Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Arts & Life

Though it has nothing to do with the writers strike, there is not much in the way of new films for the start of a new year. The early crop of films, such as they are, is so weak that studios won’t bother to screen them for critics.

This neglect is a calculated strategy to dump some lousy films on an unsuspecting public. Well, I won’t fall for it, and neither should you. So let’s take a look at some of the DVD releases for the short term, and figure out if staying home is a better option.

If the writers strike keeps going on indefinitely, we might be seeing more DVD releases like the one for El Cid, starring film legends Sophia Loren and Charlton Heston from a bygone era when grand-scale, sweeping historical epic films were made in Hollywood. The Limited Collector’s Edition of El Cid digitally remasters its picture and sound, with an introduction by director Martin Scorsese.

The richly romanticized tale of a real-life Castilian knight and legendary Spanish hero earned several Oscar nominations and popular acclaim. The special two-disc DVD set includes not only multiple featurettes, but also reproductions of the original 1961 souvenir program and original 1961 El Cid comic book.

An ongoing trend in the DVD business is the reliance on the ubiquitous Collector’s Edition to spice up old favorites. This is the case for director Rob Reiner’s timeless romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally.

Starring in the titular roles, Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan attempted in comical ways to answer the question of whether sex will ruin a true friendship between a man and a woman. The film was memorable for some of the greatest scenes and quotes in movie history. Now, this special edition of the DVD has many hilarious deleted scenes and never-before-seen bonus features, including the “I Love New York” featurette in which the cast and crew describe the location and its importance in setting the story.

Denzel Washington cut a charismatic figure as Frank Lucas, the brutal heroin kingpin from Harlem, smuggling the drug into the country from the Far East in American Gangster. This film may be released on DVD sometime in February at the earliest.

Meanwhile, the true story of Frank Lucas’ drug rival during this era is being released as Mr. Untouchable. Nicky Barnes became the face of drug trafficking and dominated the heroin trade scene of the 1970s. Trusted and trained by two Italian mobsters, Barnes set up his own black crime family, the Council.

Infamous for his excessive lifestyle and inability to be prosecuted, Barnes was dubbed “Mr. Untouchable.” After 23 years of silence, Mr. Untouchable includes firsthand tell-all testimony from Nicky Barnes, who is currently in a witness protection program. The film includes interviews from former Council members and others in the Barnes drug collective. One of the bonus features is a recorded phone conversation between Nicky Barnes and Frank Lucas.

Maybe you didn’t catch this quirky dark comedy series when it was on the FX network, but now you can pick up The Riches Season One DVD set.

Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver star as Wayne and Dahlia Malloy, who take their family of three children for a life on-the-run to con and scam the unsuspecting and the greedy. One day, in a darkly comedic twist of fate, an opportunity presents itself, allowing the Malloys to escape from their past by pulling off the con of all cons. They assume the identity of a family living a privileged life in an exclusive, gated suburban community. Living as law-abiding citizens is complicated by nosy neighbors, jealous fellow con artists, and authorities hot on their trail.

British actor Clive Owen is not quite a household name, but he’s done terrific work in films like Croupier and Children of Men. Not so long ago, in recognition of his charisma and physical presence, he was touted as a possible James Bond. His early television work made him a huge star in Britain, and now it is time to catch up to Chancer.

Acorn Media already released Chancer, Series 1 last year, and now “Series 2” delivers the final seven episodes about a con artist, swindler and purported savior of a struggling sports car company.

The central figure is Clive Owen’s Stephen Crane, an irresistible rogue who gets caught up in enough intrigues involving sex, money and power struggles to rival anything seen on Dynasty or Dallas.

Jason Biggs, who achieved notoriety by carnal knowledge of baked goods in American Pie, stars with Isla Fisher in the riotous comedy Wedding Daze. After suddenly losing his “perfect girlfriend,” Biggs is convinced he’ll never find love again.

