Saturday, 15 June 2024

Arts & Life

The NFL playoffs, at least for sports fans, are the best thing happening on television right now. Unless you are catching up on movies released before the holidays, it’s a bleak time at the cinema. Film studios did not bother to provide press screenings for new films like the “Alien vs. Predator” sequel and the horror flick “One Missed Call.” No one needs to be a clairvoyant to figure these films are stinkers to be avoided at all cost. This leaves us with television as the mass medium for entertainment.

While not keeping the late night shows off the air, the continuing writers strike is throwing a monkey wrench into TV programming, and sadly this situation shows no sign of being resolved any time soon. For the first time in memory, the nation’s TV critics won’t be gathering in Los Angeles this January for the press tour to preview new TV series and specials. Did I mention it’s becoming a bleak time on television?

At some point, due to the strike, the television and cable networks will eventually run out of new scripted programs. That leaves us with the troubling possibility of more reality shows. Hasn’t CBS run out of interesting places for “Survivor,” and for that matter, does anyone really care?

In any case, the granddaddy of reality shows, “American Idol,” returns on FOX for a two-month run for twice weekly shows, until late February when it kicks into three nights a week. Talk about filling up the TV schedule!

“American Idol” jump starts the FOX schedule with a two-night, four-hour premiere featuring outrageous new auditions on Tuesday, Jan. 15 and Wednesday, Jan. 16.

Episodes featuring the auditions held across the country in San Diego, Dallas, Omaha, Atlanta, Charleston, Miami and Philadelphia will air on four consecutive Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The lucky hopefuls who get the judges’ approval move on to the Hollywood Round which starts up in mid-February, at which time dreams come true for 24 contestants when the Top 12 male and Top 12 female semifinalists are picked.

Then it will be up to you, America, to decide who moves forward in the competition, and after a series of elimination rounds it all comes down to the final vote being revealed on Wednesday, March 12.

Long ago in her teen years, the pretty Elizabeth Berkley showed promise in her starring role on the TV series “Saved by the Bell.” Later, her career took a big nose dive playing a Las Vegas stripper in “Showgirls,” a huge flop at the box office that only later acquired classic cult status in DVD release.

Now she’s stepping up, so to speak, as the host of a dance show, a reality series on Bravo called “Step It Up and Dance.” There will be no need for Elizabeth to work the stripper’s pole, because after all this series involves more serious choreography. As expected in a reality series, there will be 12 dancers competing for a $100,000 top prize in “Step It Up and Dance,” which may not air until spring.

Lifetime Network has a Friday night reality programming block, with such shows as “How to Look Good Naked,” “Top This Party: Orange County” and “Top This Party: Las Vegas.” Recently added to the lineup at the start of January is “Matched in Manhattan.” Matt Titus, New York’s premiere relationship expert and dating coach, specializes in helping both single women and gay men find their Mr. Right. “Matched in Manhattan” follows Matt and his business partners as they hit the streets and cafes of New York City to show their clients what it takes to snag the man of their dreams.

One way to beat the strike blues is to bring back old classics, and this is what GSN is doing with old favorite panel shows such as “What’s My Line?” and “I’ve Got a Secret.” The longest running primetime game show ever, “What’s My Line?” consisted of four panelists who tried to guess either the unusual occupations of guest contestants or products associated with them.

“I’ve Got a Secret” featured four celebrity panelists who by cross examination tried to determine each contestant’s secret. GSN is airing these old classics from 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. every morning, thus securing a lock on the viewing habits of insomniacs. This is your chance to see celebrities like Jayne Mansfield, Milton Berle and Liberace, but it would seem not all that difficult to recreate these programs with a contemporary vibe.

Notwithstanding the ongoing work stoppage, it’s not all reality and game shows in TV land. FOX is launching the two-night premiere of “Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles” on Sunday, Jan. 13 and Monday, Jan. 14.

“The Sarah Connor Chronicles” represents an exciting reinvention of the “Terminator” franchise, in which the strong and intrepid Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) discovers that protecting her 15-year-old son John (Thomas Dekker) and stopping the rise of the machines is more difficult than she had ever imagined.

Sarah and John are joined by Cameron (Summer Glau), an enigmatic and otherworldly high school student who proves to be much more than a friend, and James Ellison (Richard T. Jones), an FBI agent hot on the trail who soon becomes a powerful ally. There’s nothing in the press notes to suggest that the governor is making a cameo appearance.

Thanks to a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation, the CBS Network features an original movie in late January, “The Russell Girl.” Amber Tamblyn, best known for her starring role in the CBS series “Joan of Arcadia,” stars in the titular role of Sarah Russell, a young woman locating to Chicago where she works as a department store buyer. While in Chicago she receives some unsettling news, which brings her back to her small-town roots. A woman of secrets, Sarah has a past she’s run away from, and now she’s consumed by guilt over something that happened half-a-dozen years ago.

