Wednesday, 12 June 2024

Arts & Life

FOUR CHRISTMASES


(Rated PG-13)


Vince Vaughn is a funny guy, particularly when he’s sarcastic and aggravated, as was the case in “Dodgeball” and “Wedding Crashers,” to name some of his recent films.


More recently, during last season’s holiday time to be precise, Vaughn starred in the Christmas-themed flop “Fred Claus.” His track record for holiday cheer takes another hit with “Four Christmases,” not the worst of holiday comedies. Nevertheless, it’s not likely to be fondly remembered one year hence, and we can only hope that he’s not in search of a yuletide trifecta.


More than anything, “Four Christmases” appears to be derailed by a lack of chemistry between Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon, playing respectively the unmarried yuppie couple of Brad and Kate.


Supposedly, Brad and Kate are this happy San Francisco couple who so abjure any relations with their dysfunctional immediate families that they go out of their way to avoid them during the holidays. The reason for such negative feelings becomes apparent only too well on one fateful Christmas day.


According to custom, they ditch their families on Christmas by slipping out of town to some exotic beach locale, on the pretext that they are devoted to an altruistic mission in a far-flung Third World country.


Things go horribly wrong when they are trapped at the San Francisco airport by a fog bank so thick that every outbound flight is canceled indefinitely. Through another unfortunate circumstance, their ploy for a getaway falls apart, and they have no choice but to redeem themselves by visiting all families in one day.


As they are both the children of divorced parents, Brad and Kate are now expected to show up at four households in a single day. Bracing themselves for a marathon of homecomings, they expect the worst, and that’s the way it turns out.


The first encounter, and certainly the most physically taxing one, is with Brad’s crotchety redneck father Howard (Robert Duvall) and his older brothers, Denver (Jon Favreau) and Dallas (Tim McGraw). Brad’s siblings have not matured emotionally, and since they are aspiring cage fighters, Brad becomes the brunt of their impromptu demonstration of an Ultimate Fighting Championship smackdown.


A visit to Kate’s mother Marilyn (Mary Steenburgen) entails its own set of embarrassments. First, Kate’s sexpot sister Courtney (Kristin Chenoweth), whose cleavage suggests a Playboy model, divulges secrets about Kate’s childhood. A couple of Kate’s aunts cast lascivious stares in Brad’s direction, while Kate’s mom reveals she’s dating the pastor (Dwight Yoakum) of her church. Then, they all head off to the church for an awkward Christmas pageant where Brad and Kate are pressed into service as Joseph and Mary.


The next stop to visit Brad’s mother Paula (Sissy Spacek) hardly fares any better. An aging hippie flower-child type, Paula causes a great deal of consternation when it is revealed she is now living with one of Brad’s childhood buddies. Not only is this discomforting, it threatens to erupt in some sort of unwelcome confrontation. Topping off the visit is the playing of a board game that turns ugly when Brad and Kate blurt out responses that expose hidden feelings.


By the time Brad and Kate reach the final destination of the Lake Tahoe retreat of Kate’s father Creighton (Jon Voight), their relationship has not survived the uncomfortable road trip.


For his part, Creighton tries to explain some of the mistakes he made in his life and as a father. He’s so thoughtful and sincere that he seems out of place with all the other dysfunctional characters.


The unavoidable conclusion is that “Four Christmases” seeks to end on an emotionally satisfying note, hoping to find redemption.


In terms of style and substance, “Four Christmases” is as impaired and out of sync as the odd sort of characters it lampoons. Veering from slapstick comedy to heartfelt emotion, this is a film in search of a cohesive theme, which in itself is a challenge because the screenplay is the product of four writers.


On the plus side, Vince Vaughn has more than a few funny moments, and the cast consists of an all-star lineup who performs well enough despite the obvious handicaps.


“Four Christmases” is not a complete fiasco, but it certainly doesn’t need to be on anyone’s must-see holiday list.


DVD RELEASE UPDATE


Last week, I shared with you my desire to obtain the “Pink Panther Ultimate Collection” box set. Now, I must add to my Christmas list a vintage TV series.


“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Series,” which aired on NBC from 1964 through 1968, was recently issued in a nifty attaché case. The funny thing is, though, this whole set was first released a year ago, but could only have been purchased through Time Life’s mail order. Now the spy spoof adventures of Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo and David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin may be bought, I presume, at Wal-Mart or Circuit City.


I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I have this quaint old-fashioned notion of purchasing something I can hold in my hands, perusing its packaging and reading the promotional advertisements on the outside. Besides, when this set was advertised by Time Life, it had a list price of around $250, a steep price for a mail order item.


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


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Bottle Rock at AT&T Park on Halloween. From left to right, Stephen Holland, Mike Wilhelm, Neon Napalm, Mark Phillips and Bill McMenomy. Courtesy photo.



