Sunday, 04 December 2022

Arts & Life

KNOCKED UP (Rated R)


The good news, finally, is a week without sequels. But some may argue that writer/director Judd Apatow has delivered in the raunchy romantic comedy “Knocked Up” what is essentially, at a minimum, a thematic follow-up to his brilliantly funny “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”


The familiar terrain of ribald humor and oddly endearing crassness, tempered by an underlying sweetness, is Apatow’s winning formula for a comedy that works because of the right mix of sharp dialogue and pratfalls. Even though there is a frequent assault on good taste, the jokes, gags and smart banter reach high enough on the scale of inspired comedy so as to not insult the audience’s intelligence.


Smart as this comedy may be, it does ask of us somewhat incredibly to believe that a lovable slacker like Seth Rogen’s Ben Stone can rise far enough above his station to connect romantically with Katherine Heigl’s pretty and sophisticated Alison Scott. This mixed union is what makes for a lot of fun.


Ben lives in a state of arrested development with four other slacker buddies who spend most of the time hanging out and getting high, while occasionally thinking about launching a Web site that serves the prurient interest of locating the nude scenes of famous celebrities.


Meanwhile, Alison is a smart, ambitious professional being promoted to an on-camera interviewer for the E! Entertainment Channel. Celebrating her promotion at a nightclub, Alison has too many drinks and ends up in a one-night stand with Ben.


Befitting the film’s title, Alison discovers two months later that she is pregnant with none other than Ben’s child. Getting past the awkward stage of informing family and friends, Alison decides to keep the baby and Ben agrees to lend his full support, even though he has only a few dollars to his name.


What follows is an awkward romance that requires the stoner Ben to mature to a heretofore unimaginable level, while poised Alison has to find the redeeming qualities in a less-than-stellar candidate for matrimony and fatherhood.


Helping to move along or even at times to hinder the path to true romance is the involvement of Alison’s older sister Debbie (Leslie Mann), a tart-tongued housewife with two young kids who suspects her ambitious husband Pete (Paul Rudd) is unfaithful.


It turns out that Pete may have more in common with Ben than initially suspected, which proves to be the case in a clandestine fantasy baseball meeting and a raucous road trip to Vegas that includes hallucinogenic drugs. Debbie is in a class by herself, and she has a terrifically funny scene in a showdown with a nightclub doorman who won’t let her in because she’s too old and her sister is too visibly pregnant.


Profane and crass, “Knocked Up” has so many comic gems that uncontrolled bouts of laughter are unavoidable. To be sure, there’s a matter of taste to this film’s humor that may not be to everyone’s liking, but I suspect it will nonetheless prove as popular as its thematic progenitor.


MR. BROOKS (Rated R)


Serial killers are inevitably creepy, despicable and demonic creatures. A murderer is made more fascinating and compelling if that person is conflicted, tortured and has a split personality.


That’s the reasoning behind the gripping suspense thriller “Mr. Brooks,” where the pillar of the community, a successful businessman and generous philanthropist, hides a shocking private life that involves a pathological compulsion to kill. Even more shocking is that Kevin Costner plays the titular role of a notorious serial killer who has baffled the police for years.


As the film opens, Costner’s Earl Brooks is being honored as Portland’s Man of the Year. Upon returning home with his loving, devoted wife Emma (Marg Helgenberger), he turns into Mr. Hyde and slips out for an evening of mayhem.


Though repressed for two years while attending AA meetings, his murderous impulse is inflamed by the omnipresence of his diabolical alter-ego Marshall (William Hurt), the inner voice of malevolence who urges the brutal slaying of a dancing couple.


The reason why these two people are chosen as victims is never revealed or explored, other than the fact that Mr. Brooks, abetted by the entreaties of the evil Marshall, has an insatiable blood lust.


For someone meticulous in the manner in which he kills, Mr. Brooks commits his first mistake. By not closing the curtains, he’s observed by the Peeping Tom photographer Mr. Smith (Dane Cook), who chooses to blackmail him with a bizarre demand.


Realizing that he’s found the notorious Thumbprint Killer, the curious Mr. Smith wants to tag along for the next kill, insisting that it happen real soon. Now Mr. Brooks must contend with a demanding alter ego and an impatient bystander. But his problems start to mount when tenacious Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore) gets back on the case.


