Emergency Arts offers smorgasbord of galleries and a different First Friday experience

Photo courtesy of Lil’ Art Bodega

First Friday, the downtown Las Vegas arts festival occurring on the first Friday of each month, is a great showcase for local artists, musicians and performers, but there are many who haven’t yet experienced the street party because they may fear the crowds or worry that it’s less about appreciating art than drinking and carousing.

Jennifer Kleven, owner of Kleven Contemporary, understands that apprehension, but she has a solution.

“I think people assume that First Friday is only in the 18B Arts District, but it’s not,” she said. “Emergency Arts is a great alternative. We are centrally located next to bars and restaurants, and all of the galleries are inside one building.”

The former Fremont Medical Center building opened last May as a collection of galleries, studio spaces and even a café for artists and the artistically-minded to gather, work and sell their works.The venue is located on the northwest corner of Sixth and Fremont streets. First Friday pulls all these tenants together to showcase the best of the building.

“One big advantage (of First Friday) is that every gallery is open, whereas during the week we may have different hours,” said Joy Snyder, co-owner of Sporadica Designs, which focuses on found object and recycled material art.

“Every First Friday is (a chance for visitors to) experience new concepts of art and my creative juices are shown,” Tanya Walter, owner of Lil’ Art Bodega (L A B) said. “It makes people want to come back see what else that I came up with every month. How cool is that?”

Kleven offered an alternative for those still leery about the crowds at First Friday.
“Most galleries offer a Preview Thursday so potential customers can see what Friday’s exhibits will be ahead of the crowds,” she said.

While some may feel that collecting art is a hobby for the rich, this is a notion Snyder disagreed with.

“We like to make our work affordable for all,” Snyder said. “It’s nice to have new collectors and homeowners looking for pieces for their homes.”

She and partner Kathryn Gilbert typically price their pieces from $75 up to $500.

“Customers do not have to be well off to afford art work,” Kleven said. “You just have to have a passion for it. You have to want to live with art. I have yet to have any artwork go over $575.”

When it comes to starting a collection, Snyder offers this advice: “Always buy what you like, not what’s in vogue or what matches or what someone else thinks you should have. My husband and I have collected for over forty years and still love the pieces we bought as newlyweds.”

Walter, whose eclectic offerings include everything from graffiti to fine art, agreed.
“Make sure the artwork you purchase is something you want to look at every day and it’s a conversation piece,” Walter said.

“Purchase work that offers a little more than meets the eye and contact the artist,” Kleven advised. “Most local galleries will give you the artist’s email. Nothing feels better than hearing how much someone enjoys your work.”

The Emergency Arts building is located at 520 Fremont Street. Metered parking is available on the surrounding streets and the El Cortez hotel offers a free parking garage on Ogden Avenue, between Seventh and Eighth streets.

Published on BestOfLasVegas.com

Blu-ray - Casablanca

  As time goes by, there are few movies as enduring or beloved as Casablanca. Whether it’s the epic love story, the Academy Award-nominated performances or the thrilling adventure, the film is as well-known for its lines as its actors. This year, Casablanca has reached another milestone, celebrated by the Casablanca 70th Anniversary 3-Disc Blu-ray + DVD Combo Edition limited release (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group, MSRP: $64.99).

Most fans are familiar with the story of Rick (Humphrey Bogart), Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and Laszlo (Paul Henreid)—in a nutshell, Ilsa and her husband, Laszlo, are on the run from the Nazis and seek the enigmatic Rick, expatriate owner of Rick’s Café Americain, for help getting out of Morocco. Rick and Ilsa, it turns out, share a romantic past, and her feelings for the nightclub owner are still evident. Rick, who “never sticks his neck out for nobody,” decides to make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of the greater good (bringing down the Nazis). Rick and Ilsa will always have Paris, and viewers will always be heartbroken at the end.

The package is impressive even before opening the double-wide gift box. Nothing says “collector’s item” like an all-white case—it practically screams “handle with care!”—and inside are a few other gems that were created specifically for this release: a reproduction of the original movie poster; a 60-page production art book with never-before-seen photos, personal memos and archival documents about the production; and, strangely, a set of collectible drink coasters from Rick’s Café Americain in their own keepsake box. Collectors should move quickly if they want to own this set, as only 81,000 copies were made.

Then there’s the actual disc package, itself a beautiful fold-over presentation, with the massive list of special features outlined right on the inside cover. The first Blu-ray should probably weigh a few pounds considering all that was packed onto it. Aside from a stunningly crisp copy of the original film (with the optional “Introduction by Lauren Bacall”), there are several short features. The first two, “Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic” and “Michael Curtiz: The Greatest Director You Never Heard Of,” aren’t included on any other Casablanca collection, and follow similar formats. In “An Unlikely Classic,” movie industry insiders such as Steven Spielberg and William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist) speculate on what made this film, which was merely one of hundreds churned out by the early studio system, such an enduring classic.

Even those who don’t follow film history have probably heard of Casablanca, White Christmas and Yankee Doodle Dandy. What isn’t so well-known is that the same director helmed all three—plus 170 others, a feat made even more astounding by the fact that the Hungarian immigrant didn’t start directing until he was 26. “Michael Curtiz: The Greatest Director You Never Heard Of” introduces viewers to an accomplished director whose work everyone knows, yet whose name is largely unremembered.

Two sets of commentary tracks are also included on the disc, one by film critic Roger Ebert, the other by film historian Rudy Behlmer. Both offer interesting tidbits about the actors, production and the film’s impact on cinematic history, but Ebert is definitely the more entertaining of the two. His seems more conversational, as if he were actually just sitting with the viewer, watching along, and offering perspective of a true fan. Behlmer’s commentary, while offering much more in-depth analysis, feels like a classroom lesson (and one likely to be napped through, at that).

