Wednesday, August 27, 2008

TravelMog: Bar Trip

Jesus, I leave for a week and a half and look what happens to this place—fucking nothing. Sure, Grant did the Pineapple Express review (good piece, by the way), but it looked as if this blog was headed for the scrap heap once again. Luckily, your Conquering Hero returns for what is sure to be a fantastic update…an update that can only be described by one, magical, made-up word…TRAVELMOG!


As I’ve mentioned a couple of times recently, I spent the last two months or so preparing for the hell that is the bar examination. Having pulled through the devil test and having no idea how I did, I figured what better way to celebrate than by going to Maui and Vegas with my girlfriend for a ten-day hedonistic rampage of drunken debauchery.


Since it often happens that random chicks faint or “wig out” with shock and anger upon learning of my ladyfriend, I’ll give my (now insanely jealous) female readers a chance to come to again. OK, you all ready? Everybody set? Good.


Unfortunately, I can’t be extremely clever like Bill Simmons is and give my ladyfriend a clever nickname like “The Sports Gal” (Simmons fancies himself “The Sports Guy.” Get it. Hilarious, I know). Rest assured, though, I’ll refer to her appropriately at the right times.


Anyway, this won’t be a true, blow-by-blow TravelMog like the previous ones I’ve done, because…well…because it wouldn’t be half as fucking interesting, that’s why. So here we go with some of the more interesting observations from my trip.

Maui is extremely nice, but expensive as hell. It was our experience that we were going to easily be shelling out $40 an entree for a good dinner here, and with booze and whatnot the bill usually ended up being quite a bit more than that. That said, for your money, you get fantastic food. Well, except for the $15 “by-the-pool” hamburger that looked like one of those pre-made, frozen jobs they sell at Sam’s Club. Luckily, the hotel had $5 shaved ices that were fucking awesome. The only downside was that the only palatable flavor they had was grape—no orange, no lemon lime, no cherry. Instead, they had watermelon (ugh), banana (fuck you) and something called Blue Hawaiian, which was either vanilla or vomit-flavored.


That said, Maui is a fantastic place to vacation. If you like active vacations, they have all kinds of shit for you to do like hiking and whatnot. If you prefer a more relaxing trip, you can do that, too. We balanced out our time at the pool with a sunset catamaran cruise, a snorkeling trip, and an honest-to-God Hawaiian Luau. Granted, we pretty much only did these other things because of the open bar that came with each of them, but it was nice to get out and about on the island.


We saw some of the Olympics. For some reason, the time change to Maui is one of the worst on earth. We were there for 7 nights and we still were going to bed by 10 o’clock at the latest. We’d usually have a fairly early dinner, then watch the Olympics until we passed out, usually either gymnastics or swimming. My thoughts:


-Anyone who says that what Michael Phelps did wasn’t fucking awesome needs to be drowned like a fucking old fashioned Salem witch. I tried swimming five laps of the hotel pool in Vegas and I was fucking dead afterward. Swimming takes an insane amount of total body strength, coordination, and endurance. And if this isn’t such a big deal, why weren’t you assholes shitting on Mark Spitz for the past 25 years or whatever the fuck it was? You big fucking phonies. Especially Bruce Jenner, who claims that Lebron James and Kobe Bryant, among others, are not great athletes because to be a great athlete, you have to win a decathalon. Sure, Bruce. It’s not like you’ve become a live-action cartoon character mugging for the camera in a series about your vapid, attention whorish step-daughters, while your douchebag son cavorts around Hollywood ruining your good name with crappy reality series after reality series just to finance his ridiculous drug habit, you asshole. Fuck you.


-We both thought that the gymnasts made a lot of mistakes this time compared to previous Olympics. I always thought “sticking the landing” was important in gymnastics—that’s what I always heard in the Olympics. Well, fuck that. If you can fuck up a landing and still win a bronze medal, I’m sorry, but that’s just wrong.


-One other thing—I remember watching Nastia Lukin tower over Shawn Johnson and thinking, “Well, Shawn Johnson must be around 5’1” or so, so that puts Lukin at about 5’6”.” Today I read that Lukin is really only 5’3”, which makes Johnson like 4’10”! And she walks oddly, too. Good thing she (finnaly) won a gold medal at the end, or else this writer was about to write a scathing indictment of the choke job she did.


-Instead, I get to write about the yakker the U.S. track team gave us. I mean, okay, Usain Bolt is fucking amazing, and there was no way any of you clowns were going to beat him, I know. But dropping the baton in the 4 x 100? For both the women and men? Ridiculous. I guess they’re right—we now know what makes great U.S. Olympic track champions: more horse steroids than Jose Canseco puts in his cheerios.


