Tommy Chong Lights Up Mammoth Lakes Film Festival

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The Mammoth Lakes Film Festival opened its third year going Up in Smoke. 

Festival director Shira Dubrovner and programming director Paul Sbrizzi opened the festival with a screening of the first Cheech and Chong movie – seminal in its presentation of Chicano culture and cannabis culture – along with a lively q&a with Tommy Chong.

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The film itself is madcap, silly, perfectly timed fun. Chong’s interview laid it all on the line.

“I was going to write a film called Jack and the Weedstalk,” Chong laughs. “But when we started writing we wanted to show marijuana culture. We also realized we had a great immigration story. ”

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Chong, who spent 9 months in jail in 2003 for selling bongs, aptly describes the demonization of cannabis by politics, the racist nature of depicting cannabis users as crazed killers, and introducing what was then a “Mexican slang word” – marijuana – to the cultural lexicon.  With Up in Smoke, the comedy duo presented cannabis culture with inspired improv Robert Altman-style, and worked to change the negative perspective.

“We shot all over Pacific Coast Highway, all over LA. It was just fun making a movie and getting high – the catering was great, if something broke it’s ok, there’s no violence – we let the actors figure out much of their own dialog.”

The duo’s laconic style clashed with the film’s original director Floyd Mutrix, who was replaced by Lou Adler. Chong himself is uncredited as a co-director, re-shooting the film’s hilarious ending scenes after a disastrous rough cut screening for Paramount execs – in which  the film ended with the action portrayed as “just a dream.”

Chong viewed the film as “like one of our stage shows – but we would also shoot the rehearsal.”

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He notes “Sometimes the first thing you’d say would be the best…actors say dying on screen is easy and comedy is hard because you can’t rehearse spontaneity which is often where the comedy comes up.”

Working with Adler, Chong would add elements to the script, stories the other actors would tell.

“Cheech would tell me stuff he did as a kid like peeing in hamper by mistake and I would say let’s put it in – actress Zane Buzby who plays Jade East,  she told us about this routine her roommate would do, and we put in the fake sex scene in the van based on her story.”

As a director, Chong followed the advice of auteur Terrence Malik: “Its your vision – you direct it.”

Chong says Smoke is still his favorite Cheech and Chong movie
“because it really started the whole Chicano humor movement. Cheech was one of a kind and still is.”

The duo will soon be releasing a documentary created by Chong’s daughter, and continue to perform live on stage.

“We’ve been trying to do another movie since ’03 but some things – those are one of a kind – it only happens once when you’re young. I’d rather live on screen like this – you never get old. You’re always 20.”

He offers this advice for the young:
“Love what you’re doing – if you don’t love what you’re doing, quit doing it whether it’s film making or sweeping sidewalks. It’s all about love.”

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Love is certainly part of the reason for the continued success of MLFF – with intimate discussions like these and a wide range of films ahead this week.

  • Genie Davis; photos: Jack Burke

Ethan Sultry – Jazz with a Twist

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The jazz is smooth and vibrantly flamenco flourished – and the club is chill tonight. Listening to The Ethan Sultry Band at the Blue Whale in DTLA is a sensory jolt. Deliciously fluid vocals joined to a hybrid jazz sound five-person band feature:
guitarist/composer/vocalist Ethan Sultry (Margolis. Fresh from Spain performing his iTunes featured album, Sonikete Blues, the blend of Adalucian rhythms with blues and jazz creates a stirring fusion that’s as graceful as it is assertive.IMG_6641

Along with Sultry the stage was shared by Reggie Hamilton on bass; Katisse Buckingham on flute, keys, and sax; Munyungo Jackson on percussion; and Donald Barrett on drums. IMG_6643

Born in Santa Cruz, Sultry lived in Spain for more than a decade before moving to Los Angeles, bringing his exciting fusion sound like the best kind of baggage.

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Opening with the song “Butterflies and the Moon,” from his new album Sultry moved into playing a compulsively cool Robert Johnson tune “Malted Milk” played in “E flat” as Sultry noted. The music flowed like a rhythmic waterfall, with Suitry pausing only to justifiably praise the ambiance and acoustics of the club – who could help but love a space with a Rumi quote on the ceiling and a stellar cheese plate available at the bar.

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This is a rare and delightful mix of Gypsy roots, Delta Blues, and sleek jazz. Vocals are compelling and the percussion wills you to move along with the music. Buckingham even added a side of hip hop lyricism to a music mix that was seamlessly blended.

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Sultry offers an intriguing take on a jazz path that evokes Miles Davis and a bit of Les McCann. His take on the traditional spiritual “Go Down Moses” defies comparison – and indeed most all of the ensemble’s pulsing and yet delicate musicianship is entirely unique.

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I’m sure I wasn’t the only audience member involved enough to want to dance – and at the same time listen and contemplate.
However the music makes you feel,the important thing is that it truly makes you FEEL.

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Missed them live? Then check out Sonikete Blues on iTunes now and get ready to move and feel and find yourself in some alternative and wonderfully eclectic place between Spain and Mississippi and jazz Heaven.

  • Genie Davis; photos by Jack Burke

Continue reading Ethan Sultry – Jazz with a Twist

Roaring Good Fun Lights Up the LA Zoo

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Now through January 8th, join the roar and wonder of lights at L.A. Zoo Lights. The Los Angeles Zoo’s now-traditional, always dazzling holiday offering is a justifiably popular replacement for the DWP Holiday Light Festival, a drive through that once called Griffith Park home.

