Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Finding Amanda" is worth discovering

A truly great performance is marked by the audience's inability to imagine any other performer being as good in the role. In Finding Amanda, Brittany Snow gives such a performance.

Snow is a charming and talented actress who after becoming a household name in 2002 with her role in the TV show American Dreams, has been the highlight of both comedies and dramas. Snow’s signature acting trait is to bring an irresistible sweetness to all her roles, whether it’s in the teen comedy John Tucker Must Die or the unsavory sex-industry exploration On the Doll. She has the type of innocent look the phrase “button cute” was created for, and could easily have a successful career hopping from one safe romantic comedy to another. Instead, she has proven herself to be one of Hollywood’s most daring risk-takers. On the Doll’s dark material made the film a very hard sell. Snow’s 2009 film Black Water Transit, by controversial director Tony Kaye is still awaiting distribution. Another of her films, 96 Minutes, played at festivals, but hasn’t been widely released.

In 2009, Snow starred in one of the year’s best films, The Vicious Kind. The movie is a caustic and unflinching examination of the burgeoning romance between Snow’s character, Emma Gainsborough, and her college boyfriend as well as the boyfriend’s older brother, whose misogyny stemming from the demise of his own relationship threatens to derail them.

Finding Amanda is another risky role and because of this is a little-seen movie. This is a shame since it’s a thoughtful and touching study of two troubled people at different stages of their lives.

Matthew Broderick stars as a recovering alcoholic and addict who is lying to his wife about his ongoing gambling habit. When he hears his 20-year-old niece Amanda is working in Las Vegas as a hooker with a drug problem, he drives there to find her and get her into a rehab facility. It soon becomes clear his motivation for heading to Vegas may have less to do with Amanda and more to do with betting on horse races. No sooner has he checked into his hotel than he heads to the casino for some betting money. He eventually takes a break from gambling and finds Amanda at a casino where she is picking up customers near the elevators.

Finding Amanda easily could have been a bland hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold story, but the screenplay by writer/director Peter Tolan eschews clich├ęs and instead charts new and deep waters.

In one of the film’s more moving and poignant scenes, Amanda confides in her uncle about her start in the business and why she continues to sell herself. While recounting her first experience with a client, she reveals her vulnerability for one of the few times in the film. Throughout much of the movie, Amanda puts on a front and seems to be content with her life. She explains her job away by saying a lot of people have jobs they don’t like and she views her profession as another line of work. Describing the incident, she reveals it is so life-changing that to stop wouldn’t be able to erase the event, so why not just continue?

A story of a young prostitute could be a dark film, but Finding Amanda manages to be both a comedy and a drama convincingly. While it is set in Las Vegas, there are few familiar, exciting overhead shots of the Strip, no scenes in front of Caesars Palace and no trip to the Eiffel tower at Paris. Instead, the audience sees the inside of nondescript casinos. By doing this, the film removes the excitement and allure the tourists see and focuses instead on the less glamorous and dark side of Las Vegas. Amanda is all too familiar with the unsavory side of Sin City and in one sequence her uncle accompanies her on a nighttime excursion during which she purchases drugs while visiting sketchy off-Strip areas.

Yet in between these dark patches there are scenes of charm and humor. Steve Coogan is great as a pit boss who is familiar with Broderick’s character. The two share a few amusing scenes together. Peter Facinelli has some great moments as Amanda’s tool boyfriend and Snow’s performance is at times equal measure adorable and heartbreaking.