Included on many classic offerings from Warner Bros., “Warner Night at the Movies” gives 21st century audiences the experience of watching a film in a 1940s movie theater. First, the trailer for Bette Davis’ Now, Voyager plays, followed by an authentic newsreel, a short documentary on the “Vaudeville Days,” then three Merrie Melodies cartoons (“The Bird Came C.O.D.,” “The Squawkin' Hawk” and “The Dover Boys at Pimento University or The Rivals of Roquefort Hall”) that should evoke a sense of nostalgia in those over 30 who recall waking up on a Saturday morning to their rousing orchestral theme. Finally, Casablanca begins.

Could anyone ever know the great Humphrey Bogart better than his family? In “Great Performances: Bacall on Bogart,” frequent costar (and widow) Bacall takes viewers on a tour of the softer side of the hard-boiled image (for instance, that his first brush with fame wasn’t onstage but in print, drawn by his mother, Maud Humphrey, a commercial illustrator, as the face of Mellins Baby Food). Son Stephen Bogart and Bergman’s daughter, Pia Lindström, then offer their perspectives in “As Time Goes By: The Children Remember.”

“You Must Remember This: A Tribute to Casablanca,” narrated by Bacall, was produced in 1992 and, essentially, is the CliffsNotes version of all the preceding special features. Illustrated with clips from the film and featuring interviews of scholarly types on high stools, the tribute seems more instructional than entertaining.

DVD releases typically include deleted scenes and outtakes, but these are special because, while the film exists, the audio tracks have been lost. The two deleted scenes feature subtitles drawn from the shooting script, where the outtakes are pretty much left to the viewer
s imagination.

Also included is Warner Bros. Television’s “Who Holds Tomorrow?,” a sort of prequel based on the characters in Casablanca, featuring Rick and Captain Renault (played by Charles McGraw and Marcel Dailo, respectively), and “Carrotblanca,” a vintage cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny and the WB constellation of characters (Tweety Bird does a great Peter Lorre).

Trailers for the original release and the re-release are also included.

If all the video proves exhausting, there are also a number of purely audio features, including the 1943 Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater and 1947 Vox Pop radio broadcasts (both shortened audio versions of the film) and the scoring sessions.

The second Blu-ray disc is composed of three feature-length documentaries. You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story, narrated by Clint Eastwood, gives a peek behind the screens of one of Hollywood’s most powerful film studios.

The 2008 documentary The Brothers Warner and 1993’s Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul both discuss the famous family behind the name. The Last Mogul is more revealing than The Brothers Warner, which has a more neutral tone, but both offer fascinating insights into some of Hollywood’s founding fathers.

The final disc is the DVD copy of the movie.

Serious collectors who already own the previous DVD and Blu-ray offerings will only find about 45 minutes of new material on this set, but the extra goodies in the box and the limited nature of the offering make this a must-own for those whose hearts will ever be left on that landing strip in Morocco.

The Casablanca 70th Anniversary 3-Disc Blu-ray + DVD Combo Edition is now available.

Published on LifeInLA.com


Tuesday 13 - Frank Marino


 It would be easy to say that being Frank Marino is a real drag, but the evidence certainly proves otherwise. Las Vegas’ longest-running Strip performer has outlasted many flash-in-the-pan acts, as well as glitzy production shows, high-profile entertainers and even a few Sin City staples to become nearly as legendary as the celebrities portrayed in his show every night. And he’s done it all in heels.
Throughout his career, the queen of Las Vegas has racked up some impressive honors: a street named after him, the key to the city, his own day (Feb. 1) and not one but two stars on the Las Vegas walk of fame. Just weeks after receiving his latest honor, a themed gaming table at the Imperial Palace, Marino talked with the Best of Las Vegas about the Strip’s evolution, his dream home and why the “Millionaire Matchmaker” may have revitalized his career.

Best of Las Vegas: You’ve been headlining on the strip for nearly 28 years, first in “An Evening at La Cage,” now in “Divas Las Vegas” at Imperial Palace. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen come to Las Vegas and the Strip since 1985?

Frank Marino: The biggest change I’ve seen has been in the audience itself. I remember, when I first opened in the ’80s, when women would come in beautiful evening gowns and mink coats, and men would be in suits. Nowadays, it’s changed so much that people come in fanny packs and flip flops! That’s a change that I really don’t like. I also saw the town go from the end of what I call the Mafia Era to the beginning of the Corporate Era, and I’ve got to say, I kind of like the Mafia Era better. It was a more personal, one-on-one experience, where a high roller could walk into a hotel and they’d go, “Mr. Smith, how are you, sir?” Now, you could drop a million dollars at a table and people wouldn’t know who you are. The other thing I’ve seen change, as far as shows go, is that when I first started, you would get a salary to come to Vegas and be in a show and headline, whereas now it’s more of a four-wall deal, where you rent the room as a vendor and cross your fingers and hope people will want to see you.

BOLV: What’s the biggest misconception people have about your show?

FM: That it’s a gay show. They think it’s just a bunch of gay men running around in dresses when it’s nothing of the sort. It’s a very big production show that rivals all the big shows on the Strip. I don’t think they realize how many people are in my show. We have a cast of 25 people, we’re the only tribute show that does 17 characters per show. Most others do like four or five. It’s a show for all ages, everyone from kids to senior citizens.

With six shows a week, how do you keep up your physical and creative energy?

