Tuesday 13! Laura Croft on her weakness and New Year plans

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She’s not a bad girl, but she plays one on TV. Fans of E!’s “Holly’s World” should be familiar with the fun-loving brunette who isn’t afraid to stir up a little trouble—as long as it’s in the name of fun.

Known primarily for her modeling (she was Playboy’s Playmate of the Month in July 2008) and her reality TV appearances, the Jacksonville,
Fla., native has now lent her name and considerable knowledge of the party lifestyle to the  burlesque/pole dance/striptease class at the Excalibur, “Night School 4 Girls.” Croft opened up to Best of Las Vegas about keeping fit in the New Year, her weaknesses and her hopes for the future.

BOLV: What do you like best about living in Las Vegas?
LC: I like that you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, basically. I don’t like having limitations.

BOLV: No limitations can lead to overindulgence. How do you manage to stay fit?
LC: Well, you have to go to the gym to work off all the food and the alcohol. It’s hard to resist going to all of the nice restaurants and trying all the new drinks and things, so you just have to have a consistent fitness schedule.

BOLV: Speaking of which, what is your favorite restaurant in Las Vegas?
LC: I’ve got to say the Circus Circus steakhouse. I like steak houses because you know what you’re going to get. If you go somewhere that tries to fancy things up, it doesn’t always turn out very good. I like to know what I’m getting.

BOLV: It’s hard to eat healthy all the time. What guilty pleasure do you indulge in on cheat day?
LC: Doritos, definitely. Doritos, and beer.

BOLV: What is the one workout essential for a bikini body?
LC: Cardio, because it’s going to make everything smaller in a good way, and you have to get a layer (of fat) off before you can see what’s underneath when you do your strength training.

BOLV: Of all the places to show off that bikini in Las Vegas, what is your favorite?
LC: Go to Wet Republic, definitely. That’s the most fun pool party in the world. I call it the office over the summer because I’m there so much.

BOLV: What about Night School 4 Girls? How does that play into a fitness regime?
LC: When girls are coming into town for a girls’ weekend, I don’t think they’re expecting to go to the gym because they’ll probably be too hung over. But if they go to Night School 4 Girls, they can
party and burn calories at the same time, and they get to drink.

BOLV: Aside from burlesque, striptease and pole dance moves, you also offer tips on partying for those taking the class. Can you share your No. 1 tip with us?
LC: Definitely how to cure a hangover–and that is to start drinking again. It’s the only thing that’s going to make you feel better.

BOLV: Your career has taken a number of unexpected twists and turns. What did you want to be when you grew up?
LC: Well, I still want to be on “The Young and the Restless.” It’s my favorite soap opera. I’ve been watching it for years. Other than that, I used to want to be a weather girl. I went to college for the
wrong thing, basically. I should have just gone for meteorology instead of public relations.

BOLV: You portrayed Randy Orton’s wife on an episode of WWE “Raw” in 2009. Do you follow wrestling at all?
LC: I never followed it, but I knew who some of the wrestlers were. Basically, a job came up and I took it. I had fun. They had the best catering for a TV show I’ve ever seen. They had Domino’s pizza on one side and then Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. I mean, I’ve never seen craft services be so fancy!

BOLV: Is there anyone in Las Vegas you would really like to meet?
Oh, Elton John! I love him.

BOLV: After the success of “Holly’s World,” is there any other reality TV you might attempt? Perhaps a spin-off series?

LC: I don’t know if I would have my own spin-off, I don’t really think that would happen. But I wouldn’t mind doing a “Real Housewives” or something like that.

BOLV: So does that mean that marriage and kids are in the future for you?
LC: I mean, anything could happen. I don’t know about kids, though. I don’t know if I’m cut out for it.

“Night School 4 Girls” classes are held Friday through Sunday in the “Thunder From Down Under” showroom at Excalibur. Classes start at $39. Visit the Excalibur box office or call 702.597.7600 for exact dates and times. Watch for new episodes of “Holly’s World” on E!.

Published on BestofLasVegas.com


Last-minute shopping ideas for the finicky foodie

When it comes to gift-giving, some people are easier to shop for than others. If shoppers still have a few foodies on their list to buy for, here are a few suggestions that say “season’s eatings.”

For the future “Top Chefs”

Friends with a yen for cooking should enjoy the Cooking Healthy Mexican cooking class with Chef Mike Minor at Border Grill ($75). The demonstration-style cooking class takes place Jan. 21 at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino-based restaurant and will teach participants how to prepare light and healthful modern Mexican fare, enhanced with vegetables, whole grains, beans and handmade tortillas. The class includes a multi-course lunch, signature cocktails and a recipe booklet.

To reserve a spot at the Cooking Healthy Mexican cooking class inside Border Grill inside Mandalay Bay, call 702.632.7403.

For the confectionery connoisseur

For those whose taste in candy is more refined than the drugstore box of chocolates, the Vosges 32-piece Exotic Truffle collection ($75) just might fit the bill. Each box contains truffles, which mix a variety of chocolates and caramels with such unusual ingredients as Ancho chili powder, pumpkin seeds, wasabi or curry.

Vosges Haut Chocolat, inside the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, is open from Sunday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to midnight. 702.836.9866.

For the molecular gastronomist

For some people, cooking and eating food just isn’t enough—they aren’t happy unless the laws of physics are being tested. Wow them with a gift certificate to Popped, perhaps accompanied by a bag of popcorn in Dill Pickle or Marilyn Monroe ($3 to $7). The crafty kernels will entice the lucky recipient to head to the shop and check out their ever-changing variety of flavors, while the gift certificate will allow him or her to experience frozen popcorn ($3 to $6), freshly blasted with liquid nitrogen.

Popped, 9480 S Eastern Ave, Suite 110, is open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. 702.998.9234.

For the aspiring brewmaster

Some guys like to buy beer; others would rather make it themselves. Help launch his (or her) new hobby with a trip to Big Dog’s Brew School 9 ($99), held January 7. Brewmaster Dave Otto shows his students how to brew up a batch of Tyrone! My Man! Black IPA, then the class gets lunch and two pints of beer. A diploma and a class picture round out the course, which graduates Feb. 2, with a dinner starring the class project.

Big Dog’s Brewing Company, 4543 N. Rancho Drive. Call 702.940.2739 or visit www.bigdogsbrews.com/brewschool for more information.

foodiexmasFor the sophisticated sports fan

Chips and pretzels won’t cut it for this unusual breed of sports fanatic, unless it’s the chips of chili-dusted applewood smoked bacon found in Chipotle Bacon Brittle or the beer and pretzel caramels in Glitter City Sweets’ Man Candy collection (each $8 per half pound).

Visit www.glittercitysweets.com for ordering information.

Published on bestoflasvegas.com

Tuesday 13 with the Smithereens' Pat DiNizio

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Everyone knows rock stars are cool. The rock star mystique has captivated writers, filmmakers, entertainers and even gamers, spurring generations of youth to seek fame and fortune in a band. However, there are multiple sides to every story, and Pat DiNizio, front man of the power pop group The Smithereens, shares the good, the bad and the ugly with audiences during his “Confessions of a Rock Star” show at the Riviera Hotel and Casino.

Responsible for such hits as “Blood and Roses,” “A Girl Like You” and “Only A Memory,” The Smithereens have been plugging away for decades, both in and out of the spotlight, which has left DiNizio with a wealth of anecdotes and behind-the-scenes dish mixed in with live music, video footage, photos and audience participation. Ticket holders arrive ready to watch a show, but may leave feeling as though they just made a friend.

The Best of Las Vegas recently spoke with DiNizio about his background, The Smithereens and a few of his favorite Las Vegas things.

BOLV: Why do you think “Confessions of a Rock Star” is a good fit for Las Vegas?
DiNizio: I think the show offers the audience something they can find nowhere else. It’s real rock and roll, not watered down by any stretch of the imagination, in addition to being the story of a guy who was a garbage man for his whole life and then woke up one morning and had a hit song on the radio.

BOLV: What confessions do you have to make since coming to Las Vegas?
DiNizio: I’ve never left my hotel room! I’m not much interested in gambling or carousing, I got all that out of my system many years ago when I was on the road 300 days a year for a decade or more with the Smithereens. So my confession is that I am emulating the life of Howard Hughes.

