Wednesday, 17 April 2024

Arts & Life

HANCOCK (Rated PG-13)


You can’t go wrong with Will Smith, no matter what role he is playing. To say the least, “Hancock” takes one of our favorite actors in a totally new and unpredictable direction.


Believe it or not, in the film’s titular role, Will Smith’s John Hancock is a very different type of superhero. Disgruntled, sarcastic and misunderstood, Hancock is a homeless alcoholic who just happens to possess superhuman powers, much like Superman or Batman but without the nifty costume. Unlike other superheroes, he doesn’t live in a mansion with an underground lair. Normally passed-out drunk, Hancock resides on the most readily available bus bench.


Well-intentioned but careless, Hancock has a nasty habit of wreaking extensive damage while performing a daring rescue. Though his heroics can be appreciated, his antics and mishaps are starting to grate on the citizens of Los Angeles. It doesn’t help much that he looks as disheveled and unkempt as any hobo shuffling along Skid Row.


When people think of superheroes, they want someone in a crisp, appealing uniform, something polished like the Batsuit or Superman’s tights. In a city full of publicists, Hancock is desperately in need of an image makeover. Then he rescues hapless Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), a public relations executive struggling to make a successful firm.


Stuck in his car on railroad tracks while a train quickly approaches, Ray is saved at the last minute by the heroic Hancock. Again, Hancock causes considerable damage by derailing the train, among other things. Of course, Ray appreciates his savior and seizes upon the opportunity to offer Hancock a way to burnish his image. To show his gratitude, Ray invites Hancock to dinner at his house with his wife Mary (Charlize Theron) and their young son Aaron (Jae Head).


The rehabilitation of Hancock into a more acceptable and decent superhero requires the development of an interesting PR plan. The first thing is a rather basic effort at sobriety and handling anger management. Ray also convinces Hancock that he should serve a brief prison stint to pay back society for some misdeeds.


Of course, there are some troubling developments behind the prison walls when other inmates seek retribution. The other side of the coin is that Hancock’s incarceration keeps him unavailable for his heroics, and soon his services are in demand once again as the city explodes in crime waves, though now his desire to be more courteous and understanding also results in some unintended problems.


The story of “Hancock” cruises along with much fun generated by the superhero’s sarcastic quips, as well as by his maladroit attempts to do good. There’s plenty of action, violence and destruction of property, mostly courtesy of Hancock’s exceedingly erratic and reckless behavior.


But the genial goofiness of “Hancock” soon gives way to a more abrupt shift in direction and tone. This is the result of a major revelation that is less surprising upon reflection of some of the attitudes on display earlier in the story. Nevertheless, the surprise should not be revealed because it sets up the climactic confrontation.


“Hancock” is the kind of film likely to generate divided opinions. Again, Will Smith can hardly do any wrong, and here his anti-hero is an engaging character well worth rooting for, even in a subdued fashion. And yet, paradoxically, Hancock is not a lovable figure. Still, he entertains because his attitude is devil-may-care.


As a film, “Hancock” suffers from its disjointed construction, but this is not a critical failure. As I see it, “Hancock” is far more interesting than the cartoon-like qualities often found in this type of film.


If you like Will Smith and trust his instincts, then “Hancock” is definitely worth a look. Moreover, he’s supported very ably by Jason Bateman’s enthusiasm and Charlize Theron’s understated mystery.


DVD RELEASE UPDATE


You can get a double dose of William Conrad in his successful TV career as a plump district attorney or an overweight private investigator. Conrad cast a large shadow in “Cannon” and “Jake and the Fatman.” Both series are being released on DVD.


As the private eye Frank Cannon, Conrad employed his physical attributes to larger-than-life effect while enjoying five-star meals and fighting for justice. “Cannon: Season One, Volume One” found that Cannon’s girth didn’t allow for many intense fist fights, but the series substituted high-speed car chases in their place.


In a smart crime drama from the late 1980s, Conrad starred as the tough district attorney Jason “Fatman” McCabe, working alongside his happy-go-lucky younger partner Jake Styles (Joe Penny).


