Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

Five Things You Should Do This Weekend

Relax. Dave & Busters ain’t open yet. In the meantime …

1. FresYes Fest 2015
Go for the dozen (or more) specialty brews. Stay for the music (and the food trucks).

2. Monster Jam
If Bigfoot is your idea of a monster truck, you need to see this.

3.Fresno City College Renaissance Festival
After 7 years, Fresno City’s ren faire is back.

4. Laser Fantasy
Ninety minutes of synchronized laser animation. It’ll be trippy, man.

5. Fresno Filmworks, “Two Days, One Night
If seeing foreign films in an actual theater is important to you, support Fresno Filmworks. Especially seeing as this specific foreign is good.

And a bonus five concert events.

1. Ape Machine
2. Ani-Me Rock N Dance Festival
3. Tom Brosseau
4. Metalachi
5. Survey Says

For more concert-specific happenings, see this week’s BANDGEEK roundup.

Win tickets to: Fresno Filmworks screening of “Levitated Mass”


Levitate Mass” (which Fresno Filmworks screens next Friday at the Tower Theatre) is a film about the enduring question of what makes art, art? The documentary, from filmmaker Doug Pray (“Art & Copy,” “Surfwise”), follows the literal journey of a 340-ton granite boulder as it becomes a conceptual “land sculpture.”

Based on the trailer, the film will surely be a conversation starter. There will be discussion circle after the 5:30 p.m. showing with visiting filmmaker Katie McNeill, who was a co-producer on the film.

We have a tickets to give away to a couple Beehive readers. To enter to win, leave a common on this post. Give us your definition of art. You have until noon Wednesday, Nov. 12. Winners will be chosen at random, notified via email (so check yours if you enter) and must be able to pick the tickets up at The Fresno Bee office (1626 E. St.) during normal business hours.

Watch the trailer (and get the complete contest rules) on the jump.

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Call for entries: Swede Fest 14


Organizers of Fresno’s Swede Fest have opened submissions for the fourteenth edition of the low- or no-budget parody film festival, taking place 5 p.m. Nov. 23 at the Tower Theatre.

The announcement comes just in time for Halloween, which means you may have your costuming done. That’s two birds with one stone.

For consideration in the festival, films must be no longer than four minutes and suitable for all ages and entered by 11:59 p.m. Nov. 17.

Swede Fest, is an internationally known festival loosely based on Michael Gondry’s 2008 film “Be Kind Rewind,” and spawned several satellite festivals on the East Coast. A “sweded” film is a summarized recreation of a popular movie. It takes the best (and often the worst) of Hollywood and combines it with the creativity and ingenuity of the biggest film fans. The results can be epic, as in the case of Dumb Drum’s series of scene-for-scene movie-trailer recreations.

Swede Fest is free and open to all ages thanks to the generous sponsorship of Fresno Filmworks, The Tower Theatre and Geekwise Academy.

Check out previous festival submissions.

Five (plus five) Things You Should Do This Weekend

5things4-25-2Looks like y’all were at the Rodeo last night, which means you need something to do with the rest of the weekend. Lucky for you there are choices. And how.

1. Smack in Da Middle
Another fringe sport takes hold in Fresno.

2. Fresno Film Festival
If you love films, but hate the multiplex, this is a good weekend.

3. Woofstock 3
Doggies need love, too.
4. Fresno Ideawork’s Day
Fresno Ideaworks and the Grizzlies introduced us to the idea of “the maker” last year. Fan fans of robots and cardboard costume crafting.

5. One Night Stanza
Twenty-five of Fresno’s best poets — both the writer and performer types –share their best work.


1. Vintage Days
If you can find the lineup of live music, it’s a doozy!

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Win tickets to the Fresno Film Festival


Are you ready for the biggest Fresno Filmworks event of the year? The 10th annual Fresno Film Festival this weekend will feature seven programs of short and feature-length movies, including special filmmaker appearances, discussions, and more:

The festival opens Friday at 7 p.m. with the Japanese family drama “Like Father, Like Son,” a Jury Prize winner at Cannes that delicately tells the story of two sons mistakenly switched at birth. The movie will be followed by a champagne reception. Saturday at 4 p.m. will bring the Australian adventure fable “The Rocket,” which follows the journey of a 10-year-old boy trying to refute his bad luck in war-scarred Laos. Saturday at 7:30 p.m. features the political thriller “Omar,” another Jury Prize winner at Cannes that follows the story of a Palestinian baker who is forced to become an Israeli informant. On Sunday at 4:30 p.m., the American documentary “Finding Vivian Maier” explores the mysterious true-life story of a nanny who secretly took more than 100,000 photos of life on the streets of Chicago. The festival closes Sunday at 7:30 p.m. with the British dramatic comedy “Le Week-End,” one aging couple’s bittersweet ode to Paris.

