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THE LATEST

Real Estate Rebel

December 5–11, 2013

How the late David Atwell set the standard for megadeals on the Strip

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WHEN WE LOOK at the Strip, the builders get all the headlines. We read about the towering fgures who transformed the Strip with Caesars Palace, Bellagio and CityCenter. They take an empty space—which, given our penchant for implosions, might be relatively recently empty—and create something that benefts the community. But before those city-defning resorts were built, they had to secure the land to build upon. That’s where David Atwell came in. Atwell, who died November 25 at the age of 63, is an almost-native Las Vegan. Moving here with his family in 1955, he grew up watching the city grow up around him. Armed with a degree from UNLV, he went into real estate in the mid-1970s, soon focusing on hotel and casino transactions. Among the numerous deals that Atwell helped broker, three stand out as particularly important to both his career and the current shape of the Strip. The frst came in 1979, near the start of Atwell’s career, when he put together several parcels north of Caesars Palace that housed a number of low-density buildings, including the Sage & Sand motel, Caesars Shell, Holiday Texaco, Kontiki Apartments and the Deville Apartments. He didn’t have a particular use for the land in mind, but he had a buyer—Caesars World, then the casino’s owners. Atwell was able to sell the Perlman brothers, who then ran Caesars World, on the value of the land (Caesars was then in growth mode, with a new high-end tower at the Palace and expansion into Atlantic City and Lake Tahoe).

It took more than a decade, but Caesars eventually decided to build a shopping mall there—the frst time a casino on the Strip had done so. Since its 1992 opening, the Forum Shops has consistently been one of the most proftable retail locations in the country. A 2009 study clocked the Forum Shops with average daily sales of more than $1,400 per square foot, nearly $300 more than their closest rival. Atwell’s defning deal might have been the 1987 acquisition of the Dunes casino and its golf course in bankruptcy court for Japanese billionaire Masao Nangaku. The $155 million deal was a blockbuster for Las Vegas at the time, and Atwell fended off competition from many of the city’s leading developers, including Hilton Hotels, Kirk Kerkorian, Caesars World, Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson. The deal presaged the growing importance of international capital in Las Vegas, and while Nangaku’s ownership of the Dunes was not proftable for him (he sold it in 1992 for $75 million), new owner Steve Wynn made the most of the property, demolishing the Dunes to create Bellagio. The land included in the transaction also yielded the Monte Carlo and CityCenter. Had

one of the other buyers bested Atwell in bankruptcy court in 1987, it’s likely that the Strip would look much different today. Atwell’s last major deal, the 2007 sale of the Frontier to Elad Properties, illustrated the heights to which the Las Vegas real estate market soared. The record-breaking sale of $1.2 billion—or $33 million an acre— may never be equaled. Although, thanks to the ensuing recession, nothing has risen to replace the Frontier, that site stands as a monument to the power of the Las Vegas dream: Build it bigger and better. Through all the deal-making, Atwell remained tied to his hometown, particularly through his work with the March of Dimes and the Chamber of Commerce. Rebel fans may remember his singing the national anthem at basketball games. Through it all, he was committed to building the community as well the resort corridor. “Dave knew how to bring people together to make deals that were in this community’s best interest,” says Jan Jones Blackhurst, former Las Vegas mayor and current Caesars Entertainment executive. “He had global reach, but in his heart he was a Las Vegan.” Atwell’s career was a reminder that, while the forces that drive Las Vegas development might be global, it takes local know-how to get the deals done. A memorial service for Atwell is scheduled for 2 p.m. December 8 at the International Church of Las Vegas, 8100 Westcliff Dr.

