Wednesday, 04 October 2023

Arts & Life

NEXT (Rated PG-13)

In his abbreviated life, science fiction author Philip K. Dick was all too prolific in cranking out a plethora of novels and short stories that could fill several library shelves. A writer with this amount of talent is inevitably tapped as a source for feature films. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” was the basis for the hugely successful “Blade Runner,” starring Harrison Ford, which was released in 1982.

Sorry to say, but it has been essentially downhill since then for other film adaptations of the Philip K. Dick catalog. The execrable “Paycheck,” starring the ever-annoying and untalented Ben Affleck, was a debacle.

Now, unfortunately, the capable Nicolas Cage turns in a listless performance of a sad-eyed magician with an extrasensory talent in “Next,” based on Dick’s short story “The Golden Man.”

What’s supposed to be an exciting science fiction thriller in “Next,” a race against the ticking clock on a nuclear bomb set to level Los Angeles into one giant parking lot, is a laughable exercise in sleight of hand one finds in dime store magic tricks.

As a matter of fact, Nicolas Cage’s Cris Johnson is a laconic magician working a seedy Las Vegas nightclub act in front of bored drunks and lost souls. To spice up his languid character, he goes by the stage name of Frank Cadillac. His hidden talent is an ability to see two minutes into the future, something that comes in handy on the job and also picking up extra cash at the blackjack tables.

“Next” gets off to a decent start when Cris is hounded by casino security for working a perceived illegal system, and while discreetly trying to leave the gaming tables the action really kicks into high gear when Cris foils an armed robbery only to become the suspect himself.

Using his visionary powers, Cris executes evasive action from the casino goons, and then steals a car and ends up in a thrilling chase from every squad car within a five mile radius of the Golden Nugget. After a dazzling elusive maneuver involving a speeding train, Cris winds up in a chop-shop run by his buddy Irv (Peter Falk channeling the dark side of Columbo).

Convenient to a plot that starts leaking worse than an old roof in a Midwest thunderstorm, everyone starts noticing that Cris isn’t just performing low-rent parlor tricks. Tough, hard-nosed FBI agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore), who could probably put Bruce Willis in a headlock, is eager to tap into Cris’ brain in an effort to thwart a terrorist group’s planned attack on Los Angeles with a suitcase nuke.

Not accustomed to pleasantries, Callie puts a full-court press on the reluctant Cris to join forces with the Feds to back-channel through the right portals to change the present and avert nuclear holocaust. For his part, Cris is not the sort who earned any merit badges with the Boy Scouts, and he would sooner decline an invitation to help his fellow countrymen.

What Cris has on his mind is the constant vision of a beauty that will show up at a magical hour at a rundown Vegas coffee shop. As a result, Cris prefers to hang out at the counter nursing a martini, waiting for the propitious moment.

Fortunately, the vision of loveliness soon appears in Liz (Jessica Biel), a part-time teacher, and Cris uses his powers in the movie’s funniest scene to test out several scenarios for the perfect “meet-cute” scenario. This particular situation may recall Bill Murray’s endless attempts to get it right in “Groundhog Day.”

Acting more like a stalker than a love interest, Cris hooks up with Liz for a drive from Vegas to Flagstaff, Arizona, where they hole up in the Cliffhanger Motel. Room service arrives in the form of the Callie’s squad of feds, and also the terrorists inexplicably show for a preemptive strike.

Now it gets difficult to make logical sense of what is going on. Even more baffling is that the terrorists, in what is apparently misguided political correctness, are mostly speaking French, but they are not Algerian nationals.

More mysterious is the undeveloped motive for the villains. We don’t know if they are holdovers from a French equivalent of the Red Brigades or Eurotrash recruits into the ranks of al Qaeda.

Honestly, my interest in the whole convoluted business waned early on. To be sure, there are some great car chases and collisions. The assault on the hideaway at the Port of Los Angeles is good for some climactic shootouts.

