Monday, 26 September 2022

Arts & Life

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (Rated PG-13)


In returning to his “Die Hard” role of iconic NYPD Detective John McClane after a long absence, Bruce Willis gives hope to aging, balding men everywhere as he appears not to have lost a step on his game.


Of course, Willis, who’s nearing the age to qualify for senior discounts at Denny’s, is buff and ready for action, looking more in shape than physical trainers half his age.


“Live Free or Die Hard,” the fourth installment that amps up the action to a new level of explosiveness, tests our hero’s endurance with the kind of butt-kicking challenges that would foil mere mortals, and Willis delivers a tough comeback performance that makes him the Rocky Balboa of the police force.


Having exhausted much of the action formula with more conventional plots and standard-issue villains, “Live Free or Die Hard” ups the ante with a grander scheme that taps into the more contemporary fears of cyber terrorism.


While the film should be faulted for its politically correct tilt with its choice of terrorists (again, a couple of them speaking French), there’s something deeply rewarding about pitting a blue-collar guy from the analog world (that would be Detective McClane) against a bunch of high-tech baddies operating at such an elevated plane in the digital world that they put the best techno geeks and computer hackers at risk.


The film begins with McClane coping with his estranged college-age daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is none too pleased that he’s giving her putative boyfriend a third-degree interrogation.


As if this family conflict wasn’t enough trouble, McClane is handed the absurdly routine assignment of picking up young hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long) for questioning by the FBI. Then all hell breaks loose when a band of assassins rolls out a full-scale assault on Matt’s apartment, right at the very moment that McClane is picking up his charge for a quick trip to Washington, D.C.


It’s not giving away any real surprise to inform you that Matt is one of a group of cyber geeks slated for extermination because the villains commanded by the sneering, sniveling Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) want to get rid of the few computer geniuses who could conceivably unravel their diabolical master plan.


Gabriel and his minions spare no effort to come after McClane and Matt with all the traditional firepower they can muster. The bad guys don’t want anyone to thwart what the geeks call a “fire sale,” which is apparently cyber talk for shutting down the entire computer and technical infrastructure of the United States, including all financial networks, utilities, transportation and government systems.


Since McClane hardly knows email from regular postal service, he is forced into an unlikely alliance with his geeky sidekick Matt in a quest to tap into the nerve center of the terrorists. This puts the odd couple on a road trip to West Virginia to get the reluctant help of master hacker Warlock (Kevin Smith), whose base of operations happens to be his mom’s basement. However, they spend most of their time running around Washington, D.C. and its suburbs, especially as the Capitol goes into full meltdown mode when the villains trip up the city’s transportation grid, turning the streets into carnage.


True to the franchise’s heritage, “Live Free or Die Hard” is a straight-ahead action ride, where the thrills and stunts never stop. To be sure, the action is completely over-the-top and frequently preposterous, but it matters little since this thrill ride is a pure adrenaline rush.


In an explosive freeway chase sequence, a Harrier jet in full pursuit fires upon and virtually destroys a big rig while portions of the freeway keep collapsing. A sedan hurtles through the air toward McClane and Matt, only missing them when it bounces off passing cars. How about the patrol car that McClane propels skyward like a fiery missile into a helicopter?


The straight-up best fight scene involves McClane in a vicious close-quarters fight with Gabriel’s nasty henchwoman Mai (Maggie Q), as they trade punches and kicks inside a car dangling vertically in an elevator shaft.


This fourth “Die Hard” doesn’t ask for much critical thinking, otherwise the whole premise would crumble from its outlandishness. What matters is that Bruce Willis is in a fine fettle as he wisecracks and busts chops. With his sardonic wit and fierce physical behavior in full form, his McClane character always rises to the occasion when the job becomes personal.


The film’s revenge element only seems to enhance Bruce Willis’ most capable handling of the full-blown action that “Live Free or Die Hard” requires.


Tim Riley writes film reviews for Lake County News.


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At right, KNTI DJ Eric Patrick plays at Friday's CAM JAM under a beautiful sky in downtown Lakeport. Photo by Harold LaBonte.

