Wednesday, 17 April 2024

Arts & Life

THE DARK KNIGHT (Rated PG-13)


Remember how the “Batman” franchise was revitalized only three years ago with the powerful, memorable and brilliant “Batman Begins,” taking the comic book series in a direction that was anything but jokey?


Well, brace yourself for something even better, which is exceedingly rare for a sequel. Hyperbole should be resisted at all cost, but the newest adventure of Batman in “The Dark Knight” is arguably the best film of the year, possibly holding that acclaim long enough until the Academy starts announcing candidates for Oscar awards.


Reuniting writer-director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale in the titular role, “The Dark Knight” is an artful balancing act of a supreme popcorn movie and serious artistic endeavor. The camp of Adam West as TV’s Batman and even of the earlier film versions has receded graciously into oblivion, replaced with a sober purpose.


The result is not as somber and grim as to press all fun out of a superhero creation. It’s simply that no one needs to yell “Holy Batcave” or something equally elementary. Silly dialogue is plainly missing, albeit some sly humor creeps in when necessary.


What is really of consequence in “The Dark Knight” is not just full-throttle action, but a sense of Shakespearean tragedy. To explain this concept more fully would require divulging some serious plot twists, and to do so would be a grave disservice.


As wealthy industrialist and playboy Bruce Wayne and his alter ego Batman, Christian Bale has so completely captured the enigmatic qualities of the Caped Crusader that it’s easy to forget the likes of Michael Keaton, George Clooney and Val Kilmer.


Christopher Nolan has turned the corner on his characterization of Batman, and there’s no going back to the old days. Bale’s Batman is a brooding superhero, reserved and taciturn when engaged in his serious crime-fighting mode. Believably strong, he fills the Bat costume with the forceful determination that no other actor has been able to accomplish.


Gotham City (looking very much like Chicago) remains a place of menace and foreboding, despite the presence of Batman. Crime cartels are on the rise, allowing Eric Roberts to play a sleazy mob boss. With the help of police lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the idealistic new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Batman sets out to wipe out organized crime.


The triumvirate’s initial success is soon blunted by the sudden arrival on the scene of criminal mastermind The Joker (the late Heath Ledger).


Ruthlessly seeking to climb to the top of Gotham City’s criminal food chain, The Joker is probably the most clever, diabolical and psychopathic criminal to ever emerge. He represents pure, unadulterated evil, in the sense that he has no logical motivation for his actions.


However, The Joker, his face smeared in a distorted clown makeup, is clearly motivated to wreak chaos on Gotham City, if only because his ultimate goal is to destroy Batman.


Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne views his Batman role as a short-term crusade, which explains his hope that the crusading Harvey Dent can become Gotham’s hero. Sadly, Bruce Wayne has found that the love of his life, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal taking over for Katie Holmes), is now romantically drawn to Dent. Notwithstanding hurt feelings, Bruce puts a lot of energy into supporting the ambitious district attorney, with interesting consequences emerging later on.


To be sure, “The Dark Knight” delivers the goods with plenty of intense, heavy action, from the opening bank heist to recurring instances of mayhem on the streets of Gotham. The Joker pedals his diabolical plans with chaotic precision, setting traps all over town in his cat-and-mouse game with the Caped Crusader.


Contemptuous of minor thugs and crime bosses, The Joker relishes the mental challenge of a death match with Batman. But there are plenty of explosions and daring high-speed chases that are very much a part of the existential duel between two opposite forces.


“The Dark Knight” can be enjoyed tremendously on several levels. First and foremost, it’s a great action picture, with all the bells and whistles. On the other hand, it’s a complex, adult story that belies any comic book roots. The characters are engaging and serious, with Heath Ledger giving the performance of his all-too-brief life. The Joker is a chilling, menacing character, so completely twisted and psychotic that his every move merits close attention.


The entire cast of “The Dark Knight” is spectacular, with Ledger, Bale, Oldman and Eckhart most deserving of praise. If the opportunity is available, be sure to see “The Dark Knight” at an IMAX theater.


DVD RELEASE UPDATE


The infamous and unsolved crimes of the Boston Strangler remain mystifying more than 40 years after the killing spree targeted nearly a dozen single women.


“The Boston Strangler,” being released on DVD, stars David Faustino (at one time Al Bundy’s son on “Married With Children”) as Albert De Salvo, an imprisoned small-time crook who devises a plan with his manipulative cell mate to confess to being the strangler in an attempt to gain notoriety from the killings and reap the reward money. Meanwhile, Detective John Marsden (Andrew Divoff) is certain one person alone could not have committed the crimes.


Going in a complete different direction, the DVD release of “Spaced: The Complete Series” is something I am anxious to discover, if only because it’s a cult British sitcom.


