Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Have You Seen Top Five?

Let's face it: most comedies suck. I mean, they might make us laugh, but most of them appeal to our basest tastes, filled with dick jokes and gross-out humor. There's a little of that in Top Five, but at least it has a heart, and it's charming as can be.

Remember Adam Sandler's Funny People? It's kind of like that except it's also a romantic comedy. And it feels realer in a lot of ways. Alcoholism plays a major role in the film, and it's a fair depiction of the fight against addiction, I'd say. There's some weird butt jokes that seem weirdly sex-negative and even homophobic, but it plays because the characters have all sorts of hang ups. The characters are good depictions of the contradictory efforts of Americans. "I don't care what Michelle Obama says; fry or die." Chris Rock's Andre Alan wants to be famous but only for the right things. He wants to be brave, but he's afraid to do almost anything he's already loved for. Rosario Dawson falls for duplicitous men but is a duplicitous man (it's a spoiler if I say more). Rock is surrounded by friends who want to save him but also say he's only funny when he's drunk. I'm a giant fan of contradictions within people and our culture. This film explores that.

There's even a scene where Rock pays to jump rope with kids in the street but is too afraid to jump in. Rosario ends up jumping in for him, launching her character dangerously close to MPDG territory, but she never ends up quite so manic or quite so pixie to go all in and lose the verisimilitude.

The title refers to an in-joke that owes its roots undeniably to High Fidelity (the book--let's forget the movie, shall we?). It's an answer to the question "what are your top five hip-hop musical acts?" Even Jerry Seinfeld gets his answer in with a credits cut scene.

When Adam Sandler, Whoopie Goldberg, Jerry Seinfeld, and Chris Rock are all at a strip club chatting about marriage, I just wanted a whole movie of that. In fact, I wish Robin Williams and Billy Crystal were with them. There's also a part on a subway or bus where Rock is talking about his favorite comics, saying he wished he hung out Bill Murray and could talk about him like they were friends. Seriously, there are gems all over this flick that make it rewatchable and just a down-right charmer, scenes that leave you wanting more. That's hard for a writer to do, and Chris Rock does it with casual grace.

Comedy doesn't come like this enough. This film points boldly at what the genre could offer. And I'd even go so far as to say that it shows us what a multi-cultural cast could do for our culture. This isn't a black movie or a white movie. This is an American movie, and I love it for that. In Jerry Lewis's book, he says he always wanted have what Chaplin had: Pathos. He wanted to be able to tug at your heart with comedy, maybe even make you cry. Who would think Chris Rock would have it?

And if that's not enough, DMX has a cameo that is as funny as anything you'll see this year. Brilliant stuff.

If you haven't seen it, please do so in the cinema. Your dollar is your vote for more of this.


This is the second beautiful comeback I've noticed this year. Maybe there are more. Let me know if you can think of one in the comments. I'm thinking of John Wick here. Is Sandler going to come out with something decent out of nowhere? Are we finally in a decade with good movies again? Are the studios finally as desperate as they were in the 70's and are beginning to allow our auteurs a little freedom? Let's hope so!


My top five:

  • Tupac Shakur
  • Beastie Boys
  • The Fugees
  • Busta Rhymes
  • Ice Cube

The Whiskey Down

The Whiskey Down is one of my favorite places at the MGM Grand. Before I worked there, I enjoyed having a drink at this lounge, and I adored the atmosphere, which is borderline steam-punk meets speakeasy.

Late at night, I help manage the Whiskey Down. The bartenders at night are super sassy/nice. The cocktail waitresses are funny. The atmosphere is awesome. The lighting is mercifully dim.

There are Black Jack tables in there. There are overstuffed couches and low tables. It's the kind of place that invites you to stay for a spell. It's right in the middle of one of the largest casino floors in America, but it feels intimate and private. Edison bulbs help the old-world quaintness, and there's a delightfully curated collection of old bottles and photos on the walls.

There's also whiskey.

If you're in Vegas, come visit. You'll like it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Big Sleep (1946) - Like Marcel Proust

This has always been one of my favorite scenes in a movie. I want my life to be this. Is it too much to want a Lauren Bacall? Also, I do not care how you say Marcel Proust--neither does Marcel Proust--but I say it the way she does because there's nothing sexier than a woman who knows who Marcel Proust is and compares you to him.

And do you know who wrote this screenplay? William Fucking Faulkner. There were co-writers, but who cares about them? I mean, William Faulkner!

I read the book in college. I chose the coolest Junior seminar: Post-war Detective Fiction. I took that class so seriously that when the professor cut books for time (this was actually not post-war), I still read and wrote about them. I even went to a tiny video rental spot on College Ave in Berkeley and asked them to create a noir section. I watched every single film they had, and there were far too many to be reasonable about it.