 

 

LAKEPORT – Week three of the 10-week Summer Concerts in the Park series spotlighted a talented group of Cobb area musicians.


Friday's concern by CAM – which stands for Cobb Area Musicians – attracted an estimated 2,100 or more people to downtown, where they enjoyed cool temperatures and good music at the CAM JAM.


CAM's members, all of whom hail from Cobb Mountain, include Dan Prather, John Gormley, Eric Patrick, Brad Hanson and Don Campbell. After the intermission, Dana Prather joined the band.


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EVAN ALMIGHTY (Rated PG)


Having performed divine miracles in “Bruce Almighty,” Morgan Freeman returns as God in “Evan Almighty,” and he’s got big plans for Jim Carrey’s former colleague and TV station rival from the original film.


Maybe this isn’t the standard sequel because Carrey has moved on to other things, and Steve Carell has moved up in the world with his burgeoning TV and film career as a comedic character.


You may recall that Carell, the smug, preening broadcaster targeted by Carrey’s pranks, could only speak in a torrent of babble while he was on the air. Thus, it should come as no surprise that in “Evan Almighty” Carell’s Evan Baxter is elected to Congress, where his affliction of incoherent prattle would prove fittingly convenient to his duties.


Right from the start, “Evan Almighty” flunks basic civics lessons. This may not matter to most, but the film opens with Evan Baxter campaigning for and winning election to Congress from Buffalo on a simple platform of “Change the World.” Putting aside this obviously frivolous electoral bromide, there’s the unlikely scenario of Evan being elected while apparently still serving as a newscaster.


He makes a farewell TV broadcast after his victory, before packing up his wife Joan (Lauren Graham) and three sons into an oversized Hummer that even Arnold Schwarzenegger wouldn’t be seen driving anymore. Then he arrives at the Capitol and scores a huge office that certainly would never go to a rookie. There’s more, and we’ll get into it later.


When Evan and Joan arrive in the suburban town of Huntsville, Va., they start a new life in an expansive home nestled in the pristine hills of a new subdivision. Making promises to his sons about a hiking trip that he will surely fail to keep, Evan the freshman Congressman is quickly engulfed by the political world once he arrives on the Hill.


His anxiety-ridden chief of staff Marty (John Michael Higgins) is officious as well as efficient. The wisecracking assistant Rita (Wanda Sykes) probably has the best lines, mostly when observing the peculiar behavior of her new boss. Meanwhile, the energetic intern Eugene (Jonah Hill) is hopelessly obsequious, dutifully taking every opportunity to become indispensable.


Meanwhile, Evan seems too naïve and oblivious to the congressional sharks circling around him in his first days in office. One of the House’s most powerful members, Congressman Long (John Goodman) is anxious to get Evan signed on as a junior co-sponsor of a bill that even the most casual observer will detect as failing to pass the simple “smell test.”


Later on, Congressman Long is seen threatening to suspend members of Congress, even though he and even the Speaker of the House have no such unilateral power. Particularly egregious is his ability to direct members of the local police force to confiscate private property. But hey, this is a movie, so why let a few troubling legal questions and constitutional limitations interfere with a good story?


To get back to the essential story, Morgan Freeman’s God appears to Evan and issues one simple, albeit ludicrous, command, namely to build an ark to prepare his family and friends for a mighty flood. As much as Evan would like to dismiss this request, he can’t to do much about all the animals of various shapes and sizes showing up on his wooded land and the birds who take over his Capitol office.


Being transformed into a modern day Noah, Evan’s appearance changes so that he’s longhaired and bearded, looking like the Unabomber and causing a stir at the Capitol with his increasingly odd behavior.


Whether he’s trying to be helpful or comical, God provides Evan with a copy of “Ark Building for Dummies” and trades in the business clothes for a flowing robe.