“Jake and the Fatman: Season One, Volume One” follows the DA and his slick investigator sidekick as the unlikely duo set out to solve the toughest cases.


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


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CLEARLAKE – Are you intrigued by crop dusters?


Wild About Books will host a book signing event at 2 p.m. Saturday, July 12, featuring Bert Atwood, author of “My Father Was A Crop Duster.”


Have you wondered what kind of person becomes a crop duster? How did the biplane dusters of the 20th century evolve? What did it take to build and maintain California’s largest fleet of duster?


In “My Father Was A Crop Duster” discover how pilots learn to crop dust. How biplanes were transformed into crop dusting work horses. Humorous incidents, dangerous incidents and near misses. Fatalities. Pilots who won big at the Reno Air Races. Pilots who pioneered crop dusting at night. How Bud and Leila Atwood built a crop dusting empire.


The book is a rare glimpse into the founding and success of California’s premiere 20th century crop dusting company. The writer’s personal touch and the private stories that only insiders knew is just great.


Bert Atwood is the sole surviving child of Bud and Leila Atwood. He was privy to more of the inner workings and incidents regarding their lives and the story of Atwood Crop Dusters than any other person now living.


Bert’s interviews of many former company associates yielded a vastly more detailed history of the company then he possessed on his own. This book includes 76 cameos of these associates providing great insight into their contributions to the company.


Printed in full color with over 100 color pictures and 100 black and white photos/images, “My Father Was A Crop Duster” is a beautiful “coffee table” book as well as a well detailed history.


Wild About Books is located at 14290 Olympic Drive in Clearlake, next door to Lisa's clothing store.


For an updated list of times and dates for upcoming events, stop by and see them or call 994-WILD (9453).


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SONOMA COUNTY – Lake County artist Gail Salituri's work will be featured in an upcoming art exhibit.


The show, “California Wine Country,” will run Tuesday, June 24 through Aug. 18. It will be held at Doubletree Hotel Sonoma Wine Country in Rohnert Park.


Along with Salituri's work, other featured artists include Brooks Anderson, Kay Carlson, Janet Herbert,

Phil Johannes, JoAnn Naylor and Vaso Peritos.


Receptions will be held from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 27 and from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 25. Enjoy wine, hors d’oeuvres and music.


The hotel is located at One Doubletree Drive, Rohnert Park. For information call 584-5466.


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LAKEPORT – Don't forget to stop by Cafe Victoria on Saturday, July 5 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. for their First Saturday Open Mic event.


Last month Dante and Lorna Sue put on their comedy skit with a political slat. The costumes and makeup were great as well as the original comedy. This month we will have our resident magician Philip Martin up to his usual tricks.


Host Phil Mathewson never knows who will stop by since we have some much talent in Lake County and we are even getting out of town performers now.


Join in as a performer or a member of the audience.


The cafe is located at 301 Main St., Lakeport and has a house piano and guitar available in case you forget yours. Enjoy the Fourth of July weekend.


Call Vicky for further details at 263-1210.


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WANTED (Rated R)


Some movies, like last summer’s “Crank,” are an action junkie’s adrenaline rush. The fast and furious pace of the murder, mayhem and destruction that fuels “Wanted” offers much the same jolts of kinetic energy that result in an orgy of non-stop thrills.


Based upon a series of comic books, “Wanted” is devoid of artistic or intellectual pretensions, merrily pursuing an absurdist fantasy of unrestrained violence. Most action pictures delineate the good guys from the bad, but in “Wanted” there’s a sense of ambiguity that leaves certain things in doubt.


The central figure in “Wanted” is a far cry from the traditional comic book hero. Working as an office drone in a drab cubicle, Wesley (James McAvoy) is an unfortunate loser in a dead-end job as an account manager constantly besieged by a harridan boss.


His life is made even more miserable by the fact that his shrewish girlfriend Cathy (Kristen Hager) is sleeping with his best friend and co-worker Barry (Chris Pratt). Addicted to prescription pills for panic attacks, Wesley’s pathetic excuse for an existence might just as well come to an end and save him from a lifetime of prolonged misery.


