Monday, 26 February 2024

Arts & Life


There are so few comedies suitable for the family that it would be unseemly to get bogged down in quibbling about absurd plot contrivances or the minor flaws that could easily induce a reality check.

Picking up somewhere “Are We There Yet?” left off, the Ice Cube comedy vehicle keeps rolling along, to somewhat better effect this time, in “Are We Done Yet?”

Probably the biggest surprise is seeing edgy hip-hop artist Ice Cube, though his scowl remains intact, playing the part of a cuddly G-rated family man, more like an urbanized Ozzie Nelson, even if he’s befuddled with the household routine.

“Are We Done Yet?” finds its humor in the nightmare of home improvement that once plagued Tom Hanks in “The Money Pit.” Notwithstanding more contemporary references, the film makes it clear that its source of inspiration is a vintage screwball comedy, the Cary Grant classic “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.”

Since his last film, Ice Cube’s Nick Persons is newly married to Suzanne (Nia Long), even though it makes him stepfather to a pair of moody adolescents, 8-year-old Kevin (Philip Daniel Bolden) and 13-year-old Lindsey (Aleisha Allen).

Along with the family dog, this nuclear family is trying to coexist in Nick’s cramped bachelor pad. When Suzanne announces they are expecting twins, Nick thinks it best to move to the countryside, much to the dismay of his stepchildren, who don’t want to leave the city.

Nick finds a seemingly idyllic Victorian home in a bucolic area, thought it requires dealing with unctuous real estate salesman Chuck Mitchell (John C. McGinley), who apparently is oblivious to the ethics code of his profession.

As soon as the ink is dry on the escrow papers, everything starts to go wrong with the dream house. When Nick realizes he can’t turn the house into a fix-it-yourself project, he calls for the local contractor, which also turns out to be Chuck. Soon the property is overrun by Chuck’s cronies, including the Hawaiian dry-rot specialists and the blind plumbers.

Naturally, things go horribly wrong when the premises are overrun by subcontractors coping with problems that multiply exponentially. From corroded plumbing to faulty electrical wiring, the house gets even worse when floors collapse and walls disintegrate, and pretty soon flying bats and hungry raccoons invade.

When Nick runs afoul of some of the workers, he also finds to his chagrin that Chuck is the town’s building inspector, and only too eager to issue citations and make life miserable for Nick.

Not unexpectedly, “Are We Done Yet?” is the kind of agreeable comedy that nevertheless lacks the ambition to score some knockout punches. Tending to be blander than daring, the humor is obvious in an inoffensive manner.

The movie’s biggest surprise is that Nick has ostensibly deep pockets. But at least Ice Cube is a likeable, charming character, while John C. McGinley chews the scenery with his manic personality.



Trash cinema is alive and well in “Grindhouse,” a double dose of exploitation thrills that include zombies on a rampage and a psycho serial killer’s roving, racing death machine.

“Grindhouse” pays homage to the cheap slasher and splatter films that could be seen in dilapidated all-night theaters and drive-ins that cranked out three and four movies in one viewing.

To achieve verisimilitude of 1970s-era exploitation cinema, “Grindhouse” is a collaborative effort of two directors, Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction”) and Robert Rodriguez (“El Mariachi”), who also wrote the two screenplays for this modern take on the independent horror and schlock genre.

The beauty, if you can call it that, of “Grindhouse” is its brilliantly over-the-top and ridiculously lowbrow descent into glorification of bad action-packed movies. Style is as important as substance, considering that the film itself is presented as a double-bill deliberately made to look scratchy, complete with missing scenes.

Best of all, there are “Coming Attractions” for nonexistent, low-grade movies that are so perversely funny and outrageously bizarre that you keep wishing for more.

The first part of “Grindhouse” is Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror,” a cheesy zombie horror story that turns a small Texas town into a horrible vision of chemical apocalypse. An experiment gone badly wrong casts a plague on townsfolk who turn into pus-oozing mutants on a rampage to mutilate, dismember and destroy those not infected.

Doctors William and Dakota Block (Josh Brolin and Marley Shelton), facing a meltdown of their marriage, are working the graveyard shift to cope with the heavy influx of people bloodied and maimed.

Among the wounded is Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), an exotic dancer who loses her leg during a roadside attack. Her ex-boyfriend Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) is in trouble with the law, but he’s at her side, and eventually helps her to get a machine-gun as a prosthetic device.

As the legions of zombies continue to multiply, Cherry and Wray set up shop at a seedy Texas barbecue joint and lead a team of accidental warriors into the night to fight the ghoulish flesh-eating fiends who seek to annihilate everyone.

“Planet Terror” is loaded with interesting and mysterious characters, such as Bruce Willis as a secretive military operative and Naveen Andrews who has an unhealthy obsession with certain body parts. Then there’s the bodacious Stacy Ferguson, better known as the singer “Fergie,” whose best features are on display until she’s viciously attacked by flesh-eaters.

Tarantino delivers on his part of the double feature with “Death Proof,” the tale of a psycho killer behind the wheel of a souped-up Chevy Nova in a high-octane car chase with his female victims. It’s also classic Tarantino devotion to camaraderie that allows for plenty of observational dialogue.