And if you're interested, there's this gem which was recorded in post, after they were married and the war had ended:

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pixies and Pump Up the Volume

When I was a kid, a movie came out called Pump Up the Volume. It was the best movie Christian Slater made, and it really spoke to me. I loved it so much, I had to have the soundtrack on this new thing called a CD. My mom must have bought it for me.

That CD came in one of those really huge cardboard boxes they were wrapped in in the beginning. And I put that CD into my little boombox in my room and maybe my whole life changed at that point.

I was already very much into music. I loved the Beastie Boys and Run D MC, and Guns n' Roses was definitely a mainstay in my ears. But I had never heard of Concrete Blonde, Leonard Cohen, the Pixies, or Cowboy Junkies. My life would be shit if I never heard of them, and I have this movie to thank.

My musical taste is broad. I often wonder how it got that way. It seems that I have one of those minds that isn't satisfied with the mere consumption of anything. I have to know everything's origin. I want to compare what's out now to what came before. I want to hear what's next because I'm so familiar with the tools and inspirations that will have brought the artists of the future to those brand-new things.

People who are older than I am are amazed I know their generation's music. I've read books about music to make that happen. I've checked CD's and records out of libraries. I've burned lamps to their ends in deep conversations with people who intensely love this or that genre or artist. I'm a vulture of culture and I'm voracious. I'm weird and intense like that.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Personal Update


What's with your name?
I changed my name when I started travelling seriously and living in other countries. When I came back to the states, I brought a person with me who called me Jack, so everyone else called me Jack, too. Some of my oldest friends and family call me Skyler or Sky. Most of them live in the western United States. Then some people started calling me SkyJack. I like that. But you can call me Sky, Jack, Skyler, SkyJack, or Captain. Those are all the things people still call me, and I'm OK with that. How did I think I was going to have this unique, distinctive, adventurous life without a few different names sticking?

Where do you live now?
I've moved to Las Vegas. It's in the name of my blog now to help people know.

Is your wife with you?
I don't have one of those anymore.

What? What happened?
It turns out I only fall for people who don't have consciences.

Why Vegas?
I've always wanted to move to Las Vegas. I love it here. I grew up coming here at least once or twice a year. My father worked here, my grandmother lived and died here, and I have a cousin and an Aunt here. Plus, work. It might be the only place on earth with opportunities to incorporate my entire skill set. 

Where are you working now?
I'm a Beverage Manager at MGM Grand. It's a dream job for me at this point in my career. I moved my relocation schedule up because they showed interest, and then I was in a holding pattern for a bit, while seasonal managers were moved around and whatnot. Now I'm training and excited about every second of it. There's a lot to take in.

Do you miss Virginia?
I miss some people in Virginia, and I kind of wished I'd seen the leaves change one last time. VA was pretty good to me, when it's all said and done. I did some amazing things professionally, and I saw some stuff I don't think most Americans get to. I lived in Virginia almost exactly the same amount of time I lived in Germany, and I still feel like a German in a lot of ways. Surely, I'll always have a little southern boy in me now, too.

Why didn't you move back to California, either to SF Bay or to live near your mother in SoCal?
I think I might have gotten all the personal development I can out of those places. And moving back to anywhere is symbolically unfortunate. I did consider Los Angeles, but Las Vegas has always been on my target list of places to live. I really want to live in a place where all my friends will visit me from all over the world. Who doesn't visit Vegas at least once? And if they were on the fence about it, now they have a reason to come. I'll always love California, but I don't know if I ever want to live there again.

What about the restaurant?

When is your new book coming out?
I'm almost halfway done with it. It's the most ambitious project I've ever undertaken in poetry, and it's the most difficult thing I've ever written. Some time in the middle of next year I hope.

Are you going to make any more videos?
I don't think so. I was turned off by the lack of response. Maybe I'll try again, but there's too much going on right now to edit videos. If I had someone to edit them for me, I'd do it.

Isn't Vegas crazy all the time?
Well, it can be. But on my morning runs, inside Las Vegas, I run down a street that often has chickens in the middle of it and there are horses and cows, too. I saw someone walking a miniature pony like a dog. Oh, and burros. And I live next to a fairly big casino. So it's a city of contradictions. I love contradictions. Come visit me and find out.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Aces & Ales

I heard Aces & Ales was one of the best craft beer bars in Las Vegas, so I went, and it's true.

It's got fire pits and great tables, it's really dark inside, and there are video poker games on the bar. They play good music, and the service is fantastic. Tons of TVs. Plus, free wifi so I could use Untappd to log all the beers I drank. Actually had to get a DD on this adventure because I planned on doing some serious drinking. It pays to have a cool friend who's Mormon (Thanks for driving, L).