A few subplots are introduced into the mix, all of which have some bearing upon the actions of the killer or the attempts to apprehend him. Detective Atwood contends with her own personal crisis of a pending divorce from a cheating, gold-digging husband. And her personal safety is at serious risk from an escaped convict she put behind bars.


Then, Earl’s daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker) suddenly drops out of college and returns home under very mysterious and troubling circumstances. Meanwhile, Mr. Smith’s reckless eagerness to participate in the next murder has put Earl and Marshall in a tough bind.


Though often preposterous, “Mr. Brooks” is as close to serious adult drama as one is likely to find in the vast landscape of banal and silly summer movies. Watching the interplay between Kevin Costner and William Hurt as they deal with the tortured soul of Mr. Brooks is best reason to enjoy this creepy, suspenseful thriller.


Tim Riley reviews films for Lake County News.


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PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END (Rated PG-13)


Disney is getting an amazing amount of mileage out of its popular amusement ride, now that the third installment of “Pirates of the Caribbean” is money in the bank for a huge box office hit.


There are legions of fans for Johnny Depp and the franchise that will not be put off by sniping from critics or the film’s running time of nearly three hours.


“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” may be an endurance test for some, but for others it is a badge of honor to be figuratively strapped into a theater seat for one very long and thrilling theme ride.


The Pirate culture runs amok in this film, with betrayals piled upon betrayals as the cutthroat swashbucklers battle each other and the British navy.


“Pirates 3” picks up where the second installment left off, or so it seems. The British are becoming bolder in their attempts to wipe out the pirate tribes in the treacherous Caribbean seas. Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) of the East India Trading Company has gained control of the terrifying ghost ship, the Flying Dutchman, and its malevolent, vengeful captain, Davy Jones (Bill Nighy, unrecognizable in the tentacles covering his face).


Roaming the seven seas under the command of Admiral Norrington (Jack Davenport), the Dutchman is an unstoppable force bent on destroying pirate ships without mercy.


The plot is needlessly convoluted, often so obtuse that confusion is certain to be a problem. Now, the surfeit of plot twists, piled up with endless double crosses and betrayals, may not be troublesome for most viewers, because the rogues, lovable or otherwise, capture our attention.


Let’s face it, Johnny Depp’s foppish Captain Jack Sparrow is hugely amusing and entertaining, no matter how inane the situations in which he is often placed. A real plus for this newest adventure is that Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa, full of bluster and venom, is on hand for the entire story to menace and terrorize his foes with obvious glee.


Also returning to the action are Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), two lovebirds so devoid of romantic chemistry that you can only assume pirates had no love life.


Elizabeth is much better at handling a sword in combat, a useful talent to possess when she teams up with Will and Captain Barbossa on a desperate quest to gather the Nine Lords of the Brethren Court, which is something like the United Nations for pirates.


Their hope is to defeat Beckett, the Flying Dutchman and the entire British armada, no easy task when pirates squabble more fiercely than warlords in Afghanistan. But first, they must find one of the missing pirate Lords, which happens to be Captain Jack Sparrow, currently trapped in the netherworld of Davy Jones’ Locker.


All things considered, Sparrow is in fine form when he’s rescued by an odd alliance of pirates. The mystical Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) lends her magical powers, while the goofy pirates Pintel (Lee Arenberg) and Ragetti (Mackenzie Crook) lend their less than helpful assistance.


The shaky alliance of pirates first travels to dangerous, exotic Singapore and confronts Chinese pirate Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat, the major new player) to gain charts, and a ship that will take them literally to the world’s end to rescue Sparrow.


The gathering of the Pirate Lords comes close to being a prison riot, but they decide to unite against a common foe. This is a good thing in so far as it allows nearly the last hour of the film to be consumed with every special effect of battle scenes that could be cast upon troubled waters.


Entire fleets engage in ship-to-ship battles, with cannons blasting and ripping through all hands on deck. Pirates swing from rigging in spectacular sword fights with their enemies. Storms at sea are impressively staged to render edge-of-the-seat thrills, particularly when swirling waters create the watery equivalent of a black hole.


“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” doesn’t stint on the dazzling special effects, but all this breathtaking wonder does seem to come up a bit short in the face of too numerous plot twists that threaten to sink the whole enterprise.


