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Director lords over Bellagio Fountains in Wahlberg’s new film

Updated December 11, 2023 - 6:44 am

Visitors to Las Vegas are not permitted to control the music or dancing waters of Bellagio Fountains.

Unless they happen to be a movie director working with Mark Wahlberg. That person can turn Lake Bellagio into their own playlist.

Simon Cellan Jones enjoyed such autonomy while filming “The Family Plan.” The Apple TV+ film celebrates its world premiere on Wednesday night (due for global release Friday) at the Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan. The hotel is of course next to the Bellagio. It’s a return to one of the film’s signature backdrops.

“We had a scene that takes place in front of the fountains, and one of the big buzzes of my life was filming there,” Cellan Jones says. “We had control over the fountains, and they let us work with them. We’d have our cameras ready, then turn the focus, and go again. It was crazy for a stuck-up English guy to see how excessive you Americans are.”

Cellan Jones even tucked a favorite song into the backdrop, “Chaise Lounge,” by British indie rock duo Wet Leg. It’s a ditty and also infectious.

Much of “The Family Plan” was filmed in and around Las Vegas, Wahlberg’s hometown for nearly a year and a half. Along with Bellagio, Cellan Jones and his crew homed in on Aria, Caesars Palace, Luxor, The Strat, the Plaza and Hoover Dam.

Absent are any seedy-underbelly depictions of our city.

“Obviously, we’re celebrating Vegas. We’re not saying it’s a sort of degenerate place,” Cellan Jones says. “We’re saying it’s a place you want to go with us. It was really fun. I got to go to see all sorts of places, and had all sorts of access that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”

It’s a heady position for Cellan Jones, son of the late director James Cellan Jones, who started his career as a mail boy at Twentieth Century Studios. Cellan Jones wanted to be a veterinarian, “But I was really bad at schooling, and it is harder to become a vet than a doctor.”

The 60-year-old Cellan Jones has become something of a Vegas aficionado, especially after a road trip through the city with his daughter some 20 years ago. He found the city was “lodged in my head.

When he read the “The Family Plan” script, the director recalls, “I was kicking the door and thinking, ‘Well, this is fun. I want to do this.’ And it worked out.”

Given the city’s history of self-destruction of famous hotel-casinos, there is a bit of razing in “The Family Plan.”

“We had a bit that was more of a studio set, representing a kind of faded hotel that was due for demolition in Vegas,” says the the director, who has never filmed in Vegas before. “That sort of dated, shabby, pickled kind of thing. But we just enjoyed Vegas for what it was.”

The doomed resort is called The Poseidon. Would love to see merch boasting that brand.

“The Family Plan” is the rare major release to celebrate its world premiere in Las Vegas. Wahlberg announced his plans three weeks ago, in an interview at a VIP party Drai’s Nightclub during the Las Vegas Grand Prix. Wahlberg plays a husband and father drawn back to his onetime career as an assassin-for-hire. Michelle Monaghan, Maggie Q, Zoe Colletti, Van Crosby and Ciaran Hinds are also cast.

Cellan Jones also directed Wahlberg in the adventure film “Arthur the King,” due in the spring. That movie was not filmed in Nevada. But Wahlberg’s “Flight Risk,” directed by Mel Gibson, is due next year. All of this is part of Wahlberg’s plan to lure film operations to the state and, in his estimation, create thousands of jobs.

A proposal to bring the movie industry to the state fell short in the the Nevada Legislature in June, but Wahlberg remains committed. His director is optimistic the movie star’s “Hollywood 2.0” vision can be realized.

“I really think that someone like Mark could make it happen,” Cellan Jones says. “He is one of those guys who just gets stuff done. He’s got quite a big vision, he’s a big-picture guy. Why the hell not?”

Timber(lake)!

Following up a social media post from September (and gosh how time flies), we expect Justin Timberlake to play the opening of Fontainbleau on Wednesday. We’re hearing he’s being paid a $5 million appearance fee, not including production and travel costs. Those fees can often in the $100 range, but this production is of such a scale it could run as high as $1 million.

Timberlake’s $5 million pricetag is more than double such stars as Bruno Mars and Katy Perry have reportedly pulled in for private shows in Las Vegas.

According to Fox Business, Motorola CEO Greg Brown paid Mars $3.1 million to play at Brown’s son’s wedding in 2021. Billboard reported in 2011 that Celine Dion played up to three private shows per year, commanding $8.5 million apiece.

Beyoncé is the all-time, private-event champ after she was paid $24 million to play the launch of Dubai’s Atlantis The Royal last January. Her fee reportedly did not include gratuities.

Tease this …

A major entertainer is also planning to play the Fontainebleau opening. Bigger than J.T.? We say yes.

Cool Hang Alert

Michael Monge & Friends are booked at Maxan Jazz from 7 p.m.-10 p.m. Saturday. We met Monge several years ago during his spirited show at Encore’s Eastside Lounge. He’s a classically skilled showman and great vocalist. No cover, but $40 F&B minimum per guest. Go to MaxanJazz.com for intel.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on X, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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