Finding Amanda may not have found an audience while in theaters, but it deserves to be watched on DVD and cable. It is an insightful and thoughtful character stury which avoids cliches and takes its own path.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Living my dream in Las Vegas was a career and life highlight

OK, so I’ve been putting off writing this because there are way too many wonderful experiences to sort through, but I want to share some of the joys of my Las Vegas adventure.
As some readers know, I spent three weeks in Las Vegas, the Best City in the World, in March and April. The goal was to find a job in public relations or entertainment journalism and although I returned to Seattle without full-time work, I experienced some of the best times of my life and career. That was just the warm-up.
Not long after returning, only about two weeks or so, I noticed through Twitter an opening for an internship at Wicked Creative, a PR company. I immediately responded and was soon making arrangements to move yet again to Vegas; this time for a month!
Ke$ha is interviewed by Abigail Miller of Wicked Creative/Photo credit Chaz Holmes
The internship was one of the best experiences of my life and one I will always cherish and remember fondly. Wicked Creative handles a lot of red-carpet events, which is my ideal job. Just three days after arriving in Las Vegas I found myself mere inches away from Ke$ha as I assisted with a red-carpet event. So excited was I that tasks which many might find trivial I took great pride in. When I arrived at Sugar Factory American Brasserie at Paris on Las Vegas Boulevard on May 7 my first task was to set out the place cards on the red carpet so the photographers would know where to stand. I know, this isn’t really a major job and it certainly doesn’t require the type of skills associated with a journalism degree from a four-year university, but for someone who has seen the red carpet as their goal for more than a decade, it was exciting. I set foot on the carpet and began carefully placing the pages on the floor, making sure they were well -spaced and parallel to the carpet.
Red-carpet events are a surreal experience. There’s a lot of waiting and things never seem to go exactly as planned, but they are very energizing experiences for me and the rush from them completely makes me forget I’m working well past midnight. While a co-worker and I were waiting for Ke$ha to arrive, my co-worker asked if I would take photos of the singer so we could post them on social media sites. OMG, could I have been more excited?!? Of course I agreed and after a brief iPhone tutorial I was ready to take pics of America’s fave $leazy pop star. Without any official announcement, Ke$ha suddenly emerged from Sugar Factory and walked inside the Paris casino and onto the red carpet. I took way more photos than necessary, but I wanted to make sure we had some good ones.  When I later saw one of the pics I took posted via Twitter I felt a sense of pride and excitement I didn’t think I was still capable of feeling. After the event that night I grabbed a burger and milkshake from Sugar Factory and headed back to my room in the early a.m. hours. I had the experience of opening the door and looking out the window at a gorgeous, late Las Vegas view of the Strip which allowed me to see The Cosmopolitan, Planet Hollywood and the Eiffel Tower. Amazing.
While in Las Vegas I worked events with T-Pain, Nicky Hilton, Samantha Ronson and most of the “Holly’s World” cast. For the T-Pain event I got to do some reporting from inside Chateau Nightclub. I recorded such details as what he drank, what he wore and what his general mood was during the evening. You know, the hard-hitting stuff which gave Barbara Walters her credibility. I got to stand right across the table from Nicky Hilton and take photos of her sipping from her Sugar Factory beverage as well as snap pics of her inside the candy shop posing with some sweets. I was allowed near her VIP table by security to record more details. My PR experiences were not only significant on a professional level, but some were even meaningful on a personal level.
DJ Samantha Ronson poses with a Sugar Factory Couture Pop/Photo by Chaz Holmes
I am a major fan of Lindsay Lohan. Her movies are my go-to source of cheer when I’m down and I even wrote her a letter while she was in the Betty Ford Clinic. She didn’t respond, but I know she’s busy with other things. So it was with great excitement I learned I would be working an event attended by her on-again-off-again girlfriend Samantha Ronson. As Samantha approached the carpet, I got into position to take photos and was sort of in a strange dreamlike zone while doing so. I don’t mean dreamlike in the sense of being out of it. Far from it. My professionalism in all situations is something I take very seriously and I was on my game. Yet while taking the pictures I had this wonderful sensation of registering this moment for the special, top-shelf area of the memory vault. When the photographers, including me, were finished and Samantha was walking off the carpet, I said two words: “Thanks, Sam.” OMG again! Samantha then entered Gallery Nightclub where she would DJ for Angel Porrino’s 22nd birthday party, which was the event for the night.
The next guests were Holly’s World co-stars Josh Strickland and birthday girl Angel Porrino, along with the show’s star, Holly Madison. OK, getting a little personal here, I want to express the significance of being at a red-carpet event with the three stars of Holly’s World. When I first made the decision in February to try my hand in Las Vegas, I spent hours upstairs in my makeshift office sending out resumes, writing cover letters and establishing contacts in town. While doing so I watched untold numbers of Holly’s World episodes (often the same episode repeatedly) because it provided me with a boost to assuage the anxiety of moving. It was amazingly fun watching a show set in Vegas with the realization I was on my way there. It’s also a really fun show! Before long I knew the words to the theme song: “She’s single and sexy, smart and independent, Vegas celebrity, #1 resident!”
When I watched the show I thought: “I’ll be living in Las Vegas soon, too.” It did not cross my mind I’d be inches away from this crowd on the red carpet! Words cannot express the significance. I pride myself on my professionalism and this excitement was all kept under control while I assisted my co-workers by taking photos and making sure they had plenty of Sugar Factory Couture Pops prior to the photo opportunities. My excitement actually was put to good use that night, since when I ran from the red carpet to Sugar Factory it was with great speed and agility.
Honestly, this night alone would have made the month worthwhile, but amazingly enough, the most fulfilling experiences of my career had yet to take place.
A lot of different things aligned allowing me to be in the right place at the right time and US Weekly commissioned me to cover three events over Memorial Day Weekend. I remember in sophomore English class learning the word zenith. I believe it’s a perfect word to describe this point in my career.
Scott Disick and Kourtney Kardashian were in town celebrating his 28th birthday at Gallery Nightclub and I was to interview them on the red carpet. OK, let me break down the significance here. The Kardashians are pretty much the cornerstone of celebrity journalism. There’s rarely a magazine without a story about Kim’s new man, Khloe’s pregnancy struggle or Kourtney’s post-baby bod. To interview one of the Kardashians is to have made it. Much to my excitement, my “made it” moment arrived three days after Kim K announced her engagement to Kris Humphries. In addition to standard red-carpet questions, all of which were new to me, I was to ask Kourtney and Scott about Kim’s engagement. OMG!!!!!!! I would like to say I do keep this in perspective and I know in the grand scheme of things, Kim’s engagement is not significant. That said, on a relative scale and in the world of entertainment journalism, it’s major. It’s like a political reporter getting to ask Hillary Clinton about her foreign policy strategy. To use a celeb/politician analogy, interviewing Kourtney Kardashian is like a political reporter interviewing Joe Biden. Kim Kardashian is of course the Barack Obama of the entertainment world. She’s change I can believe in!
So I got to ask Kourtney about this and her beauty secrets. I will always remember the exchange we had when I asked what beauty product she always has to have with her. While making eye contact, she replied, “Aqua Four.”
One of my other assignments was to interview Holly Madison. As you might imagine, this was also very significant for me. I’ve already mentioned Holly’s World, and to be in Las Vegas and interview the city’s resident “mascot”, a term given her by “Las Vegas Weekly” was wonderful. I even got to join her and Angel Porrino at their VIP table while taking notes and pictures.
Following my big weekend of events for Us Weekly, a coworker at Wicked Creative tweeted that she could be seen on that evening’s E! News because they were covering the Scott Disick and Kourtney Kardashian event.  I quickly called home to ask my parents to record the show just in case I ended up making a cameo too. Later that night I settled into my room to watch E! News. This is of course, not out of the ordinary sine the 60 minutes of E! News are among my favorite of each weekday, but my anticipation was building.
Finally E! News cut to the piece on Scott Disick’s birthday and I got to see the event I’d worked at on TV. The broadcast included footage of Scott and Kourtney inside Sugar Factory and Gallery Nightclub, but most exciting was the footage of them on the red carpet. I could tell from the angle the camera operator had been right behind me when filming and I saw my co-worker from Wicked Creative on the screen. I also saw a voice recorder which belonged to a fellow journalist. In fact, I could eventually see three voice recorders being help toward Scott and Kourtney. The most fantastic thing about this is one of the recorders was being held by me! I was so excited!
My recorder is the black one in the front. It is just behind the caption on the screen.