There’s a bonus scene at the very end of the credits, and if you are willing to stick around, it is worth the wait, particularly for the most devoted followers of this Pirate world. Oh, it should not be overlooked that Keith Richards, the gaunt member of the Rolling Stones, is perfectly cast in the cameo role of Captain Teague, mentor to Jack Sparrow.


Tim Riley reviews films for Lake County News.


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Cindy Carr, co-producter, holds the Nunsense teddy bear, complete with a custom nun's habit, which is being raffled off. Photo by Joanne Bateni.


 

What do a convent full of singing and dancing nuns, poison vichyssoise and Publisher’s Clearing House have in common?


You will have to go see Nunsense, the latest Lakeport Community Players and Lake County Repertory Theater joint production, to find out.


I attended the production's opening night and found it to be fast-paced with lots of laughs. The cast came through the audience thanking everyone for coming at the beginning and at the end of the play, which was a nice touch.


Kathleen Escude was the perfect Reverend Mother, stern yet funny. There were strong performances by Becky Martin, as Sister Mary Amnesia, who couldn’t remember anything, including her real name, and Suna Flores as Sister Mary Hubert, who had her eye on Reverend Mother’s job. Cathy O’Connell was great as the understudy, Sister Robert Anne, who finally gets her big break.


There were plenty of songs and jokes about religion, food and pop culture combined with audience participation. A special guest performance was the highlight of the second act with a solo vocalist accompanied by a guitar player.


Do catch this play with music and lyrics by Dan Goggin. They've just finished their run at the Kelseyville Presbyterian Church; in June they will move to the Weaver Auditorium at the Lower Lake Schoolhouse Museum. Performances will be June 1-3 and June 8-10. There are evening and matinee performances.


Be sure to buy a raffle ticket for the Nunsense teddy bear to add to your collection. You know you can’t resist a cute teddy bear.


Show tickets are available at Catfish Books, telephone 263-4454.


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Jackie Greene, all of somewhere in his mid-twenties and with a recent album on which he is backed by Elvis Costello's band, did surface in Lake County way back in 2003 at one of those wonderful Library Park concerts in Lakeport.


He's, for starters, a very good reason why you should take in these concerts. They've had the (latter day and way good) Yardbirds with two living original members and the Mick Martin Blues Band, from Sacramento, among others. That band is on Dig Records' "Positively 12th & K," a Dylan tribute CD featuring Greene and one of the greatest living singers in rock 'n' roll, Sal Valentino, formerly of the Beau Brummels.


By the way, the Brummels broke up before a Lakeport concert a few years ago after Valentino and Ron Elliot had a fit of fisticuffs a la the Davies Brothers of the Kinks or the Gallagher brothers of Oasis.


Valentino, who had been opening for Greene, didn't make the Lakeport concert. He was home, just out of the hospital and, as I had been forewarned, one of the worst interviews ever. He was but I love his music so much I'd gladly bear the abuse.


So back to Greene.


In a recent issue of Rolling Stone, the usually very reliable David Fricke, wrote a "New Guitar Gods" feature listing John Mayer, Derek Trucks and John Frusciante as these newly olive crowned Olympians. A good list followed including Tom Morello, Warren Haynes, Jack White and so on.


While each of these git-picking wonders has a place on such a list I did not see Jackie Greene anywhere. And, of course, Mike Wilhelm was not listed either, not that he's new, just that he's almost consistently overlooked. I've written so much about him that some might consider me his unofficial press agent. But, hey, he's that good and I just can't stop listening to the three CDs he gave me recently.


But, again, back to Greene, the man left out of RS's "Guitar God" list. Of course, they are responsible for the pointless and disgusting excuse for something, "I'm From Rolling Stone." So that could be their excuse. But, I doubt it.


When I heard this quadruple threat for the first time in Library Park in 2003 he was already playing back to back shows at Biscuits & Blues in SF and had fronted the only unsigned band to ever receive a standing ovation at the Fillmore in the last 10 years. That ranks with Lynyrd Skynyrd getting demands for encores when they opened for the Who on a now legendary tour.


Jackie Greene is an incredible guitar player. He's an incredible songwriter. He is also an incredible harp player and I thought then and I still do the best pianist I've ever heard bar almost none.


Did I say incredible enough times?


