Tucson Local Media: Liven Up

Liven Up

Entertainment Headlines

  • 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.

  • Cruise, BBQ & Blues Festival & Car Show this Saturday

    Though rain may have postponed the festivities, the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance (SAACA) has rescheduled the Cruise, BBQ & Blues Festival & Car Show for this Saturday, April 1 at the Oro Valley Marketplace (12155 N. Oracle Road). In its ninth year, the event will include classic and muscle cars, activities for the whole family, food vendors and exhibitors from throughout the community.According to SAACA, up to 135 different cars and trucks, “antique and modern, domestic and foreign, modified and custom” will roll into the event to be judged and awarded trophies: Best of Show, Best Interior, Best Paint, Best Engine, Best Presentation and the People's Choice awards."It is important that we feature amazing cars and the craftsman that maintain, restore and enhance performance and call attention to the true art form that it is, but to also bring together the community of individuals and organizations that enhance the classic car experience," said Jonas Hunter, Special Events Director at SAACA, in a release. "This classic car show will bring all of these elements together and allow both car enthusiasts and novices alike to enjoy these works of art."The show will also feature live performances by Bryan Dean Trio and The Coolers. The event kicks off at 10 a.m. and runs until 3 p.m. Tickets are available for purchase day-of at the gate: $5 for adults with a $1 discount for veterans and active military, children under 10 are free. The event raises money to support SAACA’s Veterans Art Therapy programming at the Southern Arizona Veterans Administration.More information is available at www.saaca.org, or by phone at 797-3959. Vehicle registration is available at https://saaca.formstack.com/forms/2017_april_car_show_new_participants

  • A Beast: “Beauty” breaks box office records

    The best opening weekend for the month of March ever, Disney’s live-action movie “Beauty and the Beast” hauled in a record-breaking $170 million in the U.S. alone. The wholesome love story also flexed its animation muscle globally, taking in a record $350 million worldwide—making it the biggest PG-rated film opening in North American history and the seventh best grossing weekend of all-time.Using the most impressive animation features I’ve ever seen on film, “Beauty and the Beast” seamlessly blends its charismatic Disney characters amongst some of Hollywood’s biggest names. Academy Award-winner Bill Condon (“Gods and Monsters”) directs a talent-rich cast that includes Emma Watson, Kevin Kline, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson.Although easily predictable, the lone letdown in the film is the performance by leading lady Watson. The “Harry Potter” veteran is the movie’s weakest link--both in her acting and singing. Watson’s tentative and lackluster showing as Belle gets magnified opposite a stellar job from Dan Stevens as the cursed prince and Beast. Likewise, a superb supporting castle crew invokes charm and laughter amidst a handful of dangerous, uncertain moments.“Beauty and the Beast” sells its heartwarming romance tale through sheer compassion and straightforward storytelling. Nicely sidestepping too graphic altercation scenes, the movie promotes goodness from within its varied animated souls. Racing against time, Belle and Co. are challenged to save others … beginning with her father. This invigorating love story gets stronger in its pointed message and comedic delivery as the film gallops forward. It lavishly ties the Disney spirit with the eye-raising brilliance of a Broadway production. Even Watson’s underwhelming song and act routines can’t dull a likable Beast and magical cast. In the second strongest, non-summer opening weekend ever, “Beauty and the Beast” shines bright. Very bright. Take the entire family and enjoy!Grade: A

  • “Kong: Skull Island” satisfies low expectations

    This gorilla movie offers up  an excellent story  As we enter the annual post-Oscars drought season of movies that are often deemed unworthy of awards consideration come December, theater expectations must be lowered accordingly. Lest viewers feel cheated on memorable acting performances and classic narratives destined to become part of our pop culture, films hitting the big-screen through summer pose as mere appetizers to bigger, more jarring movie experiences later in 2017. No cinema screening could usher or epitomize these waning months more than “Kong: Skull Island,” an over-hyped throwback with A-list actors caught in an average movie.Erase the weak and convoluted first 24 minutes of “Kong: Skull Island” and we’re left with a satisfying beginning to the mediocre movie stretch of 2017. This gorilla story reboot takes us back to the introduction of King Kong, joining the original stop-motion great ape film from 1933 and its remakes in 1976 and 2005. “Kong: Skull Island” dramatically captures the discovery and dangers of a new island through its camera lens. It’s an eye-pleasing experience of special effects but gets watered down with a nuanced cast of forgettable characters and names. Seeing such a deep, rich talent pool, including Academy Award-winner Brie Larson (“Room”), get hamstrung by a bland script lacking any emotional tie with the audience is unfortunate.Aside from the film’s spectacular cinematography and CGI realism, this film smartly brings two dozen expendable roles to keep the beast fed. I always tip my hat to storytellers who can sacrifice their lead performers mid-movie to impart shock upon the audience. If that character isn’t safe, no one is. In “Kong” we care little for any of the human hunters, but do wonder who will be left standing in the end?The island faceoff between gorilla and man exposes more than just fiery personalities. Poor decisions resulting in even worse outcomes gets repeated enough times to almost incite laughter aloud. Alpha males demonstrate inept skills to their followers, each of whom elects to continue along the bad karma cycle of rinse and repeat. Thankfully, enough surprises emerge on the island to keep us guessing as to who will die next and how?