Red Eye flights from Hawaii are awful. DO NOT DO IT, ESPECIALLY ON U.S. AIR THEY WILL TRY TO FUCK WITH YOUR MIND!!! Especially when you’re trying to hit the ground running in Vegas, knowing check-in time isn’t until 3 pm or so normally. Trying to do so on maybe fifteen minutes’ sleep is inadvisable.


McCarran Airport in Vegas still sucks. They claim that they’re renovating the fucker, but I never see any changes, except that the baggage carousels get further and further away from the fucking taxi line every time I fucking go there. I mean, here we are, carrying one huge fucking suitcase and two big carryons each because of the stupid goddamned new airline rules that limit you to one checked bag, and we have to walk halfway through the fucking airport to get a taxi! Fuck!


The Signature at MGM is the nicest hotel I’ve stayed at in Vegas, by a lot. And that’s saying something, considering that I’ve stayed at the Bellagio. The rooms are all brand new, and all “suites,” which means that they are enormous by regular room standards. The bathrooms have big glassed-in showers and Jacuzzi tubs, as well twin sinks and a separate toilet area. There is a living room area and a bed area, as well as a kitchenette with a fridge, microwave, blender, and (I shit you not) a fucking stove! I mean, when the fuck are you going to need a stove in Vegas? Don’t get me wrong, it was still awesome, but a bit impractical.


They had some awesome deals going on there, so it was actually cheaper to stay there this time than to stay at the Bellagio. The pool is nicer and less crowded, and there aren’t as many little rug rats running around, which is nice. Finally, they let us check in when we got there at 9 am, which is worth a lot in my book, since we proceeded to sleep for like 6 hours. And the service is incredible—they treat you like a king. Top notch, all the way around.


Speaking of Vegas Hotels…With the renovation of Excalibur (which I have stayed at recently and no longer has kids running around on leashes in it), I figured it is time to re-do the ranking of strip hotels in Vegas. A quick list and comment for each:


12. Flamingo—Pay me and I might stay there.

11. Luxor—What a fucking depressing dive.

10. Monte Carlo—HELP!!! THE HOTEL’S ON FIRE!!!

9. Planet Hollywood—It will ALWAYS be Ala-din in my book. Too much of a hipster place now where they overcharge for everything. Also the PF Chang’s there made us sick—well, sicker than PF Chang’s normally

8. NYNY—OK hotel, terrible staff. Dropping rapidly without a makeover

7. Mandalay Bay—no idea about the rooms, but probably needs to be renovated

6. Excalibur—You read right. They’ve remodeled everything. It’s an ok place to stay/hang out now—brand new sports book and everything

5. MGM Grand—Actually kind of sad that it’s this high. A slowly fading behemoth

4. Venetian/Palazzo—Very nice, very expensive. They probably should update the rooms at Venetian here at some point, though I’ve never been in one.

3. Wynn—I imagine it’s good, since I’ve never stayed there. Too far north, and now that they’ve discontinued dog racing in the book, no real reason to go there

2. Bellagio—Did I mention they have free drinks in the sports book now? More on that in a bit…

1. MGM Signature—now the gold standard


We did it right with food this time. A lot of the nicer restaurants had specials going on where it was $60 for a “tasting menu,” which varied in size and quality between the various eateries. The first night we enjoyed CraftSteak, which is otherwise known as the restaurant owned by the bald judge from Top Chef. Talk about a fucking amazing dinner. They gave us tons of food and it was all amazing. God, what a great meal!


The second night was P.F. Chang’s at Planet Hollywood. Fucking terrible.


The third night, we went to Nob Hill, which stiles itself as a “San Franciscan eatery.” It is not to be confused with “Knob Hill,” the fine whiskey, or “Knob Hill,” the…err…”nightclub” in a certain part of San Fran. They were right about one thing—it is about as pretentious as fucking San Francisco. The food took forever, and it seemed like the staff generally thought we were too young to be eating there, even though we’re both on the wrong side of our mid-twenties. Fuck them. They suck anyway. Too much shellfish, and too much smug.


Casino War is a great game. It’s basically high card wins between you and the dealer. It’s great when you’re sick of playing blackjack with fucking idiotic convention-goers who refuse to play basic strategy and thus fuck you over. We did quite well at this game (for a night at least), and our early success made Harrah’s “Toby Keith’s Party Pit” (the home of the $5 casino war table!) the place to be for us late night each night.


