Tucson Local Media: Liven Up

Liven Up

Entertainment Headlines

  • One of the best golf films ever: “Tommy’s Honour”

    It’s always fascinating to be caught off-guard by incredible true stories that educate and entertain us on the big-screen.Take for instance last year’s best picture nominated “Hidden Figures,” about three brilliant African-American women who played enormous roles in our nation’s space program back in the 1960's. Did I miss that day in school or did the textbooks on segregation and women’s rights egregiously omit it? Thankfully, we have enlightened screenplay writers that meticulously research and push these historic accounts upon a director willing to make it all come to life again on film.“Tommy’s Honour” is directed by Jason Connery (the son of Hollywood legend Sean Connery) and depicts the early days of golf found in Scotland.  Set in the late 1860s at the “Home of Golf”, we’re introduced to St. Andrews’ greenkeeper Tom Morris, the father of Tommy Morris.  This offspring, the “Young Tom” Morris, goes on to become one of the greatest golfers of all-time and is still the youngest major champion in golf history (at 17 years of age).In one of the best golf films ever produced, “Tommy’s Honour” flourishes with a tip of the hat to the archaic, challenging European golf courses while taking us along the young man’s constantly changing personal relationships.  Never willing to accept a mulligan in life, the brazen swing master confidently confronts his old man, clubhouse royalty with their payout shenanigans, and those standing between he and his romantic love interest.Treating the problems like deep sand traps and knee-high rough on a golf course, Tommy sidesteps these hazards to go on to win The Open Championship, turn heads, and change minds.

  • Laughter on the high seas at The Gaslight Theatre

    Sailing the Spanish Main in search of a treasure chest of cursed gold, saving the woman you love and foiling the aspirations of a pirate crew is an endeavor full of adventure, danger and a bit of romance. Add the cast and crew of The Gaslight Theatre to the mix, and the resultant performance is a night of guaranteed fun.Dropping anchor once again at the theatre is “The Curse of the Pirate’s Gold.” Written and directed by Peter Can Slyke, “Curse” fits fully within the theatre’s long established, tongue-in-cheek brand of melodrama, and is one of the most memorable performances within the Gaslight repertoire.The hero this time around is Dr. Bartholomew Steele, a right-good fellow held captive aboard the Regale Eagle on charges for which he is quite innocent. Uncaring to Steele’s declaration of innocence is the evil Capt. Reginald Spaulding, who will soon take control of the Caribbean colonies as the new British Governor. The struggle between Steele and Spaulding to find the bounty of Capt. Blackheart’s cursed treasure, played to perfection by Gaslight regular Todd Thompson and perennial good-guy Jake Chapman, is only intensified by their mutual desire for the beautiful Prudence Fairchild (Janée Page).Mostly bearded, armed and full of pirate refrains, the cast is completed by outstanding performances from true Gaslight veteran Armen Dirtadian (who joined the cast in 1983) as Captain Scuttle; one-liner maestro Jacob Brown as Gibbet; fan-favorite Mike Yarema as Dryrot; the always hilarious Jake Coffin as Scrum; the energetic and exciting Erin Thompson as the newly initiated pirate Molly and rounded off with vocal excellence by Heather Stricker as the conspiring Consuela.The story plays out rather expectedly in its course through the high seas, though the mist of changing allegiances among the principal trio and a cast of hilarious pirates and locals is enough to keep the final outcome just out of sight.  The adventure also drops sail at several musical locales along the way, and the cast, Gaslight Band and musical director Linda Ackerman take every opportunity to shine. As is tradition with any performance at the long-standing Tucson institution, the show is filled with one-liners, puns and off-handed jokes (both scripted and improvised) which make it quite clear the cast enjoys the show as much as the audience.

  • Historic value carries romantic drama “The Promise”