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The Zoo display is a delightful crowd pleaser, with a cheerful color palette, a rain forest canopy, recycled water bottles recreated as illuminated frogs – all fantastic fun for all ages. Adults, babies in strollers – grab a churro or a hot chocolate or cocktail and enjoy.

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Silver birds soar through one of our favorite sections, all purple lights and shimmering mirrored disco balls.

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Flamingos as lithe as pink musical notes hop; neon meerkats dazzle.

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Entering along a path lit by large glowing holiday ornaments sets the stage for what’s to come, an animal-centric, whimsical display of illuminated critters.

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In a new and more easily viewable location this year are crowd-favorites like elephant statues illuminated with a changing pattern of designs from Christmas sweaters to sparkling lights to tribal markings. Santa and his live reindeer continue to charm children.

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Below, LAIR

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The now-open LAIR reptile house makes a fascinating stop and a good way to step out of chilly night air. Friendly docents explain what these nocturnal critters do.

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Around the corner an even more spectacular water and light show this year runs in fifteen minute intervals, creating glowing surreal images out of the mist.

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Palm trees become multi-colored and fanciful, a parade of Christmas trees vies for attention with alligators and rhinos, and there are tunnels of lights leading into and out of the Hollywood scene that concludes the exhibit, with a Hollywood-premiere red carpet, and illuminated images of the Hollywood Bowl, freeways, and Capitol records.

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Two hours allows for a leisurely look and a quick cup of cocoa, stay longer to visit Santa.

L.A. Zoo Lights runs 7 days a week through January 8th, from 6 to 10 p.m. , closed December 24 and 25. Don’t miss the Family New Year’s Eve celebration, with express entry to L.A. Zoo Lights, a dinner buffet with soft drinks and dessert, a carousel ride, games, DJ dance party, and live broadcast of the Times Square ball drop.

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More details and tickets can be found here. The L.A. Zoo is located at 5333 Zoo Dr. in Los Angeles.

  • Genie Davis; photos Genie Davis, Jack Burke

Feeling Blue? The Loft at Liz’s Has What You Need

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Above: artist Gary Brewer

Feeling blue? Then it’s time to immerse yourself in the wondrous rush of the color, emotion, and vibrations of blue at Loft at Liz’s. The show features the work of artists

Brad Howe
Angel Chen
Gary Brewer
Barbara Kolo
Shana Mabari
Miguel Osuna
Stephen Rowe
June Edmonds
Campbell Laird
Moses Hacmon
Bertil Petersson
Michael Hayden
Crystal Fischett

Blue is a seminal show, a rush of sky, sea, flowers, planets, windows to the spirit. The only question is, how blue are you?

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Above, Gary Brewer’s work evokes both water and light,  a moment captured in freeze frame, motion and emotion, both transcendent and incandescent. It’s a love affair with the color of spirit. His “Alchemical Language,” above, is alive and transformational.

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Above and below, the work of June Edmonds.  “Aquatic Pastoral” and “Royal Roost.” Like a feathered kaleidoscope, Edmonds spins viewers into her richly textured work.

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Above, Miguel Osuna dazzles with a vortex of blue light, a planet spinning outward. The oil on canvas work is both fragile and strong, something gestating.

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Above, Angel Chen gives us stoneware, earthenware, sculptures that capture a wave, a seahorse, a goddess, a portal, blue coral – fossils that represent the color blue, glorious stepping stones into another dimension.

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Above, Brad Howe’s abstract blue sculpture is built of stainless steel, aluminum, and urethane, 23 separate pieces linked like mysterious alien musical notes.

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Above and below, Barbara Kolo creates Sky, Harbor, Tide in ink and colored pencil so rich that they appear, at first glance to be paint. These shades are like a Rorschach test for color. Each piece has an inward glow.

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Below, Gary Brewer with wife and artist Aline Mare (Mare has her own exhibition across the street from Loft at Liz’s at the Jill Joy Gallery).

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Below, power art couple Osceola Refetoff and Shana Nys Dambrot.

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Above, Michael Hayden uses encaustic mixed media to create, in his words, “rough, smooth, bright, dark –  in my mind the kind of way that it works for me.” Using resin and beeswax melted together contrasts the burlap and thin layers of wax over burlap.  “I’m so attracted to the ever-changing, hypnotic horizon line. You never get tired of getting lost on the horizon line. I just moved from West Hollywood to the Marina just to experience it.” Viewers can experience it in his art, which also employs silver leaf for high gloss and shine.

Not pictured but equally powerful are the works of Campbell Laird – his resin film print Blue Beneath the Pier, Venice CA is a stunner; Stephen Rowe, who uses dots, lines, and a pointillist technique to create acrylic on canvas works of complex abstraction; Crystal Fischeti’s geometric blue acrylic and oil pieces which have the quality of stained glass; Moses Hacmon’s archival pigment on aluminum panels which capture the wonders of the deep; Bertil Persson’s painted steel and lucite cubes; and Lauren Kasmer’s mesmerizing silk and chiffon dresses and jackets as wearable blue art.

Go for the color of creation…and check out Kasmer’s exciting December 8th presentation of Not So Blue, an evening  of small bites, R&B, hip-hop, video, and wearable art. The event is free but be generous – donations benefit two local charitable organizations dedicated to feeding and sheltering women and children in need.

Loft at Liz’s is located at 453 S. La Brea Ave., and the show itself runs through January 9th.

  • Genie Davis; photos: Jack Burke