The thing I liked most about this place was the staff. Two ladies were working the bar, and they were excellently friendly. I ordered the first couple beers on my own, but then I asked if there was something on the list I just had to try. She then revealed herself to be a wonderful guide and in possession of Cicerone-level beer knowledge. I love it when someone is really into what they do. You'd think that'd be an easy thing in beer, but a lot of times craft beer people can be snobby and aloof. Not at Aces & Ales; she was excited to share and happy to serve. When I got my bill I had to double check the prices because I thought it was light. But their pricing structure is very simple and cheaper than I expected, which is always nice.

Overall, a very pleasant experience. I can't wait to go back.

This was at the Tenaya location (there are two).

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Dry Manhattan

I love a Dry Manhattan, especially this time of year. A long time ago, I read somewhere it was Frank Sinatra's favorite drink, and Jack Daniels was his favorite whiskey (he was buried with a bottle of it). So, I decided to give it a try, fell in love, and now I always drink it with Jack. And I drink it in a rocks glass because it seems like that's how Frankie would take it, too.

How I make a Dry Manhattan at home:

  1. If I have a jigger, I fill it up heavy and let a bit more slosh over into the glass. If I don't have a jigger, I just pour heavy, maybe I count to two.
  2. I put a dollop of dry vermouth in it (about the same amount I put in my Martinis)
  3. I splash Angostura aromatic bitters in.
  4. I drop in a grip of ice.

I take it with no fruit because I hate the Maraschino cherries most bars use in America. If it's the real-deal ones that really swank bars sometimes have, I'll go for it, but I hate the candy ones. I usually don't have cherries on-hand at home either.
Sometimes I use a shaker, but it isn't really necessary. The ice drop seems to work fine, and I swirl it around a bit.

This is the only thing I drink with Jack Daniels. I don't have anything against Jack Daniels, but that cardboardy background kind of brings together the bitters and vermouth and lingers a little so that you want to take another slug. Sinatra must have said that at some point.

The Manhattan is the sonnet of the cocktail world. The best bartenders stick to the confines of the form but nonetheless express great creativity with it, like the boundaries 14 lines represent.

There are a ton of variations, including one with Fernet-Branca, one of my favorite things on the planet. But my Dry Manhattan is inspired by Frank Sinatra, and there's nothing fancy about it, and I love it.

Anyway, it's kind of my go-to winter drink, and I'm drinking one right now.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Velveteen Rabbit on First Friday.

I'd been wanting to check out the Velveteen Rabbit for a bit.

On First Fridays Art Walk in Las Vegas, there are hot air balloon rides, probably a hundred or so booths, and at least as many food trucks. The arts district here is a fantastic place that couldn't help but remind me of all the Fridays I spent wandering Oakland for Art Murmur. There was a disproportionate amount of street art, spray paint stuff, but other than that, it was great. There were artists doing live paintings, fire workers doing their thing, and more live music than you know what to do with. Also, there were a few art cars on display that I'm sure are cast offs from past Burning Man festivals. First Fridays was great. I wish there were some poetry someplace. . . if there was, I didn't see it.

Bar stands were there, too. You could even text a number and a tequila rep would appear and buy you a drink. And there were mobile ATMs everywhere, too. All and all, just a wonderfully organized event.

There are even free shuttles from Fremont Street. So I went to the container park, got on a double-decker bus, and arrived right at the entrance of the walk. When I was done wandering, I came back to where the bus had dropped me off, and I found out it'd be a few minutes before the next shuttle arrived, and what did I see as I spun around looking for a way to fill my time?! The Velveteen Rabbit! I'd been meaning to get in there, and now was the perfect time!

The blue neon sign is a great clue as to what goes on in there. It's the arts district's mixology bar, replete with elegant DIY lighting, jiggers aplenty, a thick, unpolished bar, and knowledgeable barkeeps that keep things interesting. Super friendly and patient service is what I observed.

I started with one of their seasonal cocktails, asking the bartender what his favorite was. When he suggested one with peach schnapps and mescal, I was slightly apprehensive, but the smokiness balanced by the mellow sweetness was a welcome delight. Then I had a Hank-panky. When you order a drink with Fernet-Branca, "the bartender's handshake," it lets your new friend know you're not just some fuck who doesn't know what he's doing. It was perfect. Then I said one of my favorite things to say: Bartender's choice.

Remember the Maine
He made me a Remember the Maine. I had never had one before, and that's what I love about doing things this way. A new adventure in beverage! In fact, READ THIS ABOUT REMEMBER THE MAINE! It was one of this bartender's favorite classic cocktails, and we got into a pretty awesome conversation about what is great about life in the booze world.