The Bellagio Sports Book is tops in Vegas. Did I mention earlier that they give you free drinks now? Even if you’re gambling on baseball! It is like the holy grail of sports books. Of course, we also bet the ponies a little bit. I stuck to my strategy of putting $5 on the 5 horse to show, which works pretty well—I ended up maybe down $20 on horses for the trip even though we probably bet about 20 races and got countless free drinks. Not a bad racket. I also discovered that horses run sprints at some track called “Sam Houston” or something like that. It takes little to no skill to bet on, and is fun as hell to watch—none of this bullshit of watching your horse get out to an early lead only to fall to last by the end. The Bellagio book is now a must for any sports fan traveling to Vegas.


The Washington Nationals are awesome. After enjoying a middling first day of MLB betting that saw me lose about $10 total on $160 of bets, G Gel Unit and I conferred and took a couple of what we considered “good” bets. After that, I looked for one more great game to bet that I could capitalize on. Enter the Nats (+240) at the Phils. The Nats were mired in a twelve game losing streak at the time, but I put down $20 on them to win, as well as a $10 parlay with two pretty sure things (Dodgers and D-Backs). Those fucking Nats almost gave me a heart attack twice, but the Phillies atrocious defense coupled with some assh…er…awesome guy named Joel Hanrahan for the the Nats were able to deliver me a big Nats win, which put me (barely) up for sports for the trip.


Go to the Price is Right show at Bally’s if you go to Vegas in the near future. It was a great use of $50 that the casino would’ve stolen anyway at the blackjack table.


Let me begin by saying that growing up, I was always a huge Price is Right fan. I watched it pretty much every day off from school. I loved Plinko and all of the other games, and it was basically the only thing on during the day, other than Press Your Luck, that was tolerable. This appreciation for the show reached new heights in college, when my buddy Tucker and I once went an entire term watching the show every day. We got into it so much that by the end, I could tell you the actual retail price of a 2004 Mercury Sable ($18,950, if I remember correctly).


Well, for this show, they pulled out all of the stops. They set up the theater to look like the set and everything, and they even hired the host and announcer from Supermarket Sweep (David Ruprecht and Randy West, respectively) to make it a pretty good time. They do a great job—West is hilarious and Ruprecht has a lot of Bill Maher in him without the assholeness or self-importance. Did I mention there’s a bar in the theater? And that they still call people from the audience to play games like Plinko and Hole in One (or Two)? Even though we didn’t get called up, it was still pretty awesome.


One Final Gambling Story…So the final night, we made our way up to Harrah’s to play casino war, and I am getting KILLED. This fucking dealer cannot lose. I’m handing over twenties like an ATM machine, and the ladyfriend is worried that I’m going to do something stupid, like play a $50 hand or something(which I didn’t, at least on the war table…)


So I’m down like $300 for the night—bad, bad territory. I have like $80 left in my wallet, so I head over to a $10 blackjack table, also in Toby’s Party Pit. I lose four hands in a row. I’m down to my last $40, thinking that this is perhaps the worst night of luck I’ve had at a casino.


Let me back up for a minute. This is not just any old blackjack table. This game is actually blackjack with a “pair square,” an ingenious invention by the company that owns Harrah’s whereby you can add a bet in addition to your normal wager in a separate square (a “pair square,” if you will) that pays 10-to-1 if you get a pair on that hand, and 15-to-1 if you get a suited pair. People usually just throw a $1 chip on it or something to win $10 or $15 bucks if the cocktail waitress is being a bitch and they have $1’s to burn. G-Gel Unit, Cornerman Slav and I have played it at the St. Louis Harrah’s a number of times, with good times usually had by all.


Well here I am, down to my last $40. I have one green chip ($25) and three reds ($5 each). Fed up with a whole night of bad luck, I turn to my girlfriend and tell her, “Fuck it. Let’s get nuts.” I place all $40 on the wagering square. At the last minute before the next hand, I decide to really get crazy and put $5 of that on the pair square, just for the fuck of it. My hand comes up queen of spades, queen of spades. Not only did I get a pair, but it’s absolutely the best pair you can get, unless you really want to split some aces. I’m already in shock because I hit on one of the most idiotic bets in the entire city, but I still have $35 on this hand. The dealer busts. I’m up $110 on this one hand. Sensing that this once-in-a-trip-to-Vegas event is a one-time blessing from the blackjack gods, I take my girlfriend, and we bolt to a cab, grateful that I could make back what I did, and thus ending one of the greatest trips, nay journeys, I have ever embarked upon.


Questions? Comments? Glad to finally see some drunken Vegas stories? Confused as to why it isn’t the long-rumored Vegas: Trip III? E-mail the BlogMogger team at Blogmogger@yahoo.com. Or leave a comment. Fuck it. We don’t care.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Pineapple Express

I just saw "Pineapple Express" and since no one else is posting on this blog right now, I figured I would turn it into a post. By the time I get to the end of the post I might throw in some more movie reviews.