But at the urging of his best friend, he spontaneously proposes to a neurotic coffee shop waitress named Katie (Fisher). Thus starts an unusual journey to the wedding, which somehow involves a prison break by the bride’s father and a robbery of a clothing store for appropriate wedding attire.

The Dragon Dynasty label from the Weinstein Co. keeps cranking out martial arts films. Fatal Contact presents a dark, amoral world with contemporary style, pace and themes.

A naïve martial arts champion of China’s national team, Kong (Wu Jing) is desperate for cash and with the added pressure from his girlfriend he reluctantly joins an underground fighting ring. Blending visually brilliant fight scenes with raw violence, Fatal Contact is broken up by occasional humor from the supporting cast, including funnyman Ronald Cheng.

The post-holiday cinematic blues should end in the next week, and the studios will be back to promoting even their mediocre product.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.





The NFL playoffs, at least for sports fans, are the best thing happening on television right now. Unless you are catching up on movies released before the holidays, it’s a bleak time at the cinema. Film studios did not bother to provide press screenings for new films like the “Alien vs. Predator” sequel and the horror flick “One Missed Call.” No one needs to be a clairvoyant to figure these films are stinkers to be avoided at all cost. This leaves us with television as the mass medium for entertainment.

While not keeping the late night shows off the air, the continuing writers strike is throwing a monkey wrench into TV programming, and sadly this situation shows no sign of being resolved any time soon. For the first time in memory, the nation’s TV critics won’t be gathering in Los Angeles this January for the press tour to preview new TV series and specials. Did I mention it’s becoming a bleak time on television?

At some point, due to the strike, the television and cable networks will eventually run out of new scripted programs. That leaves us with the troubling possibility of more reality shows. Hasn’t CBS run out of interesting places for “Survivor,” and for that matter, does anyone really care?

In any case, the granddaddy of reality shows, “American Idol,” returns on FOX for a two-month run for twice weekly shows, until late February when it kicks into three nights a week. Talk about filling up the TV schedule!

“American Idol” jump starts the FOX schedule with a two-night, four-hour premiere featuring outrageous new auditions on Tuesday, Jan. 15 and Wednesday, Jan. 16.

Episodes featuring the auditions held across the country in San Diego, Dallas, Omaha, Atlanta, Charleston, Miami and Philadelphia will air on four consecutive Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The lucky hopefuls who get the judges’ approval move on to the Hollywood Round which starts up in mid-February, at which time dreams come true for 24 contestants when the Top 12 male and Top 12 female semifinalists are picked.

Then it will be up to you, America, to decide who moves forward in the competition, and after a series of elimination rounds it all comes down to the final vote being revealed on Wednesday, March 12.

Long ago in her teen years, the pretty Elizabeth Berkley showed promise in her starring role on the TV series “Saved by the Bell.” Later, her career took a big nose dive playing a Las Vegas stripper in “Showgirls,” a huge flop at the box office that only later acquired classic cult status in DVD release.

Now she’s stepping up, so to speak, as the host of a dance show, a reality series on Bravo called “Step It Up and Dance.” There will be no need for Elizabeth to work the stripper’s pole, because after all this series involves more serious choreography. As expected in a reality series, there will be 12 dancers competing for a $100,000 top prize in “Step It Up and Dance,” which may not air until spring.

Lifetime Network has a Friday night reality programming block, with such shows as “How to Look Good Naked,” “Top This Party: Orange County” and “Top This Party: Las Vegas.” Recently added to the lineup at the start of January is “Matched in Manhattan.” Matt Titus, New York’s premiere relationship expert and dating coach, specializes in helping both single women and gay men find their Mr. Right. “Matched in Manhattan” follows Matt and his business partners as they hit the streets and cafes of New York City to show their clients what it takes to snag the man of their dreams.

One way to beat the strike blues is to bring back old classics, and this is what GSN is doing with old favorite panel shows such as “What’s My Line?” and “I’ve Got a Secret.” The longest running primetime game show ever, “What’s My Line?” consisted of four panelists who tried to guess either the unusual occupations of guest contestants or products associated with them.