The holidays are always interesting for gamblers, as many casinos and bars loosen up a bit in an effort to draw play during the traditional slow period. Some offers are better than others, and it’s always fun to see who can be the most creative. This year’s creativity crown goes to the Home Plate Grill & Bar at 4785 Blue Diamond Road, just west of the Silverton. On Mondays through Fridays in December, play $20 in a machine and get another $20 to play if you lose. I’ve written about loss-rebate deals before, but this one is a bit different, because you can’t cash out unless you hit a natural four-of-a-kind in video poker or a solid five-spot in keno. That requirement dampens the deal quite a bit, but it’s still kind of cool in a way, given that once you lose your first $20, you get a fullout free roll to escape. The attraction of this bonus is in the opportunity value: Since you don’t have to put up extra money, you’re getting a free shot at popping the quad (or something better). The problem is that the average number of hands it takes to hit a four-of-a-kind is about 420, and playing that many hands on bar paytables that hold about 3 percent against even the best players will, on most occasions, eat up your whole free-play allotment. It’s worse for keno, where it takes an average of 1,550 hands to hit a solid 5, so you shouldn’t go in counting on a cash-out. Don’t forget that, to receive the free $20, you first have to lose $20, and there’s not enough value in the bonus to make that up. But if you want to go to a bar and relax with some video poker and free drinks, you won’t find many deals that are better. Home Plate also runs a good “gambler’s buffet” from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays, where a $20 buyin gets you free pizza, pasta and salad—that’s the ideal time to give this one a go. Because of another offer running concurrently at Home Plate, the deal gets even better for some players. If you have the right coupon, you can redeem it for a 100-coin bonus on your first natural four-of-a-kind, good for up to $200 when playing at the $2 level. Since you’re playing with about a 101.5 percent expected return under this arrangement on the bar’s bestreturning game (6/5 Bonus Poker), this deal is strong enough to play to conclusion. So where do you get this 100-coin coupon? It’s mailed to regular Home Plate customers—and it recently showed up in a Valpak mailing if you happen to live in the right ZIP code. But if you don’t have it, don’t sweat it. Give the free roll a play, if only to get on the list to get that second offer somewhere down the line. Anthony Curtis is the publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor and LasVegasAdvisor.com.

PHOTO COURTESY HEATHER ATWELL

HOME PLATE FREE ROLL


December 5–11, 2013 Dawn of a dynasty? Luxor opens on October 15, 1993.

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PHOTO BY TK

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***** The defning moment of 1993 came a few weeks late. On January 10, 1994, Time

Off to see the Wizard: MGM Grand’s opening on December 18, 1993.

The new Las Vegas was supposed to be a giant theme park with attractions for everyone. ran a cover story on “Las Vegas: The New All-American City” that codifed many of the tropes of mid-1990s Las Vegas. The city, author Kurt Andersen argued, was becoming more mainstream, but America itself was becoming more like Las Vegas. The cover image spoke volumes: not Frank onstage in the Circus Maximus, not an oil-wealthy sheik at a baccarat table, not even average Americans testing their luck at the slots, but the Great Sphinx of the Boulevard sitting in front of Luxor’s black pyramid, the casino’s light beam shooting skyward. It opened the door to a Las Vegas where everything is supersized, where we take the illusions we create seriously. The Sahara, Dunes and Aladdin made halfjesting nods to their ostensible North African/Middle Eastern themes—a wooden camel here, a papier-mâché sultan there, a neon genie lamp—but Luxor was deadly earnest: Architect Veldon Simpson designed the building to look like the tomb of a pharaoh (if pharaohs had been building with

glass-curtain walls instead of masonry). The Sahara had the Caravan Café to drive home its theme; Luxor boasted an “authentic reproduction” of King Tut’s Tomb, as it looked when frst discovered by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon, packed with more than 500 guardian statues, vases and other bits of 18th Dynasty décor. This wasn’t just a casino— it was an educational and entertainment destination with virtual reality simulators, a prototype Sega USA “VirtuaLand” arcade, strolling entertainers in costume, and even animatronic camels. Most of the theme-park elements were swept out in the 1998 renovation that added 2,000 hotel rooms in the adjoining stepped-glass towers, but reminders of Luxor’s original mission stuck around until well into the next decade; the animatronic camels continued to greet visitors until the 200708 MGM-led renovations reimagined the resort as a sleek, contemporary pyramid. But there are still traces of

the original Luxor. The most obvious is the property’s front lobby, where the seated pharaohs still gaze impassively at those admiring the posters for Criss Angel Believe. Most of the opening restaurants, from the Nile Deli to the Sacred Sea Room, are gone, but the Pyramid Café soldiers on (even if it’s no longer 24-hour), its hieroglyphic lintels still intact. The merging of education and entertainment that was so much a part of the original concept, however, is even more present in Las Vegas. Luxor itself has three exhibitions (Bodies, Titanic, and Score!), and Downtown’s Mob Museum has emerged as a place where Las Vegas tourists really do spend hours immersed in history. ***** This wasn’t just another Steve Wynn hotel. Treasure Island at The Mirage, rather, was “The Adventure Resort,” according to a pre-opening pamphlet. “Richly elaborate and wildly imaginative,” the opening lines crowed. “A