Grade: B

Let me start by admitting that I saw this movie under the right conditions. This definitely enhanced my viewing experience. The film's great strength and later its flaw was its realism. It nailed the pot dealer/pot buyer relationship perfectly. Rogen's and Franco's relationship during the early scenes mirrored a similar relationship in my own life to an eerie degree. Franco in particular was dead on throughout the movie. His "hurricane season" interjections were laugh out loud funny.

The main problem in the movie comes when the realism turns into ridiculous attempts at comedic violence. I know that the idea of stoners completing an assault on a major drug operation sounds funny, but I don't think it fit with the tone established in the beginning of the film. It was nonsensical action. Therefore, it took me out of the film. However, the film recovers with a strong stoners talking at a diner scene that closes the film nicely.

Reservation Road - B-

This film is interesting. The concept of an accidental hit and run raises a lot of questions. Solid acting by Ruffalo and Connelly, but Phoenix was off in this movie. The ending was disappointing, like most films it didn't make sense.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Movie Reviews

Since Ebert and Roeper broke up, or I mean "ended their show together" I figured I would get back into some movie reviews. Most are rentals, but some are in theaters.

"The Dark Knight" - B+

Make no mistakes this is not a Batman movie, it is a Joker and Harvey Dent film. Heath Ledger's performance lives up to the hype and Aaron Eckhardt is solid, and these are the performances that make the movie. Batman is there, and Bale is fine, but he is more like a supporting character throughout the film, which is fine. I'm just pointing out this aspect of the film because I find it interesting, its not like I'm in love with Batman and need to see him in every frame of the movie or anything. I would be totally fine without Batman at all. I've moved on. Anyways, the action isn't all that great, but it does explore some deeper issues than most comic book movies.

"Hellboy II: The Golden Army" - B-

Real nice action flick. Provides a nice amount of laughs and has enough story to keep you interested and caring about the characters (note: for me this is an element so many films miss these days, but obviously important). Just know what you're getting into aka "fun action flick" and you should have a nice time.

"The Bank Job" - D+

Didn't care about the characters. You want to kill that guy? Go ahead I don't give a shit. You want to torture that one? Fine with me. The film lacks action and Statham can't carry the film on his acting ability alone. I felt like it was trying to be a British "Ocean's Eleven" or something. Not good.

"Waiting for Guffman" - D+

I'm a big fan of "Best in Show", "Spinal Tap" and other Christopher Guest works, but this one doesn't really live up to those. I just didn't get the big laughs.

"The Cleaner" - D

Starts out kind of cool. Samuel L. Jackson cleaning up the blood from dead bodies, looks good to me. Oh my, he cleaned a house without Eva Mendes (who lives there) knowing about it. Now her husband's missing, how interesting. After the first half hour, however, it really takes a turn for the worse. Just throwing out plot twists for the sake of plot twists. Really didn't care what happened to anyone in the movie.

"Untraceable" - F

Diane Lane obviously was hoping this murder thriller would be a big commercial success for her comeback, but it really sucks. I will admit that I only saw the second half of the movie, but it was total bullshit. The killer in the movie is cheesily amazing. If someone could actually orchestrate some of the killings that guy does, there is no way the cops would ever catch him. He would be smarter than the entire United States police forces combined. Anyway, the film just followed the usual formula. I predicted almost every scene without even seeing the first half.

"Mama's Boy" - F

Don't ask me why I decided to give a movie starring Jon Heder and Anna Farris a chance, probably because I have been watching too many movies. Anyway the movie is predictably terrible. Couldn't even get through it.

"Vantage Point" - C

Its alright. Keep my interest enough to see what happens at the end. Note that I said, "see what happens at the end" this doesn't mean I really cared about the characters. Obviously adding to my entertainment level is the fact that Matthew Fox is in it and I'm a huge "Lost" fan.

"Before the Devil Know's You're Dead" - B

Real nice return from director Sidney Lumet. The cast including Phillip Seymore Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, and Marrissa Thome is great. I actually cared about the characters! Imagine that! Gets a little over the top towards the end, but overall a nice crime-thriller movie about family.

"Strange Wilderness" - D-

Terrible. Terrible. The only reason I give it a D- is because I actually did make it through the movie and the one really funny joke comes at the very end. No chemistry between the cast. Jonah Hill at his worst.

"A Woman Under the Influence" - B

Being a Cassavettes' film it is obviously a lot different than most of the films I reviewed in this column. Great performances all around. Especially the leading woman who I can't remember her name right now. Drags a little throughout.