FM: Well, besides diet and exercise, which I’m very strict with, I also get a B12 shot every day. Also, now that I’ve been doing it every day for so long, this is my new key: to pace myself. Don’t do everything in one day. Pace myself so that when I go to the show, I have my energy.

BOLV: Three years ago, you purchased the land for your dream home. How is that coming?

I haven’t built the home yet, but I have the architect working on it. The reason it hasn’t been built yet is because right after I bought it, that’s when my show I had for 24 years closed. Then we opened the new show, “Divas,” where I am the producer. So now I’m like Barbara, I produce it, I direct it, I star in it, I do it all. But we are going to build the house. We have the architect working on it now, we plan on starting it in September and I can’t wait. In fact, it’s not going to be a house, it’s going to be a palace, like every queen should have.

BOLV: Spill – How much room is dedicated to closet space?

FM: My closets, I can guarantee you, will be huge. I’ve seen many huge closets in many mansions before, but I can guarantee you this closet will be huge!

BOLV: You were recently featured on an episode of Bravo’s “Millionaire Matchmaker.” Though you didn’t make a love connection, has dating been harder or easier since appearing on the show?

FM: Dating hasn’t been harder or easier, but I’ll tell you a little funny anecdote. After working for so many years on the Strip under the mask of the makeup, for the first time I did a television show as a man, as myself, without being in costume, and it was overnight fame. I went to Hawaii the next week and got recognized all over the place, I went to New York and got recognized, I went to Paris and got noticed, all off of “Millionaire Matchmaker.” And I was like, whoa! I need to get me a TV show! That worked out quite well, because they really portrayed me in a nice light. I was kind of nervous, because you never know with reality TV, how you’re going to be portrayed in the editing. Patti (Stanger) and I hit it off. I know sometimes she’s bitchy in the episodes, but she was wonderful to me and I’m going to tell you, it gave an energy boost to my career. It was a really, really good experience.

BOLV: Speaking of “Millionaire Matchmaker,” you did a great impersonation of the show’s star (Patti Stanger.) Are there any other newsworthy females you’d consider impersonating?

FM: I am the only female impersonator in the world who hates impersonating famous people. I’d rather just be Frank Marino, the comedian, the way RuPaul is the singer, and have my femme-fatale created look. I did Patti for the show, because it warranted it. I’ve been on talk shows and impersonated the talk show host, and of course, I use my staple, Joan Rivers, in the beginning of my show, but it’s really such a small part that I just open with it, then I just do myself for the rest of the show, doing the crazy looks that I’ve created for myself over the years in drag.

BOLV: Your website proclaims that you’re America’s favorite male actress. What movie, TV or stage projects would you like to take on in the future?

I think after doing “Millionaire Matchmaker,” I really want to focus on doing my own reality show, and it doesn’t even really have to be my show, I’d just love to be a part of a show or an ensemble. I did quite a few movies, quite a few TV shows, so now I just want people to get to know me, and if they get to know me, they might like me, like they did on “Millionaire Matchmaker.” And want to come and see our “Divas” show at the Imperial Palace.

BOLV: Do you prefer portraying a version of yourself, or entirely new characters?

FM: I like portraying a version of myself. Onstage, I like to be myself in the costume, femme fatale telling my own jokes. On TV, I’d rather be myself on a reality show than in a sitcom portraying somebody else.

BOLV: What haven’t you done that you’d like to attempt?

FM: I say in my book, “His Majesty, The Queen,” my autobiography, the best and worst thing in my life is that I think I’ve done everything I want to do, that there’s nothing left I want to do. But after I wrote the book, I realized there’s one more goal I have. I mean, I’ve had a street named after me in Vegas, the city gave me a day, I’ve got two stars on Las Vegas Boulevard (the only entertainer to have that,) all those crazy things. The only thing I can think of, as far as show business goes, is to have my own wax figure in Madame Tussauds. They have a Vegas room, where they have Lance Burton, so I feel they should have the longest-running Las Vegas headliner. Number two, they have RuPaul in New York and they have Dame Edna in London, so it’s not like I’d be their first drag queen. I’ve been wanting this for over 10 years, I’ve campaigned from every angle possible, and there’s always a new reason why we can’t do it. If it doesn’t happen, I’m going to make it known right now that I’m going to make my own and have it right in my living room, so that when people visit me, it will be right there. Better yet, when I’ve built my new home, I’ll put it right out front in a glass case, so when they do the tour of the movie stars’ homes, they can say, “…and here’s Frank Marino. He couldn’t have a wax figure in a museum, so he put it in his yard.”

BOLV: You’ve undergone a number of plastic surgery procedures. What’s the one thing you wish you hadn’t done?

There’s nothing I wish I hadn’t done. Actually, the one surgery I wish I hadn’t done is the hysterectomy.

BOLV: There is a lot of attention being focused on bullying right now. How much of that did you endure when you were younger?

FM: I did endure a lot of bullying when I was young, probably for not being the most macho of men. Gym class was kind of rough. I don’t remember anything specific, but fortunately, I took all that knowledge and instead of learning not to do it, I kind of created it into my act, because my act is based on bullying. I only bully bigshots, I don’t bully the little person in the audience, I bully the celebrities who can afford to be knocked down a few pegs because they’re superstars. Actually, I feel like I get more bullied now, as an adult, in the media by what newspapers say about me sometimes, then as a kid when people did mean things. Bullying has actually benefitted me, because it gave me the strong skin to be able to go into entertainment. This is not a job for sissies.

BOLV: What fact about Frank Marino, male or female version, would be surprising for readers to learn?