The comedy revolves around slapstick efforts by Evan not to lose his sanity while performing his dual job as congressman and the emissary of the Almighty. As his appearance changes radically, he baffles his staff desperately trying to cover up his idiosyncrasies. Meanwhile, he has plenty of difficulty convincing his wife and kids that his ark building is not a frantic midlife crisis.


Of course, another part of the comedy is the endless parade of TV news crews parked on his front lawn, scoffing at Evan’s apocalyptic claims of the oncoming flood.


No matter its flaws, “Evan Almighty” has a family friendly vibe that makes it appealing for a summer entertainment. Granted, surprises are few, but there are enough laughs to amuse even the more cynical audience members.


Steve Carell continues to burnish his image as a comedic force, and his Capitol Hill assistants, played by Wanda Sykes, Jonah Hill and John Michael Higgins, pull their weight for wonderful comic relief.


Tim Riley writes film reviews for Lake County News.


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Suzette's photo from Hearst Castle.

 

It is not often that this photographer sets down the old camera gear and declares "I need a break from photography!" Once in a while, I'll attend a baseball game without my 30 pounds of Nikon stuff just to remember what it is like to be a spectator. You know, there for the game and community of the sport, not on my toes running around ready for every play and reaction from umps and parents.


This time it was an escape and an excuse to go thrift shopping in San Luis Obispo, then swing up scenic Coastal Highway One and make a stop at Hearst Castle for a tour, then pick up Buffalo style chicken wings at my favorite stop in San Francisco, then head home. All of this without thoughts of shutter speeds, apertures, lenses or angles.


Just before I took off, I had some repair work done on my car. I was in the waiting room with two other women and we started chatting about our careers and why we all ended up in Ken Fowler's service center. It seems we all had just finished huge projects and were in escape mode.


I went first and explained what my trip plans were. Then artist Genine Coleman of Potter Valley shared that she had just finished painting a 7 foot tall by 85 foot wide mural for Whole Foods Store in Sonoma. The mural depicts California grown wild foods. She said she spent many hours researching and finding photographs of the foods that were represented in her mural. She then referred to those images for details as she painted.


The last contributor was a therapist from Cobb Mountain who responded to my travel plans by revealing that her grandfather had lived on the grounds of Hearst Castle while it was being built in San Simeon in the 1940's. Recently, she had discovered a set of black and white photographs showing her grandfather at work as a marble installer. She took these photographs to a docent at the castle who studied them and thanked her for sharing such an important part of the castle's historical construction.


I hit the road shortly after we shared our tales and headed straight for San Luis. I counted, on my journey, at least five rented CruiseAmerica.com RVs. Sometimes I was behind them admiring the 8 foot by 10 foot photos of Yosemite that decorated the back panels of the vehicles and sometimes I saw them coming toward me showing off the photo of the "Open Road" stripped across a panel over the cab. I finally arrived at my destination at 11 p.m. and grabbed a cheap hotel room. The next morning, I toured the hotel lobby and found historic images of the coast and Hearst Castle displayed on most walls and saw postcards and photo books about driving the scenic coast highway.


I went for an early morning walk in downtown historic San Luis where I came across a store called Photography 101. It wasn't open yet, but I peaked in the window and saw enlargers and other darkroom equipment and used cameras and lenses. In the window was a curious camera display unlike anything I had ever seen. A 35mm film camera had been dismantled and dissected. Each spring, lever, nut and bolt was glued to the white background in an assemblage style presentation. I knelt down to meet it at eye level and studied it for almost 15 minutes. I was amazed at the variety of mechanisms and how many parts it took to create a photo.


I continued my walk and came across the old Mission building where two ladies were in a quandary about how to get a photo of them together. Guess who they recruited? Me, the timely passerby. I informed them that I usually charge $100 an hour when I take or make photographs and they assumed I was kidding and giggled. I took three frames in horizontal and vertical formats and a zoom, then went on my way.


After some thrifting, I headed to the castle. As a journalist I couldn't wait to see publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst's home. I headed to the landmark and parked near a set of sight seeing telescopes. I went out to see the view and noticed the plaques on each telescope noted that they were "camera friendly" meaning you could actually hold your camera up to the eyepiece and take a photo. The scope boasted a 1750 mm telephoto ability which is six times stronger than my largest telephoto lens.