  • Remembering Pastiche’s Pat Connors

    When I first interviewed Pat Connors more than a decade ago, I learned about the pairing of fried avocados and Irish whiskey.For those of us who were privileged to know Pat along his short 48-year journey, this was a “Purely Pat Moment.” Take two things that work beautifully on their own, and combine them for a next-level experience.While reflecting on Pat’s passing last week, and quietly celebrating every moment I had with this giant on the Tucson hospitality scene, I realized that Pat made our community a better place, just because he was here.Two things that work beautifully on their own, combined for a next-level experience—start with a wonderful community and just add Pat.His commitment to community was visible in everything he did. There was rarely a local charity event that he wasn’t a part of. His loyalty to the spirit of local was immeasurable, as manifest by his tireless advocacy for the local and independent eateries of the Tucson Originals.Fundraising dinners for the Primavera Foundation, Bald Beauty Project, Dine Out for Safety and others were always important for him to host at Pastiche, his midtown restaurant, and his chef and bartenders were regular fixtures at virtually every local food-related event in town.

  • Dave Chappelle returns on Netflix with two specials this month

    “I’ve been gone for a very long time.”The voice behind that statement was unmistakably that of actor/comedian/writer Dave Chappelle, who will be making quite a splash within the internet media streaming scene when he makes his Netflix debut later this month with two comedy specials.Available to stream next Tuesday, March 21, the two hour-long specials entitled “Dave Chappelle: The Age of Spin” and “Dave Chappelle: Deep in the Heart of Texas” were filmed at the Palladium in L.A. last March and two-years-ago at the Moody Theater in Austin, Tex., respectively.To mark the occasion, and give fans a taste of Chapelle’s first specials in more than a decade, Netflix released an official trailer. Longtime fans of the comedians biting, adult humor will find nothing less than Dave’s best on topics ranging from ISIS to the dietary dangers of salt for African Americans.Chappelle is currently working on a third special with Netflix, to come at an as-of-yet unannounced time.Be advised, adult language throughout.

  • Marvel’s “Logan” claws to top of the box office

    With DC Comics and Marvel adventures spurning film releases at nearly the rate of presidential tweets, these filmmakers must strive for freshness on-screen that goes beyond only well-choreographed action sequences. These studios must balance staying accurate to their comic book inspired storylines while eliciting excitement for continual rollouts of new big-screen superheroes.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe has easily overmatched DC Comics in this difficult task, mostly by infusing well-liked and funny characters as the foundation for their narratives.  From snarky “Iron Man” Tony Stark, the quintet of laughable rogues in “Guardians of the Galaxy”, to Paul Rudd’s “Ant-Man”, Marvel has mastered the successful 3-part ingredients of action, drama, and stand-up comedy.  But that successful recipe hasn’t always been followed by Marvel Studios and 20th Century Fox’s release of their X-Men franchise since 2000.Last year’s Oscar-deserving X-Men spinoff “Deadpool” celebrated the series’ best reception to date.  Now, however, comes the third and final “Wolverine” saga starring Hugh Jackman as Logan. Reprising his role as the mutant with his trademark claws, Jackman’s Logan finds himself working as a chauffeur along the Mexican border before trouble meets up with him.Joining Jackman’s Logan is the X-Men leader, Professor X, portrayed by Patrick Stewart and albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant).  The trio do an excellent job bringing viewers up to speed on the fallout from the mad science experiments found in 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and 2013’s “The Wolverine”.  With fewer mutants in existence, Logan must leave semi-retirement to protect those closest to him.“Logan” offers plenty of entertainment to X-Men purists.  Those avid followers will enjoy the action drama and further developments of this “Wolverine” finale by Jackman.  Others, though, seeking to continue the outlandish fun and lightheartedness of 2016’s “Deadpool” formula will find “Logan” missing one-liners and playful banter towards the audience.  Still more watchable than any recent offerings by DC Comics, “Logan” straight-forward connection of dots minus any plot surprises or cliffhanger ending.This film provides us and Jackman with a solid final Wolverine chapter that encompasses the usual action-packed dramatic fighting between superhero and a group of villains still wishing harm to others.  Be prepared for less humor, a few slow movie scenes, and more reluctance by Logan to draw out his claws.  There’s no typical Marvel post-credit movie spoilers after “Logan”.  But be sure to be in your seats for the film’s beginning to see a hilarious short skit performed by Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool character.  

