Oct 23, 2012

Late Nights in Vegas

In the end, it's the late nights on the strip that make Las Vegas as addicting as it is. Everywhere you look there's something going on.  From the free shows like the Sirens of Treasure Island, the Bellagio Fountains, or the Mirage Volcano, to the massive hotels and casinos themselves, there's a party every night on this giant street and a million different ways to enjoy it.

Mike, Erin, and I had some nice dinners, enjoyed over-sized margaritas in novelty cups, and hit up the strip each night ready to be wowed.  Mike and Erin had a blast doing a club tour one night, while I kicked back at the tables and had an awesome time schmoozing with other wannabe millionaires.  In the meantime, I was always capturing a bit of video here and there or snapping a few pictures.  

Relatively speaking there were no early nights.  In fact it was my last night there that ended up being my latest when during the wee hours of the morning Mike and I got in a bit of gambling with a few beers in hand of course.  I could have stayed another week.  

I love Las Vegas and it's specifically because it's so geared towards doing whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it.  One night I ran down to grab a snack around 3am, and even then I felt like I could probably wander off and have an amazing time. I'm still keen to make that larger group trip happen, but then maybe that's what my 6th visit will be? The party in this familiar place only seems to be getting bigger.   

Oct 22, 2012

Casino (1995)

If there's one director that seems to know a thing or two about turning stories about mobs into great movies it's Martin Scorsese. Take your pick, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, The Departed, he even directed the series premiere of Boardwalk Empire. He has done for mob movies what Spielberg's done for aliens, and although there's a tremendous variety in his incredible body of work, I find Casino to be the most endearing of Scorsese's films because of how it portrays such a romantic and realistic view of greed, of Las Vegas, and of success in all of its destructive forms.

I've always loved movies about gambling. Being a broke student for the first part of my life kind of encouraged that fantasy of winning away all my financial troubles and thinking that everything would be solved because of it. At its heart, Casino is about the exact same thing. The mob wants their skim from the casino, the hotel manager (Robert DeNiro) wants to take the gamblers, the gamblers want to take the casino, the girl (Sharon Stone) wants to take the manager to finance her bad habits, the friend (Joe Pesci) wants more than his take from the skim, the government wants their take in taxes, and the chain goes on and on. It's about a love affair with money, and how even with so much around there's never enough to appease anyone.

What makes Casino great is the depth of the story, and how each of the key roles brings a unique and dynamic conflict to the surface. DeNiro's character isn't so much concerned with the mob as he is about running a successful casino. He's talented and smart, and knows how to take advantage of impulsive gamblers. But his trusted friend, played by Pesciis one of those impulsive types and always seems to be on the verge of derailing what DeNiro's established. Then there's Stone, who plays the girl that knows how to get what she wants, and through her that we see what a well oiled machine the Vegas scene is for people who know what they want. 

As if there isn't enough to hold your attention in a story about gangsters, casinos, and crime, it's the fact that this select group of leads is always teetering on the edge of having it all and losing it all. This formula keeps Casino consistently sharp, and much like Scorsese's previous mob hit, Goodfellas, it gives the film a rich array of characters to bounce the action between. 

I love how the politics of Vegas serve as a fitting backdrop, and how winning and losing is expanded to incorporate the evolution of Las Vegas itself. DeNiro as Ace Rothstein (based on the real Frank Rosenthal) narrates at the end of the film, "The town will never be the same. After the Tangiers, the big corporations took it all over. Today it looks like Disneyland. And while the kids play cardboard pirates, Mommy and Daddy drop the house payments and Junior's college money on the poker slots. In the old days, dealers knew your name, what you drank, what you played. Today, it's like checking into an airport. And if you order room service, you're lucky if you get it by Thursday. Today, it's all gone."

Signed copy of the Casino script at the Mob Museum.

Casino is captivating and beautiful to watch, and sparks the same kind of euphoria and rush as taking a ride down the strip. It's an adventure driven by money, a character piece defined by the worst traits, and an ultimate Scorsese flick that embodies that nostalgic Vegas vibe. I guess in some strange way every tourist still gets a kick out of the idea that Vegas was run by the mob.  Heck, we visited the Mob Museum while we were in Vegas because of it.  In my opinion, Casino is a no-risk gamble.

Oct 21, 2012

Hycroft Cowboy Hat Souvenir

Since the summer I've been casually keeping an eye out for one of these souvenirs. Made during the 1960s and 1970s by the locally operated (and now closed) Hycroft China Factory, these clay cowboy hats became popular forms of advertising with different companies names painted on them. Some people even used these hats as ashtrays because the crease in the hat was perfect for holding a cigarette.  

Medalta Potteries also produced clay hats earlier than Hycroft with the same purpose in mind, however it was these Hycroft cowboy hats that really became symbolic of the city because of local businessman and Medicine Hat Mayor, Harry Veiner. He acquired the factory in 1957 and ran it until it finally closed in 1989, but he used to give pieces of Hycroft China, like these hats, as gifts to other government officials, visitors, and foreign dignitaries. I stumbled onto a few different archival images of Harry Veiner, including one of him giving a piece of Hycroft to the Mayor of Paris. 

With my Around the Hat photo series receiving a lot of attention online, I started thinking that one of these Hycroft cowboy hats would be ideal for the cover of a potential photo book at some point.  So, when I finally saw one of these cowboy hats show up on eBay earlier this week, and actually featuring the city's name and not a company, I jumped at the chance to finally get one.  

It's really the quintessential souvenir as far as I'm concerned.  It's a white cowboy hat made from locally sourced clay and produced by Hycroft in Medicine Hat's clay district, featuring the name of the city, province, and a maple leaf all painted in 22K gold.  There are also no cracks or scuffs on this piece, and the Hycroft brand on the reverse side is cleanly stamped.  It's kind of kitschy, but it's also pretty genuine to the area.  Whether the photo book pans out or not, it's a cool piece of local history to have on display.