haven for every pirate.” Treasure Island, at its opening, was more than a budget alternative to the upscale Mirage; it was the epitome of the themed resort. Pirate’s booty littered the lobby, with the casino intended to evoke an 18thcentury pirate village, complete with skull and crossbones souvenirs. “We want guests to feel as if they are standing alongside Long John Silver and young Jim Hawkins,” Steve Wynn said. The pirate battle on Buccaneer Bay was the lure, but a host of attractions for everyone—including the Mutiny Bay Entertainment Center, an 18,000-square-foot arcade, and the Candy Reef, a candy store—was intended to give middle-class visitors of all ages a home on the Strip. But within the Wynn empire, Treasure Island was soon seen as a misstep. In a 2011 Vegas Gang Podcast interview, Wynn designer Roger Thomas spoke of the quick “de-bootyfcation” of the resort, a process accelerated after MGM

PHOTOS COURTESY L AS VEGAS NEWS BUREAU

December 5–11, 2013 VEGAS SEVEN

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 In the fall of 1993, the wrapping came off three new resorts that promised to change the way people visited Las Vegas. The opening of The Mirage four years earlier is rightfully credited for kicking off the megaresort era on the Strip, and Excalibur, which opened in 1990, proved that the family-friendly, massmarket model worked just as well for new hotels as for older ones. But the 1993 openings of Luxor (October 15), Treasure Island (October 27) and MGM Grand (December 18) seemed to defne a new direction for the Strip: families, and lots of them. It was a big gamble, $1.9 billion invested on more than 10,000 hotel rooms and new attractions that were either going to open up Las Vegas to a new market or be the most expensive failures in the city’s history. And at frst, it seemed to pay off. In 1994, Las Vegas visitation increased from 23.5 million to 28.2 million. That doesn’t seem so incredible now that we’re firting with the 40 million mark, but at the time it was a nearly 20 percent jump—the biggest increase ever, both proportionally and in absolute numbers. Even the four horsemen of 1998-99— Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Paris and Venetian—only moved the needle by 10 percent. That would make the opening of these three resorts the most successful debut in Las Vegas history. Bigger than 1999, bigger than The Mirage, even bigger than Caesars Palace. Yet today, the great experiment of 1993 is deemed an evolutionary dead end. Like the Neanderthals, all the things that made the fall of 1993 so exciting—moviethemed casinos, Egyptological exhibitions, buccaneer’s booty—are dead and forgotten, with smarter, more adaptable successors happily living over their bones. However, just like the Neanderthals didn’t completely die out (many scientists now believe they passed along some of their genes to modern humans), the spirit of 1993 still survives in Las Vegas, even if it’s not front-page news. We might think that we’re a long way from Kansas (or the Nile), but we are closer to the spirit of ’93 than we think.


NIGHTLIFE

PARTIES

MARQUEE

The Cosmopolitan [ UPCOMING ]

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See more photos from this gallery at SPYONVegas.com

PHOTOS BY KARL LARSON / POWERS IMAGERY

December 5–11, 2013

Dec. 6 Markus Schulz spins Dec. 7 Cash Cash spins Dec. 9 Carnage spins


NIGHTLIFE

PARTIES

HAKKASAN MGM Grand [ UPCOMING ]

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See more photos from this gallery at SPYONVegas.com

PHOTOS BY TOBY ACUNA

December 5–11, 2013

Dec. 5 Fergie DJ spins Dec. 6 Nervo and Zen Freeman spin Dec. 7 Moby spins


NIGHTLIFE

PARTIES

TAO

The Venetian [ UPCOMING ]

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See more photos from this gallery at SPYONVegas.com

PHOTOS BY JOE TORRANCE AND TOBY ACUNA

December 5–11, 2013

Dec. 5 Justin Credible spins Dec. 6 Eric D-Lux spins Dec. 7 DJ Five spins


NIGHTLIFE

PARTIES

GOLD

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See more photos from this gallery at SPYONVegas.com

PHOTOS BY TEDDY FUJIMOTO

December 5–11, 2013

Aria


NIGHTLIFE

PARTIES

BODY ENGLISH Hard Rock Hotel [ UPCOMING ]

