Friday, 27 May 2022

Arts & Life

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Allen Markowski playing the guitar. Photo by Joanne Bateni.




LAKEPORT – Two magicians did their tricks and three musicians treated patrons to old and new tunes on Saturday, Nov. 3, during Cafe Victoria's Open Mic event.


Philip Martin, who has been practicing magic for three years, performed card tricks and thimble tricks.


Twelve-year magic show veteran, S2 “d” Clown, made a dollar bill disappear and then pulled it out of a fresh lime. You had to be there to appreciate their great tricks.


Host Phil Mathewson introduced Nice resident Dave Hendricks, who hasn’t played in public since moving here three years ago. His hiatus hasn’t effected his guitar playing and singing style though, as he sang some of his favorite folk songs.


Phil filled in between Dave’s performances with his original songs about Lake County and read some of his poetry.


Allen Markowski, who is involved with school music programs in Clearlake, sang his original songs while strumming his guitar. He did some of the tunes that are favorites with the kids, such as “Boogeyman” and “Lying on a Cloud.” He reminisced with “Twenty Five Years Ago” about how Orange County used to be. He finished with one of my favorites “My Old Bag Lady” which is really funny.


Thanks to the magicians and musicians for a great open mic. If you missed the show come by next month on the first Saturday, which is Dec. 1. Most of the performers have promised to be back from 4 to 6 p.m.


Café Victoria is located at 301 Main St. in Lakeport.


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AMERICAN GANGSTER (Rated R)


Often, a really good gangster film plays out like a grand epic, something akin to “The Godfather” where the broad sweep of crime history suggests a powerful and compelling story. This is the case with the aptly named “American Gangster,” convincing and forceful because it is based on the true story of a dangerously charismatic and ruthless crime boss who created his own power structure in Harlem.


A homegrown product of the streets of New York, black entrepreneur Frank Lucas built his American success story through an innovative means of drug dealing, creating his own impenetrable empire in the African-American neighborhood. “American Gangster,” fitting as the title is, could have easily been called “The Godfather Comes to Harlem.”


Denzel Washington is an interesting choice for vicious drug lord Frank Lucas, but then this talented actor has shown how well he can use his natural charisma in the service of a dishonorable character. Just think of what he was able to do in “Training Day,” and then put him in the hands of acclaimed director Ridley Scott for the finishing touch. Washington's Lucas, nattily dressed and impeccably mannered, is an unflappable crime lord, coolly calculating in his rise to power.


It all begins in 1968, when Lucas, the quiet apprentice to Harlem crime boss Bumpy Johnson (Clarence Williams III), exploits a vacuum in the power structure with Johnson’s untimely death. Using ingenuity and a strict business ethic, Lucas applies his years of street knowledge to gain the upper hand in the drug underworld, as he shunts aside his major Harlem rival in the heroin trade, Nicky Barnes (Cuba Gooding, Jr.).


Making accommodations with Mafia bosses, particularly Dominic Cattano (Armand Assante), Lucas maneuvers himself into a position to rule the inner-city drug trade, due in large measure to his ingenious move to secure pure heroin directly from the source in the Southeast Asia. Working through the contacts of one of his relatives stationed in Thailand with the U.S. military, Lucas arranges direct shipments of illicit drugs into the United States by using the military to have the drugs shipped in the coffins of U.S. soldiers killed in combat during the Vietnam War.


Meanwhile, back in the United States, running on a parallel track, the travails of hard-nosed, honest Essex County cop Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) are unfolding with the kind of turbulent upheaval that greeted the incorruptible Frank Serpico.


To the chagrin of his fellow officers, Roberts makes no apologies for his righteous demeanor, as this becomes amply clear when he rather ostentatiously returns a suitcase full of nearly one million in drug-dealing cash to the precinct for evidence. He is even less popular with a gang of New York thug cops, particularly the nasty extortionist Detective Trupo (Josh Brolin), who takes it as a personal affront if he doesn’t get a taste of any illegal transaction.


When Roberts is so compromised by his personal integrity, he has little choice other than to head up a federal task force that tries to find the source behind the lucrative sale of Blue Magic on the New York streets. Having acquired his heroin without the use of a middleman, Lucas is able to sell pure drugs at half the cost of heroin cut by too much powder.


To make his operation run smoothly, Lucas imports all his brothers and cousins from North Carolina, setting them up in legitimate small businesses that serve as convenient fronts. He even brings up his mother (Ruby Dee) and buys her a large suburban home that becomes a gathering place for Sunday dinners after attending church.


