Monday, 08 August 2022

Arts & Life

SEMI-PRO (Rated R)


Funnyman Will Ferrell has developed a comedic persona that elevates him barely above the lazy, irresponsible man-child who is contradictorily both lovable and arrogant. This is an act he has perfected as Ron Burgundy, the TV anchorman with an inflated ego, as well as in a succession of various sports figures. He’s done his part to decimate figure skating, soccer, and NASCAR racing. A one-man wrecking crew, Ferrell has cultivated a legion of fans who may even cheer his more mediocre work.


Arguably, “Semi-Pro” is not in the major league status of “Talladega Nights,” where his race car driver Ricky Bobby was the obnoxiously funny showoff in competition with “Borat’s” Sacha Baron Cohen. This time, Ferrell’s Jackie Moon is a one-man conglomerate in the last year of the American Basketball Association’s existence. He’s the owner, coach and power forward for the fictional Flint (Michigan) Tropics, a team defined by its outlaw flair and sensational showmanship. Sporting an afro hairdo and the gaudy clothes of the 1970s, Jackie Moon is coasting on the residuals of his big one-hit song “Love Me Sexy.”


The film opens with Jackie Moon crooning his salacious hit song, which serves the purpose of establishing his character as the kind of outrageously brash self-promoter whose unpredictable behavior is certain to keep everyone on edge.


As the basketball season gets under way during America’s bicentennial year, Jackie soon learns that the ABA is going to be disbanded, and that only four teams will be absorbed into the more profitable and dominant NBA. A woeful team lacking any real talent, the Flint Tropics are not destined to be one of the teams merged into the NBA. But that won’t stop Jackie from pulling every stunt in the book.


The Tropics have one star player, the flamboyant Clarence “Downtown” Withers (Andre Benjamin), who changes his name with frequency, finally settling on Coffee Black as his moniker. He may be good, but he can’t carry a team full of league rejects.


To change his fortunes, Jackie trades the team’s washing machine for former NBA benchwarmer Ed Monix (Woody Harrelson), a troubled player with real talent if he can overcome constant knee trouble and an unhealthy attraction to his old flame Lynn (Maura Tierney) who’s now with someone else.


Jackie, who seems modeled upon legendary baseball showman Bill Veeck and daredevil Evel Knievel, is constantly thinking of marketing ploys, some of which are manifestly stupid or dangerous.


To get fans in the seats, he offers free corn dogs to all ticket holders if the team scores 125 points, and then does his best to sabotage his teammates. Another stunt is offering an oversized $10,000 check to a spectator who makes a basket at a distance greater than half-court. When a homeless stoner (Jackie Earle Haley) sinks the ball, Jackie cooks up little tricks to avoid the payoff. Unwisely, Jackie also wrestles a bear in another stunt that goes horribly wrong.


“Semi-Pro” is full of caricatures of athletes, but not all of them come across as pure comedic figures. To be sure, Jackie Moon is all over the map as a buffoon, flailing wildly at the impossible task of putting together a championship caliber team. On the other hand, Monix and Coffee Black become the underdog heroes who are destined to succeed in a feel-good sports story, because after all that’s what you have to expect from teammates on the verge of reaching the comeback status.


The funniest characters are not even on the basketball court, turning up instead in the broadcast booth. Will Arnett’s Lou Redwood, a former player, is the color commentator with a colorful, and often profane, manner. His partner is Dick Pepperfield (Andrew Daly), more mild-mannered but equally adept at tossing sarcastic dialogue. When announcing the game, these two hurl insults at each other, but more often they snipe at the team and its fans. These guys are so funny that you get the sense they could easily be adlibbing their dialogue.


Feeling often like an improvised script, “Semi-Pro” may not be the best Will Ferrell comedic vehicle, but it certainly beats films like “Kicking and Screaming” and “A Night at the Roxbury.” Though not consistently shooting three-pointers, Ferrell hits the mark often enough with his silliness to make this film fun for anyone enjoying this type of comedy. Indeed, there are plenty of laughs.


DVD RELEASE UPDATE


Horror films take on a life of their own when going into DVD release. “Automaton Transfusion” is a shockingly grisly zombie horror flick that follows three teens brazen enough to fight back a town full of swarming zombies.


Maybe you caught this film at Screamfest 2006, but if not, now’s your chance to load up on extremes of gore and bloodshed. “Awake” allows one to experience the pain and terror of “anesthetic awareness,” which happens when a man remains conscious but paralyzed throughout an operation and is forced to endure excruciating pain.


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


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LAKEPORT – The Feb. 24 "Opera to Pops" concert presented by Clear Lake Performing Arts filled virtually all the seats at the newly-reopened Soper-Reese Theater, with hometown hero William "Bill" Pickersgill leading the way to the packed house.