    “The Promise” premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Festival billed as a dual-threat romance and war story. After an enthusiastic reception from festival goers, this early 1900s true Armenian Holocaust account was quickly picked up by a distribution studio and given last weekend as its release date, exactly 102 years after Ottoman Empire authorities rounded up and either deported or killed 1.5 million ethnic Armenians. With an impressive cast led by Oscar Isaac (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) and Christian Bale (“The Dark Knight”), “The Promise” takes us back to the later years of Ottoman Empire (1453-1923) and the succeeding Turkish government’s eradication of a people long before the evil Adolph Hitler and Germany came onto the world’s atrocities stage. Isaac portrays a young Armenian from a small village who travels to the capital city of Constantinople seeking to attend medical school before his life, and the entire region, gets turned upside down.Although the film bites off a bit more than it can chew in two hours and 14 minutes, “The Promise” nicely builds up the romantic love triangle between Isaac’s charming Mikael character, a young socialite named Ana (convincingly played by Charlotte Le Bon), and an American journalist (Bale). A strong case can be made that the entire movie, minus the savageness of war, could’ve focused solely on this trio of personal relationships. That, however, would have skipped the film’s more important features and history lesson.“The Promise” is a historic achievement that spotlights a lesser-known genocide committed during and after a lesser-known war (World War I). The sudden destabilization of a region and the ethnic cleansing that soon follows is both dramatic and heart-wrenching to watch unfold. Despite not being able to invest in any of the main characters fully due to the film’s vast war narrative to tell, “The Promise” keenly bounces between the three love interests and the horrors surrounding each interwoven life. An exceptional cast abounds in “The Promise,” perhaps no performance better than Le Bon’s as the lusted for Ana. The budding relationships all feel authentic and raise the stakes in this survival story. Fans of the galactic X-wing fighter pilot Poe Dameron in “Star Wars” will find the Guatemalan-American actor and musician Isaac in his best role since 2014’s crime-fest “A Most Violent Year.”Don’t expect this film to garner much notice, though, getting left behind in the dust of “The Fate of the Furious” and about to get overshadowed by Star-Lord Peter Quill & Co. But for those interested in a history lesson that doesn’t get nearly the attention in schoolbooks as it deserves, “The Promise” offers the grim details with a romantic angle.

  • Marana District Play & Learn Center Family Fun Day

    The Marana Unified School District Play and Learn (PAL) Center invites parents and prospective parents to a Family Fun Day. The event is FREE and will be held on Saturday, April 22, 2017 from 10 am-2 pm at Estes Elementary School, 11280 W. Grier Rd., Marana AZ 85653.This fun-filled event includes food, raffles, and activities for the whole family. Activities include Special Olympics Young Athletes Fitness & Fun Activities; Mr. Nature's Music Garden Experience - song, dance, interactive instrument petting zoo; Northwest Fire District personnel and firetrucks; resources and informational displays.The Play and Learn (PAL) Center is an integrated licensed preschool, located at Estes Elementary School, providing the highest quality education during the school year to children with identified learning challenges and their non-disabled peers ages. Open to students city-wide, ages three until kindergarten. At 10:15am, as part of the PAL Family Fun Day, a special ceremony will be held to rename the preschool program to, The Dr. Marianne Valdez Play and Learn Preschool, in memoriam of Dr. Valdez’s tireless commitment, passion, and service to the students, families, staff of the Marana district 1984-2015.Before her passing, Dr. Marianne Valdez was the cornerstone of the Marana Unified School District special education department. She was originally hired as a special education teacher in 1984 by Marjorie Estes. Dr. Valdez later moved to Thornydale Elementary to teach special education students in the early 1990s. She began the first cluster program and brought technology into the special education classrooms. Dr. Valdez wrote grants and developed partnerships, including a project where students designed and created a beautiful butterfly habitat on the Thornydale campus.Dr. Valdez began her leadership roles as an Inclusion Facilitator in 2001 and then became the Director of Educational Services in 2004. As the Director, Dr. Valdez championed many special education initiatives, but the closest to her heart was co-teaching. As a result of her vision and heart, the Marana district became known for exceptional services and support for students with special needs.

