Las Vegas New Year’s Eve: To Drink

You may have noticed a significant omission in our last New Year’s Eve story—after all, how could we write a party round-up without including one of the biggest party cities of them all? But that’s only because what’s planned in Las Vegas for 2012 is so big, it required its own day. Herewith, our guide to the best of New Year’s Eve festivities in the hotels on the strip:

For a straight up club experience, the Spectacular Spectacular at The Palms sounds like it will be just that, with Paul Oakenfold playing at Rain, the John Legend afterparty (more on that later) at Moon, Miss Nevada USA hosting at Ghostbar, and a horde of Playboy bunnies taking over the Playboy Club. Naturally we’d suggest the VIP pass, for unlimited access to a selection of top-shelf liquor from 10pm to 1am at all the venues. At the Venetian and Palazzo, there’s a similarly comprehensive situation, with their five combined bars hosting Midnight Mix from 10pm to 2am, while DJ Sam Ronson spins on the terrace at Lavo, in the Palazzo, from 9pm to midnight, finishing up with a major fireworks display.

For a loungey experience, the heavenly bodies of Cirque du Soleil will be lighting up the room at Gold Lounge at the Aria Hotel, while the heavenly bodies of the Kardashian siblings will be spread around town, hosting (for better or worse) what are sure to be hot tickets: Kim at Tao at the Venetian, Kourtney and Scott at Chateau Gardens at Paris Las Vegas, and Rob at Tryst at the Wynn. And make room for some nostalgia: Pamela Anderson will host at Studio 54 at the MGM Grand, a big goodbye bash at the 14 –year-old venue, which will be closing early next year, while starlet Taryn Manning will be hosting at Tabu with DJ Kid Jay.

Stay tuned for our guide to Las Vegas’ most lavish eateries, up next…

‘Playboy Club’ Cancelled, ‘Whitney’ Endures for Full Season

It’s that time of the year again: After debuting their Fall lineup, NBC has chosen to throw the weakest performer into the woods to die alongside the corpses of Outsourced and Good Morning Miami. This year, the runt of the litter was The Playboy Club, a show about 1960’s Chicago nightlife. Or was it a murder mystery? Unfortunately, no one knows because no one ever watched it.

The Playboy Club will be replaced by NBC’s newest primetime news program, Rock Center With Brian Williams. The network is excited about the hour-long newsmagazine, even if it has a title befitting a Hamilton, New Jersey public access show about hair bands. Apparently Rock Center was originally slotted as a mid-season replacement for The Playboy Club, but the network couldn’t keep the practical joke going longer than three episodes. NBC spared some of their Fall offerings the sword, however. They awarded the Will Arnett and Christina Applegate comedy Up All Night a full-season extension. They also gave Whitney the same vote of confidence. Whitney has been something of a punching bag for its hackneyed ad campaign and lackluster first episodes, but NBC has stuck with a multi-camera sitcom featuring a stand-up comic before, and look what happened: DAG was canceled after one season.

Dear TV, Give the 60’s a Rest

In an attempt to be hip and “now,” network television has turned to the 1960’s for relevancy. NBC and ABC’s two big dramas for the fall season, The Playboy Club and Pan Am, respectively, both tap into that decade for instant cachet. Assuming they aren’t canceled, these shows will be joined by an adaption of Jacqueline Susann’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. NBC has bought the television rights to the 1966 book, and if it’s anything like The Playboy Club and Pan Am, it’ll follow the tried and true formula of copying Mad Men’s visual cues and then sitting back and hoping the ratings will follow.

While Mad Men gets to the root of 1960’s culture by following the white men who dictated it, The Playboy Club and Pan Am seem to be blindingly endeared by the products those men tried to sell. Both shows are about real-life companies, and while watching the pilots, you can’t help but think of an hour-long commercial Don Draper would dream up. Now the decade itself has been commoditized, and you can buy the Pan Am handbag or visit a reconstructed Playboy Club if watching the shows doesn’t satisfy your need to buy into the swingin’ sixties. Oddly enough, Mad Men doesn’t get astounding ratings. It does well enough in key demographics, is a critics’ darling, and happens to be very, very, good. While some of this may be related to tie clips and indoor smoking, most of the show’s quality and originality comes from the storytelling and characters. Just like The Godfather is a great movie that happens to be about the mafia, Mad Men is a great television series that happens to be set in the 1960’s. Pan Am and The Playboy Club’s mixed ratings seem to reflect this. While Pan Am had a strong showing for its premier, the inferior pilot for The Playboy Club tanked and was widely panned, leading many to predict a mid-season cancellation. Where does this leave Valley of the Dolls? The book dealt with celebrity, pharmaceuticals, politics, and even cosmetics. Hopefully the show will dig deep into these facets, rather than just use them as an excuse to market a colorful cultural pastiche. Still, check the NBC gift shop for Valley of the Dolls pill cases; those would be an ace tie-in.