I have a four-pack of passes to give away to a lucky Beehive reader. Each pass can be used for admission to one program. If you win, then, you can go to four different programs by yourself — or go to one and take three of your friends.

To enter, leave a comment on this post telling us if you’ve ever gone to a Fresno Filmworks offering before — and if so, what was your favorite movie? Deadline to enter is 5 p.m. Wednesday. Please don’t enter more than once. I’ll be informing our winner by email on Wednesday evening, so keep a watch on your inbox. If I haven’t heard from a winner by Thursday morning, I reserve the right to pick another. These are paper tickets, so you’ll need to be able to come down to The Bee’s front counter by 5 p.m. Friday to pick them up. Rules are on the jump.

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Quick contest: Win tickets to Fresno Filmworks short Oscar films


Thanks to Fresno Filmworks, you’ll get the chance on Thursday and Friday to see three separate programs of this year’s Oscar-nominated short films. I’m giving away a pair of tickets that can be used for any of the three programs. Here’s the schedule:

5:30 p.m. animation
8:15 p.m. live action

3:00 p.m. animation
5:45 p.m. live action
8:30 p.m. documentary

If you aren’t a winner, tickets to single programs cost $10 general admission and $8 for students and seniors. A special $15 double-feature ticket is available for any two programs.

Here’s how this quickie contest works: I’ll give the tickets to the FIRST reader who responds to this post with a comment. These are paper tickets, so you’ll need to be able to come down to The Bee’s lobby to pick them up. Rules are on the jump.

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7 picks for 7 days: Jan. 10-16

I’m getting back on track with the 7 picks for 7 days feature, a list of fun things to do over the next week. This week’s version — picks for today through next Thursday — offer a variety of entertainment, from acclaimed movies to new TV shows, theater and music.

Pick of the weekend: ‘The Great Beauty’ at Fresno Filmworks


My week didn’t exactly turn out as expected. Like so many other people, I was felled mid-week by one of those stupid viruses cavorting around our city– and my work flow was thrown off. I didn’t have the chance to write a local review of an amazingly beautiful film titled, appropriately enough, “The Great Beauty,” which screens tonight only. I’ll leave it my esteemed colleague Kenneth Turan, writing in the Los Angeles Times — and whose review we picked up in today’s 7 section — who describes the film thus:

One of Italy’s most impressive contemporary filmmakers, director Paolo Sorrentino has a superb sense of how to fill a wide screen and, working with his longtime cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, a wizard with camera movement, his visuals display the intoxicating richness of color 35-millimeter film in a way few contemporary ventures can match.

For me, I was tremendously moved by those visuals. (Rome seems to flow into us, and it preens and aches as a big, slightly sad, but still fiercely triumphant, space.) The emotional content of the film is just as striking. In the midst of plenty, we have a knack for wanting what we intuitively sense is missing from our lives.

This Fresno Filmworks offering gets my highest recommendation.

Forum discusses Fresno independent cinema


After Sunday’s screening of “The Rep,” a documentary film about the life and death of a Toronto movie house, the folks at Fresno Filmworks held a community forum about independent cinema in Fresno. I wasn’t able to attend, but I asked FF board member Bryan Harley to share a little from the forum. His recap:

We had a good sized group stay afterward to talk. Here are some thoughts from myself and FFW president Jefferson Beavers and three main points we walked away with:

1. The group unanimously agreed that they don’t care about the format — 35mm or digital — they just want to see good independent films in the theater on a consistent basis. One participant, in fact, said that most contemporary films on 35mm even feel a little disingenuous, that exhibiting in 35mm as a format should be reserved for classic films or for very specific art films that have a reason to be using it. That surprised us. Most people also indicated that they couldn’t even tell the difference between 35mm and digital projection.

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Win tickets to Fresno Filmworks’ ‘The Rep’

It’s sort of like art imitating life: Fresno Filmworks on Sunday is screening a documentary called “The Rep,” which is about the plight of repertory movie houses — the kind that show different older movies every night of the week — in the U.S. and Canada. That isn’t exactly the description of what Filmworks does, but the organization has been dabbling in showing classic movies along with its first-run indie/art-house fare, and I’m sure there will be a lot of interest among Filmworks supporters.