BOLV: Have you ever wanted to do anything else besides music?
DiNizio: I always wanted to be in a rock and roll band and I wanted to make motion pictures. The closest I’ve come directing and producing an ESPN TV special called “Seventh Inning Stretch.” It was about my attempt to play minor league baseball at age 49. I would like to eventually write and direct movies.

BOLV: What was your first job?
DiNizio: The first job I actually had was in the winter of 1963. I was probably 8 years old, and we were snowed in. I was sitting inside the house watching cartoons and my dad said to me, “Grab a snow shovel and go make some money.” So my first job was shoveling out sidewalks and driveways for some folks. I made about $3.

BOLV: Name the last thing you crossed off your bucket list.
DiNizio: I recently retrieved a guitar that I had to sell many years ago to pay the rent. It took 25 or 30 years, but I was able to get it back. It was always in the back of my mind, the sadness of having to sell something I really loved, something that was really important to me, in order to survive in New York City.

BOLV: It’s the holiday season. What song off “Christmas with The Smithereens” best suits Las Vegas?
DiNizio: It has to be our punk/surf-rock version of “Auld Lang Syne,” because of one of the movies that sparked my fascination with Vegas, “Ocean’s 11.” I saw it with my parents at a drive-in movie theater in New Jersey. There was this scene where they’re counting down, and Sinatra and his ex-Army cohorts rob the five biggest casinos in Las Vegas, including the Riviera, when everyone is singing Auld Lang Syne. We named our third album “Smithereens 11” after “Ocean’s 11” and we even worked in imagery from the movie posters on the original album cover. We were into the Rat Pack in Las Vegas decades before George Clooney remade “Ocean’s 11.”

BOLV: Speaking of which, the number 11 has been prominent in your career. The album “11” produced “A Girl Like You;” the latest album of new music is called “2011,” and your show began in November of 2011. That being said, how did you mark 11/11/11?
DiNizio: It’s possible that the day completely passed me by. No, wait, that was Veteran’s Day. I was posting on Facebook to remind people about our veterans who protect us, because we have so many of these poor kids coming back from these wars that we’re currently involved in, and they tend to be forgotten about.

BOLV: What’s the most embarrassing MP3 in your iPod?
DiNizio: For me, or for someone else? Let me open up my iTunes player, because I don’t have an iPod. I don’t even have a cell phone. It’s not embarrassing, but my favorite album is Bing Crosby’s Christmas album. It’s a sentimental favorite. Ironically, there are no Smithereens songs on here. When I had to put together the CDs for the grand opening cocktail party, the folks here at the Riviera asked me to burn a few CDs with Smithereens songs and material from my solo albums, the Buddy Holly tribute and The Beatles tributes, and I said OK. I didn’t tell them that I had to buy my own albums off of Amazon.com, because I didn’t own them. So you can say that was an embarrassing moment for me.

BOLV: As you mentioned, The Smithereens have covered The Beatles, and you produced a tribute to Buddy Holly. Which Las Vegas impersonator or tribute show would you most like to see?
DiNizio: Everyone tells me that I have to go see “The Beatles LOVE” show, but I bought the album and I wasn’t really all that crazy about it. I don’t really see how Cirque du Soleil and the Beatles go together. Everyone loves it that goes to see it, though. I’m not interested in “Jersey Boys,” because it’s too similar to the story of the Smithereens. I read that Shecky Green is working, and he’s telling stories about what it was like being with Sinatra and the Rat Pack and old Las Vegas. I’m intrigued by that, because I like to hear stories. I’m just trying to find a way to see Schecky, because we’re working at the same time on the same days. And as much as I love him, I’m not going to take a day off work.

BOLV: What Las Vegas landmark would you most like to blow to Smithereens?
DiNizio: This is a very tight community, I’d better watch what I say here. What I would rather do is resurrect some of the buildings I remember, or rather elements of the Las Vegas that I enjoyed when I first came here in 1973. We’d never seen such entertainment, it was everywhere you turned. And it still is.

BOLV: What has surprised you most about Las Vegas?
DiNizio: How nice everyone is here. Everyone that I’ve encountered, whether they write for a living about Las Vegas, or they work for the hotels, or whether they’re in shows themselves, everyone is tremendously gracious. Everyone has been absolutely delightful here. A lot of locals are coming to the show, and this is tremendously gratifying to me, heartening in fact. I love meeting people that have relocated here. There’s something about this town that everybody loves, and I’m starting to believe that it’s the people.

BOLV: What is the most surprising request a fan has ever made?
DiNizio: We’ve had people that we never met before, and of which we know nothing of their capabilities, request to play guitar solos on our most famous songs–and we let them do it. And most of the time, they’re great. This hasn’t happened in Vegas yet, but I expect it will happen at any moment–perhaps tonight. I think everyone out here has either been an entertainer or wants to be, you know? I’d better be careful, or someone might steal the show from me.

BOLV: Why do you think the Riviera is one of Las Vegas’ best-kept secrets?
DiNizio: I just think the Riviera is a treasure that people should come and see, to experience what vintage, historic Las Vegas hotel casinos are like. The Riviera, I believe, is intent on preserving that old school feeling, in the best sense of the word, and bringing in interesting new entertainment, the type of which we’re doing in “Confessions of a Rock Star.” They’re very forward-thinking in that regard, but they also respect and realize that the history of this particular hotel is something that to be treasured.

“Confessions of a Rock Star” plays in the “Crazy Girls” Theater, at the Riviera Hotel and Casino, at 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays. Tickets are $29.95 for general admission and can be purchased at the Riviera box office or on Ticketmaster.com.
Published on bestoflasvegas.com

The Rocketeer - 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

  Before superhero movies were churned out like butter, there was a time when comic book adaptations were an event—something to look forward to with anticipation. Just such a movie was released in 1991: Disney’s The Rocketeer. Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, fans can relive the magic with a digitally remastered Blu-ray release.

Set in glamorous 1930s California, The Rocketeer wastes no time taking off. No sooner has test pilot Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell) taken off in his new experimental plane that viewers are treated to a car chase between gangsters and the Feds that ultimately ends with cars
and the planecrashing all around.

After the gangsters have been hauled away by the FBI, Cliff and his buddy Peevy (Alan Arkin) discover a rocket-propelled backpack stashed in an old plane. At first unclear about what they found, it soon becomes blazingly obvious what they’ve stumbled onto.

Peevy is all for turning the device, a prototype stolen from millionaire eccentric Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn), in to the authorities, but Cliff has other plans. They’ll use it for a few weeks to do some shows, he reasons, just until they dig themselves out of the debt caused by the plane crash. What could go wrong?

Long before
Iron Man zoomed out of Stark Industries to save the country from terrorists, Cliff donned a rocket pack (spruced up by Peevy) and a gold helmet to amaze the locals. Unbeknownst to them, interest in the fiery flying machine is widespread. Soon gangsters, the FBI, hit men and a movie-star-turned-Nazi-spy named Neville Sinclair (the perfectly cast Timothy Dalton) are all trying to track down the mysterious Rocketeer, suddenly a media darling.

Tempering all the testosterone-fueled hijinks is Jennifer Connelly, radiant and feisty as Cliff’s longtime love, Jenny. Though comics of the time would have relegated her character to a “stand there and look pretty” role, Connelly brings just the right amount of steel to her portrayal of a young starlet caught up in the crossfire. When Neville Sinclair attempts to seduce the young beauty, she plays along—until she can knock him over the head.

The film rockets toward a conclusion full of twists, turns and lots of guns, plus a thrilling battle atop a zeppelin. Allegiances change, new alliances form and Howard Hughes becomes buddies with Peevy, all incidentally while saving America.

It’s fun to sit back and count all of the soon-to-be notable actors in the film, realizing that, in those days, minus Arkin and Connelly, most were relatively unknown. Look! There’s Locke from “Lost!” Isn’t that James Bond? Hey, it’s Mira Sorvino’s dad! The Rocketeer could be a drinking game in the making.