Amber Heard’s Age of Dissent: ‘The Rum Diary’ Star Bares All

Amber Heard meets me on a sunny morning at Gemma, the copper-toned Italian brasserie next to Manhattan’s Bowery Hotel where she’s currently staying as she shoots Syrup, an indie drama set in the dog-eat-dog world of corporate advertising. The 25-year-old actor is tall and slender, her blonde hair slicked back and still wet from the shower, and, if she’s to be believed, there’s not a pinch of makeup on her face. “Can you tell that I just woke up?” she asks. Aside from the two soy lattes she guzzles in under an hour, I cannot. Heard is dressed in head-to-toe vintage—a black lace top exposing her sun-kissed shoulders, an eggshell-white, high-waisted skirt, and gold slip-ons—a style that not only suits her pinup physique, but also that of Maureen, the Bunny she plays on NBC’s new ’60s-era drama The Playboy Club.

To the average moviegoer, Heard might look familiar, if not quite recognizable. (Isn’t she the girl whose face decomposed at the beginning of Zombieland, right before treating Jesse Eisenberg’s brain like an amuse-bouche?) Her pinup good looks have served her well in roles that usually call for a slight twist on the all-American dream girl. I’ll admit that before this assignment, I’d considered Heard to be just another perfectly symmetrical actor clawing her way up the Hollywood employment ladder, mostly in thankless roles in genre movies—as Seth Rogen’s girlfriend in the hardcore stoner-art romp Pineapple Express, or as Nicolas Cage’s Daisy Dukes–wearing passenger in the equally hardcore action wig-out Drive Angry 3D. Somehow, these parts have led her to The Rum Diary, an adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s long-lost novel about a journalist—played by Johnny Depp—in 1960s Puerto Rico, and Heard’s first film aimed at high-minded adults hungry for cinematic brain food.

Asked if The Rum Diary feels like her first film for grown-ups, Heard soaks her response in sarcasm: “Well, The Informers is certainly a kids’ movie,” she says, referring to one of her earlier projects, an adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ coke-tome of the same name brought to excruciating life in 2009. But unlike that roundly panned film, The Rum Diary works. As Chenault, the striking and provocative object of Depp’s affections, Heard manages to breathe strength and vulnerability into a character that feels both out-of-reach and somehow obtainable. It’s a role she could play in her sleep. “Chenault is free-spirited and rebellious,” she says. “I can relate to that.” To get the part, Heard fought tooth-and-nail—a process that included four auditions and a handwritten letter to director Bruce Robinson—eventually beating out some of Hollywood’s alpha actresses. “I heard names of people who were going in, so I think part of me was resigned to not getting it,” Heard says, obliquely referring to Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley, whose auditions for the role were widely reported.

Heard talks about her Rum Diary experience like she still can’t wrap her head around it. She punctuates the story of her first audition for Depp with bursts of incredulous laughter. Was she intimidated meeting one of the world’s great silver-screen icons? “I guess I must have been,” she says. “I just don’t know if I thought about it that way. Luckily, we’re built so we don’t really remember that kind of pain.” Laughter. “I can just assume it was there.” More laughter. Regarding a steamy shower scene with Depp, Heard plays it cool, sort of. “I grew up watching his movies, so it was a little surreal, but I very much become my characters while I’m working. I’m not Amber Heard making out with Johnny Depp in the shower. I mean, that’s awesome, but I am Chenault, and he’s Paul Kemp, and we’re embroiled in a love story in Puerto Rico, and it’s easy to get lost in that. Love scenes are weird, but if they’re right for your character, I let go of the weirdness and jump into them.” image

She worked closely with Depp to develop the character of Chenault, who was based on Thompson’s first wife, Sandy Conklin (who later changed her name to Sondi Wright). “I’m playing somebody who still exists, who had a major role in the life of one of Johnny’s dear friends, and who is in more than one way important to him,” she says. “So there was a lot of pressure.” She need not worry. From her very first scene, in which she emerges from the sea like a siren, beckoning Depp’s character to plunge in and join her, Heard’s luminosity fills the frame. Despite the newfound respect that will surely accompany her Rum Diary role, Heard doesn’t see it as a career turning point. “Don’t get me wrong,” she says. “It feels great, but none of my films feel like they’re going to be my big break. I do the job, work really hard on the project, and go home and do the next one. They’re kind of all stepping stones built on one another.”

