Saint John of Las Vegas (2009)

I am glad that I was able to snag tickets to the premiere of this movie at CineVegas this year. It also opened the festival. I got to go home early from work that day, and spending my last $50, I bought two for myself and my friend Corinne.

We had never been to CineVegas before so we didn’t really know what to expect. Opening night tickets included entrance into Prive, which is for another entry. They had a red carpet set up but one of the Planet Hollywood guys said with a laugh that not a lot of famous people were coming through. He suggested we just go get our seats.

So we walk towards the theater, which was also home to the Peepshow show starring Mel B from the Spice Girls and Kelly Monaco from Dancing with the Stars (I guess?). They’re both leaving in a month or so. Read it in the paper the other day. What made me giggle was the poster of Keltie Colleen in full Peepshow regalia. She is Ryan Ross from Panic at the Disco’s ex-girlfriend.

Just outside the entrance to the theater, the bar was open and they had free tubs of popcorn laying around, as well as candy and bottled water. It was really nice of them to provide that. Corinne was gobsmacked and we helped ourselves to the food. She wolfed the popcorn down before the movie started.

Even though our tickets clearly said 730, they didn’t start the movie until 8. Upon further reflection, I’m sure they did that on purpose. If they said the movie started at 8, people would be fashionably late.

After some opening remarks from Trevor Groth, the artistic director of CineVegas, as well as the writer and director Hue Rhodes, the movie began. What really compelled me to watch the movie and hustle to get tickets was this article: Imagining Dante in Vegas: “Saint John of Las Vegas” Director Hue Rhodes. Having read Dante’s Inferno in depth last semester for Medieval English Lit, I was truly excited to see a modern day interpretation of it on film.

For an indie film, a lot of familiar stars were in it: Steve Buscemi played the lead, John Alighieri. John is an ex-gambler and Las Vegas native who – down on his last bit of luck – makes a conscious decision to get away. He moves to Albuquerque, New Mexico as far as his tank of gas would take him to start a new life.

But anyone who is from Vegas or has lived here knows that you can never truly get the city out of your system. If you think you’re leaving, you’ll find a way back by divine providence or because “the Devil made you do it.” My fair city seeps in like an aggressive form of inoperable cancer and will eat you alive in all the best ways possible. John’s hell is Las Vegas and all the dreams that she took from him. I should say “outside of Las Vegas,” as a few characters were quick to correct him.

Romany Malco (The 40-Year Old Virgin) played Virgil, a clear nod to Dante the Pilgrim’s host. But Saint John’s Virgil was nothing like his literary predecessor. His Virgil does lead John on his journey, but in a more hands-off way. The Inferno’s Virgil practically had to drag Dante the Pilgrim through Hell and tell him to quit wasting his tears on the sinners, lol. Also, his ultimate intentions were such a shock to me. The Inferno’s Virgil would never make a conscious decision to do what Saint John’s Virgil did. He was a virtuous pagan and Saint John’s Virgil was nothing like that. I’ll leave it at that. Go watch the movie. 🙂

Sarah Silverman (The Sarah Silverman Program) played Jill, John’s love interest and co-worker. She was nothing like Beatrice, Dante the Pilgrim’s true love, the one who guided him to Virgil in the first place. But her character was a lovely addition. She has an obsession with happy faces (from her earrings, cubicle, bedroom and down to her nails), like the happy face from Watchmen. In fact, at the end, Corinne and I were expecting it to start dripping blood, but then we’re Watchmen geeks like that, haha.

During the Q&A after the show, Rhodes made a point to say that we know people like this. People who have little quirks, where you might be shocked that they do this but for them, it’s completely normal. I loved that explanation. I love Hello Kitty, down to the carpets in my car. While it may seem strange to outsiders and invites an uncomfortable conversation starter, anyone who truly knows me would have no need for further explanation. It’s just who I am.

Peter Dinklage (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) played Mr. Townsend, the owner of Townsend Insurance LLC. He is also Jill’s ex. I literally jumped in my seat when I saw him. I was like, “Peter Dinklage??” His performance was amazing. I wish he was given more screen time, but then, it wouldn’t make any sense, haha. I love everything he is in, period.

The big name sinners were played by Tim Blake Nelson (Militant Ned the Nudist), John Cho (Smitty the Firelord), and Emmanuelle Chriqui (Tasty D. Light the wheelchair bound stripper). I won’t give away the ending, but John does go through quite a journey to find himself. I’m not surprised in any way that he had to come back to Vegas to figure it out. Vegas has that power over everyone.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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