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Vegas Visions

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

Around the World in 80 More Movies checks in on the iconic Nevada city and its films.

Desert Bloom, 1986 with Annabeth Gish flowering despite atomic heat. A sensitive coming of age story gets extra flash from its setting during the early days of bombs going off at the Atomic Test Site near Las Vegas. A strong cast led by Jon Voight backs Gish in a story that pulls a great deal of its elements from its distinctive Nevada setting. But as often happens with movies ,actual filming took place elsewhere, in the neighboring state of Arizona.

Fools Rush In, 1997 with Matthew Perry finding a one-night stand leads to a long- term commitment with Salma Hayek in Vegas. The Las Vegas propensity for quickie weddings plays only a small part of this rom-com, whose script brings Perry’s designer character to Las Vegas for a construction job. As a result, numerous other regional locations appear, including the fabulous Neon Museum with its graveyard of abandoned signs from casinos and other businesses. The movie also makes good use of the Nevada-Arizona border at Hoover Dam. The title words come from the Elvis classic “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” and the King’s “It’s Now or Never” and “Jailhouse Rock” fill the soundtrack as well, but Hayak’s Latin roots diversify the music with Enrique Iglisias’s “Si Tu Vas” and Gloria Estevan’s “Mi Tierra.” The Hangover, 2009 with Vegas partiers searching for their missing friend. Over at the Nevada Film Office, none of us staff members thought a little comedy with not-too- familiar stars would produce a Mike Tyson knock-out punch at the Golden Globe Awards. But The Hangover beat the prestige-laden Nine as best comedy-musical and perhaps more importantly, made it into the top-ten grossing films of the year. The fifteen-day shoot in Vegas included a stint at Caesars Palace, which eventually offered a “Hangover Special” for movie fans who kept asking to rent the suite used in the movie(reality check: filmmakers shot on a set, but the casino offers plenty of spectacular rooms). The movie helped turn Bradley Cooper into a star and inspired two sequels, neither as funny as the first. To its credit though, the third entry features Melissa McCarthy. Honeymoon in Vegas, 1991 with Nicolas Cage dressing like his former father-in-law. Madcap comedy ensues when Nicolas Cage gambles away his fiancé in a Vegas poker games and ends up dressing like Elvis Presley so he can win her back. Using the plot device of an Elvis impersonator convention, producers invented the idea of a skydiving team called “The Flying Elvis’s” to put Cage near his love at Bally’s. The concept flew and the movie’s airborne Elvi started their own real-life business as a result. Elvis runs rampant through the film and layers the soundtrack with others performing his hits: Bruce Springsteen with “Viva! Las Vegas,” Bryan Ferry and “Are You Lonesome Tonight” and Billy Joel’s take on “Heartbreak Hotel” among the variations. Queen of Versailles 2012, with Jackie Siegel living a luxurious lifestyle from timeshares in Las Vegas and other locations. As much of the nation fell into economic despair after 2008, Siegel pursue her dream to build a mansion just like Versailles. At 90,000square feet, it also ranked as the biggest home in the United States. The money came from the world’s largest timeshare enterprise, run by her husband David. Filmmaker Lauren Greenfield effectively captures an excessive side of the American dream, which includes ventures in Las Vegas. Some of the film covers David’s efforts to take over Planet Hollywood. Viva Las Vegas, 1964 with Elvis Presley singing the title song. Eleven tunes in eighty- six minutes leaves little time for detailed story, but Elvis movies never featured much detailed plotting. Viva Las Vegas shines brighter than most of his films, helped by surehanded direction from George Sidney and a fiery co-star in Ann-Margret. The stars’ off-screen heat shows, while locations like Lake Mead and old Fremont Street brighten the scene. Few filming locations survived ensuing decades looking the same, but Elvis never really left the building—or the city. Tributes and impersonators abound, easily found on stages, in city streets, and in other movies like the documentary Almost Elvis.