Perhaps a good son, Lucas is anything but the model citizen as he is known to kill an opponent at point blank range or by setting someone on fire. However, in an odd juxtaposition to his dark side, he operates under a personal code of conduct that sets him apart from other criminals.


For instance, he is courteous and polite, dotes on his mother and attractive wife (Lymari Nadal), and dresses in nice suits, so as not to look like a street pimp. As the Roberts’ investigation unfolds, Lucas is soon in the sights of the task force. In an interesting way, Roberts and Lucas are the opposite sides of the same coin, because both are tenacious and driven to their own ends.


“American Gangster” creates plenty of magic with its impressive, compelling epic story of criminal enterprise and police corruption run amok. Not to disparage the fine work of Russell Crowe, but the film truly belongs to Denzel Washington’s hypnotic character.


The normally volatile Crowe comes off as subdued, perhaps owing to the raft of personal and professional problems that would drive an ordinary man to despair. Washington cuts an impressive figure as the 1970s criminal superstar, making “American Gangster” well worth watching.


DVD RELEASE UPDATE


Few cartoon characters are more popular than the Pink Panther. Our feline friend gets the DVD treatment with the release of “The Pink Panther: A Pink Christmas” on Nov. 6.


The world’s favorite pink-furred cartoon cat, with the manners of an English aristocrat, stars in this family holiday special.


The resourceful panther must rely on clever strategies as he trudges through a cold, snowy New York City, searching for a mouthwatering holiday dinner.


Two additional specials are included in this release, including “Pink at First Sight,” where the hip, cool, but broke and single panther takes a messenger job on Valentine’s Day, meeting the usual assortment of crazy characters.


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


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Karen Priest, foreground, plays the guitar and Tony Jarvis is on the bass in the background. Both are members of the Clear Lake Park Symphony Orchestra.

 


LOWER LAKE – the weather was great for this first Day of Enlightenment in Lower Lake as the Clear Lake Park Symphony Orchestra with Karen Priest and Tony Jarvis played some original and modified old tunes on Saturday, Oct. 27.


Phil Mathewson sang his original Lake County songs and Charlie Rand belted out a few oldies while playing Karen’s guitar. Hand drums were also played by the participants.


Lorna Sue Sides, founder of the Poetry and Music Interlude, did some slam poetry and William of Inner Skies recited some poetry including the Lady of Shallot.


Mathewson also displayed some of his original art work including canvases, gourds, magnets and crosses.


This is the first of many Days of Enlightenment that will be held around the County. Watch www.lakeconews.com for the next scheduled event.


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CLEARLAKE – For its free film on Nov. 11, Second Sunday Cinema will screen Michael Moore's "Sicko," a documentary that skillfully eviscerates the American health care system where it deserves it.


There are those of us who have seen some of Moore's earlier films, including "Fahrenheit 911," and have wished that he would just shrink a bit – fewer shots of Moore lumbering through the landscape, fewer corny jokes, less frequent views of his ego.


This film is an answer to our prayers. This newly released DVD is far more focused and deft, as Moore steps back to allow those who have suffered when they sought help from their insurance companies to step forward.


We are outraged when we meet the husband and wife who became ill simultaneously, lost their home, and were forced to move into a single room at a resentful son's house. There's the man who cut off two fingers in a wood shop accident. His index finger would have cost $60,000 to reattach, so he had to settle for his middle finger at "only" $12,000.


The most moving part of Moore's film shows him escorting a group of 911 workers to Cuba for free health care. Many of the firefighters, policemen, rescue workers and volunteers at Ground Zero are now suffering from serious respiratory illnesses.


Some have died, and others are unable to work and are finding it almost impossible to pay for the health care they need. Yes, this is classic "agitprop" – but the genuine suffering and gratitude of the ill workers far outshine Moore's pranks.


Shannon Tolson, SSC coordinator, has seen the film, and says that she already knew that health care in this country could not compare with that in the rest of the developed world. "What 'Sicko' did for me," she says, "is make that fact a living, startling reality. I won't be fooled anymore."


An English reviewer of "Sicko" acknowledges that some of its details about health care in Europe and England are a bit skewed. He adds, "But if even half of the stuff about American HMOs in the movie is true, (our National Health Service) and its equivalents do indeed appear utopian by comparison. There's plenty here to be outraged about" in the US.”


"Sicko" will be screened on Nov. 11 at the Clearlake United Methodist Church at 14521 Pearl St. near Mullen. Our doors open at 5:30 p.m. for snacks, chat and seat-grabbing. The film screens at 6 p.m., and is followed by informal discussions, for those so inclined.


As always, there is no charge for this community screening. We hope to see you there!


