Wednesday, 17 April 2024

Arts & Life

LAKEPORT – All acoustical musicians, singers, songwriters, poets and magicians are welcome to the next free open mic on Saturday, April 5, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Cafe Victoria, 301 Main St., Lakeport.


This is an originals-only open mic, which allows only your own work or public domain work to be performed.


Listeners are encouraged to come by and clap, whistle or stomp for our performers. All ages are welcome.


Call Phil for questions, 263-3391.


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21 (Rated PG-13)


Counting cards while playing blackjack in Vegas casinos isn’t illegal, but it would be unwise to try to convince a pit boss on the finer points of the law. According to “21,” you could end up in the hotel basement, facing the business end of the fists of a casino enforcer, which in the case of this movie arrives courtesy of the very intimidating Laurence Fishburne. Since the mob has given way to corporate sharks, ejection from a casino is more often a case of being asked to leave and never return.


Loosely inspired by Ben Mezrich’s book “Bringing Down the House,” the story of math geniuses at MIT who beat Vegas at its own game, “21” is an obvious dramatization that seeks to punch up the caper with high stakes action, close calls with security staff and the glitzy seduction of the glamorous Vegas lifestyle.


Brilliant college students succeeded at raking in millions by card-counting, but they likely ran the operation as a well-oiled machine that stuck to a serious business model. As a movie is wont to do, “21” glamorizes Vegas as if it were on the payroll of the Chamber of Commerce.


The linchpin of the “21” caper is shy, brilliant MIT senior Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), who’s been accepted to Harvard Medical School but either needs to win a coveted scholarship or must cough up $300,000 for tuition.


On both counts, Ben’s prospects look bleak until he’s noticed by unorthodox math professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey), who runs his classroom as if students were contestants on “Jeopardy.” Actually, the professor is on the lookout for talented pupils with an aptitude for numbers.


Moonlighting as the head of a card-counting ring, Professor Rosa recruits Ben to his inner circle of gifted students who take weekend trips from Boston to Vegas for fun and profit. Clandestine meetings take place at night in vacant classrooms, as Rosa instructs his charges on the intricacies of counting cards and employing strategies to evade detection by casino security.


Ben is quickly attracted to the cause by the presence of smart and sexy teammate Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth). It’s not surprising, then, that they later find more in common than just a deck of cards. What’s a caper without the romantic angle that threatens the whole setup?


Seduced by more than a pretty girl and a ton of money, Ben pushes the limits of his mathematical abilities. In the process, his exceptional skills rather quickly alienate the team’s blackjack prodigy, the mercurial and arrogant Fisher (Jacob Pitts), who proves exceedingly resentful at becoming second fiddle to the newcomer. The estrangement between the two card players kicks in the right note of tension to spice up the plot. Otherwise, we just have to marvel how Choi (Aaron Yoo) and Kianna (Liza Lapira) go about the task of playing spotters, flashing signals about a table being hot or whether it is time to flee in haste.


The signal-calling doesn’t come fast enough to save Ben from a particularly nasty encounter with Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne), an old school security specialist with a knack for finding card counters just by simple observation and gut instinct. Before getting caught, Ben and his crew are very audacious, but since the kids are perhaps too smart for their own good, they get caught up in the idea of their perceived invincibility. “21” turns on a character study of how the mild-mannered Ben is swept up by the glitzy lifestyle. More than just being seduced by the heady rush of gambling, Ben also has a showdown with the professor over his authoritarian style.


In the end, “21” strains to find a reasonable climax to the mounting tension induced by turmoil within the ranks and the unraveling of the team’s anonymity. As if playing cat-and-mouse with the casinos is not exciting enough, the plot winds up with a series of double-crosses that seem forced and gratuitous. And yet, “21” is fun to watch because Kevin Spacey is chewing up the scenery as usual.


DVD RELEASE UPDATE


To be sure, there are plenty of newer film titles being released on DVD. I choose instead to point out the new Collector’s Editions on some old favorites, which are closely timed to the start of the baseball season.