FM: One thing nobody knows is, if you came to my house, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell what I do for a living. There’s not one gown, one eyelash, one false fingernail, no makeup, no wigs, nothing I use in the show. I leave it all at the office, except maybe for a poster or painting, there’s nothing in my office that would say “oh this is Frank Marino’s house.” I keep it all separate. Drag is what I do for a living, it’s not who I am.

Frank Marino’s “Divas Las Vegas” performs Saturday through Thursday at 10 p.m. at the Imperial Palace. Tickets start at $39, and are available at the box office, online at www.imperialpalace.com or by calling (888) 777-7664. For more information on Frank Marino, visit www.frankmarino.com.

Published on BestofLasVegas.com


DVD: Breaking Wind, Unrated Director's Cut

 One of the greatest measures of a film’s success isn’t huge box office receipts or even getting big awards…it’s inspiring a parody. The Twilight series may find this a dubious distinction, however, when the tribute is as ridiculous as Breaking Wind.

Though the title implies a send-up of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 1, the movie more closely follows Eclipse, beginning with the attack on Ronald (the character who was named Riley, played here by Michael Adam Hamilton) in Seattle. It is at this point, not even two minutes into the movie, viewers are treated to the first of many flatulence jokes, leading into the credits.

Cut to Bella (Heather Ann Davis) and Edward (Eric Callero), sitting in a meadow and meeting up with Bella’s grandmother, and the audience gets the first of many sex jokes. This pretty much sets up the pattern of the rest of the film. Fart joke. Penis joke. Fart joke. Big vagina joke. Fart joke. Homosexual joke. And so on. It’s definitely NOT a film for family movie night with the little kiddies.

Writer/director Craig Moss (The 41-Year-Old-Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It) apparently felt the need to add all the sex and profanity that Stephenie Meyer left out of the Twilight saga, turning ‘imprinting’ into another word for ‘masturbation,’ and giving Bella a penchant for African-American men and an allegedly huge vagina. The sex is so in-your-face (literally) that the movie is just a few orgies shy of being a porno.

Amid the sea of adolescent humor are a few worthwhile scraps. It’s amusing that the werewolf clan is (mostly) made up of overweight guys flashing their monstrous bellies with the confidence of body builders, and that they never change form once during the film. In particular, Frank Pacheco as Jacob is a weak ray of sunlight peeking through this cloudy mess.

By far, the funniest scene (and the only one to embrace the parody movie tendency to incorporate bits of other movies) involves the legend of the cold ones, and incorporates the many characters of Johnny Depp and an Avatar. Alas, those two minutes of celluloid can’t keep this train from jumping the tracks.

While keeping very close to the story of the original films, the addition of two mini Cullens (Edward and Jasper) is confusing and silly, but less offensive by far than the majority of the movie. Little Edward also plays a pivotal role in the reenactment of Breaking Dawn—Part 1 (which this movie summarizes in a lightning-fast three minutes).

The Unrated Director’s Cut DVD (Lionsgate, MSRP: $26.98) contains two featurettes and a commentary track by Moss and the cast. Surprisingly, the audio commentary is not only great, it also vastly improves the experience of the movie. It’s far more interesting to learn that Alice is played by Ashley Greene’s photo double (Alice Rietveld) in the Twilight films than it is to watch Rietveld play the part, and Davis and Callero are far more charismatic in their voice-over than on-screen. Comedian Pacheco also lives up to his reputation.

For such an embarrassing movie, the producers of Breaking Wind actually went to a great deal of trouble to maintain some authenticity, as shown in the “Behind the Scenes” featurette. From locations and wardrobe to outright shot duplications and hiring actors with uncanny resemblances to the original characters—particularly Carlisle (John Stevenson) and Charlie (Flip Schultz)—there was a concerted effort to keep true to the feel of the source material. It’s a shame, really, that there wasn’t a much better end product after going to such effort.

“The Heart Warming Embrace of Edward and Jacob” is a series of outtakes of a scene featuring Bella and her two suitors that is, to say the least, a different take on the fight between the vampire and werewolf that took place in Eclipse. There are also trailers for Disaster Movie and Scary Movie 3 included.

Although facetiously dedicated to Twihards, whom the film showcases in the end credits, Breaking Wind is offensive to both Twilight lovers and haters and is sure to be equally reviled by both. Fans of parody would be much better off watching one of the vastly superior films in the trailer gallery.

Breaking Wind is now available on DVD.

Published on LifeInLA.com

DVD: The Descendents

 Hawaii is often thought of as a vacation destination, a tropical paradise where beaches and sunny days make it easy to forget life’s cares. The Descendants, however, which is set in Hawaii, exposes the inevitable other side of paradise, where real life and family tragedy exist among the coconut palms.

Now available on a single-disc DVD (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, MSRP: $29.98) and two-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack (MSRP: $39.99), the Academy Award-winning film is one of those so-called quiet movies: there isn’t much action, and though there is plenty of drama, it’s more internal than expressed in bursts of violence or passion.

Adapted from the debut novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, the story revolves around real estate lawyer Matt King (George Clooney), reeling after his thrill-seeking wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) lapses into a coma following a boating accident. For years, Matt has been coasting along as the “backup parent” to his spirited daughters, 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and 17-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), and is only beginning to see how troubled both truly are.

As he deals with Scottie’s bullying behavior at school and Alex’s emotional detachment, he aches for his wife’s return to health. However, Matt’s cluelessness has extended to his personal life as well, as fresh-out-of-rehab Alex informs him that his wife had been having an affair. He struggles to come to terms with this news just as the doctors inform him that his wife is deteriorating, and the terms of her living will specify that they must terminate life support soon.