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50

See more photos from this gallery at SPYONVegas.com

PHOTOS BY TOBY ACUNA AND TEDDY FUJIMOTO

December 5–11, 2013

Dec. 6 Pizzo and Drazpa spin Dec. 7 Presto One and Ryne Green spin Dec. 8 Splitbreed with DJs J-Nice and Ryan Wellman


NIGHTLIFE

PARTIES

GHOSTBAR The Palms

[ UPCOMING ]

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See more photos from this gallery at SPYONVegas.com

PHOTOS BY BOBBY JAMEIDAR

December 5–11, 2013

Dec. 7 GBDC Pretty Kitty Party Dec. 11 For the Ladies with a Louis Vuitton bag giveaway Dec. 14 GBDC San Diego Takeover


Gastro Fare. Nurtured Ales. Jukebox Gold.


Vega De La Rockha and El Cucuy “cover songs” with queso.

ing a Holy Diver shirt, plant themselves up front. They insist I situate myself at a microphone stand on the right side of the stage. I heed their suggestion, but the joke is on me. For most of the set, I’m face-level with the perpetually thrusting cast-iron limejuicer affxed to El Cucuy’s

striving to shine mightily in a gloomy world. The arrangement is splendid—voices belting and blending (all the musicians sing harmony), the trumpet brassy and futtering, the fddle trilling and technical—like a six-string wizard who swapped his guitar for a violin.

past the kitsch” to a degree to really hear how enlivened much of the material is. Rescued from the purgatory of barroom Internet jukeboxes and resurrected as tequila-guzzling party music, a song such as Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” takes on new meaning. For example,

DONNING SOMBREROS FESTOONED WITH BLINKING CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, THE MUSICAL DESPERADOS STRUT LIKE MYSTERIOUS BANDITOS ONTO A STAGE ROILING WITH FOG. crotch. (During the set, a woman is invited onstage to drink a lime from El Cucuy’s citrus extractor.) It’s, um, oddly mesmerizing. But not as compelling as Metalachi’s performance. Donning sombreros festooned with blinking Christmas lights, the musical desperados strut like mysterious banditos onto a stage roiling with fog. They kick off with a fourish of hardcore mariachi before launching into a futter-swinging Dio’s “Rainbow in the Dark,” about

A Metalachi show runs the gamut. Extreme’s ballad “More Than Words” mashes up against Rage Against the Machine’s sledgehammerstriking “Killing in the Name” followed by Slayer’s thrash classic “Raining in Blood.” Faith No More’s “Epic” earns an epic response. Ozzy Osbourne’s trumpet-and-fddlepowered “Crazy Train” makes the crowd go crazy. Sure, on paper, it certainly sounds cheesy and ironic. However, to borrow a line from the flm Greenberg, “you have to get

a sampled school-bell clang inspires a joke about loved ones serving time in prison. Maybe I’m alone in making a connection, but I laugh at how Metalachi’s metal-mariachi cover united “Hot for Teacher” and a homoerotic (you’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see) “Jailhouse Rock.” The only unnecessary point of the show is hype-man Warren Moscow. Sure, he does an effective job of keying up the crowd at critical junctures. But it’s a bit like adding canned laughter to a sitcom

rather than letting the laughs and energy come naturally. It’s a minor quibble, since the music is consistently strong—even, yes, “More Than Words.” Pressed afterward, the musicians let down their guard enough to explain how they assemble their rock-centered, yet still varied, set list. “We like to do the hard stuff for the metalhead vatos,” says de la Rockha. “When the guys get pumped up and horny enough, the women get excited, too. They love to see that machismo headbanging in action, you know, fool? We have to represent.” “That and we just love metal,” confrms Sanchez. “We play soft ballads to help open and lubricate the vaginal canals.” Speaking of conduits, the path to an all-original set is, the band insists, impending. Last year, Metalachi released an album called Uno, an eighttrack burrito—Alice in Chains’ “Man in the Box,” Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and more. But Metalachi hopes to unveil a disc of self-penned tunes in the same way L.A. cover band Metal Skool made the songwriting leap by transforming into Steel Panther. “The end of next year is a good time to familiarize people with our own songs,” says de la Rockha. “And the Vinyl crowd would be the best to show off some new music.”