The Hallmark Channel is busy putting on its own original movies. In the titular role of “The Good Witch,” Catherine Bell’s beautiful and mysterious Cassandra Nightingale moves into Grey House, the haunted mansion in a small town. Opening a new age shop in the center of town, Cassandra sets about winning over the town folk with her seemingly magical remedies, but trouble is brewing and not everyone has fallen under her spell.

“Melrose Place” star Laura Leighton stars in “Daniel’s Daughter” as Catherine Madighan, a New York career woman with a high-powered job and millionaire finance. But when she’s told that her estranged father has died and his last request was for her to escort his ashes to their tiny Massachusetts hometown, Catherine begins a journey that will lead her to question the beliefs she’s held about herself, her father and her seemingly perfect life.

Cable networks remain active with new, though familiar, product. HBO launches the fifth and final season of the Emmy Award-winning series “The Wire.” Centered on the vagaries of crime, law enforcement, politics and the media in the drug-saturated streets of West Baltimore, “The Wire” continues its gritty drama that has won so much acclaim. Showtime continues the fifth season of “The L Word,” with its trademark provocative storylines, sizzling sexuality and heart-rending emotion. If you know what the L word is, then you can figure out why the series stars a long list of women, ranging from Jennifer Beals and Pam Grier, to Marlee Matlin and Cybill Shepherd.

Saving the best for last, it’s good to report that everyone’s favorite neurotic detective is returning for a sixth season of unconventional sleuthing. Indeed, Tony Shalhoub is back once more as the obsessive-compulsive Adrian Monk. In the winter season premiere of “Monk,” Adrian Monk infiltrates a cult to solve a murder, only to fall under the spell of its charismatic leader.

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


CLEARLAKE – We have often heard the phrase, "Does my vote count?" A more important question might be, "Is my vote even counted?"

Second Sunday Cinema's free film for Jan. 13 is "Hacking Democracy," which makes a calm, close, even-handed search for an answer.

Bev Harris, an investigative writer and grandmother, was concerned enough about reports of "stolen elections" and non-secure electronic voting machines to launch what turned out to be quite an adventure. Happily, a camera went with her, and the result is entertaining, inspiring and chilling, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican.

Harris crisscrossed the nation, diving into dumpsters and digging into trash cans (all quite legal). She confronted blank-faced county officials and hired world-class hackers to try the system.

Because every voter needs to see this film – especially in an election year – I will not ruin the suspense by sharing the outcome. Please take note: We here in little rural Lake County may feel safe, because we (at least in some precincts) use paper ballots. Unfortunately, all the votes are still compiled on electronic vote-counting machines.

As Bev Harris puts it, "The weakest link in the human chain can destroy the integrity of the election simply by swapping a memory card or popping in a USB memory stick."

In one memorable, probable example of the above, in one precinct in Florida, the total for Al Gore in 2000 was MINUS 16,022 votes!

This documentary will be shown on Jan. 13, and marks the first complete year of Second Sunday Cinema's ongoing series of free films.

The venue is the social hall of the Clearlake United Methodist Church at 14521 Pearl St., near Mullen.

Doors open at 5:30 p.m. for snacks and socializing. The film starts at 6 p.m., and is followed by time to hang out and meet new people and discuss the film.

You can get more information at 279-2957. As always, this film is free.


UPPER LAKE – Upper Lake's Blue Wing Saloon and Tallman Hotel, one of the county's top entertainment venues, has lined up great entertainment acts in the the coming weeks and months.

Blue Wing and Tallman Hotel owner Bernard Butcher reported that the saloon and hotel will soon be hosting a variety of acts in different musical genres.

In January, the Blue Wing's “Monday Blues” lineup will include Twice As Good with Paul and Rich Steward on Jan. 7 and 14; Memphis Exchange with Jeff Eades, Randy McGowen and Steven Guererro on Jan. 21; and the Mark Weston Band with Walt Rangel and Scott Slagle on Jan. 28.

From January through May, the Tallman Hotel will host its second annual "Concerts with Conversation" series on the third Thursday of each month.

The series includes Phebe Craig (harpsichord) and Michael Sand (violin) on Jan. 17; John Mattern (piano, guitar and vocals) on Feb. 21; Ragtime evening with David Reffkin (violin) and Chris Alexander (piano) on March 20; Elena Casanova (classical and Cuban piano) on April 17; and Lakeside Chamber Players with Clovice Lewis (cello), Catharine Hall (flute) and Carolyn Hawley (piano) on May 15.

For more information visit the Blue Wing Saloon online,, telephone, 707-275-2233; or the Tallman Hotel,, telephone 707-275-2244.


Host Phil Mathewson gets ready for the show. Photo by Joanne Bateni.


LAKEPORT – Jan. 5 saw the biggest open mic ever at Café Victoria.

The event featured regulars Lorna Sue Sides, Poetry Interlude founder; Erv Howell, honky-tonk stylist; and Dick Flowers, a cappella singer starting off the show.

Newbies included Andy Rossoff, who played the house piano and sang some of his favorite songs. Andy is a self-taught musician and an open mic virgin. He can be seen playing keyboard in a band called Leftys.

