Movies: Cinema Verite meets superhero drama in "Chronicle"

  It’s probably not necessary to say, but real life rarely resembles the movies. People aren’t as good-looking, conversations are rarely witty or easy and alien objects never bestow superpowers on unsuspecting kids.

If it ever did, however, the results would probably look a lot like the movie Chronicle.

The latest entry in the “found footage” genre, Chronicle begins as high school senior Andrew (Dane DeHaan) shoots the first frames of a sort of autobiographical documentary. The moments he captures on film—starting with casual bullying at school, then a solitary lunch in the bleachers, followed by harassment by the local thugs after class—paint a portrait of a kid on the fringes of high school society (a position that isn’t improved by toting around a clunky, old-fashioned video camera). His home life is not much rosier, as he is caught between an abusive, alcoholic father and a gravely ill mother.

Andrew’s only real social contact is with his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell), but that seems more an obligation than a friendship. Matt clearly feels Andrew needs to step up his game, so he urges him to attend the big senior class party—sans camera—and try to have some fun.

Naturally, Andrew ignores this suggestion and, as a result, narrowly avoids being beaten by a jealous boyfriend. Just when it looks like the night will be a total bust, however, he and his camera are called into service to document a strange “something” found in the woods by Matt and the popular, soon-to-be class president Steve (the charismatic Michael B. Jordan).

What the boys have discovered is a crater, a sort of tunnel burrowing into the earth. Strange sounds emit from the mouth of the cavern, its walls like molten rock that had hardened, but for some reason this serves as an invitation to explore rather than a clue to run as fast as they can in the opposite direction. At the other end of the tunnel lies a mysterious object, but just as the viewer catches sight of it, the camera goes black.

Cut to an unspecified time later. The boys are in a backyard tossing a ball around, so it is safe to presume that they’ve all made it out alive despite their reckless curiosity. However, as they each take turns throwing things at each other they reveal their newfound power to control objects with their minds.

The boys become inseparable, documenting their developing skills with telekinesis on Andrew’s new camera and spurring each other on to try ever more daring stunts, as teenage boys will do. They vow to keep their nascent powers a secret (lest the men in black suits come to take them away for observation), but their experiments soon begin to flirt with public exposure.

It is here that the movie’s format brings a fresh perspective to the average-guy-turned-superhero storyline, as viewers start to feel like co-conspirators. The things Andrew, Matt and Steve choose to do with their new abilities smack of the truth—what teen boy could resist animating a stuffed bear to scare the bejesus out of a little kid?—as does their sense of wonder and camaraderie. There is a real sense that, should an unidentified object bestow powers on some kids tomorrow, this is exactly how they would behave. There is never any talk of battling evil, stopping global warming or even attempting world peace. These kids are every bit as narcissistic and self-centered as real high schoolers, and it is curiously refreshing.

The style begins to falter, however, when the boys start to experience real consequences to their actions. As people start getting hurt and Matt tries to impose rules on the use of their powers, Andrew grows ever more erratic. Oddly, though he was an open book at the beginning of the film, his motivations become much more murky and inexplicable toward the climax, despite a few confessional-style vignettes that are meant to offer insight into his warped mindset.

There are attempts made to fill gaps in the story by editing in perspective from other cameras, but for the most part, the audience is left to piece the story behind the story together on their own. Details from Andrew’s mother’s illness to the origin of the extraterrestrial object are left unexplored, and the characters’ relationships outside their circle are hazy and indistinct.

Although the interaction between the actors maintains a highly realistic feel throughout the movie, the same cannot be said for the effects. It’s clear that many stunts were aided by harnesses and cables, to the extent that the mind’s eye can easily recreate what
’s been digitally removed. This only gets more pronounced as the FX becomes grander in scale, to the point that the climactic battle on the streets of Seattle seem as false as Andrew’s promises to follow Matt’s self-imposed rules.

What begins as a promising character study of what happens after a life-changing event soon devolves into a low-budget actioner with B-movie effects and an ending that simply feels hollow. Chronicle is far from the worst movie of its type, but, much like its three central characters, there is a definite failure to live up to its potential.

Chronicle is now playing in theaters everywhere.

For more information, visit the film’s official Facebook site.

Published on SoCal.com

Movies: "The Woman In Black" leaves suspense fans mourning

  A mist-shrouded English village. A handsome, brooding protagonist. A sinister haunted house. The Woman in Black has all of the elements of a rip-roaring ghost story, yet it somehow fails to excite.