Fear and Crime on screen in Las Vegas CSI, 2000-2015with William Petersen and a changing cast investigating Las Vegas crime scenes. Facing one or two horrific murders to solve every week, the original leader frequently needed de-stressing on the city’s roller coasters. His most memorable ride comes at New York, New York’s Big Apple Coaster in Season 1, Episode 5 (Friends and Lovers) with a closing musical segment fans call Grissom’s Overture. On another ride, Grissom brings along a wary Warrick, telling him, “You’ll like it. It cleanses you.” Since CSI creator Anthony Zuiker spent formative years in Las Vegas, he includes community quirks appreciated by locals. He told me about hopes to base in Las Vegas, but the production team filmed mostly in southern California, and 15 years passed with several cast members never pronouncing “Nevada” the way a resident would. Still, the production crew arrived quarterly to use iconic Las Vegas locations that fans search out, including the Venetian and other casinos. While series spinoffs featured city names, the original stood on its own until six years after cancellation in a reboot letting Petersen and co-star Jorja Fox revisit familiar territory with: Vegas, pilgrims in Vegas knew they could find familiar sights/sites by riding a blimp that provides neon city views like those found in opening credits. Other diehards get their show fix at a Experience challenge in the M.G.M. Grand. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,1998 with Johnny Depp breaking all the rules as a writer driving under many influences to cover a Las Vegas conference regarding narcotics and dangerous drugs. Viewers terrified of non sequitur stories find much to fear while those who hate hallucinogenic hooligans see copious loathsome qualities in Director Terry Gilliam’s take on a Boomer favorite from the 70s. Originally conceived when Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando seemed young enough to play main characters from Hunter S. Thompson’s novel, the movie came out too late to use either actor. Worse yet in box office terms, it bypassed the fad for Viet Nam era stoners to hit theaters in drug-infused hazes and help trippy films make money. It took DVD release for the film to achieve its own cult status, catapulted by Depp and co-star Benecio del Toro along with an impressive mix of players in bit parts—including the voice of Debbie Reynolds. Recreating 1971 Las Vegas took work because by the time movie makers arrived, a barrel vault canopy covered the city’s classic Fremont Street. Gilliam found period-piece sensibility at the Riviera, Stardust and Flamingo. Nearby Jean Dry Lake bed and Red Rock Canyon provide scenic backdrops for non-casino movie action. The Fabulous Las Vegas sign makes its requisite appearance, but today’s road trippers miss the movie’s placard reading “Don’t Gamble with Marijuana” and warning about potential for a 20-year prison term. True in 1971, but nowadays, medicinal and recreational marijuana dispensaries abound in the state.

Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, 2005, with Sandra Bullock as an

F.B.I. agent donning showgirl feathers to rescue kidnapped friends in Las Vegas. Some might fear watching a movie that generated a big, verdure splat and mere 15% positive rating from critics on the Rotten Tomatoes review site—upped to a still-green 42% from viewers. But Bullock’s skilled comic timing makes the movie watchable, with the expressive Regina King generating her own laughs. More importantly for travelers, the movie’s makers (including Bullock as producer) spent weeks shooting Las Vegas and its vicinity with scenes in such classic road stops as Goodsprings’ Pioneer Saloon. Bullock’s Agent Gracie Hart and entourage stay in a flashy Venetian Hotel suite with a view of a nightly pirate show across the street at Treasure Island. As F.B.I. Vegas headquarters, the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse Building steps for a non-tourist destination. While plotting remains illogical, the Las Vegas setting provides an excuse for Bullock to dress as a magenta-and-yellow-clad showgirl while Kings ports a Tina Turner ensemble at a local drag queen hangout. They look like they felt real-life giggles during the resulting stage routine.

Ocean’s Thirteen, 2007 with George Clooney ,Brad Pitt and friends scamming a casino. Whether led by Frank Sinatra in Ocean’s 11 or George Clooney in Ocean’s Eleven, clever casino heists lure viewers keen on iconography in the epitome of a Vegas- style crime. Meanwhile, Ocean’s Thirteen adds recognition of the both the city’s traditions and new trends. The team takes on Al Pacino, who demolishes Godfather principle by defying omerta and breaking his word of honor. In vengeance, Oceanographers subvert Pacino’s effort sto win a five-diamond rating for his new, luxury Vegas hotel. Antics include middle school toilet hijinks, plus all gamblers’ dream—a trick forcing every slot machine in the casino to pay out at the same moment. Pacino’s casino, The Bank, sprouts in the city skyline as a special effects trick, but real locations show up at the Bellagio, a key casino in all three Clooney efforts. The original1960 release featured heists at the Flamingo, Sands, Desert Inn, Riviera and Sahara, all changed or gone by the time Director Steven Soderberg filmed his 2001 remake. But the spirit of the original remains, with Rat Pack tribute concerts a staple in small showrooms.


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