  • “Gifted” adds up to a splendid movie experience

    We’ve been awed by brilliant movie minds before, each attempting to cope with the deep personal pain their special brain powers often creates. Russell Crowe shocked us in “A Beautiful Mind” as a Nobel Laureate in Economics. A young Stephen Hawking at Cambridge was superbly personified by Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne in 2014’s “The Theory of Everything”. And nobody can forget Matt Damon’s 20-year-old character with the skyrocket IQ, sparring in verbal jujitsu opposite Robin Williams in 1997’s “Good Will Hunting.” But lacking from the annals of cinema history is the female child genius whose mind-blowing talents jolt theater audiences. Until now.“Gifted” introduces us to fast-thinking second-grader Mary Adler, a mathematics prodigy with a sharp mind and tongue. Being raised by a single guy named Frank (portrayed admirably by Marvel’s own Captain America Chris Evans), young Mary is quickly pulled in many directions by people espousing to know what’s best for her education and future.In this year’s best young performance to date, McKenna Grace as Mary completely sells this inspiring story. The actress’ authentic mathematical vibe and convincing childish wit carries this movie from beginning to end. Equally impressive is the subdued, down-to-Earth marine boat mechanic role of Frank—which Evans pulls off with ease. The common denominator tying the film’s other characters all together, Evans effortlessly interchanges between guardian, neighbor, son, lover, greasy nailed mechanic, and owner of a scene-stealing, one-eyed cat named Fred.Some might incorrectly characterize “Gifted” as a child-custody story, where Frank must defend his decisions regarding Mary’s education in court to ward off the girl’s opportunistic grandmother. But this plotline is much deeper than that when one looks for a common thread throughout. “Gifted” is really about Mary’s mother and her childhood upbringing as she earned comparisons to physicists Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.“Gifted” is an electrifying journey that ponders how a remarkable, one-in-a-billion young mind should be raised. Does each child deserve to be a kid? Or does one’s potential to change the world demand that she leapfrogs age-appropriate education, or participation in kids’ sports, Girl Scouts and other childhood experiences?Sensational casting and a script that keeps the dialogue believable easily overcomes shaky camera work at times during the film. Director Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”) masterfully incorporates the slow reveal, concealing several scenes’ importance until the final shots surprise viewers. Get out and see one of 2017’s best acting performances from a girl who could wipe the chalkboard with Damon’s persona in “Good Will Hunting”. 

  • Marana Bluegrass Festival promises three days of musical fun

    The Marana Bluegrass Festival has always been a family friendly event, but this year’s fifth edition of the multi-day concert at Ora Mae Harn Park is really trying to introduce children to the art form. “We are encouraging families to come,” said Joe Wilke of the Desert Bluegrass Association. There are several changes to the festival to appeal just to children, including a hands-on instrument area dubbed the “petting zoo.” In addition to getting to listen to bluegrass musicians, children will be able to pick up, handle and play instruments. Phoenix’s Jam Pak will be on hand. The band is actually a program that helps introduce children, many from low income backgrounds, to bluegrass, gospel and other traditional old time music.The first night of the concert will be different this year than in years past. Friday night, April 28, will feature all local talent, specifically local singer/songwriters. With a goal of sharing new talent with as many people as possible, Friday night is free, which the organizers feel is their way of “giving back to the community of Marana, and also to introduce artists you might not normally see, but who play out and about Tucson.”Opening the weekend will be Marilyn Ryan and Bob Nible, then banjo player Rudy Cortese. Like Cortese, he plays banjo, as well as being a talented singer. Closing out that first night is veteran Tucson musician Peter McLaughlin. 

  • “The Case for Christ” investigates one’s faith

    Attending my second faith-based film in as many weeks, the Christian sermons espoused in last week’s “The Shack” and now “The Case for Christ” are both profound and interesting, yet take starkly different paths towards one’s belief in Jesus Christ.  Whereas “The Shack” invoked an exuberating out-of-body experience that sparked a father’s mind and soul to change, “The Case for Christ” is a leaner, more methodical, and circumstantial investigation by a naysayer culminating in his ability to believe, receive, and be with Christ.Following the true-life story of investigative reporter Lee Strobel and his 1998 book by the same name, “The Case for Christ” examines the historical hard evidence left behind Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.  A self-proclaimed and proud atheist working as a beat reporter at the Chicago Tribune, Strobel merrily assigns himself the task of disproving and debunking Christianity—all in the hopes of eye-poking his wife’s renewed faith and shutting down a coworker’s religion.The film’s most intriguing parts are also the scenes which were skimmed over way too quickly.  Strobel’s interviews with experts on the manuscripts left behind illustrating Jesus’ last few days is fascinating and compelling.  Likewise, the physical evidence presented on the medical front—which uses today’s medicine to help explain what witnesses described as Jesus was staked to the cross—marks the movie’s hardest-hitting moment.Despite leaving viewers wanting a deeper dive into the physical and written evidence or perhaps more testimony from those in authority, the film instead unleashes on Strobel’s other struggles; his marriage, a botched newspaper story, and his strained relationship with his father.  On each of these issues, Strobel comes up on the wrong end of the truth and compassion.  His 0-3 mean streak leaves him (and us) wondering if he’s also wrong about Christ?“The Case for Christ” is a dialogue-heavy film can many will find a slow and arduous undertaking. More about the atheist than the Son of God. Believers will enjoy the medical research and written facts proclaiming Jesus’ surrender and resurrection.  The notion of people being in the right spot at the right time due to coincidence or something Higher is thought-provoking and something we can all relate to.  Skeptics will embrace Strobel’s initial edginess and disdain for Biblical explanation and readings.  Too many holes in Christianity’s historic timeline coupled with conflicting testimony by 500 witnesses leave swaths of wiggle-room for Strobel and moviegoers to hedge their bets on Jesus.  But to cover our eyes to the possibility is to shroud the facts from view.