For information call 279-2957.


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LAKEPORT – There will be magic in the air at Cafe Victoria during the monthly First Saturday Open Mic.


The event will feature Phillip the Magician and other local talent from 4 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 3.


Come by, have a latte and enjoy the show. All talents are welcome including poets, musicians, singers and magicians.


Call Phil to sign up, 263-3391.


Cafe Victoria is located at 301 N. Main St. (corner of Third and Main), Lakeport.


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DAN IN REAL LIFE (Rated PG-13)


On the surface, “Dan in Real Life” has a less-than-auspicious premise for a comedy starring Steve Carell, the leading man from “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” A widowed family-advice columnist coping with three rambunctious daughters, Carell’s character falls into an awkward relationship during a family getaway at the Rhode Island seaside. The annual family outing is the gathering of an extended clan, where a long weekend spent in the close quarters of a crowded house filled with quirky, prying relatives seems vaguely reminiscent of “The Family Stone.” Fortunately for us, the chemistry in “Dan in Real Life” is so much better that the inevitable family tensions are easier to take.


Steve Carell has developed an Everyman quality that serves him well in his film roles. His advice columnist Dan Burns, widowed the past four years, is able to dish out family counseling with ease, while nonetheless finding it difficult to maintain order in a household of rebellious girls.


He’s coming close to the Steve Martin territory of the cinematic clueless patriarch. Dan’s kids want nothing to do with a road trip from New Jersey to the New England coast, perhaps because dad is so overprotective. Oldest child Jane (Alison Pill) is anxious to use her driver’s license. Middle child Cara (Brittany Robertson) is delirious about her devoted boyfriend, while the youngest Lilly (Marlene Lawston) is only mildly tolerant of her father’s quirks.


Once arriving at his parents’ beach house in a quaint Rhode Island village, Dan has managed to alienate all of his kids, something that does not go unnoticed by Dan’s mom (Dianne Wiest).


Taking a timeout by heading off to the local second-hand bookstore, Dan is mistaken for a store clerk by an alluring, cultured woman named Marie (Juliette Binoche). Going along with the deception, Dan offers questionable advice on an odd assortment of books as suitable reading material.


Soon, the sales pitch has to do with more than books, and Dan feels real, live sparks that he imagined would never be revived since the death of his beloved spouse. The mutual attraction is undeniable, and after a lingering conversation over coffee, they go their separate ways with an unstated expectation of meeting up again.


As fate would have it, that reunion occurs all too suddenly and most awkwardly. After returning to the family home with a gleam in his eye, Dan enthuses over the girl he just met, only to soon find out that Marie is the new girlfriend of his younger brother Mitch (Dane Cook). Oh, talk about embarrassment and discomfort. In a house with very tight quarters, Dan and Marie are thrust into a tricky situation as they try to squelch and cover up their growing mutual attraction at every turn, leading to some comical situations.


And just when things couldn’t get more uncomfortable, Dan’s family sets up a blind date for him with a long-forgotten classmate. It turns out the girl has blossomed into an attractive sexpot (Emily Blunt), which only serves to stir up jealousy on Marie’s part.


“Dan in Real Life” hardly falls into the sitcom mode of farcical contrivances, though it apparently struggles near the end for a convincing resolution. Nevertheless, the film is touching and funny in all the right ways. An awkward moment like the shower scene plays for laughs without getting cheesy.


One might ask about the film’s poster, where Steve Carell’s head is resting forlornly on a stack of pancakes. This image is fraught with symbolism, which only makes sense after seeing a breakfast scene during which Juliette Binoche deftly wields a spatula.


The beauty of “Dan in Real Life,” full of wry humor, is its uncanny ability to wring some laughs from some very ordinary situations.


DVD RELEASE UPDATE


Since we’re talking this week about a new movie in which Dane Cook is the cuckold, maybe it’s only fitting to feature the DVD release of “Mr. Brooks” in which Cook had a supporting role as the photographer ensnared in the web of a serial killer.


The tandem of Kevin Costner and William Hurt, the yin and yang of the respected businessman with a deep, dark secret, captivates an audience bent on thrills.


The DVD of “Mr. Brooks” includes deleted scenes and commentary from the writer/director. There’s a featurette that may shed more light on Mr. Brooks’ sadistic alter ego, Marshall, played with chilling menace by William Hurt.


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


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Upcoming Calendar

27May
05.27.2022 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
12 Tribe yard sale and fundraiser
28May
28May
05.28.2022 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
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12 Tribe yard sale and fundraiser
28May
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Farmers' Market at Steele
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28May
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