PHOTO BY SCOTT HARRISON

VEGAS SEVEN

December 5–11, 2013

A&E

scene fakebook after raiding Gene Simmons’ sex dungeon for clothes, accessories and some makeup. Fantasize, if you dare, what would happen if Vicente Fernandez’s grandkids became obsessed with weed, women’s bosoms and the music of Whitesnake. These fve musicians—Vega De La Rockha (singer), Pancho Rockafeller (guitarrón), El Cucuy (trumpet), Ramon Holiday (guitar), Maximilian “Dirty” Sanchez (fddle)—refuse to be interviewed out of character or to reveal real names, METALACHI their making a traditional interview imposVinyl at the sible. Backstage, they Hard Rock 8:30 p.m. Dec. gang-chatter—with 9 and 30, free. collectively braindamaged repetition—of chi-chi’s (slang for boobs, not the restaurant chain), cougarhunting and getting high. They rehearse scales, too, especially Sanchez, with the shadowboxing intensity of prizefghters before a bout. They’re more animated and attentive when offering step-by-step instructions on how to adapt “surgically enhanced chi-chi’s as fotation devices in case of emergency.” You know, fool? I can’t help but chuckle at their bizarre mission—to “statistically and miraculously impregnate at least three local post-menopausal women” via music. Immaculate sonic conceptions are on the house band, apparently. It’s not a humorous swipe at their audience, which cuts across age, gender and ethnic lines. Leaving backstage to walk the quickly flling foor of Vinyl, where the band has been performing on Monday nights, I encounter, in the main, local headbangers. A young Hispanic dude with slicked-back hair and a thick accent says he’s a cook at a Boulder Highway casino. He caught the tail end of Metalachi’s set months ago. Converted, he’s since been a fervent attendee during the band’s two-month Metalachi Mondays residency. “I love metal.” He plucks the front of his Iron Maiden shirt for emphasis. “And I love mariachi. Metalachi hace todo.” [Translation: They do it all.] 64 I recognize a white lady from some metal shows I’ve attended on Fremont Street. A Metalachi fan since April, she and her friends, including a woman in her 20s wear-


Music

Oakland’s Zion-I plays LVCS on Dec. 6.

Wisconsin death, oakland hip-hop and elvis Mash-ups

December 5–11, 2013

i feel better knowing A Crowd of Small Adventures surpassed its Kickstarter-funding goal of $4,500. Money raised will go to the Vegas indie-rock band’s forthcoming Blood EP on vinyl. The band hasn’t brought out anything since 2010, so while my chest is less tight, every breath I take remains bated until the EP is released sometime next month. Now for live music. When I think of Green Bay, I think of Packers football fans and cheese curds. After hearing Wisconsin death-metal band Micawber’s 2011 album Viral, I may update my list. Taking their name from a character in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfeld, Micawber is mesmerizingly technical and brutal. “Mechanized Enslavement” will sear your face off. The band plays The Dive (4110 S. Maryland Pkwy.) at 10 p.m. December 6 with L.A. bands Harlequin, Vesterian and Satani Infernalis, plus locals In the Flesh and Opticleft. There’s a free hip-hop concert that same night (at 10) at LVCS headlined by Oakland duo Zion-I. Futuristic, socially conscious and alternative-minded, Zion-1 comprises AmpLive and MC Zumbi, who released their Shadowbox-

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ing album last year. For those who love A Tribe Called Quest and The Roots, this is a must-see show. Also on the bill: local hip-hop artists RNR, Ekoh and Chosen Few Crew. Graceland Ninjaz are, like Metalachi at Vinyl, one of the very few cover bands I endorse. These guys don’t just cover Elvis Presley. They mash-up completely separate tracks—say, Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” and the King’s “That’s All Right, Mama”—into a mind-melting hybrid called—check this out—“Are You Gonna Be My Mama.” Check out the Dallas band’s 9 p.m. December 7 show at House of Blues. It’s free, too! Finally, at 8 p.m. December 8 at Cheyenne Saloon, Virginia’s Iron Reagan brings its retro-’80s crossover style (hardcore punk-meets-thrash metal) to Vegas. The band’s 2013 debut, Worse Than Dead, is full of piss, venom and speed, especially on bottle-smashing cut “Eat Shit and Live.” Even better, not a single song reaches the two-minute mark. Old-school death metal act Exhumed (from San Jose, California) is also on the bill. Your Vegas band releasing a CD soon? Email Jarret_Keene@Yahoo.com.