But then more than a few preposterous things occur that serve to undermine whatever remaining shred of credibility might have remotely saved “Next” from sinking into a swamp of absurdity. In the end, the best thing you can say is that Ben Affleck didn’t have the starring role.

Tim Riley writes movie reviews for Lake County News.


Did anyone, besides me, notice the Norwegian Invasion?

Last winter in NYC the heavyweights of the Norwegian rock industry gathered to network with David Fricke from Rolling Stone, Seymour Stein, head of Sire Records, who signed the Ramones and The Talking Heads; and my old running mate from Madison, WI, Jim Bessman of Billboard.

Jim's the wayward son of a Wisconsin judge and I used to trade stories and reviews. I'd do maybe Wazmo Nariz, who always wore two ties, and Jim would do yet another duo piece on his two favorites the Statler Brothers and The Ramones.

Made for some interesting reading.

Jim also knew Johnny Cash and considered him the epitome of epitomes. He was right, as we are finding out since Johnny joined that Grand Ole Opry in the sky.

But this is about Norwegian rock and roll. There are pictures.

In the copy of "News Of Norway" I found recently all by itself on a table, three of the illuminati of Oslo – which by the way has the exact same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska and some other place I've forgotten were featured.

They are in no particular order: The boy band, Don Juan Dracula; Low Frequency In Stereo, with its "funky baseline and catchy vocals"; and synth-electro rockers, 120 Days.

I am reminded of the little noticed 80s trends except I did notice them of Duck Rock and Vegetarian Rock 'N' Roll.

Duck rockers included Neil Innes (Monty Python, Bonzo Dog Band) and his aptly named "Ducks" and Ducks Deluxe, an English pub rock band fronted by Sean Tyler, who Mike Wilhelm remembers from his Flamin' Groovies tours of English pubs and Manchester.

Oh and lest I forget there was "Quacky Duck and His Barnyard Friends," a San Francisco vegetarian rock band that included, not one, but two of Tony Bennet's sons. The Bennet boys went on to back Iggy Pop, then David Bowie.

The other Friends of Quacky were last seen waddling off. Maybe to the Nordic Music Seminar, held in Volvo Hall at the Scandinavian House in NYC. The Norwegian Consulate and Nordic Music Export, Norway as well as Nordic Music Export, Denmark, co-sponsored the event.

It seems the Swedes weren't invited. Hey, just like back in Wisconsin.

Both my sisters married Norwegians and I took Norwegian language lessons from a Norwegian Professor from Deaf Smith County, Texas. For protection. A svenska poika can't be too careful in "Little Norway" country, where they celebrate not one, but two, Sytende Mai (s). Look it up.

Death Smith, Texas is the site of the memorable monument to one Cleng Peerson, the Norwegian American Sheriff of Deaf Smith County, Texas.

I don't think Deaf Smith was there but it was, reportedly, a loud festival of over 1,000 bands from the lands of the midnight suns.

And the sons (and flickas) of the midnight lands vied with each other far into the New York night as Don Juan Dracula "dressed for success in their trademark white suits," and Low Frequency provided "long instrumental soundscapes," while 120 Days was "hailed by many including the New York Times," according to David Fricke's Norsk counterpart, one Thor Englund.

The fire chief of Mt. Horeb, WI, who used to, at least, play Edvard Greig in that town's annual production of "Song of Norway," would have been right at home had he been there.

However, if I had been there it would only be with a large supply of running water. Those crosses I flashed at the Vampire Rock Ballet Band who do "A Tribute To Ann Rice," or used to, in Sonoma, didn't work.

They had implanted fangs and the one who really made me nervous worked all night at a French bread bakery.

You know what that means. Bring lots of mirrors too, just in case the running water doesn't do it.

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



Smarter and more exciting than the usual teen suspense thriller, “Disturbia” taps into the Alfred Hitchcock sensibility of claustrophobic chills that made “Rear Window” an iconic masterpiece.