 

UPPER LAKE – Proprietors Lynne and Bernie Butcher will host a gala New Year’s Eve Party at the Blue Wing Saloon and Café starting at 9 p.m. on Dec. 31.


Bottle Rock Blues and Rhythm Band featuring Mike Wilhelm and Neon Napalm will supply live music. There is no admission charge.


The Blue Wing is adjacent to the Tallman Hotel at 9520 Main St., Upper Lake, and is open daily from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. The phone number is 707-275-2233.

 

To book rooms, the Tallman reservation desk is 707-275-2244.


For further information go to www.bluewingsaloon.com or www.tallmanhotel.com.


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Twenty to 30 items by local artists will be featured at the auction. Courtesy photo.

 


LAKEPORT – The Lake County Arts Council will hold its next live auction of artworks on Saturday, Nov. 29, as a part of the Dickens Market festivities.


The auction will be at the Main Street Gallery, 325 N. Main St., Lakeport, beginning at 1 p.m., and the work will be available to preview at 11a.m.


All work auctioned at this event will be from the collection of the Arts Council. Experience shows that this is an opportunity to purchase good art at unusually low prices.


There will be sculpture, paintings and prints, as well as photography, weavings, embroidery, art books and art supplies. There will be no silent auction, bake sale, entertainment, dinner or speeches, and it should be over in an hour.


The nonpareil auctioneer, Bert Hutt, is quite electric on the podium. You may know him in one of his other roles, as musician, actor or artistic director of the Soper-Reese Community Theater, but you shouldn't miss his performance with the auction hammer.


There will be 20 to 30 items to be auctioned. Starring in this auction are two lots of multi-part ceramic sculpture by the late Dani Burch, beautifully framed prints by Linda Becker and paintings by John Eells. There will be wine and refreshments served for participants.


For more information, call the Main Street Gallery at 263-6658 or visit the LCAC Web site at www.lakecountyartscouncil.com. Some items from the auction will be on display a week in advance at the gallery.


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LAKEPORT – Last Saturday night's Clear Lake High School performance of David Ives' "All In The Timing” played to a large crowd of amazed theater-goers.


Why were they amazed? Because, with only a month and a half of preparation, and a set consisting of a few black curtains and flats, a card table and some folding chairs, the all-student ensemble managed to pull off a thoroughly charming evening of entertainment.


The "play" was actually four short plays, each completely separate from the other. The unifying theme between all of them was comedy and language.


Ives' off-beat humor explored the challenges of what we say, how we say it, when we say it and ... what is the result of all that.


His tools for this exploration were such weird characters as a woman with a speech problem (Alley Hauptman), a fake professor (Oliver Leighton), young people in bad diners (Eathan Keiffer, Lolly Brown, Michael Kruszewski and Joni Hansen) and three monkeys (Zenze Manley, Jennea Combs and Oliver again). Talk about eclectic!


The energy of each performance was catching! Although the dialogue was fast and sometimes a bit quiet, there was never any doubt about what was happening on the stage. Even when Leighton spoke knowingly in a made-up language, we knew what he was saying to his unsuspecting victim, played with tender naivete and sincerity by Hauptman.


When two people sit at a table for an entire skit, this should be boring, right? Keiffer managed to do this twice in two skits without a boring minute in either one of them. His partner in the first skit, Lolly Brown, joined him in a string of bell-divided "do you come here often" conversations that can best be described as "mind-boggling, laugh-filled, perfectly timed snappy patter.”


And, when Kieffer showed up again in "Philadelphia" (Keiffer's name for the place where you can never get what you want), Kruszewski and Hansen were there to challenge the his premise and then hysterically send him to Philadelphia, himself.


And in the middle of these intellectual challenges were, what else? Monkeys! Yes, three monkeys, trying to write “Hamlet” together.


From the moment Manley stuffed a whole banana in her mouth and ran up and then down a teeter-totter, I was hooked. Coombs pranced across the stage with attitude in a fetching tutu while Leighton slipped effortlessly into his "to be or not to be" phase, and I knew for sure that Shakespeare would never be the same. What a hoot!


This production was the creation of directors John Tomlinson and Jenna Radke, two grownups who have no problem thinking with the creativity of children while "cracking the whip" on the talent. The results were very insightful and adult performances delivered with zip, zest, laughs and pure enjoyment to a very appreciative audience. Congratulations, guys! You were all stars!


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BOLT (Rated PG)


Animation films present a set of challenges, usually to be overcome with some new technique or creative approach. With a pedigree forged from the union of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, “Bolt” is a pioneering piece of technical marvel otherwise known as Disney Digital 3-D.


This is Disney’s first animated feature to be conceived and designed for 3-D, meaning that it’s an in-house production where quality control is paramount. The filmmakers save the best 3-D moments for big action sequences, avoiding the pitfalls of excessive and unnecessary gimmicks.