All I ever wanted was to be seen on TV reporting from the red carpet.  I realize this isn’t like saying all I ever wanted was to have a self-published blog, but I’ve never been good at setting small goals for myself.
Last August, I went to Vegas for The Monster Ball and while there, had lunch with a journalist who interviewed celebs on the red carpet for magazines including Us Weekly. During that lunch we discussed career paths and she told me some red-carpet and celeb stories. It was one of the highlights of my year. Later that night, she was to interview Kim Kardashian. When I returned home, I watched E! News and they covered the K-Dash event. On screen for at least a few seconds and in full view was Melissa, the journalist I’d met with. In the time since our lunch together, Melissa has been a better mentor than I ever imagined I would have. I’ve worked tirelessly to find a job in Las Vegas, even flying down for a single day and night for an interview in October. Melissa’s supported me the entire time, providing advice, helping me network, making introductions, and including me in her events. When I was in Vegas in March and April, she invited me to go with her as her “assistant” at a CinemaCon event at which she interviewed Cameron Diaz.
It was Melissa who made my work with Us Weekly possible. She recommended me to the magazine and it is because of her this was possible. To go from that lunch last August as a fledgling entertainment reporter to actually being on the red carpet just like someone I admire is really quite magical. I will always be grateful to Melissa for helping make my dream a reality.
I returned to Seattle a month ago and the transition to my former life has been difficult. I knew it would be and for this reason, was sure to cherish every amazing moment in Las Vegas. I feel so lucky to have had the experience of commuting to and from work and having a view of the Strip. The commute was really quite an adventure, entailing several buses and a combination of long waits and quick sprints. Yet, to finish a day of work which involved writing a Britney Spears press release, searching entertainment sites and preparing for the weekend’s event, and then ride the bus to Las Vegas Boulevard, is an experience I will always hold near and dear to my heart, which is where Las Vegas really resides.
Before boarding my flight home, I bought an issue of Us Weekly which includes a picture from Scott Disick’s birthday celebration. My interview with Scott and Kourtney was not included, but I would be foolish to complain. Three days after I got home, I put the magazine in a frame and it now rests beside my bed. Before drifting off to sleep each night, I get to look at this magazine and feel a sense of pride and fulfillment beyond belief.
Me holding my framed copy of Us Weekly. Introducing myself as "Chaz from Us Weekly" is among the great joys of my life.