Pickersgill, raised in Lake County and a graduate of Clear Lake High School, led his fellow San Francisco Opera members Andrew Truett and Suzanne Lustgarten in a program perfectly chosen to spotlight the considerable talents of all three.


The first half featured arias from eight operatic favorites starting with all three singing “Libiamo” from Verdi's heroic “La Traviata,” with the stage presence of each performer strong enough to lead the audience through the action.


Andrew "Andy" Truett and Suzanne Lustgarten who in real life are husband and wife shared the spotlight, amid obvious lovers differences, in a scene from Donizetti's “Elsir d'amore,” while Lustgarten followed with the flamboyant Magda's solo from Puccini's “La Rondine.”


Accompaniment was provided by Cesar Cancino, whose musical career is as extensive and varied as that of the singers, having toured North America, Europe and Mexico as pianist, conductor and accompanist to many of the greats of the music world. His hands on the keyboard of the grand piano produced some of the finest sounds yet heard in the redesigned venue.


Au Fond du Temple Saint” from Bizet's “The Pearl Fishers” featured Pickersgill as Zurga and Truett as his friend and follower Nadir as they pledge to renounce their common love interest and remain loyal to one another, while Pickersgill and Lustgarten were a perfectly charming twosome in singing “La ci Darem la Mano” from Mozart's “Don Giovanni.”


Pickersgill's remarkable baritone was featured at it's best in his solo “Pierrot's Tanz Lied” from “Die tote Stadt” by Korngold, while Lustgarten and Truett returned to share the leads in excerpts from “La Boheme” by Puccini, culminating with a stage left exit while completing the song. The audience responded with thunderous applause.


During the hour-long operatic portion of the program the singers switched languages effortlessly from Italian to Spanish to German. But after intermission they switched to all-English with selections mostly drawn from Broadway hits, including “South Pacific,” “West Side Story” and “Carousel.”


Pickersgill delivered a memorable Don Quixote with three songs from 'Man of La Mancha” while Lustgarten exhibited exuberant charm in her “I Could Have Danced All Night” solo from “My Fair Lady.” Truett also used his impeccable tenor voice to great effect in singing "Climb every Mountain" from the "Sound of Music" by Rodgers and Hammerstein. All three singers joined in the finale "Make our Garden Grow" from Leonard Bernstein's "Candide."


Continuing standing applause from the audience resulted in a curtain call in which the three singers delivered a comic routine of "O Solo Mio" while continually upstaging one another, much to the delight of the audience as well as to the performers who were clearly having as much fun as their fans.


This was the first pure musical presentation at the Soper-Reese since the theater reopened its doors a month ago.


Joan Holman, who served as Mistress of Ceremonies, reminded the audience that the play "The Solid Gold Cadillac" will open in the theater in two weeks. She is one of the stars of the show.


The next program of Clear Lake Performing Arts will be on Sunday, March 30, when world-renowned pianist Tien Hsieh returns to Lake County for a 3 p.m. concert at Galilee Lutheran Church on Soda Bay Road in Kelseyville. Concert information may be obtained by calling 279-0877.


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Sandra Wade, Lake County's outgoing poet laureate, introduced her new CD, From There to Here, in a reading of poetry and prose at Watershed Books on Friday afternoon. Wide-ranging choices and conversation with the audience included the joys of gardening and a discussion of the Noetic Institute founded by astronaut Edgar Mitchell.


Wade will introduce finalists in the selection of the county's new poet laureate in a Poetry and Music Interlude from three to 6 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24, at the Main Street Gallery, 325 N. Main St., Lakeport.


The finalists are Linda Drew, Tom Hardy, Pauline Denise Keil-Stocker and Mary McMillan. The new laureate will be introduced Sunday, March 2, in a 4 to 7 p.m. event, also at the Main Street Gallery.

 

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LAKEPORT – The publication of Steve Bartholomew's latest novel, "Chapel Perilous" will be celebrated on Friday, March 7 at Watershed Books in Lakeport.


Writing of his life's journey, Bartholomew states, "Experience as a social worker taught me that there is no such thing as an ordinary human being."


He is the author of "The Terrorist Plot at Gopherville," which he says is "sure to get him into trouble."


"Chapel Perilous," he said, is an exploration of dangerous states of mind.


Bartholomew will answer questions about his creative and publishing process beginning at 3:30 p.m.


Watershed Books is located at 305 N. Main St.


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LAKEPORT – Perhaps you have attended one of the many functions during the phase one construction of the Soper-Reese Community Theater.