Fixing the deficiencies that plagued the DVD version of this film, The Rocketeer: 20th Anniversary Edition (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, MSRP: $26.50) is gorgeous in high definition. The colors and sounds that made the film pop on the big screen have been recreated beautifully for home theaters (in some cases, too well—the late 20th century makeup limitations and clumsy stunt work are all the more painfully obvious). The sound is soaring, however, and every rocket blast and gunshot will echo through the living room as if evil Nazis were battling the FBI behind the sofa.

There was much care taken by director Joe Johnston to ensure the film’s pace kept burning steady, all the way to the explosive finish. Now a veteran of many movies (including Captain America: The First Avenger), The Rocketeer was only Johnston’s second feature film. Nevertheless, he approaches the material as a fan might, rather than just a moviemaker.

Visually, the movie is a love letter to the golden age of Hollywood, when colors were sumptuous and bright. The entire film seems to have a warmth that nostalgia alone can’t impart and that modern technology sometimes lacks.

The most disappointing thing about this disc is definitely the lack of special features. Admittedly, filmmakers in the 1990s didn’t yet document their every move in anticipation of a DVD release (indeed, DVDs were still four years in the future when The Rocketeer was released), but surely there was something other than the original theatrical trailer to add. A commentary track, retrospective with the cast today, even a bio about the source comic material would have been a welcome addition.

Although The Rocketeer will most likely find its way into the collections of adults in the grip of nostalgia, even youngsters weaned on the current crop of tech-heavy superheroes should find something to enjoy in this rip-roaring tale.

The Rocketeer: 20th Anniversary Edition is now available on Blu-ray.

Published on SoCal.com

Kung Fu Panda 2 - Blu-ray + DVD Review


Although they’re a staple among summer releases, sequels generally, well, suck. The list of second (or third) acts that stand up to the quality of the original material is short, but Kung Fu Panda 2 deserves to be on it.

Fans of the 2008 original will recall that the movie ended with the titular panda, Po (voiced by Jack Black), attaining Dragon Warrior status and the respect of the Furious Five, but while knowing the back story would certainly enhance the enjoyment of this film, Kung Fu Panda 2 stands on its own four paws.

The film picks up a short time after the first. Still lacking a few graces, Po has nonetheless become a Master of Kung Fu and fights alongside his friends wherever trouble strikes. This time around, trouble comes in the form of an exiled peacock, Lord Shen (Gary Oldman). Shen has developed a new weapon that cannot be defeated by kung fu and has plans to take over China—unless Po, Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Viper (Lucy Liu), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross) and Mantis (Seth Rogen) can stop him.

What makes this mission more than the everyday run-of-the-mill “going to save China” day at the office is the revelation that Shen played a major role in Po’s past. With Po distracted and the Masters in Gongmen City refusing to help the cause, things look bleak. “How do you stop a weapon that stops kung fu?” Po wonders.

The answer to that question lies in the gorgeously animated journey. The animators have imparted a sense of the beauty and scope of China, using light and shadow in a way that helps this film rise above a mere cartoon. The writing by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (Kung Fu Panda) maintains just the right blend of humor and drama. Tigress, especially, has some funny bits. (For example: “I just found out my dad isn’t really my dad,” Po laments. “Your father…the goose?” Tigress deadpans. “That must have been quite a shock.”)

Ultimately, Po finds inner peace, but at what cost? The film ends with the setup for the next installment in the franchise, which now has an even higher bar to meet than this sequel did.

Now available as a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack with digital copy (DreamWorks Animation Home Entertainment, MSRP: $49.99) or an Awesome Double DVD Pack (MSRP: $40.99; single-disc DVD MSRP: $29.99), Kung Fu Panda 2 is well worth the price. No one documents the movie-making experience quite like DreamWorks, and the abundance of features on the two-disc sets prove it.

Along with the usual deleted scenes (always fun to watch in an animated movie, as they’re usually sketches with fill-in voices), there are no less than three ways to enhance the movie for Blu-ray owners. “The Animators’ Corner,” a Blu-ray exclusive, traces the development of the movie from sketch to screen picture-in-picture style so the interviews and vignettes flow over the top of the feature film. This peek behind the curtain reveals the many hours of work that go into something as simple as the introduction, among other things.

Fact collectors will love the trivia track, another Blu-ray exclusive, while film buffs will enjoy the filmmakers’ commentary (available on both the DVD and Blu-ray releases), which covers more of the directorial decisions and anecdotes about filming via director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, producer Melissa Cobb, production designer Raymond Zibach and supervising animator, kung fu choreographer and story artist Rodolphe Guenoden.

A second mini-movie, Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Masters, is a nice complement to the main story. In this short film, viewers learn the history of Masters Croc (Jean-Claude Van Damme), Rhino (Victor Garber) and Ox (Dennis Haysbert), and how they came to rise above their street-fighter beginnings to earn Master status. Viewers are taken on quite an emotional journey for such a short film, and the cast is pitch-perfect in their voice roles.

The beautiful interactive feature “Animation Inspiration,” the final Blu-ray exclusive, allows viewers to take a trip to China alongside the filmmakers and see photos and video of some of the places that influenced the rich visual environment of Kung Fu Panda 2, such as the Valley of Peace, Gongmen City and the Musician’s Village. The map menu is gorgeous, and the locations are breathtaking.

“Kickin' It with the Cast” showcases the many voice talents involved with the movie, showing them both in the process of recording and in interviews, explaining their character motivations, inspirations and the way the characters have impacted their lives. Watching James Hong, who voices Po’s father Mr. Ping, attack his relatively small part with the enthusiasm of a star is particularly fun to watch.

Nature lovers should love “Panda Stories: Inside the World of the Giant Panda.” This mini-documentary follows the birth of a real-life baby panda at the Atlanta Zoo, even including the traditional Chinese naming ceremony as the baby reaches 100 days old (watching Jack Black reveal the panda’s new name at the event is a highlight). Among the lighthearted antics, however, is the message that these lovable bears are very much endangered and need the support of animal lovers the world over.

Also included is a full-length episode of the Nickelodeon TV series “Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness.” “Has Been Hero” pits the TV version of Po (voiced here by Mick Wingert) against an aging idol who is now out for revenge. The series is a nice spin-off of the movies, despite only Liu and Hong returning to voice their characters.

There are a few cute interactive sections, too, that are suitable for kids. The Kung Fu Shuffle game allows users to choose between a bunny or baby Po, then keeping their eyes on the prize as three baskets or crates are shuffled. Parents who are tired of kids speaking in just one language can flip to the Nǐ Hǎo feature, where they can learn to say (and write!) some simple Chinese phrases.

In addition to the features on the discs, those who purchase the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack should watch out for the digital dopy download code (used in conjunction with the DVD disc) among the package inserts, while those who purchase either the two-disc Blu-ray or DVD release should be on the lookout for a code for two free memberships to the Kung Fu Panda World online virtual game.

Overall, the two-disc releases of Kung Fu Panda 2 contain hours of enjoyment for the whole family.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Save $5 on your purchase of Kung Fu Panda 2. Click here for more details.

Published on SoCal.com


Procrastinators can get crafty to fill Christmas lists

Photo Courtesy of Pat Martinez
Time is running out and shoppers are starting to feel the pressure as the holidays are just around the corner. Fortunately, the South Point Hotel and Casino is hosting the second annual Holiday Craft and Gift Festival Friday through Sunday, featuring something for everyone’s gift-giving needs.

If shoppers are bringing kids or significant others along, there are a few other entertainment options, such as a Christmas train display with locomotives dating as far back as the early 1900s.

“They’re working, running trains and are actually set up with little villages and everything,” said Linda Orr, show manager of the railway that’s more than 5,000 feet long. “There’s a little bit of everything under the sun. We have over 120 exhibitors, coming from all over.”

One of those vendors, Pat Martinez of RockMyBeads, said she is very excited to be among so many crafters and artisans. “It’s a massive show with a lot of participants, and people can find great gifts they wouldn’t find in a Wal-Mart or at a Macy’s,” she said.

Santa and his elves will also be on hand for kids with last-minute gift requests, and photos are available for purchase. The first 200 guests at the festival will receive a free digital photo. The event will also feature a free gift-wrapping service while supplies are available.

With more than 60,000 square feet of exhibit space showcasing everything from Christmas decorations and holiday-themed gifts to clothing, jewelry, artwork and specialty foods, visitors should spend their first few minutes perusing the offerings, Martinez suggested.