“I’ve Got a Secret” featured four celebrity panelists who by cross examination tried to determine each contestant’s secret. GSN is airing these old classics from 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. every morning, thus securing a lock on the viewing habits of insomniacs. This is your chance to see celebrities like Jayne Mansfield, Milton Berle and Liberace, but it would seem not all that difficult to recreate these programs with a contemporary vibe.

Notwithstanding the ongoing work stoppage, it’s not all reality and game shows in TV land. FOX is launching the two-night premiere of “Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles” on Sunday, Jan. 13 and Monday, Jan. 14.

“The Sarah Connor Chronicles” represents an exciting reinvention of the “Terminator” franchise, in which the strong and intrepid Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) discovers that protecting her 15-year-old son John (Thomas Dekker) and stopping the rise of the machines is more difficult than she had ever imagined.

Sarah and John are joined by Cameron (Summer Glau), an enigmatic and otherworldly high school student who proves to be much more than a friend, and James Ellison (Richard T. Jones), an FBI agent hot on the trail who soon becomes a powerful ally. There’s nothing in the press notes to suggest that the governor is making a cameo appearance.

Thanks to a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation, the CBS Network features an original movie in late January, “The Russell Girl.” Amber Tamblyn, best known for her starring role in the CBS series “Joan of Arcadia,” stars in the titular role of Sarah Russell, a young woman locating to Chicago where she works as a department store buyer. While in Chicago she receives some unsettling news, which brings her back to her small-town roots. A woman of secrets, Sarah has a past she’s run away from, and now she’s consumed by guilt over something that happened half-a-dozen years ago.

The Hallmark Channel is busy putting on its own original movies. In the titular role of “The Good Witch,” Catherine Bell’s beautiful and mysterious Cassandra Nightingale moves into Grey House, the haunted mansion in a small town. Opening a new age shop in the center of town, Cassandra sets about winning over the town folk with her seemingly magical remedies, but trouble is brewing and not everyone has fallen under her spell.

“Melrose Place” star Laura Leighton stars in “Daniel’s Daughter” as Catherine Madighan, a New York career woman with a high-powered job and millionaire finance. But when she’s told that her estranged father has died and his last request was for her to escort his ashes to their tiny Massachusetts hometown, Catherine begins a journey that will lead her to question the beliefs she’s held about herself, her father and her seemingly perfect life.

Cable networks remain active with new, though familiar, product. HBO launches the fifth and final season of the Emmy Award-winning series “The Wire.” Centered on the vagaries of crime, law enforcement, politics and the media in the drug-saturated streets of West Baltimore, “The Wire” continues its gritty drama that has won so much acclaim. Showtime continues the fifth season of “The L Word,” with its trademark provocative storylines, sizzling sexuality and heart-rending emotion. If you know what the L word is, then you can figure out why the series stars a long list of women, ranging from Jennifer Beals and Pam Grier, to Marlee Matlin and Cybill Shepherd.

Saving the best for last, it’s good to report that everyone’s favorite neurotic detective is returning for a sixth season of unconventional sleuthing. Indeed, Tony Shalhoub is back once more as the obsessive-compulsive Adrian Monk. In the winter season premiere of “Monk,” Adrian Monk infiltrates a cult to solve a murder, only to fall under the spell of its charismatic leader.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.


CLEARLAKE – We have often heard the phrase, "Does my vote count?" A more important question might be, "Is my vote even counted?"

Second Sunday Cinema's free film for Jan. 13 is "Hacking Democracy," which makes a calm, close, even-handed search for an answer.

Bev Harris, an investigative writer and grandmother, was concerned enough about reports of "stolen elections" and non-secure electronic voting machines to launch what turned out to be quite an adventure. Happily, a camera went with her, and the result is entertaining, inspiring and chilling, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican.