Posted above is a video of Fresno Filmworks board members Jefferson Beavers and John Moses interviewing Morgan White, director of “The Rep.”

After the 2 p.m. screening, a special event is planned:

Filmworks board members will host a small-group community conversationsession. Audience members will be invited to share their ideas for the artistic and financial future of Filmworks, The Tower Theatre, and the moviegoing experience in Fresno.

The giveaway: I have three pairs of tickets to give away to “The Rep.” One of the questions the film poses is this: In this day of DVDs in abundance and digital streaming in our living rooms, will audiences still turn out to watch older movies at small theaters? To enter the ticket giveaway, leave a comment on this post answering this question: If Fresno had a full-time rep cinema showing different older movies every night of the week, would you go?

Deadline is 5 p.m. today (Thursday). One entry per person. I’ll be informing winners by email Thursday night, so please check yours.

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Win tickets to: Fresno Filmworks double feature

GimmeTheLoot-poster-web-275x425 Fresno Filmworks has built an audience by filling the void created by the city’s cineplex monopoly. The group screens first-run films (both international and American, both feature and documentary) that would otherwise get delegated to the Netflix cue (or Amazon Prime, I suppose). The films tend toward the unconventional (for those with blockbuster tastes) and the venue is no multiplex. JohnnyX-poster-web-275x425

Like, you can order a scotch in the lobby. And drink it. In the theater.

For June, Filmworks is pushing even those boundaries some, with its first ever double feature. That’s two different independent films in one night. The award-winning independent comedy “Gimme The Loot,” will screen at 5:30 p.m., followed by the campy B-movie throwback “The Ghastly Love of Johnny X,” at 8 p.m.

As a bonus, “Johnny X” director Paul Bunnell, star Will Keenan, costume designer Kristina West and executive producer Mark Willoughby will be on hand after the screening to talk about the film.

As a double bonus, there will be an after-party at The Voice Shop. Admission is free with a ticket stub from either program. There will be music, snacks and a cash bar.

Filmworks has generously offered us tickets to give away to our readers. To enter, simple leave a comment below telling us what’s the best movie you’ve seen Filmworks present (I particularly liked “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson”). The contest will close at noon, June 13. Winners will be chosen at random and notified via email.

We will give out one pair of tickets to each show, so be sure to tell us which you’d like to see.

You can read more about each film over at the Filmwork’s Film Forum blog. Check out the film trailers (and the full contest rules) below.

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Win tickets to the Fresno Film Festival

Homepage-Fest13-275x380The 9th Annual Fresno Film Festival kicks off tomorrow night at the Tower Theatre. The festival, presented by Fresno Filmworks, runs the full weekend, with five feature-film presentations, more than a dozen short-film screenings and a number of post-screening discussions and other fun stuff for all you cinephiles.

Our movie critic Rick Bentley screened two of the features (“Paris-Manhattan” and “Blancanieves”) and word around the office is they were stellar. You can read his reviews in tomorrow’s 7 Section.

In the mean time, we have tickets to festival to give out to couple Beehivers (that’s you). Because the festival starts tomorrow, this is a quickie. Leave a comment on this post. Tell us why your love Fresno Filmworks (or haven’t yet been introduced). We’ll pick two winners at random. Contest will close at 4 p.m. today and winners will be notified by email. NOTE: These are actual physical tickets, so winners will need to come down to The Bee’s front lobby by 5 p.m. tomorrow to pick them up.

No repeat entries, please. Check your email tonight to see if you’re the winner. Complete rules are on the jump.

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Donald’s weekend picks

The Fresno Philharmonic will have some fun Saturday night with its “Rat Pack: A Symphonic Celebration” at the Saroyan Theatre. Here’s my cover story in Friday’s 7 section. In it I highlight the contributions of Fresno City College to the local jazz scene, as well as check in the three Broadway veterans portraying Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. Pictured below: Mike Dana, Larry Honda and Craig Von Berg of City College. (Bee photo by Craig Kohlruss.) [Details]


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Donald’s weekend picks

Tonight’s opening night performance is a big deal. It marks the first time Fresno Grand Opera will attempt a fully staged performance (with lights, set and costumes) at the Shaghoian Hall. With only about 750 seats, this venue is about a third smaller than the Saroyan Theatre, where the company has staged operas for more than a decade. Fresno Grand Opera picked an intimate opera for this more intimate venue, and I’m curious to see the results. I wrote about the venue change — and checked in with lead singers Rebecca Davis and Chad A. Johnson — in my Sunday Spotlight column. And I focus on the Italian conductor Valerio Galli, pictured below, who is making his American debut, in Friday’s 7 section. [Details]