What’s of interest is that it stars Simon Pegg as an aimless London resident barely able to hold a job. If “Spaced” is anything like Pegg’s work in “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” this British takeoff on “Friends” has to be worth a look.


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


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LAKEPORT – The Soper-Reese Community Theater will host a variety of plays and musical performances in August and during the fall months.


In August, the Lake County Theater Co. will present “Little Women,” the timeless classic by Louisa May Alcott about the March sisters’ journey from childhood to maturity during the Civil War. Performances take place Aug. 8 through 10, and Aug. 15-17.


The Black Irish Band will visit the theater Sept. 20. The band, which has produced 17 albums in 18 years, includes five musicians who play music from Ireland, Italy and America.


On Oct. 4 and 5, The Golden Follies will perform at the Soper-Reese. The troupe of women over 50 dances Ziegfield Follies in a high energy, fast-paced, Las Vegas-style revue.


Also in October, Paula Samonte and Her Band will perform at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18 and 2 p.m. Oct. 19. A musician’s singer, Samonte and her band offer a big night of jazz music.


Rounding out October is the Triskela Celtic Harp Trio, which performs on Oct. 25. The three women play harp and sing an eclectic mix of Celtic, Middle Eastern and Latin music


The Soper-Reese Community Theater is located at 275 S. Main St., Lakeport, telephone 263-0577. Visit the theater on the Web at www.soperreesetheatre.com.


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LOWER LAKE – William Schlick, the founder of Inner Skies, is on Sabbatical to further his explorations of his craft and pursue new opportunities that have arisen for him.


As a result, the spot he previously occupied is now known as AnnDrewArt, a gallery of the art and crafts of local artists, art supplies, and other items best classified as eclectia.


The gallery is undergoing a renaissance of sorts with a new look, new hours, new artists and expanding product line, with a focus on expanding art and craft supplies. Currently, they carry Staedler fine art supplies, complete lines of Fimo and Wirelace and a few craft books. They also are in the process of opening a Framing/Fine Art Reproduction shop by the end of July.


There is a focus on the art supplies, with a 10-percent discount to art teachers and students and a huge 45-percent discount to all Lake County schools, public or private.


Big plans are under way for Summer Arts Camp at the Tuscan Village. Anyone interested in teaching one- to three-day workshops for interested young or adults artists are encouraged to contact the gallery. Teachers will receive a stipend, depending on enrollment.


The studio is open Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. and is located at 16175-B Main St., Lower Lake.


For more information contact AnnDrewArt, telephone 995-5079 or 278-0312, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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LAKEPORT – Painting instructor Patricia Osborne will be returning to teach classes in August at the Lake County Arts Council's Main Street Gallery.


Osborne will offer a class on painting the ocean, waves, rocks and sea life in watercolor on Sunday, Aug. 10 and Monday, Aug. 11, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., with lunch at noon. Cost for the class is $165.


This is a great class for beginners and all levels to discover how to make watercolor paint itself. Osborne's method of working consists of two parts: a wild, spontaneous phase, in which you will learn to create texture that will give the illusion of water, waves, rocks, trees; and a realism phase, in which

you will learn to add detail so the viewer's eye will read the rest as reality.


Let go and watch how the paint and water mix on their own – and you will not get mud. Here's a chance to become the watercolor artist you have always wanted to be. All levels are welcome.


Visit Osborne's Web site at www.patriciaosborne.com.


The materials list and the sign up sheet is available at the Main Street Gallery, 325 N. Main St., and on the Lake County Arts Council Web site, www.lakecountyartscouncil.com.


The number of participants limited; please call the Lake County Arts Council about availability, 263-6658.


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NAPA VALLEY “I often hear people in the community clamoring for a good lecture series,” commented Anne Evans, managing director of the Napa Valley College Napa Valley Writers’ Conference.


“We have a great one, right here, this summer a series of eight stimulating lectures, from leading novelists and poets, speaking on a wide range of subjects,” Evans said. “They’re bound to appeal whether you’re a writer, a reader, or just passionate about art and ideas.”


The lectures will run Monday, July 28 through Thursday, July 31, at the Napa Valley College’s Upper Valley Campus in St. Helena. (For a full schedule, see www.napawritersconf.org.)


Tickets for the lectures are $25 when reserved in advance or $30 at the door. Advance reservations are recommended.


The prize-winning poets and novelists prepare a lecture about whatever is most compelling to them at the moment. “As a result, the lectures offer a kind of snapshot or Rorschach test of where our culture is at the moment, when it comes to arts and letters,” said Evans.


In the 1990s, Evans explained, the writers seemed to focus more on the craft of writing, whereas lately they have become more engaged in the larger world. Especially since Sept. 11, 2001, writers have become more concerned with their responsibility as chroniclers of social and political injustice and upheaval.