While director D.J. Caruso has a body of work not likely to be confused with that of the Master of Suspense, he delivers a more than decent thriller in “Disturbia” that fully exploits the chilling lure of voyeurism updated to the modern era’s obsession with such technological innovations as video cameras, cell phones and laptops. One can only imagine and wonder how Hitchcock would use our fascination with the high-tech world if he were still alive. “Disturbia” might be on to something.

Traumatized by the tragic death of his father a year earlier, Shia LaBeouf’s Kale, though evidently smart, suffers long-lasting psychological effects that have him shut down and withdrawn. When an insensitive teacher brings up his father, Kale punches him out, and only the intervention of his mother (Carrie-Anne Moss) keeps him out of juvenile hall.

Instead, he gets to spend his summer vacation under house arrest, wearing an ankle monitor that permits him only to wander no more than 100 feet from the perimeter of his house. On top of these restrictions, he soon loses his video games and cable TV when his exasperated mom takes away privileges.

With nothing to do outside of occasional visits from his goofy friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo), Kale begins spying on his neighbors to kill the boredom. Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once said “you can observe a lot by just watching,” and Kale takes this heart by turning his binoculars on the neighborhood.

First, he detects a businessman’s pattern of indiscretion with the housemaid when his wife is away. Then, he takes greater notice in the hot teen girl, Ashley (Sarah Roemer), who moves in next door, mainly because she likes to lounge around the pool in a bikini and goes for frequent swims.

Things take a darker, more serious turn when Kale becomes suspicious of an older man, Mr. Turner (David Morse), whose mysterious behavior includes an uncanny ability to quickly repair his vintage Mustang, seemingly identical to the one identified in TV news reports as having something to do with the disappearance of a young woman.

Not having any visible means of support, Turner nonetheless attracts young women to his nice house, with one visit become very unsettling. Kale suspects his neighbor is a serial killer, and tries to enlist his dubious friend Ronnie for some dangerous surveillance work, seeing how Kale can’t leave the house, and if he happens to trigger his ankle monitor, the vengeful cop likely to show up on the scene is a cousin to the Spanish teacher that Kale knocked senseless.

The flirtatious Ashley becomes increasingly attracted to Kale’s shenanigans, perhaps because she shares the same overactive imagination. both Ashley and Ronnie become Kale’s surrogate investigators, able to move about freely, often getting into some dangerous situations that are frightening or sinister.

The fact of the matter is that the elusive neighbor is indeed so creepy that there appears little reasonable doubt to his guilt. Naturally, Kale’s mom and the authorities are not convinced that the smarmy neighbor is any kind of threat. Well, let’s just say, there are plenty of chilling and suspenseful surprises in store.

Though wrapped up in teen angst and bitterness, “Disturbia” puts modern technological ingenuity to good effect in coming up with a darkly chilling thriller that works effectively with obvious paranoia. Even when the trail becomes somewhat predictable, this film beats a path to some fairly stunning shocks that create a satisfying suspense ride.


Putting together the stellar casting of Bruce Willis and Halle Berry is just simply not enough to create the “sexy thriller” that the filmmakers are so desperate to achieve in “Perfect Stranger.”

What results is far less than perfect, in fact so much so that this thriller is even more laughable than films like “Catwoman” and “Gothika,” which coincidentally are two stinkers that starred the exquisitely beautiful Miss Berry. In fact, if it weren’t for the “X-Men” series she’d be in a slump worse than that of the 1962 New York Mets.

Bruce Willis fares no better than his co-star, where he’s reduced to smirking a lot and looking guilty for any indiscretion that might be the least bit plausible. But, I seem to digress about the essential point of “Perfect Stranger,” which appears to be in a race with “Basic Instinct 2” for bottom-feeder entertainment.

Berry’s Rowena Price, an investigative reporter, unfortunately and unlike Sharon Stone keeps her clothes on, though she shows her curvaceous assets more than you would expect from a so-called respectable journalist.

From the get-go, Rowena isn’t much fun or even likable, coming off whiny and shrill, even after putting behind her the disappointment of having her big story on a politician’s shocking gay affairs with male interns squelched from publication.