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Donald’s weekend picks

For many people, it just isn’t Christmas until you’ve seen “The Nutcracker.” The Central California Ballet production features some top-notch professional talent in the leading roles, including Michaela DePrince and Taureen Green, both of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier; Aurora Frey (pictured) and David Beir, who play the Snow Queen and Snow Queen; and Courtney Boyd, who plays the Dewdrop. Don’t forget to check out my story about DePrince — she was an African orphan who became a star ballerina — in Thursday’s Life section. [Details]

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Five Things You Should Do This Weekend

Other than taking the new downtown ice rink for a spin or watching the Veterans Day parade.

Swede Fest is bigger and better, back for its 10th installment Sunday. It’s happening at Tower Theatre, a dream realized for organizers of this quirky film festival.  It showcases low-budget parodies made by everyone from average joes to seasoned pros. Creativity, ingenuity and a sense of humor are king at Swede Fest, so you never know what you’re going to see. It’s free and open to movie lovers of all ages. For more on Swede Fest’s growth and rise to popularity, read this Q & A with the organizers. [More]

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Bumbling with ‘Bernie’


Well, this is annoying. If you followed the little controversy that broke earlier this week over the Fresno Filmworks August screening, you’ll recall that the distributor behind the movie “Bernie” forced Filmworks to pull the film from its schedule. The reason? The film opened at Regal’s Manchester theater last Friday, beating out today’s scheduled Filmworks screening, even though Filmworks had long had the film on its schedule.

After the Friday opening at Manchester, the folks at Filmworks gritted their teeth and decided they’d show “Bernie” anyway. But on Tuesday, Millennium Entertainment told Filmworks it couldn’t show “Bernie” in any form. The reason? The Filmworks screening would compete with Manchester for “Bernie” customers. Filmworks switched gears and announced it would play the acclaimed Japanese family drama “I Wish.”

Now comes the really silly part. After all of this, it turns out Regal pulled “Bernie” out of its Manchester theater after just a week. The last screening was Thursday night. So the movie isn’t playing anywhere today. And if Filmworks had been allowed to go ahead with its original plan, Millennium would have made some extra bucks.

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Filmworks forced to pull ‘Bernie’


The distributor for “Bernie” is making Fresno Filmworks pull its Friday scheduled screenings of the film. The reason? The indie film starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey opened last Friday at Regal’s Manchester theater. It slipped in with no advance notice after The Bee’s deadline for the Friday 7 section, which was printed with no review or indication the film had opened.

This occasionally happens in the Fresno market: a distributor will make a late decision to open a film on Friday without telling the media about it — either because it’s unorganized or simply doesn’t care. Most of the time the distributor doesn’t buy any print or TV advertising. And because Regal doesn’t advertise showtimes in The Bee anymore, the only way that audience members know it’s opening is through a random encounter with Fandango. (And then those same distributors often turn around and complain that people in the Fresno market don’t go to smaller films.)

Filmworks president John Moses says that “our non-theatrical venue apparently threatens the commercial run.”

A substitute film will be screened: the new Japanese release “I Wish.”

I caught up with Moses to ask a few questions about the situation.

Question: Were you surprised when “Bernie” opened here last Friday?

“Bernie,” with such star power, is a good fit for the commercial theaters, but I was still surprised that it opened the week before our playdate. When no review ran in last week’s “7,” I surmised that it had slipped in without advance notice to you, too. So far as our board is aware, no trailers ever played for the film, which is why we risked booking a film with such prominent actors.

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More Filmworks mail: In English, but longing for subtitles


“Brighton Rock,” the most recent Fresno Filmworks offering, sparked another interesting reader email after the fact. A reader writes:

My wife and I almost always catch the Fresno Filmworks viewings each month. We were there on November 11th at the first showing of Brighton Rock. As has happened before, we found that the combination of the Tower’s antiquated projection sound system and any film involving working-class British accents is deadly. It’s just like white noise. Perhaps twenty or thirty people walked out early. Given the overwhelming liberal bent of the Filmworks audience, bless them, I don’t think they were repulsed by the content of the film, but were just unable to follow the plot. We were tempted to walk as well. I pretended I was deaf and tried to follow the plot visually. Worked pretty well, but . . .