Everybody’s favorite doctor, Milan Hopkins, MD of Upper Lake, strummed his guitar and sang some cool tunes.

Donavan made his second appearance at the open mic, singing his original songs while playing his guitar.

Lourdes Thuesen joined us for the first time, reading a few poems for the full house.

Carley Rae, another first-timer, read a short poem near the end of the session.

Host Phil Mathewson played his mandolin and sang a few of his original songs between acts.

Café owner, Victoria Philips, treated everyone to her freshly baked carrot cake muffins and ice cream.

Next open mic is Saturday Feb. 2. Come early for a good seat.



Poet Lorna Sue Sides reads one of her favorite poems. Photo by Joanne Bateni.



LAKEPORT – Ring in the new year with music and tricks on Saturday, Jan. 5, at Cafe Victoria.

Musicians and magicians will entertain from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

There is no charge for this event and all ages are welcome.

Sign up to perform at Cafe Victoria, 301 Main St., Lakeport, or call the event's host, Phil Mathewson, at 263-3391.



While we are waiting around for Harrison Ford to return as Indiana Jones, it’s not so bad to watch an imitator about half his age taking on the role of a globe-trotting adventurer in search of treasure.

Nicolas Cage is no low-rent Indy, considering that he established himself nicely as treasure hunter Ben Gates in “National Treasure,” which had the salutary effect of making American history a lot more fun than one would ever imagine possible when measured against the average high school history textbook.

However, while the “National Treasure” films have no real educational value as history lessons, it is probably an article of faith for unwary filmgoers that the Masons have buried treasure maps within many of our most treasured national monuments. After all, it’s more fun to think some mysterious group holds the keys to deeply concealed secrets.

“National Treasure: Book of Secrets” is more than willing to push heavy doses of fictional history in service of advancing an interesting story. In its efforts to make history alive and vital, this sequel expands the story into a global adventure, but not before opening up with a flashback to the assassination of Abe Lincoln.

Nicolas Cage returns as Ben Gates, assisted by his father, university professor Patrick Gates (Jon Voight), and the mission is much more personal.

The father and son team are shaken by the discovery of one of the long-lost pages from the diary of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth. The diary was found on Booth’s body when he was killed, but several pages that had been torn from the diary had never been found until now.

Surprisingly, the information on a recovered page seems to implicate their ancestor Thomas Gates as a conspirator in the plot to kill Lincoln.

Of course, we know this is bogus right from the start, since the evidence has been brought forward by highly suspect Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris), whose efforts to uncover his family history oddly seem to require the services of menacing henchmen.

Meanwhile, Ben has to reassemble his crack team of history investigators, which is complicated by the fact that he’s now estranged from his old flame, American history archivist Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger). Ben’s tech-wiz partner Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) is game for the mission, considering that his Ferrari has just been impounded for unpaid taxes.

For reasons not to be fully explained here, the story takes Ben and his crew to foreign locales, starting with a quick trip to Paris where a replica of the Statue of Liberty provides a coded message in one of its inscriptions. Then the gang is off to England where the mission becomes much more daunting, particularly when Ben has to sneak into the Queen’s private quarters at Buckingham Palace. A dazzling street chase occurs in London, which is hard to believe because gridlock is a constant in this capital city.

Having retrieved a clue from Queen Elizabeth’s desk, Ben takes the action back to Washington, D.C., where the objective becomes the need to find another clue from a matching desk that is only found in the White House.

At some point, it becomes necessary for Ben to call for help from his mother, linguistics professor Emily Appleton (Helen Mirren), as only she can translate the clues written in an obscure Native American dialect. Before heading off on an archaeological hunt in the vicinity of Mount Rushmore, there’s also the small matter of the abduction of the president of the United States (Bruce Greenwood).

By the way, the presidential kidnapping brings into focus what the “Book of Secrets” is all about. Tapping into the conspiracy theory mindset, this supposed secret book is for the eyes only of the president, and it turns out to be some sort of historical scrapbook that holds top secret letters and documents. Naturally, Ben needs something that’s in the secret book, if only because the story is so improbable that it serves the plot to have him chasing after something that should be absolutely unattainable.

Notwithstanding its essential silliness, “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” has a surprisingly large number of high-caliber cast members, certainly more than the plot warrants. The film also benefits from plenty of humor that helps to distract from the thin plot. Action sequences kick in with enough punch to keep everything lively.

Simply put, “National Treasure” may not shine as bright the second time around, but there’s plenty of adventure and fun to keep audiences flocking to this sequel.

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


Upcoming Calendar

Father's Day
06.16.2024 8:00 am - 9:00 pm
Middletown Days
06.16.2024 9:00 am - 11:30 am
Moose Lodge Father’s Day breakfast
06.18.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
06.19.2024 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
Free veterans dinner
06.22.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
06.22.2024 5:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Love of the Land Dinner
06.25.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park

Mini Calendar



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