“Otherwise, (shoppers can) end up a little bit confused, because there is so much they want right away,” she said.

Prices are expected to range from a budget-friendly $5 for an ornament to $65 and up for artwork and custom pieces.

Martinez, who creates everything from jewelry to purse bling, is sharing her space with Michaela VanDyke, another local crafter at booth 518. Aside from offering a wider variety of choices, the two also support each other.

“She is the veteran of these shows, but I’m better at talking to people and helping them find what they’re looking for,” Martinez said. Consumers and vendors alike benefit from craft shows such as this one, Martinez said.

“We’re trying to encourage people to buy local and support small businesses and this gives shoppers the ability to find gift options that have been handcrafted to give to someone special.”
Another factor that makes the event desirable for vendors is the timing.

“We decided to do it the weekend before Christmas, because there’s really nothing after the first of December for (crafters to sell their merchandise),” Orr said.

The Holiday Craft and Gift Festival runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults and children 12 and under are free. Tickets are available at the South Point box office. Parking is free in the South Point garage. For more information and discount coupons, visit www.lvcraftfestival.com.

Published on BestOfLasVegas.com

‘Keeper of the Keys’ movie premiere unlocks local talent

robinThe premiere of “The Keeper of the Keys” brings national attention to local authors with a star-studded red carpet tomorrow in Downtown Las Vegas.

Most self-help gurus want audiences to take his or her work seriously, but Robin Jay, writer, producer and star of “The Keeper of the Keys,” truly hopes audiences get a laugh out of her debut film. The film’s premiere is expected to draw a crowd of local and national talent tomorrow night at 7 p.m., at the Plaza Las Vegas Hotel and Casino Downtown.

“Your typical self-improvement movies tend to hit you with an endless stream of talking heads,” Jay said. “I wanted to help people, to engage viewers so they could learn something. To do that, it had to be funny.”

A published author whose works include the best seller, “The Art of the Business Lunch,” and contributions to “Chicken Soup for the Wine Lovers’ Soul” and the Power of the Platform series, Jay opted to bring this message to the masses via film instead of the written word because, she said, “the publishing world is going digital and everybody and their brother is making a movie.”

Although she had never attempted a movie project before, she found advice and support in mentor Stephen Simon, whose credits include one of Jay’s all-time favorite movies, “Somewhere In Time” with the late Christopher Reeve.

It was in the midst of brainstorming with Simon that Jay came up with the storyline of the film, which plays as a self-help version of “A Christmas Carol.”

Essentially, Michael, played by director Scott Cervine, loses his house, job and fiancée in short order. After a drunken night, he is visited by Jack Canfield (of the award-winning “Chicken Soup…” series) and is told he will be visited by experts, led by Jay’s character, Elizabeth, who will explain the keys to unlock his potential.

Along with Canfield, the movie features powerhouse names in the personal development field, such as best-selling author John Gray, PhD (“Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”) and Marci Shimoff (“Love For No Reason”), along with 15 other experts from around the globe.

Regina Rose Murphy, a sound therapist in Las Vegas whose expertise fit with the vibration for the film, wanted to do the movie because “there was something about the title and its purpose that really struck a chord with me.”

Although she has never been in a movie before, she wasn’t intimidated by the idea of appearing on camera.

“The experts aren’t really acting so much as telling a story,” she said.

It is Jay’s belief that those very personal stories, along with the narrative, will set this film apart from others of its genre.

“(Viewers) won’t feel like (they’re) watching a documentary, because (the experts are) sharing deeply personal stories, not rhetoric like you’d hear from the podium,” she said.

Rose Murphy, who hasn’t yet seen the film, said she is excited for the world to see this movie.
“It feels like we’re giving birth to something very special,” she said. “It’s a powerful message in a time when we need it most.”

The red carpet begins at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Plaza Las Vegas Hotel and Casino in Downtown Las Vegas, followed by the screening inside the Plaza showroom and an after-party at the Triple Crown Ballroom. Tickets are $75, with VIP seating available for $200, and are available for purchase at EventBee.com.

Published on BestOfLasVegas.com

Net-savvy crafters are in demand this holiday season

Photo By Vikki Decker
Craft shows are so last decade. Shoppers looking for unique, handcrafted gifts are now gravitating to Etsy.com, the online marketplace where a growing population of crafters and artisans from Las Vegas and elsewhere are showcasing their wares.

In recent years, consumers inspired by initiatives such as Small Business Saturday have pledged to allocate more of their holiday shopping budgets for supporting local businesses. Because nearby artisans without brick-and-mortar locations aren’t easy to find, customers can turn to websites such as Etsy, which has listings for nearly 300 virtual shops from local professional crafters.

Kathy Wheeler, who has two Etsy shops (luxe candles at AAngels Heavenly Soy Sense and hand-knit toppers on Kat’s Hats) had a simple reason for selling her wares on the Web.

“I first started thinking about opening an online store because I don’t have a retirement [fund] anymore,” she said. “I was hoping this could be my new retirement [plan].”

“I have always enjoyed doing crafts, even when my children were growing up,” said Vikki Decker, proprietor of Vikster’s Crafts, which offers a variety of items from handmade paper goods to custom hair clips. “The thought that some of my creations [could reach a wider audience] was another reason I wanted to open a shop. And a little extra money never hurt anyone.”

Other Etsy store owners had established businesses, were working craft fairs or doing showcases at events such as First Friday, but chose to expand their brand awareness online.

Shae Wilhite, a stand-up comic turned virtual sweet shop owner, operates Glitter City Sweets. Wilhite found that “my Etsy store did help my business grow, not only due to added sales but also getting my brand out there.”

Groups such as Handmade in Vegas, which is open to anyone with an Etsy shop, also function as support systems for the micro business owners.

“[These groups] let [shop owners] share information, both the good and the bad, about being an independent artist,” Wilhite said. “They become a support group, a sounding board, an information hub and a group of friends.”

The shop owners had some tips for holiday shoppers who want to give a crafty gift this season.
“Buy early, because, as we all know, shipping is a killer this time of year!” Decker advised.

Wheeler, who started building her holiday inventory in July, encouraged shoppers to check each vendor’s policies prior to buying.

“On every Etsy page is posted shipping policies and what they’ll guarantee,” she said. “People should be familiar with those before ordering.”

Shoppers afraid of ordering food items too far in advance need not worry.

“Lots of my customers know to order early but tell me when they want things shipped,” Wilhite said. “That way they know their order is a priority and will get to the recipient in time.”

Though the Etsy shops aren’t necessarily the place to find a bargain, although many of the site’s shops have sales throughout the year, Wilhite had this reminder.

“Handmade products aren’t always the fastest or the cheapest, but they are made by real people who really care about what they do,” she said. “So they are really gifts from the heart, both yours and ours!”

Published on BestOfLasVegas.com

Spurs meet sequins as Miss Rodeo America pageant rides into Las Vegas

pageant-finals If the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo isn’t enough to lure cowboys and cowgirls to Las Vegas this December, the annual Miss Rodeo America Pageant could help rope them in from Saturday to Dec. 10.

The annual pageant started in 1955 and brings together the reigning w0inners from 28 states to compete for the national title.

Declared “A Whole New Pageant” on the MRA Facebook event page, there are two major differences for this year’s event. First, the festivities move to the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. More significant, however, is the timing of the competition. The pageant will be the same day the champion titles of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association are awarded.

“Previously, we’ve held the pageant the week before, so this is so much more exciting, to have all the winners [announced] on the same day,” Tracy Damrell, president of the Miss Rodeo America, said.

Like most pageants, the MRA contestants must have both beauty and brains, competing in categories like appearance, personality, speech craft and personal interviewing, but there are a few other aspects that make it unique.

“Yes, the girls have to do interviews and modeling, speeches, the typical pageant activities, but they also must have knowledge of horses and the rodeo,” Damrell said. “There is an actual horsemanship competition where the girls compete on horses they’ve never ridden before.”

Contestants’ skill is determined by their ability to handle these unfamiliar horses during this leg of the competition, held at 8:30 a.m. Monday at King Arthur’s Arena inside the Excalibur.

