For our ongoing series of prepping up for trips to specific locales via movies and books let’s now head on to the ultimate tourist mecca; Las Vegas. Sin City has become a fixture in the imaginations of Americans and indeed people all over the world for its excitement, bright lights, world class entertainment, and commitment to vice. For anyone who wants to sample its temptations in person or from afar consider the following.
Honeymoon in Vegas (1992) Andrew Bergman (Blazing Saddles, The Freshman) wrote and directed this comedy classic starring James Caan, Nicholas Cage, and Sarah Jessica Parker. Jack (Cage) promised his mother on her deathbed he’d never marry, but years later he and his lady love Betsey (Parker) plan a Vegas elopement. But when Jack finds himself in debt to professional gambler Korman (Caan) the latter proposes he spend the weekend with Betsey instead. What follows is a rollicking adventure with a climax featuring the Flying Elvises. Yes, you read that right-Flying Elvises!
Leaving Las Vegas Written and directed by Mike Figgis and based on the novel on the same name by John O’Brien. Once again Nicholas Cage is the main star but this time its anything but funny. Alcoholic screenwriter Ben (Cage) having lost career, friends, and family heads out to Las Vegas with the express goal of drinking himself to death. While there he meets up with prostitute Sera (Elizabeth Shue, in one of her most acclaimed roles), with whom he forms a relationship. Audiences and critics alike both praised the film and Cage won the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Actor. Tragically, though O’Brien (for whom the book was semi-autobiographical) committed suicide two weeks after filming began.
Ocean’s Eleven (2001) Steven Soderberg directed this remake of the 1960 Rat Pack film by the same name with a star studded cast including Don Cheadle, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia, and Bernie Mac. Eleven crooks led by mastermind Danny Ocean (Clooney) set out to rob three of Vegas’s biggest casinos in one night. It was the number one movie of the year, spawned two sequels, and an all-female spinoff version called Ocean’s Eight is coming to theatres this summer!
The Cooler (2003) Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) is a guy whose luck is so bad he’s employed by Shangri-La casino boss Shelley Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) as a ‘cooler.’ A cooler who walks around the gaming tables because their mere presence is enough to ensure an run of bad luck for all the other players. But when Bernie meets cocktail waitress Natalie (Maria Bello) his luck starts to change. Baldwin was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award while winning the National Board of Review Award. Bello received the Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress.
The Hangover (2011) Four friends Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and Doug, (Justin Bartha) go to Vegas for a bachelor party to celebrate Doug’s upcoming wedding. But the next day Doug is missing and no one has any memory of what happened the night before. Thus set-up the comedy blockbuster that launched two sequels.
The Green Felt Jungle by Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Ed Reid and detective fiction author Ovid Demaris. Long before Vegas was controlled by corporations it was controlled by gangsters. Demaris and Reid explore the role of mobsters, prostitution, and political racketeering that were all critical to Vegas’s foundation and early history. Benny Binion, Gus Greenbaum, Barry Goldwater, Willy Bioff, and, of course, Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel are all featured players. This was the first major expose of Vegas’s dark underbelly and it stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for 23 weeks. Reid was terminated from his position at the Las Vegas Sun following publication and Goldwater threatened to sue for libel.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter Thompson (1971.) Legendary founder of Gonzo Journalism and inspiration for fan favorite Doonesbury character Uncle Duke, Hunter Thompson most famous work is this autobiographical roman a clef. Raoul Duke and his attorney Dr. Gonzo descend on Vegas for a drug fueled bacchanalia while reflecting on the state of America and the 60’s counter-cultural movement. It would become a benchmark of American literature and a movie version directed by Terry Gillam and starring Johnny Depp and Benecio Del Toro came out in 1998.
Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas by Nicholas Pileggi (1995) Crime reporter Pileggi tells the true story of Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal a Chicago bookmaker working for the Mob and Anthony Spilotro who controlled numerous casinos during the 70’s and 80’s. Rosenthal ran daily casino operations while Spilotro handled security, protection and management of the infamous Hole in the Wall Gang who committed numerous jewelry heists. The book was the basis for the Academy Award nominated movie Casino directed by Martin Scorcese starring Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and Sharon Stone.
Bad Kitty by Michelle Jaffe (2006) This Young Adult novel stars 17 year old Jasmine Callihan vacationing in Vegas with her family. Jasmine dreams of being a detective while avoiding her obnoxious cousin Alyson and crushing on a cute guy at the pool. An attack by a crazed three legged cat named Mad Joe though embroils her in a murder mystery. Sensing she needs help Jasmine’s three best friends Valley Girl Polly Prentiss, eccentric inventor Roxy Hernandez, and her amazingly perfect brother Tom show up to offer insight into the case and fashion advice! It spawned a sequel Kitty Kitty and the Bad Kitty graphic novel series.
Beautiful Children by Charles Bock (2008) Following the lives of several interwoven characters in Vegas like 12 year old Newell Ewing with ADD, his parents Lincoln and Lorraine, his older friend Kenny, The Girl With the Shaved Head, homeless teen runaway Lestat, and homeless teen Wiccan anarchist Danger-Prone Daphney. It was Bock’s first novel and was awarded the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction as well as being named one of The New York Times notable books of the year.
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