After quitting her tabloid job, Rowena gets caught up in the murder of her estranged childhood friend Grace (Nicki Aycox), who apparently threatened to expose an affair she had with the powerful and married advertising executive Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis).

Thanks to help from her seedy associate Miles (Giovanni Ribisi), a computer whiz, Rowena gains access to Grace’s e-mail and learns details of the relationship with the randy Harrison. Armed with some knowledge, Rowena goes undercover and becomes a temp at Harrison’s agency, getting close to the object of her suspicions.

Meanwhile, as things unfold, Grace is revealed to have been sleeping with just about every eligible adult male in Manhattan, and Harrison starts to look like the person least likely to hook up with such damaged goods. Nevertheless, the cloud of skepticism hangs over Harrison for no other reason than his annoying smugness.

Frankly, there’s not much interesting to say about this movie because it is an unremarkable and wasted effort to create a suspense thriller. This exercise in futility has more plot twists than a sack full of pretzels.

“Perfect Stranger” is a train wreck that goes off the rails in the early going, never to recover from the inevitable absurdity of a thriller completely lacking in credibility. This unmitigated disaster wastes the talent of everyone involved, but it certainly shouldn’t waste your hard-earned money, as long as you have been warned.

Tim Riley reviews films for Lake County News.


LAKEPORT – Watershed Books' Writers Studio will premier this week featuring local author, poet and musician James BlueWolf.

The event will begin at 5 p.m. Friday, April 27, at Watershed Books, 305 N. Main St., Lakeport.

BlueWolf has been a songwriter, recording artist, performer, lecturer, poet, author and storyteller since the early 1970s. He has recorded one record album, "Strike The Drum," five CDs of original music and one CD of traditional native drum and rattle songs.

He is the author of seven books and is an internationally published poet. He was Poet Laureate of Lake County from 2000 through 2003, and his stories and radio productions have been featured on radio stations across the US and Canada.

BlueWolf wrote, narrated and produced a number of video documentaries and has been qualified as a rnedia producer for the Smithsonian, National Museum of the American Indian. He was a nationally elected caucus member for the Wordcraft Circle Of Native Writers and Storytellers and was included in the 2006 edition of "Who's Who Of American Teachers."

His other activities have included 18 years of coaching local sports, working with more than 500 athletes. BlueWolf received three proclamations from the Lake County Board of Supervisors, commending him for his work with local youth.

He is a regular contributor to newspapers and journals and has lectured in colleges nationally on literary development, native history, and social, cultural and political issues. A father of five with 11 grandchildren, he lives in Nice with his wife of 32 years, Bernie.

For more information on the Writers Studio, contact Watershed Books, 263-5787.


LAKEPORT The 26th Annual Spring Dance Festival is coming, and you don't want to miss it. It will be on the stage of the Marge Alakszay Center in Lakeport for two shows: at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28 and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 29.

This is the first year that the festival will be held in the new, state-of-the-art performance facility a stone's throw from the Clear Lake High School gym where the show has been held for so many years.

The Alakszay Center has been longed for and anticipated by dancers and audience alike, and the festival committee has been knocking itself out to prepare a suitably expansive production for the pleasure of Lake County.

In the long history of the Spring Dance Festival there have been many new beginnings. It could be said that the festival recreates itself every year, bringing new talent and new choreography to the dance floor.

Those who have often attended the annual event have seen young dancers getting better and becoming stunning adults, and choreographers developing new styles in keeping with timely tastes. The festival has traced the changes as dance groups have come and gone, or stayed and evolved, or have burst upon the scene with dynamic determination.

Such would be the Lake Line Dancers, new to the Festival, as are B. I. O. Dance Company, Chemical Reaction Dance Team and Serenity Place Dancing. There is a lot of variety in that one sentence, and I won't try to describe them. If you want to be in the know, you will come to this show.