So the only question remaining when I finally got a few minutes alone with the "Kid" he does do "Messin' With The Kid" on his second CD (and with that same Mick Martin Blues Band whose drummer is Joe Morello's nephew, and, yes, his uncle was his teacher). So what else could I call him?


I know I wouldn't mess with him.


Quiet, softspoken, non-assuming Jacke Greene, after I saw half his show, made me feel like someone meeting Bob Dylan very early in the game.


Jackie gets compared a lot to Dylan but, after listening to his excellent Dylan covers on that Sacramento Zimmie tribute, I quickly came to the realization that Greene, like Dylan before him absorbing Woody Gutherie, was simply absorbing Dylan then moving on and being himself instead.


When you first see him, Greene looks like he wouldn't hurt a fly and he probably wouldn't. But, once you hear him, well, all the hotshot guitarists and songwriters in the universe better move over one cause Jackie Greene from El Dorado County is in the house.


I predict that, ere long, people will quote him like they have quoted Bob Dylan, marking their musical maturity by the first time they heard him.


The only question with Greene is what can't he do?


"Jackie can't clean his house," his road manager at the time, said. He looks like he can't clean his house, but all other bets are off.


Now on Verve Forecast, he had just been signed by Aerosmith's management.


How did he feel about so fast, so far; from El Dorado to standing ovations at the Fillmore?


"I don't respond to it," he said. "I just do what I do, write songs and play tunes. There's all kinds of stardom, until it fades away. Every night's special, but every night is also the same."


Who are his influences?


"Bob Dylan, Tom Waits. I like their voices and they sing their own songs. Leadbelly, Jimmy Rodgers, Hank Williams, Muddy Waters."


On guitar, it's Grant Green, the jazz guitarist. "I steal more licks from him than anyone else."


As Warren Zevon's one-time piano teacher and next door neighbor, Igor Stravinsky, once said: "Good artists borrow; great artists steal."


Impeccable taste is impeccable taste.


There's no hype with Jackie Greene. But there is the buzz. The buzz comes from other musicians, writers, his interviews, and, most of all, those guys in record stores, the kind John Cusack and Jack Black played in that movie.


"They lurk behind counters playing music they want you to hear. They stack Jackie Greene and others in the racks as if to say: "Buy this! You need this! Forget the crap you think you wanted! Jackie, and those few like him, are what you need!"


A long time ago another guitarist said something that comes to mind. He wasn't a singer so he spoke these words between blistering guitar solos I watched him play but still don't know how. One of his guitars hangs in the Hard Rock Cafe on Van Ness. He was found dead, hanging in his cell with or without assistance.


When Roy Buchanan said: "The Messiah ... he will come again ..." Maybe, he wasn't just talking about the Big J.C.


Since I first wrote this I have been accused of overstatement. I have also seen Jackie Greene again, this time at San Francisco's Stern Grove festival, opening for Mavis Staples. And, so far, have not changed my mind one bit. Check this guy out.


E-mail Gary Peterson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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MENDOCINO -- The 2007 Mendocino Arts Summer Showcase will feature nine major events June through September. Details at MendocinoArts.Org.


"We're offering cool music, cool gardens, cool art and above all when it's sweltering inland cool breezes," said event coordinator Penny Greenwood.


– The Mendocino Music Festival holds its "Taste of Chocolate, Wine, and Ale" fundraiser June 16.


– Five "glorious gardens" from Fort Bragg to Albion will be featured in the Mendocino Art Center's 15th Annual Mendocino Coast Garden Tour, Saturday, June 23.


The 21st Mendocino Music Festival (July 10-21) presents extraordinarily eclectic music in Mendocino Headlands State Park. Concerts feature the Festival Orchestra, Big Band, chamber music, opera, dance, blues, jazz, folk music, a piano series and much more.


– The 36th Annual Mendocino Rotary Art Auction will offer 60 art pieces, including fine art, sculpture and photography by nationally recognized Mendocino Coast artists in support of local youth and community organizations. The Art Auction & Preview is July 14.


– The Mendocino Art Center's 48th Annual Summer Arts & Crafts Fair, featuring 65 local and regional artists displaying an exciting mixture of unique hand made artwork, July 14 and 15. Also food and live music.


– The Mendocino Art Center's All-Media Instructor Silent Art Auction will showcase an eclectic blend of one-of-a-kind artwork created by over 50 of the Mendocino Art Center's illustrious artist-instructors, beginning July 3, and culminating with a festive party, Aug. 4.