“Bull Durham” is the comedy classic about sex and sport that follows a minor-league baseball fan (Susan Sarandon) and the love triangle she creates in the clubhouse between an up-and-coming pitcher (Tim Robbins) and the mentor catcher (Kevin Costner) assigned to him. The Collector’s Edition contains five all-new behind-the-scenes featurettes.


The true story of the “Black Sox” scandal of 1919 where the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series is sharply realized in the underrated “Eight Men Out.”


Lastly, acting legend Gary Cooper stars as the legendary Lou Gehrig in “Pride of the Yankees,” featuring seven brand new featurettes.


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


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The cast of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." Photo courtesy of Christian Yeagan.

 


LAKEPORT – Charlie Brown has been with us always, it seems. We have all grown up with him and loved him in the comics. But the Clear Lake High School version of Charles Schulz' wonderful play about Charlie will only exist for one weekend. Aargh!


That's right. This Thursday, March 27; Friday, March 28; and Saturday, March 29, at 7 p.m. in the Marge Alakszay Center on the Lakeport campus ... these are the only chances we will have to listen and laugh to the sweet truths of life as only Charlie, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, Patty, the little red-headed girl and, of course, Snoopy, can present them.


This particular group of 5-year-olds is played by some very talented high school students under the creative direction of Pam Bradley, Clear Lake High's small but mighty drama coach.


"I have always wanted to do this show," she confesses. "It takes a combination of maturity and ability in the performers, and these kids have it. I knew it would be great ... and it is!"


"The thing I like best about this show is that everybody has a great attitude," says Danielle Howard (who plays Schroeder).


Great attitude? This is true. The cast has been there for each other, bringing props from home (How many baseball mitts do you need?) and showing up on Saturdays to paint the set ... and paint ... and paint.


Put these kids together with an equally talented band under the direction of Jenny Ingram and a set that even Charles Schulz would be proud of ... (Keep your eye on the dog house!) ... and you have an evening's > entertainment that will leave you smiling for weeks. To quote Snoopy, "Woof!"


Tickets are on sale at the Clear Lake High School front office, both reserved and general seating (262-3010), and at the Lakeport Regional Chamber of Commerce, 875 Lakeport Blvd., general seating only (263-5092).


Reserved tickets are $10, general admission is $7 and admission for students and seniors is $5. For more information (or to speak privately with Snoopy), feel free to call 279-2595. Woof!

 

 

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The play with share the Peanuts gang's unique view of life. Photo courtesy of Christian Yeagan.
 

 


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GREEN HOMES: NEW IDEAS FOR SUSTAINABLE LIVING, Sergi Costa Duran, Collins Design, 192 pages. $35.


If you're wedded to conventional architectural design from other times you're not likely to see the beauty of these buildings. Might as well stop reading right now.


Lance Hosey, an international specialist in green building who wrote the introduction, is a columnist for Architect magazine. In April, 2007, he wrote “Sustainability need not hamper innovation — in fact, it requires it — but green architects have focused their ingenuity almost exclusively on materials and methods. As a result, the work is not always easy on the eyes. The ugly truth about green building is that much of it is ugly.”


You won't find ugly in this collection of designs from Europe to Australia (several in California). You'll find space and light, consideration of the landscape and a great deal of practical information on building green and sustainable.


Author Sergi Costa Duran lives in Barcelona and studied agricultural engineering with an emphasis on environmental preservation at Spain's University of Lleida. That seems worth noting for a couple of reasons; Spain's very long coastline and desert interior give it some serious environmental vulnerability. And, since the end of the Franco regime, the long-repressed country has been fairly bursting with innovation in the arts.


Green Homes presents some fascinating innovations in sustainable architecture and fresh design. For instance, Seatrain House, in a Los Angeles community of 300 lofts incorporating shipping containers, with grain trailers used as a small pond and a lap pool.