It becomes Matt’s job to inform relatives and friends of Elizabeth’s condition, in order to allow them the opportunity to say good-bye. He enlists Alex’s help—and she, in turn, brings along surfer friend Sid (Nick Krause). The reactions vary from tears to anger (and earn Sid a punch in the eye), but all agree to make the trip to the hospital to say their farewells. After discovering the identity of the man his wife was seeing, Matt ultimately decides to reach out to her lover (a subdued Matthew Lillard) as well.

At the eye of this swirling hurricane of emotional trauma is a land sale being brokered by Matt’s family. As the descendants of Hawaiian missionaries and a Hawaiian princess, the family trust fell heir to a huge tract of undeveloped land on Kauai, of which Matt is the trustee. The cousins are all gathering to vote on one of the billion-dollar bids, foremost of which include selling to a local investor, which Matt himself backed, but a new development suddenly has him rethinking his strategy as both a businessman and a parent.

Though the surface emotions rise and fall as gently as the Hawaiian surf, the actors all do an outstanding job of portraying the simmering undercurrents in each scene. Woodley and Miller, in particular, exhibit the unwilling maturity of kids whose parents are too busy fighting their own demons to notice the problems at home, while still maintaining a child-like innocence at their core.

Clooney rightly deserved his Academy Award nomination, embodying Matt’s tepid personality and discomfort with the turns his life takes with subtlety and just enough gravitas. Both Robert Forster (as Elizabeth’s angry father) and Beau Bridges (as the beach-bum cousin Hugh) are terrific counterpoints to Clooney’s middle-of-the-road expressions, and each differently highlights Matt’s ultimate inability to engage in his own life.

One of the uncredited stars of the film has to be the state of Hawaii itself, as the gently swaying trees and cultural iconography all permeate the story, lulling the viewer with its lush beauty and distracting them from the harsh realities of the story.

The single-disc DVD contains a few special features, along with the theatrical trailer and some sneak peeks of upcoming releases.

First off, it’s not just females who swoon over Clooney. The featurette “Everybody Loves George” shows why the actor is a guy’s guy, an actor’s best friend, a director’s dream and an all-around great guy. Funnier than his movie roles, Clooney is revealed as a prankster, impersonator and a teller of great tales.

Directors can be a quirky bunch, and the featurette “Working with Alexander” showcases just how true that is of Oscar winner Alexander Payne (Sideways, Election). Also functioning as a co-writer and producer of the film, Payne wore many hats throughout the process, and was universally beloved by the cast and crew (as these testimonials show). As laid-back as the islands on which they filmed, this short feature is a perfect portrait of an artist (and also showcases a couple of no-fail omelet techniques to boot).

If, as the adage goes, into every life a little rain must fall, where better to endure a storm than the Hawaiian islands? In “Hawaiian Style,” viewers are treated to the many things that make Hawaii a special place to film. From the blessing on the first day of shooting to the colorful expressions picked up by all, it is clear that family made up of cast and crew were far more functional than the fictional Kings.

The Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack adds to the extras four additional featurettes (“The Real Descendants,” “Casting,” “Working with Water” and “Waiting for the Light”), the silent film The World Parade—Hawaii, a conversation with George Clooney and Alexander Payne, three music videos (“Honolulu’s Whisper,” “Postcards from Paradise” and “Will I Ever See You Again”), deleted scenes and a digital copy of the film.

While the ending of The Descendants isn’t wrapped up in a bow (or even a brightly colored lei), there are a few rays of hope penetrating the overall sadness for the family’s future. If anything, this movie should make viewers appreciate their own families a bit more…and perhaps plan to spend some time with them on that long dreamed of trip to Hawaii.

The Descendants is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. 

Posted on LifeInLA.com

Shopping: Men's Bracelets

Courtesy of Night Rider

Shake hands with a businessman or hipster these days and you may catch a peek of the latest trend for men: the wrist tangle, or so-called Kanye bracelets.

The trend, sparked by singer Kanye West’s mix of gold and fabric wrist-wear at the 2011 Coachella music festival, has gained enough momentum to rate a mention in February’s New York Times Style section, and has landed firmly in Las Vegas.

Jennifer Miller, director of marketing for MJ Christensen Diamonds, a 2011 Best of Las Vegas reader’s pick for Best Jewelry Store, defined the type of customer most likely to embrace this trend as “current, on trend and doesn’t really care what others think. He’s definitely an independent spirit with a lot of confidence and a passion for jewelry.”

Kyle Anderson, a loan officer in New York, picked up a David Yurman bracelet at the Fashion Show Mall during his visit to Las Vegas. It is the third in his collection, which included a leather bracelet given to him by a girlfriend years earlier and a woven parachute cord piece he got at Christmas.

“I’m not really into too much flash, but this trend feels like me,” he said. “It’s not over-the-top bling.”
The beauty of this trend is that guys like Anderson can mix inexpensive pieces with more high-end brands.

“We see a lot of mixing and stacking of different textures,” Miller said. “A lot of designers are coming out with the parachute material, and people are layering that with sterling silver.”

Besides making a fashion statement, a few brands also make a philanthropic gesture as well.

“We have paper beads that are made in Uganda, Africa from recycled paper that benefits a group of impoverished women there,” Miller pointed out, adding that the company just reached a $100,000 in sales that all go to BeadForLife.org. “There are also some made from parachute cord that helps soldiers who are relocating to America after being at war. When you mix the charity in with the high end, it’s a really cool vibe.”

For those looking to break into the trend, Miller suggested a classic woven sterling sliver bracelet, such as ones made by John Hardy or the Arizona-based company Night Rider.

As for cost, “You can pretty much start at $5 to wherever you’d like to spend,” Miller said. “The Bead For Life recycled paper beads begin at $5, but the sky is the limit. There are different brands for different gentlemen. Find what his passions are and what story he’d like to tell, and then match the jewelry with his personal needs.”