Atmospherically, the movie is pitch-perfect. As widower Arthur Kipps (a grown-up Daniel Radcliffe) prepares for a business trip outside of London, viewers have a real sense of the bleakness of his life. He walks through the mists of the city as if he himself was a ghost, imagining the spectre of his wife wherever he goes.

Anchoring him to this life is his young son, Joseph (the cherubic Misha Handley, Radcliffe’s real-life godson). For him, Arthur is trying his best to succeed as a lawyer, though he is on thin ice with his firm. They offer him a chance at redemption by sending him to the rural Crythin Gifford to settle the estate of Mrs. Drablow (Alisa Khazanova) at Eel Marsh House.

From the start, the natives are suspicious and unwelcoming. At every turn, it seems, Arthur is thwarted in his attempts to do the job he was sent to finish. The local solicitor, with whom his firm had been working with, attempts to hustle him out of town immediately, but knowing his livelihood is on the line, Arthur insists on being taken to the house.

At high tide, the house is completely cut off from the mainland, and it isn’t long before Arthur begins to experience strange noises and a glimpse of a woman dressed in black. He imagines hearing a carriage accident and screams for help that go unanswered. Back in the village, he attempts to report the incident to the constable, but before long, real tragedy strikes as a child dies in front of him.

Shocked, Arthur is once again treated to the mistrust and scorn of the villagers who believe his presence in town is to blame for the girl’s death. His only ally, the wealthy Daily (CiarĂ¡n Hinds), invites the young lawyer to have dinner with him and his wife. The potentially pleasant repast quickly turns macabre as Daily’s wife, Elizabeth (Janet McTeer), is half mad with grief after losing her son many years back.

Daily offers Arthur his hospitality, as the inn claims to be fully booked, and drives him out to the Eel Marsh House the next day, despite protest from the villagers. Determined to work through the night to process the many boxes full of paperwork left behind by the late Mrs. Drablow, Arthur is subjected to the full wrath of the spirit, whom he soon determines to be the widow’s maiden sister, Jennet (Liz White), who was forced to give up her son.

Up until this point, The Woman in Black has built up a nice bit of dramatic tension, intriguing viewers with a triplet of mysteries. What precisely happened to Arthur’s wife? What tragedy befell Jennet and her son Nathaniel? And why are the children in Crythin Gifford dying violent deaths?

Sadly, the resolutions to all three mysteries seem anticlimactic as the story seems to lose focus in favor of hopscotching through a bunch of scary moments. Part of the blame probably lies with the screenplay by Jane Goldman (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass), which is really more of an homage to the book by Susan Hill than a direct adaptation. In the source material, the story spanned a much greater period of time, and events transpired much more slowly, giving characters the chance to develop. In her attempt to provide thrills and chills, Goldman seems to have sacrificed some of the layers and nuances that would bring the story to life. Instead, viewers are left with plot holes in some places and much-too-pat resolutions in others.

The filmmakers also erred in their decision to punctuate every scary moment with screeching-violin sound effects engineered to make viewers jump. It shows a marked lack of trust in the audience to be frightened in the appropriate places, but also feels manipulative in the sense that the filmmakers knew they had to do something to make up for the fact that they took too many shortcuts in the storyline to build up to genuine scares.

The movie’s ending, which some might view as happy but others could justifiably see as morose, achieves at least one thing everyone can agree upon: like the Woman in Black, they will never forgive the disservice done to this story.

The Woman in Black is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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

Published on SoCal.com

Shopping: Shop the world at the eclectic Silver Onions

Courtesy photo
 Fans of the ‘90s sitcom “Seinfeld” may remember the charismatic J. Peterman, the fictionalized founder of the (very real) J. Peterman Company, whose travels around the world yielded exotic merchandise accompanied by tales of adventure in its shopping catalogs. If that adventuresome character had opened a shop with his sister in Las Vegas, it would probably look very much like Silver Onions.

Last August, siblings Todd Hallenbeck and Noori Eells took on that challenge and opened Silver Onions at 5655 Centennial Center Blvd. The name, Hallenbeck said, was the product of much “excited discussion” between the two owners.

“We wanted a name that showed we had international product and product that was of good quality,” he said. “So ‘onion’ symbolizes the world, and the many different layers of languages and cultures we deal with, and the ‘silver’ represents the value, or the quality, that we try to achieve.”

Their store is an eclectic mix of furnishings, personal products, house wares and food items they’ve curated from the far reaches of the globe and our own backyard’s local and regional artisans.

“I was living in Thailand for a previous job and I kept seeing so many products and styles and fabrics and textiles that weren’t available in the U.S.,” Hallenbeck said. “I thought there was such an opportunity to bring in these high-value niche products.”