I truly hope to be able to continue this career in the future, but even if I don’t I am so grateful to have lived the dream for a month. I can’t think of a better way to close this entry than with one of my favorite quotes.
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Yet another reason I love Lindsay Lohan!

Dark, brooding, talented actress. Natural, gorgeous redhead. Star of numerous films that always cheer me up. As if I needed another reason to love Lindsay Lohan, she’s now added entertainment reporter to her resume! When I hopped on the Internet, it was Lindsay Lohan who broke the news to me via Twitter that Natalie Portman gave birth to a baby boy.

Lindsay, I have an idea. How about you and I do an entertainment show together? We can call it “Two Redheads and a Red Carpet”!

Call me!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

'Hanna' is among its genre's best

Cold, brutal, wickedly intelligent and a whole lot of fun, Hanna takes the rogue-CIA-asset subgenre and revitalizes it with creativity at every turn.
Hanna, played by 17-year-old Saoirse Ronan, appears to have spent almost her entire life in the forest under the tutelage of her father Erik. Knowing his daughter would need to defend herself against Marissa, a ruthless CIA agent played by Cate Blanchett, Erik taught her how to fight with various weapons and her hands. When she uses her hand-to-hand combat skills, she unleashes a torrent of hurt which would intimidate Daniel Craig’s James Bond. Ronan, whose breakthrough Oscar-nominated role in Wright’s 2007 film Atonement, is perfect in the role. She has a pixie-nymph look to her face and with her pale skin and bright, blue eyes, she looks as if she actually could be a child raised in the wilderness. Just as the character Hanna, raised and trained by her ex-CIA father, possesses an arsenal of finely tuned and expertly executed skills, the film Hanna is a showcase of tremendous filmmaking talent.