The women trade saddles for the runway on Dec. 8 to model in a fashion show featuring Wrangler, Justin Boots, Bailey Hats, Reata Ranch Gear and Rod’s Belts, plus a western elegance dress from each contestant’s personal collection.

The coronation ceremony is Dec. 10 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the MGM Grand Hollywood Theater, where the current Miss Rodeo America, McKenzie Haley, will crown her successor.

In addition to receiving prizes and scholarship money, Miss Rodeo America 2012 serves as the spokesperson for the PRCA during her reign, a job that will occupy the majority of
the year.

“[The winner] is designated as the first lady of professional rodeo and may spend as much as 300 to 320 days on the road,” Damrell said. “She is truly the goodwill ambassador of the rodeo to the public.”

Rodeo fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the contestants before the coronation can meet them at the contestant introduction at the Cowboy Christmas Gift Show, starting at 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 9.

Published on BestOfLasVeags.com

Cowboy Christmas, rope some deals

CC and SignageOne of the most anticipated events surrounding the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo each year in Las Vegas has nothing to do with riding broncos or roping calves, but shoppers are sure to snag a great gift at the 2011 Cowboy Christmas Gift Show.

Now in its 26th year, the annual gift show, held Dec. 1-10 at the Las Vegas Convention Center North Hall, has grown from a few vendors displaying their handmade goods to over 400 exhibitors from across the United States and Canada.

The annual event is also one of the best places to find official Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and WNFR gear for sale.

Last year’s show drew more than 138,000 shoppers over 10 days, so plan to go early for the best selection. Aznarez said the show organizers planned for marathon shopping sessions, with bars and food booths readily available, as well as bag checks when purchases start to pile up. “We really try to accommodate the shopper who would spend multiple hours here or even multiple days,” she said.

If hours of shopping seem overwhelming, there are other events and activities to enjoy throughout the day. Three big-screen televisions, strategically placed throughout the hall, will broadcast the previous night’s Wrangler NFR performance, and autograph sessions will be held with various celebrities and rodeo contestants. Sunday only will feature a live feed of the performances, Aznarez revealed.

Fans who enjoy live entertainment will surely enjoy “Outside The Barrel with Flint Rasmussen,” a popular variety show hosted by the eight-time PRCA Clown of the Year (and eight-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo Barrelman). Featuring guests from the rodeo, country music and beyond, the show blends interviews with down-home humor.

On Dec. 9, lucky attendees can also meet the contestants for the Miss Rodeo America pageant starting at 1:30 p.m., free of charge.

If patrons can tear themselves away from the great deals, there is also a ticket exchange service in the lobby where fans can get those last-minute seats to the NFR action, as well as a complimentary one-way shuttle directly to the Thomas & Mack.

The Cowboy Christmas Gift Show is open to the public and runs from Thursday to Dec. 10, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is free. With the exception of Sunday, parking is charged.

Published on Best of Las Vegas


The Help - Blu-ray Review

 In the 1960s, being a real housewife in the South didn’t involve hair pulling, car service or the Botox of today—but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any drama.

The Help, based on the 2009 novel by Kathryn Stockett, tells the tale of Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone), a recent college graduate who has decided to pursue a writing career. Returning home to Jackson for the summer, she reconnects with friends who are now married and have households of their own. Skeeter’s ambitions lie more toward having a profession than a family, much to the chagrin of her cancer-stricken mother, Charlotte (Allison Janney).

While ghost writing a cleaning column for the local paper, Skeeter begins to look for something which will inspire her to write. Spurred by both the disappearance of her beloved family maid, Constantine (Cicely Tyson), and the way her friends treat their own household servants, she decides to write a book from the perspective of the help.

It soon becomes clear that her perspective won’t only be unpopular, but also illegal in the state of Mississippi. She perseveres, quietly convincing the stoic Aibileen (Viola Davis) and sassy Minny (brilliantly portrayed by Octavia Spencer) to join her project. One by one, maids and nannies open up, telling their stories and stirring up trouble.

Writer-director Tate Taylor (Pretty Ugly People), a Jackson, Mississippi native, deftly adapts the screenplay from Stockett’s novel. His vision of the South is from an actual Southerner’s point of view and, as such, rings true in every detail, from the manicured front lawns and shady porches to the fried chicken and okra.

The warm, homey atmosphere juxtaposes nicely with the darker elements of the story, such as the casual racism and implied domestic violence. Although the story is mainly about the trials and tribulations of colored servants, it also exposes the dilemma of certain members of Jackson society who were torn between their love of long-time employees and the need to keep up appearances.

The cast is full of talented actors, but a few really shine in their roles. Bryce Dallas Howard, who typically plays very sympathetic characters, is positively loathsome as Hilly, the segregationist socialite with a vicious mean streak. Octavia Spencer, meanwhile, gives the film both humor and pathos as the beleaguered Minny, and Allison Janney’s arc from stubborn Southern matriarch to regretful, yet spirited, invalid is inspiring.

It’s Stone’s Skeeter, however, who grabs the heart of the audience as she transitions from a naïve girl to a woman of principle while bridging both sides of the civil rights movement.

Despite the main characters facing job loss and worse, the movie ends on an upbeat tone. Viewers get the sense that things will get better for most of these women, and history more or less bears this conclusion out. But the true joy of The Help isn’t so much knowing a happy ending is coming, but in seeing how the various characters get the courage to fight for one in the first place.

Now available as a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack (Buena Vista Home Entertainment, MSRP: $39.99; three-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack with digital copy, MSRP: $44.99), The Help features a few well thought out extras, some of which are also included on the single-disc DVD release (MSRP: $29.99).

Deleted scenes are a staple of most Blu-ray and DVD releases these days, and The Help is no exception. The DVD version contains the two most powerful bits trimmed from the feature introduced by Taylor, while the Blu-ray release holds an additional three scenes. While the scenes do indeed flesh out the characters in the movie, as Taylor often points out, none of them moved the action along or were necessary to the storytelling. They are, however, gems and, on their own, are lovely character studies.

Also common to both the Blu-ray and DVD editions is the Mary J. Blige music video for “The Living Proof.”

In Hollywood, there’s friendship and there’s business. The two states aren’t often combined, which makes this film a rarity on many levels. In “The Making of The Help: From Friendship to Film,” a Blu-ray exclusive, viewers get to witness how friendship and loyalty are woven throughout more than just the storyline. Stockett and Taylor, friends since childhood, reveal their history, and the remarkable series of events that led to making exactly the film they wanted to make.

If The Help had been a documentary set in modern times instead of a feature film, it might have looked a lot like the final exclusive Blu-ray bonus feature, “In Their Own Words: A Tribute to the Maids of Mississippi.” Taylor and Spencer sit down with a few ladies and their daughters to see if times were truly as they were portrayed in the movie. While a few chose to ignore the turmoil of the times (“If you never brought it up, you never had to have a conversation,” one woman serenely offered), there were others whose friends or family lost jobs for being involved with the civil rights movement. As difficult as times were, however, it is clear that the bonds between families and their help went deep, and have continued over generations.

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

Published on SoCal.com


Disney's Prep & Landing DVD Review

 Most every kid who knows the story of Santa delivering presents to good boys and girls on Christmas Eve has probably, at some point, questioned the logistics of it all. How does Kris Kringle manage to make all of those stops in one night? How does he find the houses when it snows? And, most importantly, how does he get in and out without being seen?

ABC attempted to help parents answer a few of these inevitable questions in 2009 with the animated special “Prep & Landing.” Now available exclusively on DVD (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, MSRP: $19.99), the story follows Wayne (voiced by Dave Foley), an elf with the elite Prep & Landing division at the North Pole. This special force of elves is deployed to houses ahead of Santa to secure the location with military precision, ensuring that the tree and stockings are ready for gifts, the milk is at the optimal temperature and, most importantly, no creatures are stirring.

After 200 years of dousing fires and putting curious pets to sleep, Wayne is ready to move ahead in his career, but instead of the hoped-for promotion to Director of the Naughty List, he gets a new partner freshly graduated from the Kringle Academy.