The book features 35 projects, including houses, apartments, offices, sports facilities, and factories. It explores various aspects of green design, from its ecological and economical benefits, to factors considered when choosing materials: how much energy went into manufacturing the product, whether it is long lasting, and whether it can be recycled or safely disposed of as it breaks down over time. Specific topics covered include climate regulation, drainage systems, and regional planning. Each project contains photographs, floor plans and detailed drawings that illustrate certain sustainable features, revealing how much the parameters of ecological design have expanded in recent years.


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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Stephen King doesn't always hit the bull's-eye, and sometimes the quality is all over the place in the same book. His work often seems to be produced by two distinct personalities, one a kid enamored of ripping yarns, the other a thoughtful, even spiritual, adult. It's a topic he has dealt with in “The Dark Half” and in his autobiographical “On Writing,” in which he discusses his years of addiction to drugs and booze.

DUMA KEY, Stephen King

Scribner, 2008. 609 pages.$28.00.

 

LOCATION LOCATION, Kit Sloane

Durban House Press, 234 pages. $15.95


 

“Duma Key” is one of those for me, with mesmerizing sections on his protagonist's newly discovered talent for painting, interspersed with sections I'd just as soon skip on horrors and creepy crawlies. That's not because they scare me – they don't, in fact, I usually find them pretty amusing – but because they seem shallow next to his explorations of relationships and the psyche.

 

Edgar Freemantle is horribly injured in an encounter with a construction crane. He loses his right arm, and gains artistic and psychic abilities which would be surprising anywhere but in a King book. He chooses Duma Key,an imaginary island off Florida's west coast, for convalescence after his wife divorces him. She's as terrified by his rages as he is by frustration and memory lapses.


Interspersed with chapters on the horrific history of a longtime Florida family, he gives us some little gems on creation, titled

How to Draw a Picture. They could just as well be called How to Write, or How to Live. Samples:

 

I: “Start with a blank surface.”

IV: “Start with what you know, then reinvent it.”

XI: “Don't quit until the picture's complete. . . . Talent is a wonderful thing, but it won't carry a quitter.”


In some ways, his best yet, especially for explorations of male friendship, female variety and the art world.

 

*** 


Lake County author Kit Sloane, drawing on visits to her daughter-in-law's home in Panama, moves her movie-themed mystery series there from its usual wine country locations.

 

Film editor Margot O'Banion and director Max Skull are about to make their first independent feature film, The Big Ditch, with their own money and an investor. Trouble is, the investor disappears almost as soon as they arrive in Panama, before he tells them where the money is. Their male star arrives with his spiritual guide from a cult called Fateology and his flamboyant agent, two women with nothing in common except a desire to control the poor guy. The cult has the motto "stardom is coming", and should be more fun than it is.


While Margot races around the country trying to find the missing investor, a new money man with some dubious Colombian ties appears, quickly followed by another Fateologist, a movie star turned enforcer, who wants the Colombian off the scene.

 

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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DRILLBIT TAYLOR (Rated PG-13)


A comedy about three young outcasts confronting their high school misfortunes sounds like the storyline for “Superbad.” That hilarious movie was produced by Judd Apatow, who’s in the business of churning out recent runaway comedy hits such as “Knocked Up” and “Talladega Nights.”


Not surprisingly, Apatow's fingerprints are all over “Drillbit Taylor,” the latest in the pantheon of comedies with distinctly youthful flavor. Yep, a trio of anxious freshmen enters high school, only to find that they have descended to a level of hell that even Dante could not contemplate.


Best friends Wade (Nate Hartley), the freakishly skinny, bespectacled wannabe magician, and chubby Ryan (Troy Gentile), channeling the persona of Jack Black, are humiliated from day one when they show up at school wearing the same bowling shirt.


They become instant targets for the seriously deranged Filkins (Alex Frost), a psychotic bully prone to violently erratic behavior, especially after Wade intervenes on behalf of the extremely nerdy and short Emmit (David Dorfman), who’s been unceremoniously stuffed inside a school locker.