Possibly you or your organization has an interest in renting the theater for an event. Maybe you would just like to walk through and see the progress made toward the final phase of a restored downtown landmark into a working professional theater venue.


Whatever the category, House Manager Stephen Stetzer would like to show you around.


Stetzer and his crew are in and out of the theater almost on a daily basis. Albeit interim, the theater is open with events already in place.


If you would like to tour the theater, contact Stetzer at 527-5297.


The theater is located at 275 S. Main St.


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VANTAGE POINT (Rated PG-13)


Harkening back to the 2004 terrorist bombings on commuter trains in Madrid, one has to wonder what the Prime Minister of Spain thinks of Vantage Point, which puts the Spanish town of Salamanca in the crosshairs of a terrorist plot during a landmark summit on the global war on terror.


Gathering the heads of state in any one location runs a great security risk, and Vantage Point is only too willing to explore the possibility of a serious breakdown in the protective guard that surrounds high-profile events of this kind. For good measure, the film taps into sensible paranoia of the modern age.


The action-packed thriller owes much of its perspective to the classic Japanese film Rashomon. The innovative effort of legendary director Akira Kurosawa created an unusual narrative structure that attempted to arrive at the truth of a brutal crime by demonstrating the differing accounts of several witnesses.


While the Japanese classic was heavy on the psychological overtones, Vantage Point leans to the point of view of various players, from the innocent bystander to the active participants in the plot. Hence, the psychology is colored by the level of self-interest of the individual witness.


At the film’s opening, the audience relives the assassination attempt on the president of the United States (William Hurt) from so many angles that it is easy to lose count. The film’s advertising says that eight strangers with eight different points of view try to unlock the truth.


As the president’s motorcade works its way to the site of the summit in the town’s central square, the first view is from the American cable news network covering the historic event, mostly from the perspective of frenzied TV news producer Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver), who working from inside a trailer located on the perimeter has probably the least advantageous observation point.


Other than the actual perpetrators, two Secret Service agents assigned to President Ashton probably have the best view, since they are most attuned to this sort of danger. This is particularly true for agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), who previously took a bullet about a year before while protecting the commander in chief.


Other agents have doubts that Barnes is ready to enter the fray once more, and even Barnes’ partner, agent Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox), is dubious. However, Barnes is the key player because he is more tenacious than a pit bull in doing his job. Under fire when the assassination attempt goes down, Barnes dispels any notion that his psyche is too wobbly for effective action.


There are other perspectives to the crime. In the crowd is ordinary American tourist Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker), who thinks he’s captured the shooter on his camcorder while videotaping the event for his kids back home. A Spanish police officer (Eduardo Noriega) suspects that his girlfriend is cheating on him and then stumbles on something far more insidious. Not to be left out of all this is the president himself, who has to cope with trusted aides while pondering whether to launch an air strike on a terrorist camp in Morocco.


As each vantage point is explored, it is incumbent on the audience to pay attention to the details, catching a glimpse here and there of potential clues, no matter how remote or obscure. In some ways, the storytelling is akin to peeling layers off an onion, and the mind races to figure out whether discovered tidbits lead to a grander revelation. But you can’t get too comfortable mulling over the various options, because then the movie cranks up the action in a series of gun shots and bomb blasts topped off by a terrific car chase.


Dennis Quaid’s secret service agent shines not just for his nervous, tortured effort to pull himself back into the game. His agent Thomas Barnes is the film’s real action hero, particularly when he commandeers a car to give a nail-biting high speed chase to a fleeing terrorist through the narrow streets of Salamanca.


But for all of its energy and pumped-up action scenes, Vantage Point doesn’t rise above the ordinary as a thriller. Indeed, too many coincidences and contrivances undermine the overall specter of credible action, which for the most part is a jumbled mess of plot twists.


DVD RELEASE UPDATE


Three estranged brothers plan a trip through India to rediscover their familial bond a year after their father’s death. This sounds like a high-brow art film to be avoided, but that would be a mistake.


The Darjeeling Limited features an amazing cast for the siblings, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman. This offbeat movie is a comedic gem, offering up all sorts of unexpected twists and turns for these travelers on a spiritual journey through a mysterious foreign land.


While the brothers may have expected their “spiritual quest” to produce satisfactory results, instead they find themselves stranded in the middle of the desert with 11 suitcases, a printer and a laminating machine. The journey gets even weirder after that.


The Darjeeling Limited DVD includes an odd featurette, Hotel Chevalier, where Natalie Portman plays Schwartzman’s unhappy girlfriend.


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


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Upcoming Calendar

9Aug
08.09.2022 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
9Aug
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Rotary Club of Clear Lake
10Aug
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13Aug
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13Aug
13Aug
13Aug
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13Aug
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