Where Wayne is jaded and disillusioned, Lanny (voiced by Derek Richardson) is full of Christmas spirit. He’s raring to go, excited to start “the most tinsel job ever.” Upset at being passed over, Wayne decides to let the exuberant newbie handle all the prep work at little Timmy’s house while he indulges in some uncharacteristically naughty behavior. Disaster inevitably strikes, and Santa is about to miss the house entirely when Lanny helps Wayne rediscover his love of the season and they save the day.

Full of charming characters (coffee-fueled Magee, efficient Miss Holly) and witty turns of phrase mixed in with some cool high-tech gadgetry, “Prep & Landing” provides a fresh view of life at the North Pole and is destined to be one of those holiday specials that becomes a tradition, falling somewhere between It’s a Wonderful Life and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Fans who might be leery of spending their Christmas cash on a DVD lasting only 22 minutes shouldn’t despair: there are plenty of bonus features to flesh out the disc. First off, “Operation Secret Santa” is a short that follows Lanny and Wayne on a mission filled with secret-agent thrills and sentimentality, made even more awesome by the unmistakable vocal talent of Betty White as Mrs. Claus. About half as long as the movie, “Operation Secret Santa” adds more depth to the story of Santa as well as the two main characters.

By comparison, the short “Tiny’s Big Adventure” is only a few minutes long and mostly one long sight gag. There are a few giggles to be had, but, compared to “Operation Secret Santa,” “Tiny’s Big Adventure” is mostly forgettable.

The other two bonus features—the Kringle Academy Training Videos and North Pole Commercials—are interesting but odd. The training videos are meant to look like they were run on projectors, a concept which is probably confusing to those under the age of 20, and feature artwork reminiscent of old World War II-era recruitment efforts, though they feature very modern technology. The nostalgic flavor will probably appeal more to parents (or grandparents!) than children, but the videos may open up a dialogue about how things were “in the old days” that will bond generations.

The commercials are more modern in tone, but don’t make much sense. A dating service for elves? An eatery called The Fruitcake Factory? A spa retreat for tired elves? None of these seem like they would interest kids (or even adults). They would be cute spaced into the commercial break spots in the main feature, but on their own are a little silly.

Like most Disney releases, there are also the requisite commercials (a teaser for the upcoming Disney Studio All Access service, Lady and the Tramp: Diamond Edition, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas) and the FastPlay option.

Overall, “Prep & Landing” is a worthy addition to any holiday movie collection. Fans of the original should keep their eyes peeled for the sequel, “Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice,” in which Lanny and Wayne must recover top-secret North Pole technology that has fallen into the hands of a naughty kid hacker. The animated special airs Mon., Dec. 5 at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.

“Prep & Landing” is now available on DVD.

Published on SoCal.com


The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 should leave fans swooning

The wait is over, Twilight fans. Bella and Edward are getting married!

Wasting no time setting up the ceremony, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 1 dives right into the pre-wedding prep as Alice (Ashley Greene) directs the setup and Bella (Kristen Stewart) prepares for her last night as a single woman. A last-minute attempt by Edward (Robert Pattinson) to let her off the hook, followed by a disturbing dream sequence, rob Bella of the peaceful sleep she needed before the big day.

The wedding sequence perfectly captures the apprehension of bride-to-be (and vamp-in-waiting) Bella as she starts her life with Edward before ending it as a human. The mix of humor and pathos is just right, and there are enough cameos by favorite characters and new faces to tie the past three movies and the upcoming finale together. The snarky Jessica (Anna Kendrick), in particular, represents the haters with her sweetly sarcastic asides. “I wonder if Bella will be showing?” she muses to Angela (Christian Serratos). “Bella’s not pregnant!” Angela reacts, horrified. “Oh, really?” Jessica replies. “Who gets married at 18?”

The Cullens’ “cousins” are also introduced (a vampire clan from Alaska from which the now-deceased Laurent hailed) and then pushed aside until Part Two next year, when the Great Vampire Battle commences. Until then, a weak effort is made to show how unhappy at least one of the cousins is with the proximity of a werewolf at the wedding.

A brooding Jacob (Taylor Lautner) arrives toward the end of the festivities and gives Bella his opinion of the nuptials and impending change in status to immortal. He inevitably gets pouty, faces off with Edward and runs into the night to sulk and howl at the moon.

Far more engaging is actor Billy Burke, who, as Bella’s long-suffering father and town Chief of Police Charlie, fully embodies the push-and-pull of a father who wants to see his daughter happy but also wants her to know he’s reluctant to let her go, especially as her new husband is whisking her away to parts unknown for their honeymoon.

And what a honeymoon it is! Bella is determined to experience wedded bliss while still human, though Edward feels that he might lose control and hurt his new bride. “I promised I would try this,” he whispers as the two smooch in the moonlight, then retreat to their luxe bedroom suite on their private island.

Twilight fans have been waiting for the consummation of this particular relationship for years, but the payoff seems a bit weak. Do they do the deed? Yes. But for all the violence and passion that purportedly goes on (the bed is in shambles, after all), there is mostly just allusion and a few morning-after flashbacks to satisfy the voyeurs in the crowd. Though, to be fair, it’s far more than Stephenie Meyer gave readers in the book.

Then, everything changes. Somehow Bella ends up pregnant—a fact that neither her husband nor the wolf pack back home is particularly excited about, especially in light of the fact that the baby is growing at an alarming rate and literally crushing her from the inside.

Meanwhile, Charlie is frantic because he hasn’t heard from his daughter (who is presumably ill and unable to return from the honeymoon), and her new family is concerned because no one knew this situation was even possible. There is nothing really done to explain it, either, even after a few attempts at searching the Internet turn up some leads. (By the way, looking for clues to your ultra-rare condition concerning humans and what are supposed-to-be-secret vampires on Yahoo? Not likely.)

Though her well-being is at stake (along with her shot at immortality), Bella stubbornly insists on having the baby, which causes a rift between her and Edward and nearly causes a war with the werewolves. Thankfully, Jacob comes to the rescue again—in the most unlikely of ways—and the focus turns to Bella’s transformation into a vampire.

While the chemistry between Stewart and Pattinson feels much less forced this time around, Lautner continues to be puckish and brooding. Incidentally, Team Jacob fans will be happy to note that the first appearance of Lautner
s abs is less than 60 seconds into the film. Sadly, there are far fewer appearances of them in this film than the previous three.

The visual effects continue to evolve and improve, though the werewolves are still a bit more comedic than convincing. One sequence, in particular, stands out for all the wrong reasons, as Jacob and the wolf pack meet in a lumberyard to hash out their reactions to Bella’s pregnancy. Instead of tension and drama, which is what director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) was clearly going for, moviegoers are instead likely to feel confused or annoyed.

The vampire makeup is also much better, with the Cullens coming off far less cartoonish than in Twilight. And Bella’s transformation from blushing bride to gaunt skeleton-with-child is well done, conveying her declining health in the wake of her continued pregnancy.

Fans of the book will understand much more of the story than someone who has only seen the films, as there is much which is implied and still more that is only vaguely explained (imprinting, for example). Anyone coming into this movie as a first-timer will be hopelessly confused, as there is very little effort put into helping new viewers find their footing. That being said, Twi-hards will not be disappointed by the lack of setup as it moves the story along that much faster.

Speaking of which, this movie is exceptionally well-paced compared to the other films in the franchise, with only a few strange scenes popping up here and there to derail it. Overall, the story grabs viewers and keeps them close until the final scene, where it’s made clear the direction Part Two will take.

There are some who will see The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part One as merely a setup for Part Two, as is ever the case when a single story is cleaved into parts for easier cinematic digestion (or to make more cash, as Jessica would surely point out). However, readers of the 704-page source material by Meyer know that Breaking Dawn was always like getting two books in one, with separate plots being the focus of each segment. In that respect, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 1 is a complete film in and of itself, and should sufficiently whet fans’ appetite for the finale next November without leaving them feeling cheated.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 1 is now playing in theaters everywhere.

For more information, visit the film's official Web site.

Published on SoCal.com


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 Blu-ray/DVD Review

Published on SoCal.com

  Ten years ago, a bespectacled orphan by the name of Harry Potter made his debut on the silver screen and won the hearts of children and adults across the world. With the Blu-ray release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (Warner Home Video; three-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack with UltraViolet digital copy MSRP: $35.99), enthusiasts have not only been given the final installment of the saga that followed actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint as they grew from awkward kids into confident young adults, but also a number of special features that truly make this set a love letter to fans of both the movies and the original books by author J.K. Rowling.