While wearing a wrist full of color isn’t Anderson’s goal, he likes the mix-and-match effect of his set and plans to add a nice watch later this year.

“I’ve got my eye on a Tag Heuer,” he said. “Why not? After all these years getting presents for girlfriends, I think it’s fun to get something for me.”

Published on BestofLasVegas.com

Blu-ray: Footloose

  Remakes and updates abounded in 2011, but the decision by Paramount to green light a new version of Footloose was met with mixed reactions, as it’s a film that some claim is an American classic. One of those movies that inspired a generation, the original film launched the career of Kevin Bacon and helped establish Kenny Loggins’ reputation as the 1980s King of Soundtracks. Even today, who doesn’t hear the opening bars of the title track without immediately getting into the party spirit?

What most people fail to remember about the 1984 film, though, is that it was only so-so, mainly a vehicle for the soundtrack that went on to spawn a number of hits. Despite a few iconic scenes, the movie was basically cinematic fluff to pass the time before The Karate Kid came out later that year.

The 2011 Footloose is in almost every way a better movie than the original. Writer/director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan) took on the task of modernizing the tale of a small town that blamed dancing and modern music for the crash that took the lives of five teenagers years earlier.

This time around, the leads are played by newcomer Kenny Wormald (as Ren) and a made-under Julianne Hough (playing the reverend’s daughter, Ariel). Wormald is perfectly cast as the big-city boy with a chip on his shoulder, while Hough portrays the rebellious teen with a much softer edge than Lori Singer did in the original.

For those few who never saw the original (or don’t recall the movie), the story goes like this: a few years back, at a post-game party, teens got drunk, drove home and were killed in a car wreck, prompting the town elders to set forth a regulation prohibiting public dancing and loud music. Three years later, Ren comes to live with his aunt and uncle after his mother passes away and falls for the reverend’s daughter (whose brother was killed in the aforementioned crash). Rebellion ensues as the kids try to have a prom with dancing and the town shuts them down.

Dennis Quaid is great as Reverend Shaw Moore, and Andie MacDowell oozes Southern charm as his loyal wife. Also turning great performances are Ray McKinnon and Kim Dickens (Uncle Wes and Aunt Lulu) and Ziah Colon as Ariel’s best bud Rusty.

There are a few changes from the original storyline, most obviously the location changes. Bomont is now located in Texas instead of Utah, and the bad-boy Ren now hails from Boston rather than Chicago, probably because Wormald’s native Boston accent is such a great counterpoint to the Texas twang of his best bud Willard (a scene-stealing Miles Teller). This cast also includes more characters of ethnicity (which is to say there actually are some).

A big fan of the original film, Brewer tries to keep as much continuity as possible between the two films while still filming a modern movie. Sticking so close to the first version should have made this Footloose just as mediocre of a movie as Bacon’s version, but Brewer is somehow able to wring more personality and presence from one scene than much of that first effort contained in its entirety. This Footloose feels like less of a remake, and more of a “how it should have been made.”

If there is anywhere the remake falls short, it’s the music. While a variety of genres are represented on the soundtrack (from Quiet Riot to Cee Lo Green), there is a decidedly country-music spin on the majority of the tracks. This isn’t what makes it less appealing than the Kenny Loggins-led songs, however—that fault lies mostly with the fact that the songs themselves feel outdated. In a film about dancing and the power of music, that seems to be a big miss.

The director’s commentary track on the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack (Paramount Home Media Distribution, MSRP: $44.99) goes into much more detail about what influenced Brewer’s directorial decisions, and reveals that he was very much in-the-know about how deeply reviled he was for even taking on such a project. However, hearing him talk about making this version should leave little doubt that he wanted to do the story justice.

“Jump Back: Re-imagining Footloose” goes into detail about what Brewer decided to change and what bits he felt were essential to keep in order to honor the source material (Ariel’s red boots and Ren’s Volkswagen are just two examples, as well as the clever recreation of the dancing-feet opener).

The Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack also features five deleted scenes, one of which— “Reverend Shaw’s Speech”—does a lot to give the older folks’ perspective. Viewers can also watch the scenes with optional commentary by Brewer.

Two mini-documentary features are devoted to the film’s stars. “Everybody Cut: The Stars of Footloose” gives viewers more background about the main characters, as well as the largely unknown cast, while “Dancing with the Footloose Stars” showcases the dance moves and training of said cast.

The two-disc Combo Pack also includes three full-length music videos: Big & Rich’s rowdy party song “Fake ID,” Blake Shelton’s take on “Footloose” and the moody Ella Mae Bowen version of “Holding Out for a Hero.”

The most fun of the special features, “Footloose Rap,” features YouTube sensation Emily Whitcomb and her original rap that perfectly summarizes the storyline from the point of view of Ariel. Whitcomb joined the cast at a screening of the film in Minneapolis and was asked to “remake” her performance in front of the crowd, with Brewer, Wormald and Hough as backup. The result is kitchy and fun.

The DVD that comes with the Combo Pack only holds the movie and an Ultraviolet digital copy. The single-disc DVD release (MSRP: $29.99), however, comes with the director’s commentary track, three deleted scenes and the “Fake ID” music video, along with an Ultraviolet digital copy.

then and now are still pretty much popcorn movies: lightweight entertainment that won’t change the world, but will certainly inspire viewers to jump off the couch and dance. Fans of “Dancing with the Stars’” Hough, though, won’t be disappointed in her acting chops, and a whole new generation should now be inspired by phrase “Everybody cut….”