On Thursday, July 31, at 9 a.m., Brenda Hillman will speak on “Reportorial Poetry: Bringing Poetic, Spiritual, and Political Activism Together.” The war in Iraq, African genocide, and the oppression of women have all entered her poems recently.


“I’m going to talk some about the issue of writing ‘politically’ in the past,” Hillman said. “I’ll mention the work of Shelley, George Oppen, Denise Levertov and Robert Duncan, particularly the debate between Levertov and Duncan and how it inspired me. What does a reporter consider when looking at an ‘activity’ and how might the 'stuff' of an activity make it into poetry?”


Hillman is the author of eight books of poetry, most recently “Pieces of Air in the Epic.”


Novelist Lan Samantha Chang will lecture on the well-known short story “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, from the book of the same title about the author’s experience in Vietnam.


“This book is widely assigned in high school English classes and is a favorite of young people,” said Evans.


Chang is the author of the novel “Inheritance” and is the director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the premier graduate writing program in the nation. Her work has appeared in “Best American Short Stories.” Chang’s lecture is scheduled for Tuesday, July 29 at 1:30 p.m.


Film-lovers will want to attend Ehud Havazelet’s lecture on Thursday, July 31, 1:30 p.m, entitled “Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Point of View.”


“I want to show how masterfully Hitchcock uses point of view to force us into his movie, and then hope we can talk about how point of view works in fiction more generally,” said Havazelet, who will show scenes from the film.


Havazelet’s most recent novel, “Bearing the Body,” was a New York Times Notable Book of 2007.


Rounding out the lecture series are acclaimed poet Mark Doty, speaking on poet Jean Valentine; Ann Packer, author of the bestseller “The Dive From Clausen’s Pier,” on “Character and Consciousness”; Claudia Rankine on “The End of the Line”; Nick Flynn on “Bewilderment: Accessing the Unknown”; and Ron Carlson on “The Author’s Benevolent Ally: Doubt.”


“Ron Carlson is an unfailingly entertaining and inspiring lecturer,” said Dr. Chris McCarthy, president of Napa Valley College and a regular participant at the conference.


Barbara Insel, a marketing researcher in St. Helena, spoke highly of her experience attending lectures at the 2007 conference. “It was refreshing to get away from the every day and use the brain muscles in a slightly different way. Laura Kasishcke’s lecture was funny and insightful. It was about writing but also about everything.”


In addition to the lecture series, the public is welcome to the evening readings, Sunday, July 27, through Wednesday, July 30.


“We give these in wonderful venues, so that they’re meant to celebrate our joy in having so many wonderful literary artists in our midst,” said Evans.


The venues this year include the courtyard at the Upper Valley Campus, St. Supéry Winery, Robert Mondavi Winery and the Napa Valley Opera House.


Each reading is preceded by a wine reception. Tickets for the readings are $8 if reserved in advance and $10 at the door.


For reservations, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone 707-967-2903.


For complete information, see www.napawritersconf.org/events or call 707-967-2903 to request a brochure.


Schedule of readings and lectures


Sunday, July 27


7:30 p.m.: Readings by Nick Flynn and Lan Samantha Chang. Upper Valley Campus, 1088 College Ave, St. Helena.


Monday, July 28


9 a.m.: Mark Doty, “Jean Valentine’s Ghost Sonnets.” Upper Valley Campus, 1088 College Ave, St. Helena.


1:30 p.m.: Ann Packer, “Character and Consciousness.” Upper Valley Campus, 1088 College Ave., St. Helena.


7:30 p.m.: Readings by Claudia Rankine and Ron Carlson. St. Supéry Winery, Rutherford.


Tuesday, July 29


9 a.m.: Nick Flynn, “Bewilderment: Accessing the Unknown.” Upper Valley Campus, 1088 College Ave, St. Helena.


1:30 p.m.: Lan Samantha Chang, “What is a Short Story? Structure and ‘The Things They Carried’ by Tim O’Brien.” Upper Valley Campus.


7:30 p.m.: Readings by Brenda Hillman and Ehud Havazelet. Robert Mondavi Winery, Oakville.


Wednesday, July 30


9 a.m.: Claudia Rankine, “The End of the Line.” Upper Valley Campus, 1088 College Ave., St. Helena.


1:30 p.m.: Ron Carlson: “The Writer’s Benevolent Ally: Doubt.” Upper Valley Campus.


7 p.m.: Readings by Mark Doty and Ann Packer, Napa Valley Opera House, 1021 Main St., Napa. Wine reception hosted by Saintsbury Winery.


Thursday, July 31


9 a.m.: Brenda Hillman, “Reportorial Poetry: Bringing Poetic, Spiritual and Political Activism Together.” Upper Valley Campus, 1088 College Ave, St. Helena.


