Scattershot thoughts on Vegas and a couple of must-see films

Posted: April 24, 2012 in Rants, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

I just returned from a week-long trip in Sin City. It had been more than eight years since I was last in a then-monorail-less Las Vegas, and it was weird to see how much the town has grown in some sections (Downtown/Old Vegas has seen a surprising resurgence), and died in others (the North end, pictured below, is all but abandoned).

The unfinished Echelon and the Fountainbleau Hotel and Casino sit vacant on the Strip, reminders of the economic crash.

I was there for the annual NAB Show, which was a bigger sausage fest than a reenactment of the Last Supper at a congressional hearing on contraception. Seriously, the guy-to-girl ratio at that convention was higher than a Phish concert’s. It was a satisfying and inspiring show, though, both professionally and personally. My work wife co-worker Adam and I sat in on a handful of good presentations and panels, including Morgan Spurlock discussing his newest documentary, Comic-Con Episode IV: A New Hope, and a Q&A with the Bandito Brothers, makers of Act of Valor, who shared some entertaining production stories and filmmaking tips. Adobe showcased their new Creative Suite 6, due out in May, which blew us away. It’s great to see that Adobe Premiere, a program I use daily, is not only getting some much-needed updating with CS6, but becoming a real presence in feature-film editing, and used (in tandem with After Effects) by the major visual effects studios, too.

Business conferencing aside, we had our fun in the non-9AM to 6PM hours — a little gambling, more than a little drinking, even took in a horror-themed topless revue. I made a point to hit up the off-strip Bavarian restaurant and biergarten, Hofbrauhaus, which was as good as I’d hoped. Other dining highlights were Dick’s Last Resort in The Excalibur, a rowdy joint where the staff act like straight-up dicks to you, and Hash House A Go Go, a “twisted farm food” diner inside of The Imperial Palace, with the largest portions you’ve ever seen (their mountainous chicken and waffles plate is a sight to behold). I highly recommend all three eateries if you’re ever in town. After four nights of cliched Swingers quoting, playing “Hobo or Hipster?” and “Spot the Professional,” and collecting copious amounts of stripper cards, we’d had our fill of the neon jungle, so we thought we would do what we do back home: hit up the local cinema. Adam and I cabbed a few blocks off the strip to The Orleans Hotel and Casino, which houses a full-on multiplex theater, and saw the most violent, bloody, and awesome double feature ever.

First up was The Raid: Redemption.
My goodness, what a film. This ultra-violent Indonesian flick is an instant action & martial arts classic. You remember that hallway hammer fight in Oldboy? Yeah, this movie has about two dozen scenes like that. By the 5-minute mark, the simple-enough premise is set, the swat team enters the drug lord’s building, and the action does not let up until the film fades to black. The Raid is relentless, it’s graphic, and it’s pretty damn amazing. If I have a complaint, and this is a minor nitpick, it’s that the fight choreography does feel a bit repetitive on a few occasions. So while I may not think it’s quite the masterpiece that a few critics have crowned it (critics who you know haven’t seen enough Asian fighting films to make such a claim), I did dig the hell out of it, and highly recommend you catching it on the big screen if you can. You’ll leave the theater exhausted, still grinning about a couple of action sequences, and looking forward to the eventual sequel[s] (Redemption is the first of a trilogy).

And then there’s The Cabin in the Woods.
** alright, I actually saw this opening night, but did watch it again in Vegas
Ho-lee shit. If you consider yourself a real fan of horror and/or pitch black comedy, then you owe it to yourself to see this flick. The uber-meta film, written by frequent Buffy and Angel collaborators Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, takes a lot of the horror movie tropes you love and a lot of the ones you hate, flips them on their ear, and then penetrates said ear without permission or lubrication. If you’ve seen any of the trailers, then you know the movie takes a unique turn early on. Let me tell you, it’s just the first of many. Without spoiling anything too major, the cabin visitors’ story seems to be nearing an end around the 1-hour mark when a phone rings. That ringing, in a way, was an alarm sounding that the batshit-crazy second half was beginning. It’s not quite a From Dusk Till Dawn full-on tonal shift, but the movie certainly does kick it up a notch, and even lost a few viewers and critics (some of whom have claimed Cabin heavily ripped several scenes from other classic horror films, seemingly missing the point that Goddard & Whedon set out to spoof and critique those same overused cliches of the genre) in the process. The Cabin in the Woods actually achieves what Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and a handful of other self-aware horror films have tried to do. No lie, you will still be thinking about this one days later. It has a few scenes that are all-timers, ones that we’ll be referencing for years to come. I can’t exactly spill the beans on much of the story—the turns and reveals are half the fun—so consider this a glowing recommendation more than a review. I freaking loved it.

In closing, for the three of you still with me on this verbose stream-of-consciousness post, it was an eventful and memorable week in Sin City. Vegas is a place I think everyone should visit at least once. It really is adult Disneyland, only you’re expected to tip everyone… and I mean fucken everyone, from the cab driver to the guy who hails your cab driver, to your hotel maid. Now I never actually met my room servicer, but she did hook me up with extra stuff every day, so I tipped her and thanked her with a note made from all the aforementioned porn cards they handed us on the strip:

Good times.

  1. rwhyan says:

    Very nice! Sounds like you were pretty damn busy. I’m pumped to see The Raid, I love insane and senseless action films like that.

    • Shawn Talley says:

      Oh, you’ll love it, brother.
      And have you seen ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ yet? I don’t mean to hard sell the thing, but as a like-minded film geek and horror aficionado, methinks it’s right up your alley.

      • rwhyan says:

        I actually haven’t seen it yet! I live in a really small town with an equally small theater so they hardly get movies like Cabin. They are, however, getting it this weekend so I’ll hopefully be seeing it Friday.

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