My publisher texted me I should order a Sidecar because he was drinking one in Virginia. So I did, and it was transcendent. One of the bartenders said he went through a long spell when all he drank was Sidecars. I don't often go for them, but I was glad I did that night.

They also have a great beer selection. The tap markers are mannequin hands. A guy next to me was having a hard time trying to decide what to have, and I convinced him to get the Brown from Tenaya Creek. I told him not to sample it, but just get a pint and that if he didn't like it, I'd buy him a round. He loved it. Then he showed me naked pictures of girls he met on Tinder. Girls on Tinder don't send me naked pictures. It cracked me up because what else are you supposed to do in this crazy world where in the span of ten minutes you can have a history lesson taught by a cocktail made in 1933 about a ship exploding in 1898 and then have a guy show you nude photos of a faceless woman on a space age phone after discussing the merit of supporting your local brewery in a city that defies all probability every day?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Have You Seen Interstellar?

I kind of think that Christopher Nolan did the Batman movies so he can con top-rate actors and studios into letting him make movies like Interstellar, and that makes me feel better about his Batman movies. Interstellar is pretty stellar.

I saw it on 35mm Wednesday night at the Galaxy at the Cannery in Las Vegas. It's the most luxurious cinema I've been to. Electric lounge seats with little tables attached and craft beer on tap makes it my new favorite. Plus, they announce in the beginning of the show that they will literally remove you without refund if you so much as look at your cell phone. And seats are assigned.

The grainy 35mm lends something to this project, I think. It's a dying medium, and the scratches and cigarette burns made me a little nostalgic. It also reminded me of 2001:Space Odyssey in a theater. The film deals a lot with the struggles against decay, reciting Dylan Thomas over and over again, so there's an elegant reach with the degradation of celluloid mirroring the dying of cellulose on planet Earth. And, the Dylan Thomas reading was welcome because it assumes you know a poem--gasp! Smart people who know a few poems by heart will save the world if it ever is saved.

Heavy themes aplenty in this one, but in particular I liked the notion of being stuck between wanting to be a pioneer/adventurer on the cutting edge, doing what you know you're best at and wanting to fulfill your duty to the greater whole of humanity. Being born a generation "too early or too late," Cooper (McConaughey) wishes he could do it all. If that's not a theme for Gen-X-ers I don't know what is.

The sci-fi premise touches some familiar bases that make it a tiny bit predictable, worm holes, time-bending, relativity, black holes, interdiminsional shifting about. But Christopher Nolan navigates them so adroitly, and the acting is so good, and the look and feel of the film is such that you don't mind you might have seen some of this before. And sci-fi suffers from that so frequently at this point, I kind of like that it reminded me of Warren Beatty's Reds in parts.

It's a little talky, but I like cerebral science fiction and wish J.J. Abrams never turned Star Trek into Buck Rogers. It's a little heavy-handed on philosophical themes like love, but that's refreshing too after the genre has been riddled by laser pistols and giant explosions, zip-zap.

Jonathan Nolan wrote this one, but that kind of goes without saying with Christopher Nolan movies. Why we aren't calling these films "Nolan brothers movies" is weird to me. He wrote Memento. If you liked Memento, and since you have eyeballs and are human, I'm assuming you did, you will like Interstellar.

And one more thing: can Jessica Chastain ever be bad in anything? It's as if she single-handedly saves some films. I think she's the most alluring woman in Hollywood, and I hope every filmmaker save Michael Bay starts begging her for even a cameo. Actually, she could probably even make a Michael Bay movie watchable.

Red Bull Cocktails

When I was a kid, Red Bull was a new thing. Vodka Red Bull was a good drink at clubs because well-vodka was often bottom-barrel stuff, and the Red Bull could keep you dancing. Some people gave this drink cute names, but no matter where you went, a Vodka Red Bull was right there. It tasted like gummibears soaked in kerosene, but I drank it happily. 

Soon, Jaeger with Red Bull started showing up. Then, there were a million new energy drinks, and countless flavored vodkas appeared, and then sweet malt liquor like Schmirnoff Ice. Alcapops. So as my tastes matured and developed, the market became more geared toward cocktails that tasted like children's treats. And people born just a couple years behind me are maybe a little stunted.

Then came the craft cocktail craze. I love it. I've been to a few of the best cocktail bars in the world, and I know a few celebrity mixologists, and I am enamored of this world of booze we live in today. It came along just in time for me. And in a small way, I've been a part of it. 

So I was googling around thinking about Red Bull because in Las Vegas, the slim cans are ubiquitous. I can often smell it spilled in the streets, and their logo emblazons everything from menus to billboards. Are there any "good" cocktails out there with Red Bull?
But most of the drinks on that list turn me off. 

If you know of any good ones, please let me know in the comments.