Footloose is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Published on LifeInLA.com

Shopping: Pawn Shop Deals

Budgets are tightening all over the country, and people are looking for ways to save on the products they buy. Craigslist, eBay and even Goodwill can yield some deals on pre-owned merchandise, but there is another source becoming more and more popular: pawn shops.

Once regarded as sleazy, dirty or borderline criminal, pawn shops have undergone a reputation overhaul thanks to shows like the History Channel’s “Pawn Stars,” featuring Las Vegas’ own Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, at 713 S. Las Vegas Blvd.

More people are opting to sell their high-end items, from flat screen televisions to tablet computers, for fast cash. These items are then sold to the public at prices that are 30 to 60 percent cheaper than retail prices.

Mitchell Weinstein, a pawnbroker with MaxPawn at 2400 S. Jones Blvd., said that “anything you can buy in a pawn shop, you’re going to get a deal because they items are used, from jewlery to the name-brand purses that (MaxPawn) is famous for.”

Some of the best buys in a pawn shop will be jewelry, high-end tools, musical instruments and small items like DVD or Blu-ray movies, which can often be had for a few dollars each. There are even bargains available on firearms.

“If you’re a local and can show ID, we can call in the (purchase) from here and get you approved so you can leave with your purchase the same day,” Weinstein said.

Televisions, video game consoles and even laptops are also popular items at the pawn shops. Though once considered a risky purchase, as the quality could not be guaranteed, most shops now have a 30-day return policy on electronics.

Las Vegas resident Sarah Whitney chose to visit SuperPawn at 1100 W. Sunset Road when she was looking for a new iPod Touch last year.

“A friend told me he got his there and that it was in good condition,” she said. “I checked to see if they had what I wanted, and they did,” she said. “I ended up paying at least half, if not more, of what a new one would have cost.”

Another secret of pawn shop purchasing is that the price tag isn’t always what the sales price may be.
“No matter what’s on the tag, for instance, a watch for $599, if you asked to see that watch and said you really liked it, and would we take $250 for it, you might just have yourself a deal,” Weinstein said.

“I expected it to be more ghetto, but it was actually really nice and the (merchandise) had a good presentation,” Whitney, who had never gone into a pawn shop before, said. “I didn’t feel in any way sleazy or thrown together.”

“Here at MaxPawn, we have a higher standard,” Weinstein said. “Our motto is, if we don’t treat the customer as number one, someone else will.”

Although some still hold onto the image of a pawn shop as a thinly-veiled fence for stolen goods, Weinstein assured that they, and other pawn shops in the city, work closely with the Metropolitan Police Department’s Pawn Shop Detail in order to keep inventory as clean as possible.

“It’s a judgment call,” Weinstein said, “but we’ve been doing this a long time. There are people we’ve turned down, and even items that we put on a 30-day hold in order to make contact with the task force to make sure they’re not from somebody’s home.”

Published on BestofLasVegas.com

DVD: Jack and Jill

 Adam Sandler fans are a very forgiving bunch who seem to know that, for every Anger Management the star has produced, a You Don’t Mess with the Zohan seems to follow. And yet, they ride out the mediocre in hopes of the next Big Daddy or The Wedding Singer. Sadly, that movie definitely isn’t Jack and Jill.

The premise of the film is thin at best. Sandler plays Jack Sadelstein, a successful advertising executive in Los Angeles with a picture-perfect wife (a bland Katie Holmes) and two kids—the girly girl Sofia (Elodie Tougne) and Scotch tape-obsessed Gary (Rohan Chand). As the movie opens, the family is looking forward to Thanksgiving—and dreading the annual arrival of Jack’s nemesis, his identical twin sister, Jill (also Sandler). A montage during the opening credits illustrates the many ways Jack has been annoyed by his sister since birth (or the multiple ways he’s been a total jerk, depending on the audience’s point of view).

Clearly, Jack is far more bothered by his brash New Jersey-based sibling than anyone else in his family, who all seem to take her quirks in stride. For her part, Jill loves her brother and simply wants to be closer to him, especially now that their mother has passed away. Dinnertime friction ends in a major fight, followed by Jill’s decision to extend her stay so the two can “work things out.”

The character of Jill is played as a passive-aggressive whiner with a thick Bronx accent, yet it’s Jack who is the more annoying of the two. His selfish, mean-spirited nature makes filmgoers wonder why his sister even bothers. Nevertheless, a few days becomes a few weeks, and Jill runs the risk of becoming a permanent fixture.

Hampering Jack’s attempts to run his sister out of town are two potential love interests: the landscaper, Felipe (Eugenio Derbez), and—no joke—Al Pacino. Yes, that Al Pacino. Playing a cartoon parody of himself, the Godfather vet falls head-over-heels for the manly Jill, citing their common Bronx background as the basis of the love connection. Jack needs Pacino to agree to do a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial shoot or his job is on the line, so he is torn between wanting his sister on the next plane out of town and pimping her to lure Pacino into a contract.

The rest of the story doesn’t matter much, as it only exists as a vehicle for the numerous celebrity cameos popping up like the rodents in a Whac-A-Mole game. It comes to mind that this would make Jack and Jill an excellent drinking game movie—if players took a shot each time a famous face showed up, they’d be passed out before the first hour was up. The bit parts vary from painful (the ShamWow guy?) to very funny (Norm MacDonald as a creepy blind date, Dana Carvey as a stomach-puppeteer). The funniest appearance, however, has to be Johnny Depp at a Lakers game. Sporting a Justin Bieber T-shirt and his trademark lazy grin, Depp clearly took the role with the seriousness it deserved. “Were you in Duran Duran?” Jill screeches at him. “Yes,” he says without a trace of irony.