The movie begins immediately where Part 1 left off, with Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) triumph at finding the elder wand, the last of the coveted Deathly Hallows. Harry and his friends, having narrowly escaped Malfoy Manor alive, question Griphook the goblin (Warwick Davis) and Ollivander the wandmaker (John Hurt) for clues to the finding the last of the horcruxes.

A shaky plan is formed to break into Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault at the wizard bank Gringotts, which quickly goes awry. Some great acting by Helena Bonham Carter playing-Hermione-playing-Bellatrix provides some humor in an otherwise grim sequence, including almost being buried alive by expanding treasure and a narrow escape on the back of a wildly unpredictable dragon. The CGI blends beautifully with live actors and props to give the scene a very real, intense feeling. As the heroes cling to the back of the frightened dragon, rising through the floor of the bank to soar gracelessly over the rooftops of London, viewers catch their breath, never doubting the reality of what they’re seeing onscreen.

That reality extends to battle scenes at Hogwarts, where students and teachers band together with the last members of the Order of the Phoenix to fight fantastical creatures, such as giants and spiders, amidst the Death Eaters. The good guys have their share of magical help as well, in the form of stone guardians which McGonagall (Maggie Smith) animates to protect the castle, and a huge protective shield which defenders cast around the property.

Digital effects don’t stand a chance next to the human element, however. It’s amazing to see Hogwarts students, teachers and members of the Order reunited in battle, even if there are only glimpses of favorites such as Lupin (David Thewlis), Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), Tonks (Natalia Tena) and Trelawney (Emma Thompson). Many beloved characters also meet their end throughout the course of the film, bringing home the reality that they’re fighting a war.

In the end, it should come as no surprise that good triumphs over evil and love conquers all. What may be surprising is how emotional the ending might be for many who have followed the series from the beginning. While the movie’s coda takes place 19 years in the future (and includes the most tear-jerking scene in the entire movie), it almost feels like an anti-climax. The real end seems to be after the battle, when the three friends stand overlooking the rubble of Hogwarts. It’s the end of their quest, and the future is uncertain. Where do they go from here? It’s a question to which Harry Potter fans can certainly relate.

For an even richer viewing experience, forget the traditional audio commentary—Maximum Movie Mode is the way to experience this movie. Hosted by Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), this mode treats viewers to the theatrical version of the film intercut with cast commentary, deleted scenes, director’s notes and, best of all, select readings from the book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows performed by various cast members. Far from being a distraction, the clips and the movie flow together, adding touches of humor and sentiment to what is already an emotionally charged film.

There is also the option to click through to the nine Focus Points featurettes during the Maximum Movie mode, or they are available to view individually on the Blu-ray disc. Featuring in-depth looks at characters like Aberforth Dumbledore and Neville Longbottom, these mini-documentaries give some insights into character motivations, backstories and actor challenges.

The special features disc includes even more treats for fans, including more than six minutes of deleted footage (also available in the Maximum Movie Mode as well as on the single-disc DVD release,
MSRP: $28.98). While fun to watch, these scenes ultimately slowed the momentum of the movie and were better left on the cutting room floor.

Other filmmakers might use CGI effects to populate Gringotts with its supernatural workforce (after all, all of their scenes combined last less than 10 minutes onscreen), but “The Goblins of Gringotts” offers a behind-the-scenes look at the casting, makeup design and timing it took to coordinate stylists and makeup artists to create 40-plus goblins in just 4 hours. It’s nothing short of amazing.

Hermione Granger wasn’t the only strong female character in J.K. Rowling’s arsenal. In “The Women of Harry Potter,” viewers learn more about the witches behind the wizards, the inspirations for the characters and Rowling’s theory on why mother love could have legitimately saved Harry’s life, while lack thereof caused Voldemort’s ultimate downfall.

The best of the special features by far is the nearly hour-long “A Conversation with
J.K. Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe.” Harry Potter’s creator and the young man who brought him to life talk about their experiences from the beginning, and it is poignant and touching to watch—and also quite funny. The author debunks some famous rumors (did she really have the last chapter written before the first book was published?), and the actor reminisces about some of the more painful aspects of playing Harry (such as an allergy to the original glasses). Each of the two are certainly fans of the other, and it is wonderful to witness the closure they both come to with regards to the end of the series.

Viewers are also given a sneak peek behind the scenes of the upcoming Harry Potter attraction at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, opening in the spring of 2012. Visitors will be able to walk on the actual movie sets (including the Great Hall, the Gryffindor common room and Dumbledore’s office), learn secrets of filming and examine props up close.

Rounding out the extras is a PlayStation 3 game demo for LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 and an advertisement for the new Pottermore Web site (currently in Beta), created in part by J.K. Rowling. The Web site promises readers the chance to experience the story like never before, with new writings by the author and interactive areas, games and a shop where audiobook and e-book versions will be sold.

Fans looking to add this (or any of the other seven movies) to their collection will want to act fast: Warner Bros. has said it will stop shipping DVDs and Blu-rays of the entire Harry Potter franchise as of Dec. 29 (digital sales and Video on Demand will not be affected), allegedly to focus on putting together the limited edition Harry Potter Blu-ray boxed set, teased on the movie disc for a 2012 release.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.


Girls' Day Out

Published in What's On, The Las Vegas Guide
October 4, 2011

If you decide to have your bachelorette party in Las Vegas, you’ve raised the bar. Far from being an oddity, your party will be one of hundreds of tiara-wearing, phallus- wielding, rowdy groups of women hitting the scene on any given weekend. How do you ensure that your group has the edge in attracting prime male attention?

Laura Croft’s Night School 4 Girls, currently enrolling at the Excalibur, is just the classroom to hone your bachelorette party skills. Though it’s called Night School, the 90-minute sessions start as early as 11 a.m., easily fitting between brunch and tanning by the pool. Tuition is more affordable than a pair of killer stilettos and offers you much longer-lasting benefits.

As fans of E!’s “Holly’s World” can attest, Croft knows a thing or two about partying, and she is more than willing to pass her wisdom onto you. Her faculty of trained burlesque dancers put together a curriculum full of sexy tricks and confidence- boosting moves to raise your visibility. Lucky attendees might even get a visit from the headmistress herself (check for updates about Croft’s appearances on Twitter @nightschool4glv) as she shares the dos and don’ts of nightlife and passes along valuable tips for keeping your night out from being a blowout.

The course itself—a combination of burlesque, striptease and pole- dancing—teaches a number of skills that will come in handy when hitting the clubs: Start the night posing for pictures using a showgirl stance guaranteed to highlight everyone’s assets; use “The Flapper” (along with a boa) to snag passing eye candy; turn a bar chair into a weapon of seduction with the “Cowgirl”; and, should there be a stripper pole nearby, ensure that your party knows how to strike a pose like the pros instead of winding up as the star of a humiliating viral video on YouTube.

The bride-to-be can learn a few tricks for the honeymoon suite as well. Instructors lead the class through a virtual striptease guaranteed to raise your man’s...blood pressure.

Not a size 2? No problem! There are no bullies at this school, only positive encouragement for women of all sizes and shapes. Classes also embrace all age groups (over 21 years old), so bring the mother-of-the- bride—or the grandmother, for that matter—because all the moves can be modified for comfort and ability. Alter egos assigned at the start of class ensure that even the terminally shy will be able to release their inner bombshells (and, of course, the option of downing a few shots at the Octane bar beforehand doesn’t hurt).

The class isn’t limited to impending brides and their gaggles of friends, either. Anyone in need of girls’ night out training can benefit. Facing a landmark birthday? Does your relationship need a little zing? Are you celebrating a divorce? Any occasion to get the girls together is reason enough to enroll. Throw on your comfy workout clothes (bring the heels, if you dare), and get ready to earn your degree in Sexy. The only thing you have to lose is your inhibitions.