Videography

The Dirty Hooks, “Naked City Colt” Director Ryen McPherson has made some startling music videos: blowing up the Magic Kingdom in Deadhand’s “Places” and depicting blond twins giving birth to disco balls in the Mad Caps’ “Baby Man.” With indie-rock blues-punk trio the Dirty Hooks, he’s found a group that matches his visual ferocity. “Naked City Colt” is from 2012’s Electric Grit (which Vegas Seven named Best Local Album that year). The video, available on YouTube, is pure momentum—the band members confined to a prison cell atop a flatbed as it blasts across the desert. Ski-masked, the beefy driver puffs a cigar. A holstered black 9mm wobbles on the dash. The Hooks play as if doomed to die. Knives to their throats, guns to their heads, they wait for deathblows. “Just give me what I want,” pleads singer-drummer Jenine Cali in the last frames. McPherson, of Shoot to Kill Media, a Vegas Seven sister company, doesn’t give viewers what we want. He administers a shot of adrenaline to the visual cortex. ★★★★✩ – J.K.


A&E

MOVIES

Philomena (Judi Dench) seeks her lost son with skeptical journalist (Steve Coogan) in tow.

Grand Dame on Duty

The inestimable Dench makes an average tale extraordinary

December 5–11, 2013

By Kenneth Turan Tribune Media Services

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ON THE JOB for 55 years, Judi Dench elevates everything she does, from M in the James Bond epics to the less intimidating but equally determined “little old Irish lady” who’s the title character in Philomena. Dench is not the only reason to see this unapologetic crowd-pleaser, but she is the best one. As directed by the veteran Stephen Frears, Philomena’s “inspired by true events” narrative initially has trouble deciding what kind of flm it wants to be, alternating between cheeky comedy and the more serious emotional moments inherent in the story of a woman looking for a child she was forced to give away in adoption. Though it ends up the least

involving part of the flm, Philomena does come by its comedy honestly. Co-star Steve Coogan, one of Britain’s top comics, is not only Dench’s co-star, he is also one of the flm’s producers (and cowriter with Jeff Pope), and his presence mandated a certain amount of mostly indifferent humor that gets the flm off to an unsteady start. But as Philomena gets deeper into its involving plot, it seems to gain confdence in the strength of its narrative and accepts the fact that telling a dramatic story is job one. A good part of the credit goes to Dench’s performance as Philomena Lee—Phil for short, a retired nurse with

quite a story to tell. It is the genius of the actress’ work that by bringing an instinctive dignity to her characterization, she creates someone who is simultaneously average and extraordinary. It was co-writer Coogan who discovered the flm’s narrative lurking behind an incendiary headline in The [Manchester] Guardian: “The Catholic Church Sold My Child.” That led him to a nonfction book by Martin Sixsmith that told Philomena’s story in detail. Philomena begins with Sixsmith’s predicament: Formerly a BBC foreign correspondent, he was employed as director of communications for Tony Blair’s government when

something he did got him fred. Desperate for something to do, he is approached by Philomena’s daughter, Jane (Anna Maxwell Martin), about her mother’s story, but Sixsmith is initially dismissive. He considers human-interest stories to be journalism written about and for “weak-minded, ignorant people.” Full stop. Obviously Sixsmith has a change of heart and agrees to investigate Philomena’s story. It is one of the flm’s drawbacks, however, that this flm is as much about the getting of wisdom for him as it is about the getting of information for Phil. That’s a problem because this humanizing of a cynical, emotionally disconnected twit into someone who recognizes the wisdom in a person of the lower classes is as much of a cliché as it sounds. Philomena does get some mileage out of specifcally British class references—there are jokes about Ryanair—but Sixsmith never rises above the level of dramatic construct, while Philomena becomes meaningful and real.