In fact, this nearly comes to pass when Wesley is at the pharmacy to pick up a new batch of pills, and suddenly finds himself in the middle of a gun battle between the appropriately-named Fox (Angelina Jolie) and a rogue agent named Cross (Thomas Kretschmann).


Fox informs the incredulous Wesley that the father he didn’t know was a member of the ancient order of trained assassins pledged to carry out the unbreakable orders of fate, which are interestingly enough delivered in coded messages from weaving machines in a textile factory.


The drugstore shootout leads to an incredibly wild car chase in the streets of Chicago, eventually ending at a castle that serves as the headquarters for the mysterious group known as the Fraternity.


Wesley soon becomes acquainted with the fact that his heritage is to follow in his father’s footsteps as an assassin.


The Fraternity’s enigmatic leader Sloan (Morgan Freeman) intends to see that Wesley is fully trained to develop lightning-quick reflexes and superhuman agility. Once a nebbish, Wesley undergoes the type of rigorously bloody and violent training that would make military boot camp seem like a day at Disneyland.


The neophyte assassin is pummeled daily by brutes with menacing names like the Butcher, the Exterminator and the Repairman. After a day of being wounded by knives, steel bars and guns, Wesley is healed in a tub of mysterious healing lotions, in order to live for another day of sadistic beatings.


As our hero toughens up, he starts to relish his new life, even exacting revenge on tormentors from his past office job. The training program gets more intense as Wesley learns to ride atop of speeding trains, leaping from car to car as if he were impervious to death.


In one of his first assignments of meting out justice, Wesley is involved in a wild chase to take out a crime boss. One of the most spectacular vehicle stunts involves Wesley maneuvering a speeding vehicle to carry out the assassination on the target’s most vulnerable spot. This crazy scene should not be divulged so as to not spoil its jaw-dropping surprise.


Seemingly ready for the big time, Wesley heads off to Europe to meet with the reclusive Pekwarsky (Terence Stamp), who offers a lead on the villainous Cross.


The European journey sets in motion a series of stunts and violent gun battles that are even more spectacular when occurring on a speeding train through a mountainous region. Slowly, it dawns on Wesley that the intentions of his deadly associates in the Fraternity aren’t quite as noble as first presented.


Sorting out the betrayals allows for a climactic showdown at the Fraternity’s castle that is also spectacular for its explosive action. “Wanted” delights in its aggressive pursuit of bloodlust and violence, offering a mindless enjoyment for fans of unbridled action and fantastic stunts.


DVD RELEASE UPDATE


According to CBS Television, the sci-fi drama series “Jericho” won’t be on the network schedule for a third season. That hasn’t stopped fans from using a Web site to press for renewed life of a defunct franchise.


Meanwhile, “Jericho: The Second Season” was recently released on DVD, including the series finale with an alternative ending that has never been broadcast.


Originally canceled after its premiere season, “Jericho” was brought back to television by a historic groundswell of fan support. Inspired by a line in the first season’s finale, diehard fans sent over 20 tons of nuts to CBS executives in an effort to keep the series on the air.


“Jericho” chronicles what happens when a nuclear mushroom cloud suddenly appears on the horizon and plunges a small Kansas town into chaos, leaving its residents completely isolated and wondering if they’re the only Americans left alive.


If you are wondering what all the fuss is about, then by all means pick up “Jericho: The Second Season” and send a bag of peanuts to CBS.


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


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GET SMART (Rated PG-13)


Updating a spy spoof TV series from the Cold War-era poses a certain amount of risk. Don Adams’ brainless agent Maxwell Smart in the delightfully amusing “Get Smart” is a hard act to follow.


As originally conceived, the character of Max was an Inspector Clouseau-like agent who would bungle his way to success during the course of a half-hour show. His charm was clueless behavior, punctuated with catch phrases and dim observations. The challenge for the updated screen version of “Get Smart” is to find the right man to fill the shoe containing a phone.