– On Saturday, Aug. 11, Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens will host its 16th Annual Art in the Gardens fundraiser, said by many to be "the best garden party on the coast. Sixty local artists, more than a dozen of the finest Mendocino County wineries, the finest local food and musicians all come together in this annual event.


The Gloriana Opera Company presents Cole Porter's Anything Goes Aug. 24 through Oct. 7.


In September, the Summers Arts Showcase is all about wine:


– Winesong! Mendocino's premier wine and art auction takes place Sept. 8. Each year over 40 acclaimed artists donate works of art to be auctioned to benefit the Mendocino Coast District Hospital. These donated pieces along with over 100 more will be showcased Aug. 18 through Sept. 9.


For more information visit http://mendocinoarts.org/.


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SHREK THE THIRD (Rated PG)


A spate of sequels is already gripping the summer box office, and by the calendar, it’s not even summertime yet. Moreover, all these blockbuster sequels are the third installments of now well-established adventures. The next “Pirates of the Caribbean” is sailing into the multiplex in a week. Arriving in early June, “Ocean’s Thirteen” requires a bit of math to tell you it’s the third installment, and we can only hope it’s better than “Twelve.”


What this week holds for us is another chapter in the “Shrek” saga, which returns everybody’s favorite ogre for some familiar hijinks and comical adventures.


That’s the essential problem for “Shrek the Third” familiarity with the primary characters is so pervasive that expectations run high. As a result, the static comic situations start to wear thin, even if laughs are to be had from not quite original material.


To be sure, Mike Myers brings a great voice and wonderful comic sensibility to the big, lovable green ogre, though the story has little desire or ability to bring something fresh to the scene.


Shrek and his faithful sidekick Donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy) can only do so much that’s the least bit inventive. Fortunately, the deliciously wicked swashbuckler Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), possessing a rapier wit, delivers the best one-liners, and though he makes a great verbal sparring partner, you can only wistfully hope for more scenes between Puss and Donkey.


Comfortably settled into domesticity with Fiona (Cameron Diaz), Shrek is much less at ease filling in on royal duties in Far, Far Away for his father-in-law King Harold (John Cleese), who is about to croak and leave the kingdom to the ogre.


Shrek can hardly perform menial ceremonial duties without creating havoc. He’s eager to relinquish the crown as soon as a suitable replacement is found. And so Shrek, joined by Donkey and Puss, set out on a quest to find an heir to the throne, and the search ends up at a medieval boarding school where the student body resembles Valley kids hanging out at the mall.


Here, at the Worcestershire Academy, they locate Fiona’s long-lost cousin Artie (Justin Timberlake), a dweeb who doesn’t fit in at the elite school.


The outcast student is dubious about his royal future, but he finds Shrek persuasive, and besides, anything to get out of this boarding school has to be minimally appealing.


Meanwhile, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) is suffering the indignity of a failed career at dinner theater, and after drowning his sorrows in a tavern full of fairy tale villains, he assembles a band of thugs, including Captain Hook and Cyclops, to swoop down on the kingdom and stage a coup. With the ogre and his pals away, Charming takes over as easily as the Germans overran France in World War II.


Assisted by the Queen (Julie Andrews), Fiona organizes the fairy tale maidens such as Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty into the Far, Far Away equivalent of the French Resistance. They put up a good fight until Shrek and his furry pals return with the future King Arthur for a showdown with the narcissistic Prince Charming and his army of hired goons.


Since this is all fairy tale stuff, there’s little surprise in store for anyone above the kindergarten level.


Oh, I almost forgot, there’s another major plot twist, involving the looming fatherhood for Shrek and his absolutely primal fear that a bunch of little ogres running around may be too much to bear.


“Shrek the Third” so faithfully sticks to its formula that few surprises are in store, except perhaps for the very rare audience member unaware of the previous two films. Notwithstanding the recognizable terrain, “Shrek the Third” still manages to deliver a bunch of laughs. But what the story lacks in originality, the film makes up for that shortcoming with brilliantly realized animation.


Now, if only we could get a greatly expanded role for Puss in Boots. Maybe that’s our wish for a fourth “Shrek.”


Tim Riley writes film reviews for Lake County News.


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