The reason for that, aside from Dench’s acting, is the strength of her story. Finding herself pregnant and out of wedlock as an Irish teenager in 1952, Philomena is handed over to the nuns at the Sacred Heart Convent in Roscrea. These nuns, especially the hard-core Sister Hildegarde (played young by Kate Fleetwood and old by Barbara Jefford), really crack the whip. Philomena, wracked by guilt as she is, does daily back-breaking work in the laundry and is allowed to see her young son only one hour a day. She is coerced into letting her son be given away for adoption, something that haunts her for a full half-century until she confesses to daughter Jane what happened and starts on the journey to fnd him. That story is the heart of Philomena and, fortunately, it is a truly surprising one. Philomena’s setup does feel conventional, but Dench makes the resolution worth waiting for. Philomena (PG-13) ★★★✩✩


movies

Delivery Man (PG-13) ★★✩✩✩

This is the feature-length equivalent of a wry comic ballad, observing ordinary lives. A lot of Alexander Payne’s film is funny, in that gently sardonic way distinguishing his best work. Some of Nebraska feels thin, but Payne elevates the material with images of paradoxically ordinary beauty. Bruce Dern won the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival this year for his portrayal of a man who believes himself to be the lucky winner of a million-dollar sweepstakes and is determined to travel from his home in Billings, Mont., to Lincoln, Neb., to collect the prize.

A meat truck-delivery driver (Vince Vaughn) going nowhere in his life learns that as a young man, his rampant sperm donations led to 500-plus women being impregnated. More than a hundred of his offspring are suing the errant sperm bank to learn their father’s identity. The film isn’t terrible, but it’s all sort of unseemly. Vaughn’s character has no defining traits other than a mysterious, heal-all lovability.

The Best Man Holiday (R) ★★★✩✩

The Armstrong Lie (R) ★★★✩✩

Dallas Buyers Club (R) ★★★✩✩

Diagnosed with AIDS and given a onemonth death sentence by his doctors, drug-using heterosexual Ron Woodroof scrambled to stay alive and used the next seven years to create an underground pharmaceuticals way station for others with HIV and AIDS. Matthew McConaughey lost 50 pounds to play Woodroof, and co-star Jared Leto lost 30 to play transgender character Rayon, Woodroof’s business associate and the movie’s secret weapon. McConaughey and Leto may well find themselves with Oscar nominations come the new year.

Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney initially set out to make a movie called The Road Back, a look at cyclist Lance Armstrong’s comeback. How could he lose? But then Armstrong, the subject of investigation, caved under the weight of the “one big lie” (his phrase). The Armstrong Lie is pretty good when Gibney is able to focus on the 2009 Tour de France itself, a race fraught with old rivalries and backstage dramas. It’s the movie he set out to make, after all. But getting there is tough going.

The Book Thief (PG-13) ★★✩✩✩

Adapted from the book-club staple by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief tries so hard to warm our hearts amid grotesque suffering, it goes mad under the strain. It relays an uplifting story that, ill-advisedly, is not so much Holocaust-era as Holocaust-adjacent, determined to steer clear of discomfort. Director Brian Percival lends the film a craftsmanlike sheen; the script clips along, never worrying about psychological scars or what’s happening just off screen. This is an empowerment fable, with all the queasy, ahistorical perspective the phrase implies.

December 5–11, 2013

This sequel follows in the footsteps of writer-director Malcolm D. Lee’s successful 1999 comedy The Best Man. The Best Man Holiday is a far more Tyler Perry-ish mixture of comedy and tragedy than the easygoing Best Man. Still, some of the writing is pungently funny, as when Nia Long’s new squeeze Eddie Cibrian is described by one of the characters as “a tall vanilla swagga latte,” and the movie, while nothing visually special, earns its queen-size dose of pathos honestly.

75 VEGAS SEVEN

Nebraska (R) ★★★✩✩


Marketplace


Ron White

The cigar-chomping, scotch-swilling comic on his long road to the top, seeing his name in Vegas lights and dealing with hard-partying bulls