Despite the amazingly well-done animation, “Bolt” is more interested in its story than dazzling with its effects. This movie should be equally enjoyable in the absence of the 3-D format.


Like most Disney films, “Bolt” fills the screen with laughs and adventure, but pulls on the emotional heartstrings with tender efficacy. Bolt (voiced by John Travolta), a white-haired canine, lives in the fantasy world of Hollywood, where he’s the star of an immensely popular TV series about a pooch with incredible super powers whose every day is filled with adventure, danger and intrigue.


He’s very attached to his owner and TV co-star Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus), who’s constantly in danger and needs to be rescued by Bolt. The villainous star of the TV series is Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell), whose fiendish plot for world domination is abetted by cats acting as accomplices. Indeed, Dr. Calico is a low-rent James Bond villain, more or less on par with Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies.


Living in his fictional world, Bolt has come to believe that he’s been genetically engineered to have amazing powers, including incredible strength, laser vision and a powerful superbark. Bolt is accustomed to stopping speeding cars or ripping up asphalt by exercising sheer physical power beyond all reason. Breaking loose from his on-set trailer when concerned for Penny’s safety, Bolt is accidentally packed in a crate and shipped to New York.


Once in Manhattan, Bolt finds that reality begins to challenge his delusions, discovering that daredevil stunts don’t go according to plan. Wandering aimlessly through the city streets, after several predictable mishaps in the urban jungle, Bolt takes hostage a scrappy, streetwise alley cat named Mittens (voiced by Susie Essman), embittered at having been abandoned by her human owners.


Convinced that Mittens is one of Dr. Calico’s henchmen, Bolt insists that the sarcastic feline will show him the way back to California, a plan that takes root when they find a Waffle House place mat with a map of the United States. Indeed, the story requires that you suspend major disbelief about the resourcefulness of domesticated animals.


At a rest stop somewhere in fly-over country, Bolt and Mittens encounter Rhino (voice of Mark Walton), an eager hamster sealed in a plastic ball who spends too much time watching television. As a result, Rhino happens to be a diehard fan of Bolt’s adventures who has memorized the details of the dog’s numerous missions. Leaving the safety of his RV, Rhino heeds the call of duty, living out his ultimate fantasy by teaming up with Bolt for a real-life adventure.


Given that this is an animation film where little of the action passes for even remotely credible, “Bolt” takes tremendous liberties with reality, though it goes down smoothly because of the humor. It’s fun for adults and children, though for different reasons, to watch the trio of mismatched animals traversing the country in search of Hollywood.


Memorable encounters include a breakout from the pound and getting advice from pesky pigeons, whether the obnoxious New York wise guys or the aspiring screenwriter types in Tinseltown.


The wonderfully delusional Bolt is the star of the show, but he is frequently at risk of being upstaged by the sassy Mittens, who has to undertake the task of teaching the superhero dog how to act like an ordinary pooch. Nevertheless, there’s an enjoyable dynamic between cat and dog, trading on the usual suspicions, though Mittens gets the best lines, often dripping with sarcasm.


Aside from a few disturbing images, particularly of raging fire threatening the lives of animals, “Bolt” is terrific family-friendly entertainment for audiences young and old. Disney delivers great animation and laughs, a nice combination.


DVD RELEASE UPDATE


When the studios come up with clever packaging for some old movie favorites, the urge to buy is almost irresistible.


For reasons not clear to myself, I’ve always loved the “Pink Panther” cartoons as well as the movies. Well, the cartoons are sometimes better than the movies, particularly when you start reaching the end of the film franchise with duds like “Curse of the Pink Panther” and “Son of the Pink Panther.”


But, this “Pink Panther Ultimate Collection” just might be an absolute necessity, since it includes nine films, nine cartoon classics and the quintessential encyclopedia, “Pink Panther, the Ultimate Guide to the Coolest Cat in Town.”


I love the original 1964 “The Pink Panther,” starring Peter Sellers as everyone’s favorite bumbling detective. The collector’s edition of this classic comedy film contains over 60 minutes of never-before-seen footage that can only be found in this special box set. This is what I want for Christmas.


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


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LAKEPORT – Laugh alert!


Here is a good time that won't cost you much but will lift your spirits. It's called, “All In The Timing.”


Why will it be a good time? Because it is four short comedies presented by a bunch of teenagers at Clear Lake High who are long on talent.


Playwright David Ives has mastered the art of wit and charm and these kids know exactly how to serve it up ... with style and a smile.


This production will run Friday, Nov. 21, and Saturday, Nov. 22, at the Marge Alakszay Performing Arts Center on the Clear Lake High School campus on Lange Street in Lakeport.


Show time is 7:30 p.m. and the cost at the door is only $5 for adults and $3 for students.


You can't beat the price or the value. See you there!`


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