  • Creole Comforts

    Tiffany Eldridge actually prefers the title of bartender over mixologist. She does not ignite drinks on fire, there isn’t a lot of tossing shakers and bottles and above all she just wants you to take the time and enjoy one of her signature creations or a classic libation.Luckily for us here in the Old Pueblo, SAZ Creole Kitchen & Cocktails has quietly opened up in Saint Phillips Plaza and is already beginning to make a lot of noise. But it is a joyful cacophony of flavors, ideas and heritage inspired by a New Orleans of a bygone era with Eldridge at the helm along with executive chef Robert Kimball, who has years of NOLA culinary experience, manning the back of the house.  Between the two of them what they want you to walk away with once you have stepped foot in their modern take on a Bourbon Street speakeasy is what a well to do southerner might have called their home away from home a generation ago.  One thing that Tiffany and Robert want to be clear on is the difference between Cajun cuisine and Creole. SAZ likens itself to the Creole factor, meaning elevated food for the more well to do folk hailing influences from the Caribbean, Ireland, West Africa, Spain, Portugal and, of course, France. Creole food has a refinement for it where Cajun has a more down home appeal coming from setters with limited means and having to use what the land and rivers provided. Without pretention, but rather with a calm confidence, SAZ radiates genteel Louisiana charm. Eldridge, who originally hails from Salt Lake City, cut her bartending teeth by learning from her older sister who has helped open wildly successful bars and high-end speakeasies in New York and Philadelphia. After opening a popular cocktail lounge here in Tucson, she eventually paired up with JAM Culinary Concepts with a vision to create a bit of a time warp for the senses. With the help and skills of chef Iaccarino, they transport you to an era when it was okay, if not necessary, to savor the better things a quaint neighborhood establishment can provide. SAZ opens at 8 a.m. daily and serves breakfast till 11. If you have ever been to New Orleans, then you must have had a beignet. No, of course you did. Those puffy fritters made from deep fried dough are a staple and they are done to perfection here. For lunch, one should start things off right with their fried green tomato plate that comes paired with a delicious bronzed baby shrimp sauce which is tart and sumptuous before diving into one of SAZ’s imaginative takes on the infamous Po’ Boy sandwich,

  • 5 spectacular movie rentals worth your time

    Here are five movie rentals that you’ll find fascinating, inspiring, scary, touching but, most of all, very memorable:Whiplash This 2014 drama will have you glued to your television set. Literally. In fact, any smoke detector alarms blaring in your house or Facebook notification chimes on smart phones will go completely unnoticed during these shocking 105 minutes of music boot camp. The always energetic J.K. Simmons won his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in this mind-blower, which costars Miles Teller. “Whiplash” was nominated for five Academy Awards—including Best Picture—winning for Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Supporting Actor (Simmons). Parents wanting to discourage children from taking up drums may want to purchase this instant classic.“Whiplash’ is currently available to stream via subscription on XFINITY and to rent or purchase via Amazon, CinemaNow, iTunes Store, VUDU, and YouTube. Meru Just a couple of minutes into this documentary, the wife walked by and asked what I was watching? “It’s a mountain climbing story...” I explained. For the next 88 minutes, we watched in complete amazement as less than a handful of climbers attempted the impossible...Mount Meru, the summit marked by a “Shark’s Fin” 21,000 feet above the Ganges River in northern India. To see these dreamers pursue one of the ultimate adventure prizes, in a career filled with overachievers, is exhilarating! At least three times during this film, I was sure the camera was going to catch one of these explorers losing their lives in an unpleasant descent down to thicker air locales. When famous climber Jon Krakauer (author of “Into Thin Air”) has a serious man-crush on these stars of “Meru”, you know that you’re watching something special. Very special. The modern era’s most significant climbing movie. A film you will remember for the rest of your life.


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