  • Reaching beer glory at Baja Beer Festival

    When the deadliest gunfight in Arizona history inspires the name of a beer that will compete for craft glory later this month, suffice it to say that the brewers are in it to win it.The beer is called Power’s Pale, one of the special-edition brews competing at the Baja Beer Festival on April 22 at Rillito Park that will showcase suds from 15 collaborative teams of Arizona brewers and firefighters. But who was Mr. Power? Was he an innocent bystander at that scene near the OK Corral in 1881? A friend of Earp or Holliday perhaps?While history books suggest that the famous Tombstone melee was the state’s deadliest, it was actually 37 years later at a cabin in the Galiuro Mountains when gold miner Jeff Power and his two sons exchanged fire with a sheriff’s posse that left four men dead. The Power’s Pale is the result of weeks of brainstorming between representatives of Tucson’s Copper Mine Brewing Company and the Three Points Fire District. They teamed up to produce a commemorative beer for this year’s pro-am and believe it has what it takes for the win.“I love mining history and the Power gunfight is such a fascinating underdog story,” said Will Barber, firefighter and paramedic for the Three Points Fire District who has been a homebrewer for three years. “We knew that the name of our collaborative beer had to be consistent with a mining theme and it just made sense.”

  • Faith-based “The Shack” transcends evil

    I’m not quite sure why faith-based films draw such skepticism and low marks from movie critics in general.  These reviewers can’t all be atheists or non-believers.  Perhaps many have difficulty wading into religious waters on company time.  Others might find it personally safer to judge a spiritual storyline harshly than to have one’s readers attack that newspaper columnist’s faith in a Holy Spirit.  I don’t know the true answer, but “The Shack” is getting crucified by critics while receiving an overwhelmingly positive response from theater-goers after two weeks in limited venues.  But having enjoyed 2015’s religious offerings of “Do You Believe?” and “Noble”, I was prepared and open-minded to let “The Shack” touch my soul. And indeed, it did.Grounding this courageous and thought-provoking film is none other than Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (from 2011’s “The Help” and last year’s Best Picture nominated “Hidden Figures”).  Spencer’s plain-speaking and soothing character invokes peace, love and forgiveness upon a family tormented by the loss of its daughter/sister.  Based upon the New York Times’ best-selling 2007 novel by William P. Young, “The Shack” takes us on a journey of pain and grief through the feelings of Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington), the father and husband who bears the blame and guilt for his family’s loss.  Set in the wilderness of Oregon, the movie follows the loneliness and despair that Worthington’s strong-willed character must face head-on.  Along the way, coping mechanisms are brilliantly illustrated without conceding the tragedy or covering up the deep wounds to a father’s heart.  No miraculous healing overnight takes place in “The Shack”, just forgiveness and an understanding that none of us are ever truly alone in life.Viewers willing to accept the possibility of a higher God will feel this movie both emotionally and spiritually.  Anyone who has experienced the sudden and violent loss of a loved one and wondered how God to could allow bad people to do such evil things, will find answers in “The Shack”.   Painful relationships clouded by blame or guilt can find peace over time through forgiveness.  It’s these powerful messages, along with a few surprising characters, that makes “The Shack” enjoyable and real.  Most movie reviews of “The Shack” will play down its emotional connection to moviegoers and surmise audiences won’t be impressed the trifecta of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Despite a couple of slow scenes, this movie unapologetically takes on anger, depression, and a pain that no parent should endure.  It moves the film’s characters and us in a direction of hope and peace.  For that alone, go see this film., you won’t be alone.Grade: B+