But we’ll still go every month, and just hope for films with subtitles. At least subtitles that aren’t white and that disappear into any bright scene. It’s not easy loving independent and foreign films.

I had similar issues with the film watching it at home on DVD. (I didn’t mention it in my review because screener copies of films with British accents sometimes don’t include subtitles while the actual film in the theater does. I just figured I got unlucky.) One character at the beginning of the film who got killed early on spoke with such a thick working-class accent that I was only to grasp about 25% of the dialogue.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this is something Filmworks can fix — beyond not booking such films in the first place. In recent years, I’ve seen a number of subtitled films in English, especially ones from Scotland. Let’s face it, sometimes the accents can be so thick the film might as well be in a different language.

In defense of lukewarm reviews

After reading my movie review in today’s 7 section of “Brighton Rock,” tonight’s Fresno Filmworks offering, a reader writes:

I hate “C” reviews. So, should I see the movie or just make a $10 donation to F Filmworks and stay home and watch Bill Maher?

My response: It would be a lot easier for critics if everything were either really good (“Munro gives 12 enthusiastic thumbs up for bestest movie ever!”) or dreadful (“I’d rather cut my shins with a potato peeler and pour salt on the open wounds that watch this flick”). But, alas, most stuff belongs in the middle. I realize this aggravates a whole swath of folks out there ranging from headline writers (who dance around trying to capture a wishy-washy review in a few words) to audience members (who want a simple yes or no on whether the entertainment in question is worth it).

I can feel the same way. Sometimes I just want an easily digestible pronouncement without ambiguity.

And yet — can you imagine how boring that would be all the time?

Critics are coached to have a strong, prominent point of view. Often, that point of view translates into a thumbs-up-or-down consumer mentality — a trend exacerbated by an increasingly text-averse society. But as years go by, I’ve become increasingly enamored with embracing my inner lukewarmedness (hey, I just made up a word) if that’s how I feel.

As for Filmworks tonight: Go ahead and see the movie. Others have liked it a lot more than me. You might be one of them.

To-Do Tonight: ‘Queen of the Sun’


Curious about the global bee crisis? CineCulture, Fresno Filmworks and T & D Willey Farms are sponsoring two screenings of “Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?” tonight at Fresno State. The film’s director, Taggart Siegel (“The Real Dirt on Farmer John”) will be on hand for discussions following the screening along with local experts Joe Traynor (a bee broker) and Gene Brandi (an apiarist).

A synopsis of the film from the organizers:

“Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?” is a profound, alternative look at the global bee crisis. Taking us on a journey through the catastrophic disappearance of bees and the mysterious world of the beehive, this engaging and ultimately uplifting film weaves an unusual and dramatic story of the heartfelt struggles of beekeepers, scientists and philosophers from around the world including Michael Pollan, Gunther Hauk and Vandana Shiva. Together they reveal both the problems and the solutions in renewing a culture in balance with nature.

The screenings will be held 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. at Fresno State’s Alice Peters Auditorium (Peters Bldg. PB 191). The event is free and open to the public. Donations are encouraged and will benefit the Queen of the Sun Educational Outreach Campaign.

To-Do Tonight: a well-done French farce


Still undecided about what to do tonight? There’s nothing like slipping into a cool theater on a warm summer evening and watching a festive French farce. That’s what you’ll get at tonight’s Fresno Filmworks presentation of “The Names of Love,” which screens at 5:30 and 8 p.m. today at the Tower Theatre. Here’s my review from Friday’s 7 section.

Donald’s weekend picks

California Opera gears up for its big summer festival finale with performances today, Saturday and Sunday. In today’s 7 section I give a rundown on the weekend’s big production, “Cosi fan Tutte,” which will be performed 2 p.m. Sunday at the Mercedes Edwards Theatre in Clovis. If you’re a musical-theater fan, consider tonight’s “From Sea to Shining Sea,” 7 p.m. at the Fresno Art Museum, which showcases favorite American works of musical theatre, operetta, and American opera composers.


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Donald’s weekend picks

Leave it to director Joel Abels to come up with a fresh take on the oft-seen “Beauty and the Beast.” His new StageWorks Fresno show, which features a youth cast up to age 16, uses small “object” or tabletop puppets designed by Matthew McGee, pictured below. A tip: Get tickets early. This is a small venue. Read about the show in today’s 7 cover story.


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