Returning, fortunately, are the teachers, choreographers and dancers who have given us so much pleasure in the past. If you have seen the work of the Clearlake Clikkers, Antoinette's School of Dance or the Jazz Factory Company, you will be eager to attend. If you have ever seen Kayla Gates, Hailey Yaffee, Rod Rehe or Lavonne Pattee dance (to name only a few, from a distinguished list), you will want to be there to see them again.

Tickets can be purchased at The Main Street Gallery, 325 N. Main St., Lakeport; Catfish Books, Willow Tree Plaza, Lakeport; The Bunk House, Middletown; and Direct Image Printing, Clearlake. A small number of reserved seats are available at the Main Street Gallery only.

For more information, call the Lake County Arts Council at 263-6658.


I've been weeping ever since I opened my morning paper Thursday. I hope you are too.

Forget about Paris Hilton and her sidekick Nicole; instead, I offer this tribute to our national conscience, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who died this past week at age 84.

Vonnegut came to Milwaukee's Centennial Hall on Oct. 17, 1985, on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the Milwaukee Public Library. There, he gave a speech titled "How To Get A Job Like Mine" to 719 people.

He told of his beginnings as a short story writer. His first short story sold for $750, his second, for $850. "Pretty soon money was piling up in a corner of the house, but this opportunity has dried up," he continued. "People used to pay for their babies by writing short stories."

Later, he taught at the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop, where he offered this advice to students who were having trouble with a piece of fiction:

"1. Throw away the first three pages and you will have a high energy beginning.

"2. You're one character short. That character is Iago. Without Iago everybody is going to sit around like lumps on toast. Iago gets everybody jazzed up."

Vonnegut did not hold out false hopes to those who wish to become professional writers: "Maybe 20 people in this room can make it if they really work hard. But there are no jobs waiting. There are fewer successful writers in a year than there are ball players or active admirals."

After his first book, "Player Piano," sold 100,000 paperback copies to only 7,000 in hard cover, Vonnegut started writing original paperbacks "because you could get your money right away." The rest is literary history. He went on to touch on many subjects.

On how to get money to write a book: "Marry well. Mark Twain did. He lived in swell houses."

On reading: "Reading is a superb meditation, far superior to Eastern forms. The Maharishi taught me the latter for $85, a handkerchief and an apple. It is like scuba diving in bouillon."

On the recent banning of his book, "Slaughterhouse Five," in Racine, WI: "It usually happens in small towns. But Racine, with 100,000 people; that's the biggest town that ever did anything so stupid. When I was a kid, communities burned people. Now, they're burning books. That's progress. We're making progress. I want to send them my collected works and some kerosene. We've come a long way."

He was funny. He was compassionate. He was all the things anyone who's read him would expect him to be. And, in the final segment of his talk, reading another speech he'd given at New York's Cathedral of St. John The Divine, he was brilliant.

It was called "The Worst Imaginable Consequences Of Doing Without The Hydrogen Bomb." But, first he established that dead is dead whether you get there by nuclear annihilation or burning at the stake. "But are there fates worse than death?" he continued, only establishing one crucifixion.

"I don't believe we are about to be crucified," he dispensed of that one. "No enemy we face has enough carpenters."

He ended with a dream.

"I dreamed last night of our descendants a thousand years from now, that is to say, all humanity ... I asked them how humanity managed, against all odds, to keep going another millennium. They told me that they and their ancestors did it by preferring life over death for themselves and others at every opportunity."

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


Upcoming Calendar

10.05.2023 7:30 am - 8:30 am
Rotary Club of Middletown
Middletown Art Center
10.05.2023 6:00 pm - 8:30 pm
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10.06.2023 7:00 pm - 9:30 pm
David Arkenstone & Friends in concert
10.07.2023 9:00 am - 11:00 am
Sponsoring Survivorship Breast Cancer Run & Walk
10.07.2023 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
10.07.2023 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
Falling Leaves Quilt Show
10.08.2023 10:00 am - 4:00 pm
Falling Leaves Quilt Show
Columbus Day
10.12.2023 7:30 am - 8:30 am
Rotary Club of Middletown
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