  • Lucky Cat Social Art gaining creative momentum in its second year of business

    Last month the staff and creative family at Lucky Cat Social Art, a space for private and public art events and workshops in Oro Valley, celebrated its first year of business with the community members who have made the creative dreams of owner Michelle Schloss a reality. The Lucky Cat crew has been painting, gluing and splashing across canvases, pieces of wood and other media—and completing a wide range of group projects with its clients—and Schloss said the second year will only continue to inspire creativity in those who join the artistic movement.“We really tried to push the envelope with creativity, mixing media and dabbling in different workshops and different things like that, and I think that is what the focus will be on this year,” she said. “We have had success in mixed media, it’s very customizable, and has been really popular.”That popularity has manifested in the form of youth birthday parties, professional team-building exercises and chances for adults to enjoy a glass of wine and let out their inner artist. Regardless of the demographic, Schloss said she believes a great deal of the company’s success thus far boils down to the staff creating a social environment in which all are accepted as artists, regardless of their skill level. With a variety of supplies on hand, Lucky Cat offers a selection of classes, weekly open crafting hours, time for parties, social groups and more. Plates and cups are also available, and groups are allowed to bring in their own food and refreshments.“What has amazed me is that this never gets old,” Schloss said. “Every time you have a little kid come up to and say that this was the best birthday party they’ve ever had—it could happen every week and I still feel it in my heart.”

  • “Life” an instant cult-alien space classic

    No Oscars are awarded to movies released in the calendar months of March and April. These two months are reserved for only fodder films—appetizers if you will—for huge blockbuster summer action adventures kicking off on Memorial Day weekend and lasting until “Back to School” commercials swarm us around Labor Day. Right now most audiences are hitting theaters to check out the Academy Award winners announced last month. So, to find an entertaining and very watchable (and scary) new release just as Spring is upon us, is as refreshing as landing your feet on a shady spot of sand on a hot Florida beach. “Life” quickly takes us aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and introduces viewers to a six-person crew of astronauts and one menacing lifeform gathered up from the soil of Mars. In a deadly orbital game of Hide and Seek, the alien creature dubbed “Calvin” emerges hell-bent on using humans as its new food source. A shocking and gruesome horror flick taking place just outside the Earth’s atmosphere, “Life” masterfully accomplishes the two tasks all successful cult-alien space stories must achieve: create a formidable, smart creature and, secondly, provide us viewers with constant, unrelenting tense, scary moments. It sells this instant alien classic with the genuine feeling of isolation and loneliness in space, using mostly incommunicado with Earth and an orchestrated weightlessness of bodies and liquids throughout the ISS.Wisely, the film’s energy on character development is expended mostly on the elusive alien monster. Yes, the bromance witnessed during December’s Golden Globe awards show between Jake Gyllenhaal (“Nightcrawler”) and Ryan Reynolds (“Deadpool”) continues in “Life.”It’s interesting to see these two Hollywood heavyweights costar in roles that so underutilized their overall acting chops. Obviously headlining “Life” for box office appeal, the duo capably bookend the film as a record-setting space junkie and the space station’s “Mr. Fix It” engineer, respectively. Beside the familiar Gyllenhaal and Reynolds, is a quartet of faces more remembered by their country’s flag displayed on the spacesuit sleeves than any character names. All six crew members and a stereotypical lab rat pose as alien bait for an extraterrestrial species that adapts and changes to its surroundings at the same rate it multiplies in size.“Life” gives us the pulse-racing space terror of 1979’s “Alien” and the suspense-filled isolation found in John Carpenter’s Antarctic in “The Thing” (1982). Make no mistake, the real star is the alien creature of whom we learn as much about as any other character in the film, and that’s the way it should be. After all, better movies are coming from Gyllenhaal and Reynolds later this year in “Stronger” and “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.” For now, just enjoy “Life.”  

  • Chef Ryan Clark’s new Spring menu at Casino’s Del Sol’s PY Steakhouse

    You might say Chef Ryan Clark has a compression obsession.Clark is among those of us who welcome the arrival of spring with enthusiasm. He fancies the lighter and brighter flavors of the season, and calls them the “perfect bridge” to summer.But while compression can threaten the integrity of a bridge in an architectural context, it’s a complement to this bridge in a culinary context at the Casino Del Sol’s PY Steakhouse, 5655 W. Valencia Road.Compression is a technique which enhances the flavor, color and texture of various foods by literally sucking the air right out of them. Foods are placed in small bags, and are vacuum-sealed to remove all traces of air. After that, Clark explains, science does the rest. “Once these foods are completely absent of air, their cell walls start to shatter and break down,” said Clark, executive chef at Casino Del Sol. “This allows them to slowly absorb the actual flavor back into the foods in a way that introduces an entirely different experience altogether.”Three of the four new dishes on Clark’s spring menu feature ingredients that have spent a good amount of time in the Casino’s compression chamber.


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