These products include things like a small, round box with what appear to be pins sticking up inside.

“Those come from a small village just on the Thai side of the border between Burma and Thailand,” Hallenbeck said. “A little man makes those. I met him one day in a market. He showed me these neat little herb grinders and I’ve been buying them from him ever since. We sold about 15 of them in two days right before Christmas.”

“This piece of jewelry comes from a designer who went to design school in San Francisco,” Eells said. “She then decided after years working as a graphic artist to take a risk and start the Cojoe jewelry line. She’s following her dream and we are excited to support her.”

Though they have done some advertising as well as maintaining the usual online and social media presence, the owners’ best publicity has been other customers.

“Word of mouth has been terrific,” Hallenbeck said. “We’ve been amazed at how many people say their friend was talking about us and told them to come down. That happens so often.”

Lovers interested in gifts outside of the roses-and-chocolates standard for Valentine’s Day should find something enticing at the store.

“We have a lot of things that might be considered a traditional gift, like custom jewelry and scented candles,” Hallenbeck said. “We also carry hand-loomed silk scarves, which are light enough (for) the
summer, and they’re very colorful and are a great accent.

“For the typical male, we’ve got handmade fudge. Every man that comes through the door goes right to that,” Hallenbeck continued. “We also have interesting cooking utensils as well.”

While some may think “international” equals “expensive,” Eells is quick to point out that purchasing quality products directly from local and international artisans helps to keep costs in line.

“My brother and I started the business because we enjoy quality things, and we both enjoy bringing these things to (the customer),” Eells said.

That’s a sentiment of which the fictional J. Peterman himself would have approved.

Published on bestoflasveags.com

Tuesday 13 - Geechy Guy's Got Talent

Courtesy Photo
 Piers Morgan may disagree, but Geechy Guy has talent. The 47-year-old comic, who has been telling jokes for nearly 30 years, didn’t ultimately win “America’s Got Talent” last year, but he certainly won over a new generation of fans on that showcase, just as “Star Search” catapulted him into the mainstream consciousness in the early ‘90s (he still holds the record for most consecutive wins by a comedian, with 10 appearances).

Although some of the comedians he beat back then have gone on to more visible projects (anyone heard of Ray Romano?), Guy’s resume is nothing to laugh at. In 1993, he landed in the Guinness Book of World Records for telling the most jokes in one hour (676), has made more than 75 television appearances and has headlined a number of shows both in Reno and Las Vegas, most recently the critically-lauded “Dirty Joke Show” at Hooters Hotel and Casino.

On the eve of his headline stint at Big Al’s Comedy Club at The Orleans Hotel and Casino Wednesday through Sunday, Guy talked with the Best of Las Vegas about dirty jokes, roller coasters and what makes him laugh.

BOLV: Your stage name is fairly unusual. What’s the story behind it?
GG: Kichigai is Japanese for crazy, it was a nickname given to me in college by an exchange student. When I started comedy, I didn’t want to embarrass my mom, so… It has actually been sort of fortuitous.

BOLV: Do you remember your first joke?
GG: Not really! I was doing magic since I was six, juggling since I was 12, then I played my first comedy club when I was 19. Basically, I had a street juggling act, and I was at an audition where the ceiling was too low, I didn’t have enough room to juggle, so instead of doing my juggling material I just did some jokes. It was kind of organic. I didn’t necessarily know I wanted to be a comedian. I kinda knew I wanted to perform. In 3rd grade I told everybody I wanted to be a magician in Las Vegas, which was kind of ironic.

BOLV: Where did you get your funny bone?
GG: I’m not sure! My mom is pretty funny. Me and George Carlin have the same birthday, so maybe that has something to do with it. I don’t know, I think I’m just fortunate that I have a sense of humor, and that what I think is funny is pretty universal.

BOLV: The “Dirty Joke Show” at Hooters, which just closed after a two-year run, was universally praised for it’s out-of-the-box format. Was that your idea?
GG: Yeah, it was more like a play. We wanted it to be something more than stand-up; it was what me and my friends do. I grew up in this business, and when I had the most fun it was sitting around in an alley behind the comedy club, waiting for the next show to start, being funny with the other comics. That was really the basis of it. We acknowledged the audience a little, but mostly it was kind of a fly-on-the-wall thing.

BOLV: Who laughs harder at dirty jokes, women or men?
GG: It’s equal, and what’s neat is it’s really just a different kind of laughter, just a deep, catching-their-breath kind of (laugh). I mean, these are jokes that, when your grandpa tells them they’re funny, but you when hear them from guys that have that much more comedy experience under their belt, it’s just that much more fun. It takes something a little different to make a comedian laugh.