For the contemporary setting, Steve Carell, the actor who made his mark in the titular role of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” is absolutely the right choice for this task. Smartly, Carell does not try to impersonate Don Adams, instead taking the lack of self-awareness in a whole new direction.


For the uninitiated, the original “Get Smart” focused on the battles between mysterious agencies, the U.S. spy agency CONTROL and the evil crime syndicate known as KAOS. The key players at CONTROL that Max worked with included the Chief and Agent 99 (then the endearing Barbara Feldon).


In today’s world of “Get Smart,” some things are a little different. At the beginning, Max is an eager policy wonk who writes vital 600-page reports ignored by everybody. Yet he is frustrated with his desk job and anxious to become a field agent.


The Chief (Alan Arkin) wants to keep Max at the headquarters, while charismatic superstar Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson) gets all the fun of globe-trotting field work. When KAOS manages to compromise most of the field agents, Max gets his big chance to step outside his office job.


For his maiden assignment, Max is paired up with Agent 99, a lovely but lethal veteran who is not keen to be saddled with an office dweeb. In the TV series, Agent 99 was almost fawning over Max, but that’s hardly the case here, though eventually you know that a certain amount of warmth and affection will inevitably develop between these characters. The contemporary Agent 99 uses more than feminine wiles to get her way; she’s a proficient martial arts expert who’s also handy with all types of weapons.


The plot resembles that of so many James Bond films, where the evil crime syndicate SPECTRE had the same goal of world domination as KAOS. Here, the bad guys get their hands on nuclear weapons and threaten to blow up places if their ransom demands are unmet.


The key KAOS operative is Siegfried (Terence Stamp), assisted by his bumbling sidekick, Shtarker (Ken Davitian). Siegfried’s network of terror extends to a munitions factory in Russia that is disguised as a bakery. Agent 99 and Max chase after bad guys around the Russian countryside, even infiltrating an elegant party at a mansion, where Agent 99 and Max have an amusing dance competition.


When the CONTROL agents end up in Moscow at the bakery, the action takes a radical shift into the type of explosive violence that one would expect from a James Bond movie. And this is just the beginning of the film’s increasing penchant for the kind of high-octane action that only comes with a blockbuster.


Keeping up with KAOS’ evil plan to detonate a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles while the president (James Caan) is attending a concert at Disney Hall requires a full-blown chase sequence that ordinarily has little to do with a comedy.


I would surmise that “Get Smart” employs both comedy and explosive action as a marketing hook to reel in the young audience that likely has no familiarity with the original TV series. This strategy is understandable, and the box office receipts will tell if this was the smart move.


Even though Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, the original creators of the TV characters, are the “consultants” on this picture, “Get Smart” won’t succeed on its past glories.


“Get Smart” had promise to be a very satisfying spy spoof, and it does offer a decent measure of enjoyable fun, though I was hoping for more than it delivered. And yet, fortunately enough, Steve Carell’s comedic talent and his innate ability to tap into a clueless persona serve him well in playing an inept spy.


DVD RELEASE UPDATE


Adam Carolla may not be a household name, but some may remember him for teaming up with Jimmy Kimmel on “The Man Show.” That alone should give you an indication of Adam’s comic sensibilities.


He stars in “The Hammer” as a middle-aged carpenter and boxing instructor who yearns for his shot at Olympic glory. Losing his job and his girlfriend on his 40th birthday, Adam shakes his complacency when he is invited to try out for the U.S. Olympic Boxing team.


“The Hammer” didn’t play wide in the theaters, but it is worth a look on DVD as an off-beat comedy with plenty of laughs.


For the adult crowd, Showtime’s debauched series “Californication” has its first season available on DVD.


David Duchovny, far removed from his “X-Files” fame, plays a downbeat, self-loathing writer whose life spins out of control as he juggles his sex and drug addictions while raising a daughter and trying to win back his ex-girlfriend.


Duchovny brings new meaning to the swinging bachelor lifestyle. “Californication” is full of edgy dialogue and controversial sex situations.


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


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