Last December, however, Heard’s on-screen work took a backseat to her private life, when, at The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s 25th anniversary celebration, news began circulating about her long-term relationship with photographer Tasya van Ree. Suddenly, her personal life, which Heard says she fiercely guards, was exposed, a choice with which she wrestled. For Heard, talking openly about her relationship with a woman wasn’t an attempt to grab media coverage, but instead, she says, an ethical and social responsibility. “I talked about my relationship because there’s a difference between being a private person and being part of the problem,” she says. “I knew that I had a responsibility to young people, who right now are without many role models, to kind of step out of my comfort zone and acknowledge that I have a girlfriend without being ambiguous about it.” Echoing what she’d said at the time, Heard adds, “At the end of the day, if you’re hiding something, then you are inadvertently saying it’s wrong, and I don’t feel like it’s wrong. Millions of people aren’t born wrong.”

Since that day, Heard has been disturbed by the way her sexuality has been reported. A headline on the Huffington Post, one of the first links that comes up on an Amber Heard Google search, reads, “Amber Heard Gay: Actress Comes Out as a Lesbian.” But, according to Heard, she never came out. “I’ve always been out,” she says. “Way before that event, there were pictures of me walking to press events holding my girlfriend’s hand. Those have been on the internet for years.”

Heard’s spirit of activism—her official website is as devoted to gay rights as it is to her magazine covers—is a by-product of coming of age in Austin, Texas, amidst a wave of what she calls religious hypocrisy. Heard, a proud atheist, left home at 17 for Hollywood after dropping out of high school. “I felt very alienated,” she says of that time in her life. “I was not a religious person, and I didn’t think the things around me were righteous, even though that’s what they claimed to be. I felt compelled to go against the grain, so I took my GED, took my SAT, and I got the hell out of there.” It’s partly what drew her to her character in The Playboy Club. “You don’t know where she’s come from, and in many ways I relate to that, that alienated person against the masses. I don’t know how my character is going to grow, but I have a feeling I want to be there for her when she does.”

More and more, Heard is becoming known as an actor willing to take risks. She’s neither shied away from nudity nor from Nic Cage movies, but she also speaks her mind. “My PR people should be on a steady supply of prescription medication,” she says with a subtle Texas twang, buried beneath years of Hollywood refinement. “It’s lonely to stand up for what’s right,” she says. “I am alone in Hollywood in many ways, and that’s scary. It’s better for my career if I stay quiet, but I’ve just never been that person. I didn’t get into this business so I could shut up.”

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AMBER LIKES, Gemma

Photography by Kate Orne. Styling by Christopher Campbell.

Gloria Steinem Tries to Put Cast of ‘The Playboy Club’ Out of Work

When NBC picked up The Playboy Club, we reckoned that all they wanted was to give the hardworking citizens of this country an excuse to shut off their brains for an hour and let the cheap thrills wash over them. Also, if they made a few bucks out of the whole endeavor, nice for them. But Gloria Steinem, famed feminist warrior and future HBO documentary subject, is putting a damper on the whole thing by calling for a boycott before the first episode has even gone to air.

Steinem famously went undercover as a Bunny in 1963 at the real New York Playboy Club (the show is set at the Chicago original) for an article that exposed the god-awful conditions those ladies had to work under. Now, in an interview with Reuters, Steinem is saying all sorts of damning things, like “Clearly The Playboy Club is not going to be accurate. It was the tackiest place on earth. It was not glamorous at all” and “It normalizes a passive dominant idea of gender. So it normalizes prostitution and male dominance.”

Sure, that might be true, but it’s also just a soap on NBC that will have to climb a mountain 18 times the size of Everest if it wants to make it past the first season. That’s how hard it is to be a successful TV show these days. (It also does not help that some stations are already refusing to air it.) It’s also a show starring largely unknown actors who thought this might be their ticket to making rent. Criticizing the show, which features its main character accidentally impaling someone with a high heel in its pilot, is fair and legitimate, but asking people not to watch it and decide for themselves is just bossy and sort of mean.