At the visitor's center, I got my ticket, stood in line and then was sent to a young photog named Carlos who politely directed me to stand in front of a green screen backdrop. (green screens allow you to easily drop out the background, usually in Photoshop, then put a new background behind the subject. They are used in most Hollywood flicks for special effects. If you go seen Evan Almighty you'll see some green screen footage at the end of the movie.) He counted 3, 2, 1 and shot a frame with his Nikon digital setup. According to this photog, there was a trailer out back set up with digital imaging stations and two editors working to create a fabulous combination of visitors and a Hearst Castle backdrop.


I took the basic "Experience" tour upon which the tour guide asked random guests where they were from and what they did. I was one of those guests questioned. I revealed that I am a digital photographer and teacher from Mendocino County. From then on, I became the resident photo go to. They announced that no flash could be used because it might deteriorate the 3000 year old artwork and all of the guests complied.


Cameras were everywhere. And so were the questions. I helped a few folks figure out how to turn off their flashes. But mostly it was the tour guide who had inquiries. We were in the main dining room and he had asked us sightseers which chair we thought Hearst himself sat in at the 60 foot long convent table.


Then out of the corner of his mouth, while waiting for an answer from the crowd, the guide asked me if it was possible to get a digital back for a medium format camera. I asked if it was Hassleblad or Mamiya and he said Hasselblad. Yes, I answered, you can buy a digital back to match those lenses as I have the same set up with my Nikon gear.


Then a newly engaged couple from L.A. wanted to know if I shoot weddings, etc. and the questions just kept on coming. And that was fine. I hopped on the bus and road down the twisted road. Got back to the visitor's center where I viewed a National Geographic film called "Hearst Castle, Building the Dream."


And of the course the photography was top-notch. This narrated flick was amazing and splashed with historical still images that made me wonder if someday, in the distant future, my photos of the Skunk Train coming around the bend or images I captured at the Fort Bragg Saw Mill before it closed down might end up on museum walls or on the big screen as documentation of history.


I left the movie theater and came across a rack of photos of tourists superimposed in front of the castle. I spotted mine and snatched it up. Good pose, I thought. I paid the lady twenty bucks for the 5x7 and four wallet sized photos of myself. When I got home, I put the photo on display on my camera shelf. Forget all the designer clothes, Nine West and Prada shoes and those Lucky Jeans I got for a dollar at the Achievement House Thrift Store. The photo of me at Hearst Castle is the souvenir I'll cherish most.

 

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Suzette Cook-Mankins is a 20 year veteran of photojournalism. Send comments, questions and requests to suzettecook.com or 272-4714.


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The Starter Wife commercials on the USA network have been so insistent about the heroine's choice for the final episode, which airs Thursday night – will Molly take up with Sam or Lou?


As a Hollywood starter wife – the one who gets dumped for someone glitzier when her husband achieves mogul status – Molly's been spending some time in Malibu. She's dated both guys: Sam, a former investment broker who is now homeless and doing what looks like lifelong penance for a death he caused, and Lou, an even bigger mogul than Molly's ex. Lou is a bit of a nut case, faking suicide and then attending his own funeral in drag to find out who his real friends are.


Why am I watching this brain candy, you ask? For one thing, we all need a bit of silliness, and it's only six episodes. For a few others, Debra Messing stars as Molly, I enjoy looking at rich people's houses, and I lived in Malibu for a few years before it was totally populated by moguls, so I think I sort of know these people. Call it nostalgia.


In the opening episode, Molly wakes up to a call from her husband, who wants that dog poop cleaned up right now, and apparently doesn't know how to tell the maid himself. It's very 1960s, full of wives who devote their days and nights to keeping their houses perfect and husbands comfortable and husbands who devote their spare time to affairs.


