy Star Of The Year Award, seemingly went off script without even knowing the venue he was in which made his act all the more surreal and applause worthy. His “Hangover” director Todd Phillips, who nabbed Director Of The Year, accepted in perpetuity admitting “I am a moron” while simultaneously telling stories of loving movies in youth particularly encouraging movie theater attendees to buy “Ice Pirates” and see “Star 80”.

The darkness of the desert speaks to the evening even as the wine flows beyond the tables. The last year of Showest at Bally’s showed an increasing return to form after years retained of less stars returning to the confab in the desert. The companies realize that especially with the new advent of 3D, the exhibitors are essential to the formula especially with the riveting performance of “Avatar” in 3D. With its translation into Cinecon at Caesars Palace next year, the new decade will begin in earnest, hopefully with many new surprises and advances ahead.