Harris crisscrossed the nation, diving into dumpsters and digging into trash cans (all quite legal). She confronted blank-faced county officials and hired world-class hackers to try the system.

Because every voter needs to see this film – especially in an election year – I will not ruin the suspense by sharing the outcome. Please take note: We here in little rural Lake County may feel safe, because we (at least in some precincts) use paper ballots. Unfortunately, all the votes are still compiled on electronic vote-counting machines.

As Bev Harris puts it, "The weakest link in the human chain can destroy the integrity of the election simply by swapping a memory card or popping in a USB memory stick."

In one memorable, probable example of the above, in one precinct in Florida, the total for Al Gore in 2000 was MINUS 16,022 votes!

This documentary will be shown on Jan. 13, and marks the first complete year of Second Sunday Cinema's ongoing series of free films.

The venue is the social hall of the Clearlake United Methodist Church at 14521 Pearl St., near Mullen.

Doors open at 5:30 p.m. for snacks and socializing. The film starts at 6 p.m., and is followed by time to hang out and meet new people and discuss the film.

You can get more information at 279-2957. As always, this film is free.


CLEARLAKE – The Namaste Spiritual Book Club meets the first two Mondays each month at Wild About Books in Clearlake, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The next meeting will be on Monday, Jan. 14.

Reading is mostly at home, discussion at meetings.

The club is for seekers of metaphysical knowledge willing to share their experiences.

For more information and sign-up contact Joy Byrd, 995-6054, or the store, 994-9453.

Wild About Books is located at 14290 Olympic Drive, Suite A, in Clearlake.


Host Phil Mathewson gets ready for the show. Photo by Joanne Bateni.


LAKEPORT – Jan. 5 saw the biggest open mic ever at Café Victoria.

The event featured regulars Lorna Sue Sides, Poetry Interlude founder; Erv Howell, honky-tonk stylist; and Dick Flowers, a cappella singer starting off the show.

Newbies included Andy Rossoff, who played the house piano and sang some of his favorite songs. Andy is a self-taught musician and an open mic virgin. He can be seen playing keyboard in a band called Leftys.

Everybody’s favorite doctor, Milan Hopkins, MD of Upper Lake, strummed his guitar and sang some cool tunes.

Donavan made his second appearance at the open mic, singing his original songs while playing his guitar.

Lourdes Thuesen joined us for the first time, reading a few poems for the full house.

Carley Rae, another first-timer, read a short poem near the end of the session.

Host Phil Mathewson played his mandolin and sang a few of his original songs between acts.

Café owner, Victoria Philips, treated everyone to her freshly baked carrot cake muffins and ice cream.

Next open mic is Saturday Feb. 2. Come early for a good seat.



Poet Lorna Sue Sides reads one of her favorite poems. Photo by Joanne Bateni.



LAKEPORT – Ring in the new year with music and tricks on Saturday, Jan. 5, at Cafe Victoria.

Musicians and magicians will entertain from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

There is no charge for this event and all ages are welcome.

Sign up to perform at Cafe Victoria, 301 Main St., Lakeport, or call the event's host, Phil Mathewson, at 263-3391.


Upcoming Calendar

05.25.2022 9:00 am - 1:00 pm
Annual invasive weed tour
05.26.2022 7:30 am - 8:30 am
Rotary Club of Middletown
05.26.2022 9:00 am - 12:00 pm
Lake County Planning Commission
05.26.2022 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Sierra Club Lake Group
05.28.2022 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Cobb Estate Sale
05.28.2022 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Steele
05.28.2022 10:00 am - 2:00 pm
Rodman Preserve public hours
05.29.2022 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Cobb Estate Sale

Mini Calendar



Responsible local journalism on the shores of Clear Lake.





Enter your email here to make sure you get the daily headlines.

You'll receive one daily headline email and breaking news alerts.
No spam.
Cookies! uses cookies for statistical information and to improve the site.