1:30 p.m.: Ehud Havazelet, “Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Point of View.” Upper Valley Campus, 1088 College Ave., St. Helena.


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HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (Rated PG-13)


This summer is shaping up as the season for realizing many comic books into silver screen action, and the highly anticipated return of Batman is still around the corner.


But, first, Hellboy, born in the flames of hell and brought to Earth as an infant to perpetrate evil, is back once again, brilliantly conceived by director Guillermo del Toro as a superhero unlike the others, especially with his wisecracking personality.


Affectionately known as Big Red, Hellboy was rescued by American soldiers from occult Nazi forces during World War II. Raised by the benevolent Dr. Trevor Broom (John Hurt) to be the most improbable of heroes, Big Red is extraordinarily tough but has a soft spot for kittens.


“Hellboy II: The Golden Army” requires little knowledge of the prior film. All you need to know about the big red fellow with horns and a sledgehammer for a right hand is explained in the film’s opening scenes during his youth at an Army camp.


As an adult in contemporary times, Hellboy (Ron Perlman), a complicated figure, is a reluctant hero only because the public fails to appreciate his good deeds and often questions his motives.


Being the misunderstood figure may arise from Hellboy’s hot-tempered attitude and reckless behavior in carrying out missions to destroy the paranormal creatures that frequently surface in Manhattan, bent on destruction of mankind. At least Hellboy always has good intentions.


Hellboy fights the good fight when called to duty by his government handlers at the top-secret Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, based at a decaying urban site in New Jersey.


Under the command of the officious agent Manning (Jeffrey Tambor), the bureau uses secret technology, mysterious powers and a network of operatives with otherworldly powers to defend the universe against the more violent supernatural forces.


For his part, Hellboy would rather kick back with cigars and a case of Tecate beer, enjoying time with his fickle girlfriend Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and their clutter of cats.


Meanwhile, an ancient truce is about to be broken in an underworld long ruled by peaceful King Balor (Roy Dotrice), who had created an indestructible mechanical army of golden warriors but locked them up to keep the world safe from annihilation.


The king’s evil son, Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), grows impatient in the shadow of his father and becomes increasingly anxious to unleash the dormant army of killing machines that will supposedly return what belongs to his people.


Returning from exile, Prince Nuada shows up at an auction house and destroys the place while retrieving some ancient artifacts. After that, he confronts his father and his twin sister, Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), setting in motion his dastardly plan to conquer the planet.


Assisting Hellboy to save the planet is the volatile Liz, possessing a combustible superpower that allows her to use pyrotechnical skills when things get heated. Of course, Hellboy and Liz generate enough friction as an often bickering couple, where everyday irritations get blown out of proportion.


The intellectual in the good guy paranormal world is the half fish, half mammal Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), who has the power to read objects and know their past or the future. Often more a nuisance than helpful is the new member of the team, Johann (voiced by Seth MacFarlane), a gaseous ectoplasm who is usually annoying.


The plot of “Hellboy II” is not a big deal, nor does it give much thought in search of a coherent story. This is an all-out action picture, with the juicy scenes bracketed by the paranormal crew involved in romantic or emotional ordeals.


Director del Toro is keen on staging brilliant battles and fight scenes. Moreover, he’s brilliantly inspired to roll out some really interesting creatures. The hordes of spider-like tooth fairies that feed voraciously on human flesh and calcium are truly amazing. The secret Troll Market under the Brooklyn Bridge is populated by the craziest assortment of strange beings since the cantina scene in “Star Wars.”


“Hellboy II” is at its creative best when realizing strange worlds from another dimension. Visually stunning for all of its special effects, this film is much more than an artistic endeavor. First and foremost, it’s heavy enough on action and battles to be exciting to anyone unfamiliar with the Dark Horse comic book heritage of “Hellboy,” created by Mike Mignola, who happens to also serve as a co-executive producer for the movie.


DVD RELEASE UPDATE


The spoof genre is often good for a lot of laughs, at the cinema or on DVD release. Take, for example, “The Naked Gun” or “Scary Movie 4.”


From the comedic minds behind these films came “Superhero Movie,” which follows the misadventures of a high school student after he’s been bitten by a mutated dragonfly.


The movie intends to spoof, satirize and skewer the conventions of superhero cinema, poking fun at everything from the “X-Men” to the “Fantastic Four.” Sadly, even the presence of Leslie Nielsen and Pamela Anderson can’t rescue this weak entry in the spoof genre.


Not intended as a spoof is “Toxic,” but when it stars legendary porn star Ron Jeremy, rapper Master P and sexy women like Bai Ling and Dominique Swain, you have to wonder if this action thriller about an escaped mental patient is something other than a joke.


Even though this is a direct to DVD release, “Toxic” is an offbeat thriller that surpasses expectations and ends up being entertaining.


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


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