BOLV: From the wholesome “America’s Got Talent” to the raunchy “Dirty Joke Show,” who is your target audience?
GG: That’s the beauty of it, I think it’s everyone. There are certain people who wouldn’t enjoy the “Dirty Joke Show,” but even then we didn’t get too gross, didn’t bring race too much into it. It was mostly just sex jokes and the jokes your grandpa and uncles would tell at the reunion. There are some real funny jokes out there. You know how to get a fat girl into bed? Piece of cake. I mean, there’s hundreds of jokes like that out there.

BOLV: Was that one of your signature joke grenades (jokes he tells that then take about 8 seconds to ‘hit’)?
GG: Maybe, maybe. There are a lot of jokes out there, and I may not have written them, but they’re jokes I like. You know what you call a guy with a rubber toe? Roberto. It’s a great joke. The older crowds like it as much as the younger crowds.

BOLV: Your rapid-fire method of joke telling landed you in the Guinness Book of World Records. Have you ever considered topping that?
GG: If (the record) was broken, I’d probably defend it. It wasn’t that fun to watch, as it was very technical and of course it was done for a specific reason. It wasn’t like watching a show, because the people watching were there to count the laughs. But it was fun, it was a great experience. And it’s a great credit. I mean, thousands of people have been on the “Tonight Show” but there is only one world-record joke teller.

BOLV: Speaking of late-night talk shows, who is funnier: Craig Ferguson or Jay Leno?
GG: I don’t know, I’ve been on both shows, as you know, but I didn’t get to meet Craig Ferguson too much during my (appearance). A friend of mine opens for him, though, and I think he’s very funny. And Jay is just a legend in his own time. When I first started, Jay was at the pinnacle of what (comics) strived for. I don’t get to watch either one’s shows now, though; I’m usually in bed by then. I’m getting old.

BOLV: You’ve been on two era-defining talent searches in your career, “Star Search” and “America’s Got Talent.” How were those experiences different?
GG: They were both great. The “Star Search” (recognition) lasted a long time. I mean, people who recognized me back then still do. “America’s Got Talent” certainly helped, as well, but I still have people come up to me and say they saw me on “Star Search” and wondered what had happened with me. I mean, I was getting recognized for six or seven years, even ten years later. I still get recognized (for “America’s Got Talent”,) but I just don’t know if it’s going to last as long as it did then.

BOLV: Who would play you in the movie of your life?
GG: Oh my goodness! Who would play me? People tell me I look like Stephen Hawking. I don’t know, that’s a tough one. I think you’d have to use me, and I could probably use the work.

BOLV: You’ve been quoted in the Best of Las Vegas as being a roller coaster fanatic. Is that still the case?
GG: Yeah! The beauty of roller coasters is that they’re not like Ferris wheels, where they’re all the same. That’s when I really started to love them, when I realized that they were all their own little footprint, and each one had their own little unique things about them. The one at New York, New York is great, I think that was the first one that had a barrel roll ever built in the U.S.; I know the Desperado down in Primm, was the tallest when it was built. And then the one at Circus Circus is great, it’s one of the best indoor ones. Stratosphere’s was very cool, too. Me and my wife got engaged on the roller coaster up there. I think they’ve all got something going for them, I hope they keep building more here. A wooden one would be nice, if anybody is listening.

BOLV: What is your proudest accomplishment as a comedian?
GG: Just being able to do it. People always ask, “when are you going to make it?” I made it when I started doing it. I made it back in1985, when I didn’t have to do anything else for a living. That’s making it to me. To wake up and want to go to work is great. I was in the great earthquake in San Francisco, the World Series earthquake. I had never been in an earthquake before, and it was huge. These two girls in the street were talking, and one said, “wow, I hope I don’t have to go to work tomorrow,” and it dawned on me that I wasn’t even thinking that. I was thinking “I hope they get this cleaned up in time for my show tonight.” And I realized how lucky I was to be in that position, of wanting to go to work and get paid for what I do. I’ve never lost sight of that. There are ups and downs. I could end up making $100,000 a year or $9. I mean, I’d love to take it to the next level and play theaters and things like that, but if it doesn’t happen, I’ll still keep telling jokes for a living. I’m very happy.

Geechy Guy headlines at Big Al’s Comedy Club inside The Orleans from Wednesday to Sunday. Tickets are $19.95 and include one drink. Guests must be 18 and over to attend. For more information, contact the Orleans Box Office at 702-365-7075 or toll free at 888-365-7111.

Published on bestoflasveags.com