Everything's very materialistic and shallow until Molly moves into a friend's beach house in Malibu Colony, which has been accurately called “the world's most expensive ghetto”. She's lonely, so she makes friends with the young black woman on duty at the colony guardhouse. Pretty soon, she's surrounded by normal folks with normal problems, and filled with empathy and compassion.


And faced with this decision: sweetie Sam or troubled Lou? A roofless camp in the palm trees or three houses plus a flat in Paris?


You know what? I'm betting on neither. There have been hints that she knows how to take care of herself and has some talents. She just might strike out on her own, exploring the newly independent self she has discovered. Wouldn't that be a kick?


Trivia:


  • In the book by Gigi Levangie Grazer, the Molly character is called Gracie. That would be a bit repetitious for Messing after her long starring role in “Will and Grace.”

  • Gossip columns are reporting that Grazer and her mogul husband, Brian Grazer, have separated. Again.

  • On the show's message board, they're a lot more concerned about whether it will become a series than about which guy Molly will choose. And they love Joe Mantegna, who plays Lou.

  • The Pond's “product placements” just might ensure I never buy their products again.

  • Judy Davis is great as a sneaky alcoholic.

E-mail Sophie Annan Jensen at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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It would be easy to say that Alice Waters started her now famous Chez Panisse restaurant just so she could star in her own movie. That would be to ignore her generous impulse to gather friends together for conversation over good food.


Waters fled the turmoil of Vietnam war protests at UC Berkeley in the mid-60s for a year at the Sorbonne. That's where she discovered the glories of fresh local food, and the inexpensive bistro.


She certainly didn't intend to start a food revolution, but the revolution is in full swing today, with supermarket chains trying to lure back their picky shoppers with organic and fair trade foods, and an international Slow Food movement with 80,000 members.


Thomas McNamee is best known for his writing on the environment and the natural world. He does a superb job here of placing the neighborhood restaurant in the environment.


Alice's critics, some of whom worked in the restaurant, are apt to say she's impossible to work with because of her perfectionism about the food, the décor, the flowers. Others complain her only goal is to making money, but McNamee relates the struggles her investors have had to restrain her impulse to ignore the cost, so long as she got the very best to serve the customers. At times, she's been under orders from her financial advisors (including her father) to stop writing checks to charities: She ignored it. It took many years for the restaurant to turn a profit. Alice was always a reluctant cook, who much preferred talking to customers in the dining room. It looks as if getting her out of the kitchen and onto the international stage was the key to profitability.


When she opened Chez Panisse, Alice was in a relationship with Tom Luddy, a discerning film buff who now is co-director of the Telluride Film Festival. Not surprisingly, watching movies was part of the experience in the early days of Chez Panisse, when a full dinner cost $3.75. In fact, the whole venture is based on Marcel Pagnol's Provence trilogy, Marius, Fanny and César.


Her closest relationships have always been a major part of Alice's restaurant, even when the men were gay. Jeremiah Tower's stint in the kitchen created a more formal atmosphere; Fanny, her daughter with ex-husband Stephen Singer, inspired her campaigns for improved food in school lunches, and school gardens. Some friends have created businesses based on her needs, others have created restaurants, based on improving her model.


There are a few charming recipes (like baked goat cheese with garden lettuce, an herb omelette) and lots of gossip, but it's really all about passion, and the strange paths that can create.


Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution. Thomas McNamee, Penguin Press, March, 2007.


E-mail Sophie Annan Jensen at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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Upcoming Calendar

27Sep
09.27.2022 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
27Sep
09.27.2022 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Rotary Club of Clear Lake
28Sep
09.28.2022 5:30 pm - 7:30 pm
Levee and flood risk workshop
29Sep
09.29.2022 7:30 am - 8:30 am
Rotary Club of Middletown
1Oct
10.01.2022 7:00 am - 11:00 am
Sponsoring Survivorship annual walk and run
1Oct
10.01.2022 8:00 am - 2:00 pm
Konocti Challenge
1Oct
1Oct
10.01.2022 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
1Oct
10.01.2022 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
20th annual Falling Leaves Quilt Show

Mini Calendar

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