Director Joe Wright and editor Paul Tothill brilliantly blend their techniques to create nail-biting sequences out of what could easily have been rote, yawn-inducing chases. In a rousing sequence Hanna escapes from a top-secret government facility and runs through a large, round tunnel. The camera focuses on her face as she runs, circling within the tunnel, adding urgency to her getaway and providing visual flair for the audience. As it does for other action scenes in the film, the music by The Chemical Brothers adds further excitement.

Here is a portion of this sequence:

One of the wisest decisions of the filmmakers made is to let the audience discover the locations as the characters travel. When Hanna escapes from the facility, rather than have her emerge into a bustling city with the Washington Monument, smacking viewers in the face with the realization she’s in Washington, D.C., she emerges in an area with no obvious landmarks. It isn’t for some time afterward until her location is divulged. By doing this, the viewer is given a similar sense of confusion as Hanna, who is finding herself in strange places. The viewers fortunately don’t have Blanchett’s icy CIA agent on their heels.

As Hanna evades capture she uses her combat techniques and when she kills it’s with the speed and ruthlessness of an animal in a flight or flight situation. She doesn't kill for the sake of it and avoids harming some people she easily could dispatch, but when necessary there is no hesitation or remorse. Adapt or die is the mantra her father instilled in her and she is obviously a very good student.
I have so much praise and gratitude for this movie and the talented cast and crew who made it possible. As most of us cinephiles know, the past two years were among the most egregious on record. The dearth of imagination, risk-taking and excitement in movies has been sapping the most ardent movie buffs of their enthusiasm for the medium. Even someone like me has stopped looking at the movie section in Friday's paper because it's almost a guarantee nothing interesting will be playing. Hanna is one of the best movies I've seen in a long time and it reminds me of why I love movies.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Las Vegas Soundtrack is One of My Favorite Compilations

They say smell is the sense most strongly connected to memory. At least that is according to some deodorant commercials of the past.

Although I agree with this assessment, I think there is an underrated sense when it comes to recollection. That is hearing, specifically regarding music. Taking it a step further on a personal level, for me the connection to memory is strongest when the music is heard while in Las Vegas.

Here is a brief rundown of what I mean:

My first trip to Las Vegas was shortly after my 21st birthday. By shortly I mean a matter of days or maybe two weeks. As a result, virtually every bar had a panache and excitement to it which is certainly only that strong when one is that young. So, when I entered Coyote Ugly for the first time it was an incredible rush. After waiting a long time in line I finally made my way in and “Dirrty” by Christina Aguilera (or XTINA at the time) was blasting inside the raucous watering hole. I’ve never been a fan of Chrisitna but in that moment “Dirrty” became a significant song in the soundtrack of my life. Whenever I hear it, fond memories come flooding back and I feel warm inside.

In the summer of 2007 I couldn’t walk from the kitchen to the living room in my tiny apartment without hearing "Umbrella" by Rihanna and Jay-Z. This isn’t because I chose to listen to it, but because it was on constant rotation virtually everywhere. I find Jay-Z to mumble too much on his songs and in my opinion Rihanna is second only to Fran Drescher when it comes to nasal voices. As a result, I always became frustrated at having to hear this song. This changed when I jetted of to Las Vegas that June to watch Avril Lavigne perform a special concert at Pearl at The Palms. While waiting for the doors to open, "Umbrella" began playing in the Casino. These two events occurring simultaneously turned that song into a nuisance into a welcome sound of a very fun time. Now whenever I hear "Umbrella" I mention how it makes me think of that day (I’m sure my friends wish I would stop telling that story).

I could go on about other songs heard in Vegas which are gilded bookmarks in my biography, but I’m going to jump ahead to the latest. Through an amazing coincidence, Britney Spears gave a surprise performance at Rain at The Palms on March 25 while I was in town on a job hunt. I was fortunate enough to get a ticket and was probably in the second or third row in the general admission area. I’d of course already heard “Hold it Against Me” hundreds of times while driving around in Seattle, but that night marked my first full listen to “Till the World Ends” as well as my introduction to “Big Fat Bass”.