The final third of the movie takes a break from the agonizing sibling rivalry to make a commercial for the Royal Caribbean cruise line before diving into the inevitable Jack-dressed-as-Jill bit, and the realization that Jack’s been a huge ass.

Now for the positives: Sandler takes the character of Jill further than just being himself in a dress. Throughout the film, it is entirely possible to forget that the same person inhabits both roles, and there is even enough shading and depth between his portrayals of Jill and Jack-playing-Jill that the two are very separate. Although the movie as a whole is a disorganized mess, there are funny and original bits. And finally, Sandler fans can take heart that the lows to which this movie sinks can only mean the upcoming That’s My Boy has nowhere to go but up.

After slogging through the film, viewers might enjoy some of the special features. The DVD (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, MSRP: $30.99), Blu-ray (MSRP: $35.99) and Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack (MSRP: $40.99) all offer “Laughing is Contagious,” an obligatory blooper reel that shows viewers how much fun it was to make the film and what a great time everyone had ad-libbing and riffing off of each other. It is interesting to watch the enthusiasm of the actors between takes, as those moments are full of more humor than the final product.

Although it’s usually easy to see why deleted scenes were cut, the multitude of extra footage included o
n Jack and Jill is roughly the same quality as the rest of the film, which is to say sophomoric. Any of the 13 scenes could have been interchanged with what ended up in the theatrical release without any discernible change in quality.

Uncover the magic behind the transformation of Sandler from a him to a her in “Boys Will Be Girls.” While not precisely method acting, Sandler does admit that the clothing and makeup were challenging but necessary to his portrayal. The featurette also explores the alter-egos of some of the other females-played-by-males in the film, including Derbez as his character
’s own grandmother.

One of the most worthwhile features is “Look Who Stopped By,” a comprehensive look at the nearly two dozen cameo appearances in the movie, from an angry John McEnroe to a bewildered Bruce Jenner, from the laid-back Drew Carey to a hammy-in-more-ways-than-one Shaquille O’Neal. (Those good at math will surely notice that, at 91 minutes, the movie averages a wink-wink, nudge-nudge appearance approximately every four minutes.)

The Blu-ray releases add just two exclusive extras to the package, “Stomach Ache” and “Don’t Call It A Boat—Royal Caribbean,” as well as an UltraViolet digital copy of the film.

In review: frat boys, adolescents and multiples who enjoy films about twins should find something to enjoy about Jack and Jill. Anyone else looking for vintage Sandler humor should just pop in a DVD of Grown Ups instead.

Jack and Jill is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. 

Posted on LifeInLA.com

Shopping: Mystery Shopping Jobs

Get paid to shop! Enjoy free dinners and merchandise! Work on your own schedule! With the economy in a slump and jobs hard to come by, ads like these seem incredibly appealing. But are they on the level?

It helps first to know a bit about what mystery shopping is.

Retailers, businesses and restaurants may at one time or another want to gauge their employees’ customer service skills, adherence to procedure or training in a real-world environment. These companies will then hire people to pose as customers with a specific agenda, then to report their findings back to those companies.

Helen Rodriguez has been a mystery shopper for a national restaurant chain for more than 15 years.

“I go in and order an appetizer, an entrée and dessert and watch for the cleanliness of the restaurant, quality of the food and the service,” she said. “I always have to take someone with me, so I have a lot of friends who keep in touch.”

In return, Rodriguez is paid $50 and reimbursed for the bill.

The job is far from a walk in the park. Good shoppers must be over 18 years old, have a great attention to detail, the ability to write a clear, fact-based summary of their experiences and, in most cases, be computer literate. Each company provides their own guidelines for what they hope to accomplish with each job, which are paid anywhere from $10 to $50 or more.

Assignments are filled on an application basis from a pool of qualified shoppers, who are free to accept as many (or few) jobs as their schedules allow. Payment typically includes reimbursement of goods or services being shopped, but vary by assignment. In fact, there are jobs that even allow shoppers to keep their merchandise.

Now for the bad news: although most other states allow mystery shoppers to be independent contractors, as of 2005, Nevada has much stricter regulations that require potential shoppers to undergo a background check, get a sheriff’s card and register with the Private Investigators Licensing Board as either a private investigator or an employee of a licensed firm, all of which are at the applicant’s expense (a small price to pay compared to the fines of up to $2,500 per shop without proper documentation.)

Those still interested in applying for secret shopper jobs will need to have a few things handy before starting the application. Most sites require a job history of at least five years; a current photo is sometimes requested; and, in many cases, a short sample narrative is required. Once the initial application has been processed, applicants should expect one or two more in-person or phone interviews before getting an offer, usually followed by training.

Even after the long process, the job can be fulfilling, said Julie Hill.

“It’s not for everyone, and you don’t make a lot of money, but it is great for a little income and you can feel good about what you are doing,” said Hill, a stay-at-home mother of two who mystery shops for a national retail chain. “You have to be aware of a lot of things on your checklist the company gives you, and it’s really specific. Did they bring you what you asked for, mention specials, hand you the receipt not just put it in the bag? And sometimes you know that your report, if it’s bad, is going to cause problems for the employees. And you have to be available when they need you. Slackers need not apply.”

There are only a handful of agencies licensed to run mystery shops in Nevada, but there are a great many internet companies promising jobs for a small administrative fee. At no time should applicants ever need to pay for the information, as it is readily available online for free. Here are the agencies currently licensed to operate mystery shopping operations in Nevada: Service Sleuth; QSI Specialists; Bestmark, Inc.; The Benchmark Collaborative; and A Closer Look.

Published on BestOfLasVegas.com