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Midlands Movie Mike USA movie trip 2012...

By midlandsmovies, Aug 25 2012 08:51AM

Las Vegas

Being a huge fan of both the USA and of movies I had experienced some awesome cities 4 years ago when I spent 3 months of summer travelling up the East coast visiting Orlando to New York and taking in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington amongst other places during my 90-day VISA. I had, however, in all my trips, never been to the West coast and was looking forward to landing in Vegas and driving to Hollywood and then San Francisco.

My trip began on Sunday when I landed in Las Vegas. The neon city is alive 24 hours a day and my arrival began with an awe-inspiring view of the Las Vegas strip from the international airport. I stayed at the Stratosphere Tower hotel (the tallest free-standing structure on the West coast of the USA) which can be seen being narrowly avoided in Nic Cage’s Con Air (1997) when the plane crashed down amongst the casinos. Next up on the first night was a trip to watch the dancing fountains outside the Bellagio. Famous for its appearance in Ocean’s 11 (2001) the spectacular aquatic light show was captured at the end of Sodebergh’s hit movie where the gang celebrate their heist to the sounds of "Claire de Lune" by Claude Debussy.

After a few more nights and few drinks, another Nic Cage flick came to mind in his Oscar-winning performance from Leaving Las Vegas (1995) and although I did get propositioned by a “lady of the night” I thanked her and went on my way before playing some Poker on the casino floor itself. Looking up at the eyes-in-the-sky brought me worrying thoughts of both Martin Scorcese’s Casino (1995) and the more recent 21 (2008) where card-counters and cheats get their comeuppance in the most violet ways. Luckily there were no De Niros or Fishbournes around to administer justice and I came out on top after a $40 win at the bar. Finally I left Vegas with a bit of a blurry head but nothing close to the night experienced by the cast of The Hangover (2009) and was glad to get on the road to escape the intensity of this crazy party town. For now anyway...

On the Road

Driving from Vegas involved 3-4 hours of desert road before coming across a sign for the car that Bonnie and Clyde (1967 film) were killed in based in a very small place called Primm in Nevada, 35 miles south of Las Vegas. The 60s version of their story starring Warren Beatty (whose hand prints I subsequently saw encased in concrete on Hollywood Boulevard) was a milestone of movie murder and violence. Another 60s hit came to mind whilst the desert mountains and dusty landscapes passed me by in the form of the great road movie Easy Rider (1969). Finally making it to a town with houses and electricity, I exited the desert and our plans changed to avoid San Bernardino which had recently gone bankrupt (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-19089970) and we decided to head to Pasadena. We drove through San Dimas (I head their high school football team rules according to Bill & Ted) before stopping at a local motel on the main Colorado avenue into the city. Home of the fictional TV series The Big Bang Theory, Pasadena did have some real life geeks in town as the latest Mars Rover had just touched down after its 2 year journey to the red planet (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19144464). I also managed to take a picture of the City College, the pub Lucky Baldwin’s and even a comic book store all referenced in the programme (although it is filmed on the back-lot of Burbank, L.A. many miles away). After a day of relaxing in this lovely small city, I headed onwards to the sprawling car-soaked highway metropolis that is Los Angeles.

Los Angeles

First up on Mike’s movie tour of the City of Angels was the observatory in Griffiths Park on the north side of the city. A twisty journey up the park roads finally ended at the top of one the most spectacular views in the area before parking up and looking at one of the most iconic images that any movie fan could wish to see – the infamous Hollywood sign. The Griffith’s Observatory was one of the main settings for James Dean’s Rebel Without A Cause (1955) and there is a bust of the actor commemorating this fact on the right of the building. More recently, the building was seen in Michael Bay’s Transformers (2007), most notably at the end where Optimus Prime makes his call in the sunset to other Autobots to join him. Behind the building, visitors can see a spectacular view of downtown LA which does not look right without a huge city-sized space ship hovering over it in the vein of Independence Day (1996).

After this, I drove down to Hollywood Boulevard and parked in a space just opposite the Capitol Records building - the round one with a spike that gets destroyed in The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and which is the final resting place of a criminal’s car in Will Smith’s Hancock (2008).

Walking slightly off the strip you get a sense of both run down areas so often seen in Tarantino movies – like Pulp Fiction (1994) – as well as more historic architecture from the golden era of the movies and brilliantly recreated in the amazing L.A. Confidential (1997). After a few blocks of walking, the pavement (or sidewalk) turned into an amazing array of stars with Hollywood’s greatest talents from Ted Danson to Steve Gutenberg being honoured in ceremonial stars along the length of the road. More impressively, Bogart, Depp and Leicester legend Engelbert Humperdink all have their own stars on the Walk of Fame which become more populous the closer you get to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Famed for its dazzling array of film premieres over the years (including Star Wars and the week before I arrived, The Expendables 2) this cinema also has the hands, feet and tracks (of R2-D2 no less) entombed in concrete on the floor outside its entrance. As the tourist crowds got ever more busy and the streets more dirty I decided it was time to move on so got back to the car, headed up Sunset Strip and on to the famed Mulholland Drive in North Hollywood. Immortalised in the David Lynch film of the same name (2001), this curvy road snakes it way across the Hollywood Hills and plays host to some of the town’s most famous stars’ homes including Jack Nicholson. Halfway up is a great outlook post to view the impressive San Fernando Valley – I caught glimpses of flames emanating from Universal Studios before heading back down Austin Powers style - see the Spy Who Shagged Me’s British countryside/California road joke (Jay Roach 1999).

Before heading back though there was still time to go through the high-class neighbourhood of Beverly Hills (of Axel Foley’s Cop fame) and then onto Rodeo Dr, famed for its high class shops and boutiques last seen in Pretty Woman (1990) before looping back around on ourselves. Looming upon us at that moment was the Fox Plaza - a 35-story, 150m skyscraper which most readers would know this better as the Nakatomi Plaza from 80s actionner Die Hard (1988)!

Only 5 days had passed and I was here for two weeks so who knows what awesome sights were to be seen later on in the trip but the next blog will detail my trip up the Pacific Coast highway to San Francisco and more...

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