Of course, Emmit desperately latches on to Wade and Ryan because there’s absolutely no way anyone else will even talk to the dweeb. The wisecracking Ryan would rather ditch their new acquaintance, but circumstances conspire to keep them together. Suddenly, the idea of high school as this great place to be turns into a daily living hell.


After a series of unfortunate events caused by Filkins’ reign of terror, the boys realize that the habitual apathy of the school system dooms their remaining days unless they take drastic action. Principal Doppler (Stephen Root) is oblivious to the mayhem created by Filkins and more inclined to blame the victims.


After some Internet research, the freshmen decide they need to hire a personal bodyguard. The film’s funniest moments involve a succession of interviews with a wide variety of applicants at a local coffee shop. Some prospects are truly inept; others are prohibitively expensive.


Though living very comfortably in an upscale neighborhood, the boys can only hire a bodyguard that an allowance can afford. Enter Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson), wearing old Army fatigues and spouting a resume of military service worthy of Rambo.


In reality and to no one’s surprise, Drillbit is a low-rent mercenary whose Army service is questionable. He claims to be skilled in covert black-ops and exotic martial arts, which includes dubious Mexican judo. A homeless bum who spends time with his buddies on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Drillbit lives a squatter’s life in a tent on a cliff overlooking the ocean. His motivation in helping the rich kids is to score enough money so that he can move to Canada, where freeloading appears to be easier.


To keep his cash flow running, Drillbit initiates his credulous charges in a ridiculous boot camp, leading to several hilarious missteps. Notwithstanding his grandiose claims, Drillbit is no match for Filkins, let alone any minor altercations.


Before the kids become too suspicious that their valuables seem to mysteriously disappear, Drillbit ends up being mistaken for a substitute teacher, and suddenly he’s teaching a number of courses. He tells his homeless buddies that the secret to impersonating a teacher is to constantly hold a coffee mug while hanging out in the teacher’s lounge.


A few complications set in when his substitute act draws attention from the pretty English teacher (Leslie Mann), and suddenly he’s more interested in the romantic possibilities. When his clients become weary of the drifter’s act, Drillbit not unexpectedly, having developed a bond with the kids, has to fess up to his deception, and in the process becomes the savior he had promised to be.


Suffering from misdirection and too many twists, “Drillbit Taylor” drills the empty patches of comedy too many times. To be sure, there are plenty of funny things happening, but the plot lacks cohesion. The kids are likable, though the pint-sized member of the trio gets too annoying. Owen Wilson delivers his trademark slacker routine as if he was sleepwalking, but at least he’s amusing for the most part.


DVD RELEASE UPDATE


Asian martial arts cinema is becoming more accessible by means of DVD releases.


From acclaimed director Johnnie To, who racks up bushels of Hong Kong Film Awards nominations, “PTU: Police Tactical Unit” follows a band of night patrol cops on a tough night, when a gang leader is mysteriously murdered and a detective loses his gun to four young thugs.


The PTU finds itself in the middle of a war between two gangs, building towards an explosive and violent conclusion.


“13: Game of Death” tempts a jobless man in serious debt to complete 13 increasingly gruesome tasks as he is lured into a violent game of life and death. Adapted from a Thai manga graphic novel, this film examines how far one would go for wealth.


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


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Upcoming Calendar

18Apr
04.18.2024 11:00 am - 3:00 pm
Earth Day celebration
20Apr
04.20.2024 10:00 am - 3:00 pm
Earth Day Celebration
Calpine Geothermal Visitor Center
20Apr
04.20.2024 8:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Boatique Wines Stand-up Comedy Night
25Apr
04.25.2024 1:30 pm - 7:30 pm
FireScape Mendocino workshop
27Apr
04.27.2024 10:00 am - 2:00 pm
Northshore Ready Fest
27Apr
04.27.2024 10:00 am - 2:00 pm
Prescription Drug Take Back Day
27Apr
04.27.2024 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Inaugural Team Trivia Challenge
5May
05.05.2024
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6May
05.06.2024 11:00 am - 4:00 pm
Senior Summit

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