December 5–11, 2013

By Matt Jacob

VEGAS SEVEN

86

When is the frst time you recall making anyone laugh? I told a knock-knock joke when I was 5 years old. The joke was: “Knock-knock. Who’s there? Madame. Madame who? My damn foot’s caught in the door.” Had no idea what it meant, heard somebody else say it, but I told it in a room full of people and they just fell over laughing. It was in 1962 in Fritch, Texas, so that was a tough crowd! The frst time I remember getting a big laugh in public was at a movie theater. I was

watching The Blue Lagoon, and there’s the scene where they’re about to have sex, and he says, “I feel something funny down there.” And she says, “Me too.” And I said, “ME TOO!” It got just a huge laugh throughout the whole theater. You hit it big after Jeff Foxworthy handpicked you to be part of the Blue Collar Comedy troupe. How did he discover you? I met him the frst time I ever did stand-up [in 1986]. At the time, I could only do

four minutes, but it was four strong minutes; conceptually, my ideas were right. But he comes up to me after my frst set ever, and he says, “Hey, you are funny as can be, but you need to put the punch line at the end of the joke.” And I was like, “Oh, wow. How do you do that?” This is how generous this guy is: He sits down with a pencil and a piece of paper and rewrites my four minutes, just showing me how to structure it. I don’t really remember how to do it wrong now, but it seemed simple then!

name on a Las Vegas Strip marquee? I was at the Riviera, and I remember my name was in 2-foot letters. There were four comics on the bill, and two of them shared a line, and then my name was by itself; I was the opening act. But it looked bigger, because it was closer to you. And I remember right beside my name, in 3-foot letters, was “Prime Rib Dinner, $7.99” So that got bigger print than I did. But I was on there, and it was cool. You’re performing backto-back weekends at The Mirage during the upcoming National Finals Rodeo. What’s the one rodeo event you’d love to try? Beer vendor? You know, I used to own bucking bulls; they used to buck for the Professional Bull Riders [circuit]. One of them was named Scene of the Crash, and he was a genuine badass— almost won Bull of the Year. I had so much fun with it. Ultimately, I didn’t like the way they treated their cowboys. I thought they overworked them. These guys are doing something impossible, and they had too many demands on them—too long of a season, and not enough money, unless you win, in which case you win a million bucks, which turns into $300,000, and your hip is broke.

Among the four Blue Collar comics—yourself, Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy— who should be the frst to hit their knees and thank God for their bank account? Me. Absolutely me. I’ve always lived without a big plan. My retirement plan was, Get any good material from “Maybe something neat will your days as a bull owner? happen!” So I really never Yeah. Scene of the Crash saw myself as a big successful got sick on the day that it anything at all. I knew I was a was going to buck for the last good comedian, but I’d seen time of the year [at NFR]. I some really good comedians was sitting in the Thomas & not turn the corner. Luckily, I Mack, and they came down did the work; I did the 16 years, to me with a microphone 50 weeks a year, and started doing doing nine shows an interview that a week, mostly all was broadcast to ACES OF over the hayfelds the entire arena, COMEDY of the Midwest. and they said, But I got famous “We understand Featuring Ron doing 10 minutes Scene of the Crash White, 10 p.m. of material on [the isn’t gonna buck Dec. 6-7 and Dec. frst season of] tonight.” And I 13-14, Terry Fator Blue Collar. Most said, “Yeah, he’s Theatre in The people burn their sick; at least that’s Mirage, 792-7777, best hour getting what he said. But Ticketmaster.com famous, and I then three people didn’t. So I had said they saw him this badass show doing shots with that nobody had ever seen. strippers at 4 o’clock in the When the Blue Collar thing hit morning at Spearmint Rhino. the shelves, I could sell out any Let me tell you something: reasonable venue. And when Ever since he got out of rehab, you can fll those theaters— I’ve not been able to trust that well, I got a big raise! bull. He doesn’t show up for work! Hey, Scene of the Crash, What was your reaction the we all party, OK? But when it’s very frst time you saw your time to go, we go!”

PHOTO BY DAN WARNER

7 QUESTIONS

You weren’t exactly an overnight sensation, enduring a long journey from amateur stand-up to Vegas headliner. Did you ever consider throwing in the towel? I actually threw in the towel at one point. I did a lot of my work for the Funny Bone Comedy Club chain, and they had cut my pay by one-third because they realized I had nowhere else to work—I had all my eggs in their basket. And I told the guy who owned the club to go eat a steaming bowl of fuck, which was fun to say, but it did cost me 42 weeks of work. So I went to Mexico and opened a pottery factory for three years. Now I was broke; it didn’t work. So I called Jeff, and I said, “I need to go back to work for you.” One day, we’re fying back on his plane, and he said, “We’ve got this big thing coming up, and if you play your cards right, you could be part of it.” And I said, “Well, why don’t I just give my cards to you and let you play them for me, and I’ll just shut up? How about that?”


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