Night School 4 Girls | Thur., 2 & 3:30 p.m.; Fri., 12:30, 2 & 3:30 p.m.; and Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m., 12:30, 2 & 3:30 p.m. | From $39 | Thunder From Down Under Showroom, Excalibur | 702-597-7600



Published on SoCal.com

Actions have consequences, kids. If we take nothing else away from watching The Twilight Saga: Eclipse it should be that our choices may lead to sorrow and pain, or hurt the ones we love, but we shouldn’t be afraid to choose what is right.

Or, you know, whoever is hottest. Whatever.

The third installment in the planned five-movie epic, Eclipse has accomplished what the previous two Twilight movies were far less adept at: selling the story. Based on the wildly popular novels by Stephenie Meyer, The Twilight Saga’s first two movies failed to live up to the expectations of fans or critics, though still reaping huge box office rewards. Eclipse, however, braids together the mythology and fan-favorite moments of the books with action sequences and visual effects that pop off the screen, making the movie a much better balance between chick flick and action-adventure.

If this is your first Twilight experience, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a broody, intense young girl, has fallen in love with 100-year-old teen Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), a vampire who has also resolved that life is not worth living without her. Due to events in the previous films, Bella must be turned into a vampire or face the wrath of the bloodsuckers’ oversight committee, the Volturi. She has no issue with this, as it is something she wants as well. She can’t very well be hooked up with a 17-year-old when she’s 30, right? In fact, she wants to do the deed just after graduation, but Edward’s got a condition: she must marry him first.

Here is where Bella has a real problem. If she consents to getting married at 17, people will think she’s knocked up. Or worse yet–foolish. Divorce rates are astronomical, after all (though Edward wryly notes that vampire-human divorces are far rarer). He presents her with an antique ring anyway, and she promises to think about it.

Back home, as her chief-of-police father Charlie (the ever-perfect Billy Burke) searches for a boy named Riley Biers (Xavier Samuel) who has been missing for nearly a year, news reports of a spike in brutal killings in Seattle has him worried. When Edward suggests that Bella visit her mother in Florida, Chief Swan immediately agrees—then finds out that Edward is planning to go along. The chief has his reservations, but allows her to go.

As Bella soaks up the sun with her mom (the delightfully free-spirited Sarah Clarke) and enjoys what will probably be her last visit before becoming undead, audiences are reminded again of what will be lost because of her decision to be with Edward. Back in Forks, viewers reunite with another soon-to-be casualty: the best friend who is in love with her (and also happens to be a werewolf), Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner).

Soon Bella has bigger problems than which guy loves her more. A vicious vampire named Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, assuming the role from Rachelle Lefevre) has been hunting her since the end of the first film, in which the Cullens killed her mate, James. Never mind that he was trying to kill Bella at the time. Victoria has her mind set on vengeance against the entire Cullen clan, but must formulate a plan that their psychic sister, Alice (Ashley Greene), can’t see coming until it’s too late. Just days before they arrive, she finally “sees” the attackers—an army of newly made vampires intent on killing Bella.

Apparently, newborns are the most dangerous and unpredictable of all vampires. Brother Jasper (Jackson Rathbone), the only one with experience with these young vamps, resolves to train werewolf and vampire alike in the fighting skills necessary to win the battle. Meanwhile, as the preparations for the turf war are underway, a battle for the heart (and literal soul) of Bella rages between Jacob and Edward.

Does becoming a vampire really mean more to Bella than loving someone she can grow old with? Is everlasting life, albeit always in hiding, compensation for losing her soul? Can sparkly skin and really, really sharp teeth make up for cutting ties with her entire former life? And do any of those questions really get answered?

In response to the last question, the answer is a definite no. In the end, the trading of humanity for immortality comes down to one thing: hormones. As in, the old-fashioned Edward refuses to have sex until he’s married. The unbearable agony of a chaste relationship does what the losing of her soul or fear of punishment by the Volturi failed to accomplish: Bella says yes.

Visually speaking, Eclipse is a masterpiece. The CGI on the werewolves is immensely better than on New Moon, and the representation of vampire speed and strength are improved upon as well. There is a definite suspension of disbelief watching newborn vampires and giant wolves attacking one another. The soundtrack is also flawless, both the songs created for the movie and the ones chosen to accent specific scenes.

If there is one big flaw to be pointed out, it is that all the Twilight movies seem to rely on fans reading the story ahead of time in order to fill in some of the blanks. Meyer’s novels are lengthy, to say the least, and so much of the back-story and mythology that would help the stories make sense to newcomers is missing. Granted, it would make for a sloggy moviegoing experience to include it all, but so many small details are sacrificed in order to keep the film on pace.

Whether you’re a big fan of the series or just like to deepen your movie experience, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse Two-disc Special Edition DVD (Summit Entertainment, MSRP: $32.99) and Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack (MSRP: $40.99) come loaded with special features that are truly worthwhile.

Along with the movie are two full-length audio commentaries that are worth the price of the sets alone. The first, between Stewart and Pattinson, is sure to make fans swoon. Though they were in two different countries while recording the track (she in Vancouver, Canada and he in L.A.), their commentary alludes to the pair’s rumored relationship off-set (“You don’t look like that when you get bitten by a vampire,” Pattinson jokes, watching a scene where Riley has just been attacked and is writhing in pain. “You’re much sexier.”). While never admitting to being a couple, the two have chemistry far beyond that of Bella and Edward. Listening to them argue plot points and acting choices is a welcome glimpse behind the curtain, as well as their opinions of the other characters (“Grr, I really hate that guy,” Pattinson jokes as Jacob snuggles with Bella on-screen). The pair jokes that their commentary might be very soothing when used as a soundtrack to fall asleep. No doubt there are fans out there who will do just that.

The second commentary track, recorded by Meyer and producer Wyck Godfrey, is another jewel. Meyer has been granted the kind of access to these films that many authors would kill for, and she is very active on the set and behind the scenes. It is refreshing to hear her take on the characters on-screen and to know what elements she fought for and of which she wasn’t a fan. She also comments on new material screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg added, some of which, she admits, she likes “much better.” Godfrey, meanwhile, gives viewers the technical view behind the scenes. Film buffs and those who aspire to be in the movie business will find their take fascinating. The two share a lighthearted banter and ease that grows from spending a lot of time together, and it makes for easy viewing.

Disc two of the DVD set has its own set of gems, feature-wise (which are also available on the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack). Best and brightest is a six-part making-of documentary that can be seen in pieces or as the entire hour-and-twenty-seven-minute feature. Commentary from the director, actors and Meyer all weave in between snippets of filming from preproduction through final editing. It’s great to see that Meyer is not only the creator, but is a genuine fan of her own work and doesn’t pretend it’s a lofty masterpiece. She talks about the characters as if they’re friends, and it is, again, reassuring to know that she has had a good deal of influence on the final product.

The deleted and extended scenes are standard stuff. One particular scene between Angela (Christian Serratos) and Bella, which producers and Meyer really liked but was ultimately cut for time, shines. The rest are only minor extensions that were better off left out of the film.
Unlike many deleted/extended scene packages, this one also has a commentary feature by director David Slade (30 Days of Night) that walks viewers through the reasons these scenes were filmed and why, ultimately, they didn’t make the cut.

For your eye candy needs, a photo gallery featuring a six-minute slideshow of production stills and photos is also included, many of which are unique to the DVD. With a balance of werewolves, vampires and main characters, there is plenty for everyone to enjoy. Also included are two full-length music videos, one by Muse (“Neutron Star Collision (Love is Forever)”) the other by Metric (“Eclipse (All Yours) ”).

Finally, but most importantly to fans who are firmly on Team Edward or Team Jacob, there is a bonus feature just for you. “Edward Fast Forward” and “Jacob Fast Forward” allows fans to watch the movie via only the scenes featuring their favorite vampire or werewolf. At 46 minutes, Edward’s section is longer, but Jacob’s 31-minute package has far fewer shirts. The Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack also features six additional “Fast Forward” options: The Love Triangle, The Cullens, The Wolfpack, The Humans, Victoria’s Army and Action Sequences.

Is The Twilight Saga: Eclipse for you? Can you live without seeing the extras or swooning over the commentary (in which case, single-disc versions of both the DVD and Blu-ray are available that feature just the film for $28.99 and $34.99, respectively)? It all begins with a choice, boys and girls. But be prepared to live with the consequences.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.