I just love listening to these two songs for the memories I have and will treasure forever. When I am an old man in the retirement home and am unable to recognize anyone around me I will listen to “Big Fat Bass” and “Till the World Ends” and be transported back to that Las Vegas club as a 28-year-old Britney fan finally getting to watch his favorite artist in his favorite city.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dining at The Cosmopolitan is a Vegas must

My favorite food is burgers. I actually consider myself somewhat of a burger connoisseur.

Sonic’s double cheeseburger is the best of the fast-food category, followed by the jalapeno burger from Carl’s Jr.

Chili’s chipotle bacon blue cheeseburger is the most delicious of the casual-dining establishments and the classic burger with cheese from The Cheesecake Factory is the most decadent and satisfying of the next tier of restaurants.

Today I had one of the best burgers of my life at Holstein’s at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. When I woke up this morning, there was nothing I wanted for lunch than a burger. I knew of this location from reading up on The Cosmopolitan in the months leading up to its opening and I headed there to satisfy my appetite.

Immediately I knew this would be a great experience because instead of a basket of bread, I was brought a small bucket of popcorn. Yum! Paired with a Diet Coke, the flavor reminded me of being at the movies. After carefully reading the menu to assess my options, I decided on the cheeseburger. A cheeseburger is a creation which is brilliant in its simplicity. Meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, ketchup and mayonnaise is not a complex recipe, but when it’s done to perfection, as this one was, it deserves praise.

What made this burger so exceptional was not only the freshness of the ingredients, but the way the flavors of each did not blend together, but rather stood on their own. It wasn’t one tasty flavor, which many burgers have and is just fine, but it was a layered buffet of individual pleasures. It was also one of the most carefully and expertly crafted burgers I’ve seen and held. It was evenly arranged and did not sit too high, so when I took each bite it retained its structure. The last few bites had more mayonnaise than the others, allowing this to crescendo with a unique flavor to the overall burger.

This is certainly a top-notch burger spot.

Monday, January 24, 2011

"What the Hell" took so long? Avril's new video is finally here and it rocks!!!!!

After nearly four years Avril Lavigne has finally given us a new video! OK, she did do a video for her song “Alice,” but it wasn’t from a studio album, so it’s not the same thing.
Lavigne’s first video, “Complicated” came out in 2002 and solidified her as a fun-loving, mischievous rocker chick who does as she pleases. The video was brilliant in its simplicity as it showed her and her band mates running amok in a shopping mall. Her next video was for “Sk8er Boi” (arguably her best song) and in this she drew the attention of the police when she staged an illegal concert on a busy street. In several of her videos she is causing harmless trouble and is up to something, but always with a wink instead of a sneer.

One might say the video for “What the Hell,” the first single from Lavigne’s upcoming album due March 8, is a return to form. Except it’s not because in order to return, there must first be a departure and throughout her 9-year career, Lavigne remains consistent. Well, there is one significant change. When “What the Hell” begins, Lavigne is in bed and rises to give the viewer a look of her svelte figure in adorned with lingerie. Yes, that’s right. The girl who typically only shows skin on the beach or in the pages of “Maxim” is leaving less to the imagination in her video. Lavigne is an outspoken vegetarian and it evidently works wonders for her. Animal-rights activists may want to pass this video along because it’s likely to encourage others to give up meat and switch to tofu and veggies!

She then spends the video evading the guy whom she woke up next to while stopping to enjoy some much-deserved mischief. She stops to shoot hoops with some dudes on a basketball court and tries on clothes and accessories in a store. Toward the end of the video she takes the stage at a club and gives the crowd a raucous performance complete with air kicks. Lavigne’s boundless energy, cutesy facial expressions and pink-streaked hair combine with her kick-ass song to make “What the Hell” one of her best-ever videos.