Pretty Sydney Tamiia Poitier’s Jungle Julia is an Austin DJ hanging out with her friends at a local tavern, where the sinister, scar-faced Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) takes notice of the ladies. His interest proves deadly on a deserted stretch of country road.

The action shift to Tennessee where real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell plays herself, and is joined by Tracie Thoms’ Kim as a fellow stuntwoman on location for a film shoot. Also joining them are Rosario Dawson’s Abernathy, a makeup artist, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Lee, a young actress.

Enjoying some time off, this quartet of lively women find time to test drive a 1970 Dodge Challenger, in what clearly pays homage to “Vanishing Point.” Their daredevil antics on the back roads draw notice from Stuntman Mike, now driving a Dodge Charger. This time, the movie really takes off with exciting car chase sequences, and the action becomes a full-throttled chick-revenge flick.

“Grindhouse,” rated R for good reason, is likely to draw heavily on the younger male audience revved up for action and thrills heavy on guns, guts, gore and chase scenes. There’s plenty of clever stuff here that spoofs the exploitation genre, turning this whole enterprise into a guilty pleasure.

Running at slightly more than three hours, “Grindhouse” is an endurance test that requires a certain perverse fascination with the genre.

Tim Riley reviews movies for Lake County News.




Soccer coach, NASCAR driver and figure skater are roles that allow Will Ferrell to stamp his hilarious caricature of inflated ego on various sports enterprises that could stand for a little spoofing. Figure skating, with its flamboyance evident in outlandish costumes and exaggerated maneuvers on ice, is particularly ripe for parody, and “Blades of Glory” is the long-awaited jab at an elegant sport that blends grace and athleticism.

Pairs figure skating is even more demanding, since the lifts, jumps and routines require a mix of artistry and strength. With his over-the-top persona in high gear, Ferrell is the right guy to skewer the rarefied universe of competitive skating when he improbably teams up with a former rival for the first male/male figure skating pair.

Witty and richly satirical, “Blades of Glory” is a broad comedy that generates big laughs right from the start and never lets up on its efforts to deliver the comedic goods. Ferrell is certainly outrageous in his antics, but he has a great comic foil in fellow competitor Jon Heder.

Ferrell’s macho, swaggering Chazz Michael Michaels is a rock star on the rink, and a legend in his own mind that he is a god to the female fans. The flipside of the sex-crazed Chazz is Jon Heder’s driven former child prodigy Jimmy MacElroy, a prissy, fastidious and effeminate perfectionist who is basically clueless about life in general.

At the film’s opening, Chazz and Jimmy are archrivals in the men’s final round of the World Championship. When they tie for first place, their longstanding rivalry erupts into a no-holds-barred fight during the awards ceremony. The brawl even sets fire to the sport’s helpless mascot. As a result of the fracas, Chazz and Jimmy are called before the sport’s governing board, stripped of their medals and banned from the sport for life.

Three years elapse, and both men are coping badly with their banishment from the sport. A drunken party machine, Chazz is skating as a costumed evil wizard in a kiddie ice review until bad behavior inevitably gets him fired. Meanwhile, Jimmy can barely manage to hang on to a minimum wage job in a chain sporting goods store.

Jimmy’s biggest fan and former stalker (Nick Swardson) discovers a loophole in the skating manual that would allow Jimmy and Chazz to compete once again if they join forces as the first ever male/male figure skating pair. But first they have to put aside their long-festering hatred of one another.

Cooperation for training and developing routines will be hard to accomplish, even with the help of the tough-minded coach (Craig T. Nelson) who referees their constant squabbling and penchant for pranks. Even if this unlikely pair can put aside their antagonism and personality differences, they are up against a talented brother and sister skating team who resort to dastardly tactics to thwart any competitors. The outlandishly villainous Van Waldenberg siblings, Stranz (Will Arnett) and Fairchild (Amy Poehler), are so conniving and devious that they coerce their younger sister Katie (Jenna Fischer) to seduce both Chazz and Jimmy in order to create a rift between them.

The great fun of seeing Jimmy and Chazz trying to work together is their clash of styles. Jimmy glides across the ice with graceful ease, while Chazz acts like the enforcer in a pro hockey game. There is something ridiculously funny about the awkwardness of an all-male skating routine coming together, especially when Chazz and Jimmy wear absurdly sequined outfits. But they are not alone in bringing amusement to the ice. In an inspired bit of lunacy, Stranz and Fairchild devise a performance in which they act out the relationship between JFK and Marilyn Monroe.

The laughs in “Blades of Glory” skate along often predictable paths, but they are nonetheless plentiful in this absurd farce. Ferrell and Heder make a delightful comedic pair as mismatched skaters. Only Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson come to mind as possible competitors for the same roles.

“Blades of Glory” also has a bit of fun with cameo appearances from real skating stars like Nancy Kerrigan, Brian Boitano, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill and Sasha Cohen, while Scott Hamilton does broadcast commentary.

Tim Riley reviews movies for Lake County News.


Mendocino College theater professor Reid Edelman and writing professor Jody Gehrman announce auditions for Fifth Annual Festival of New Plays. Photo by Ross Beck.


UKIAH -- The Mendocino College Theater Arts Department will hold auditions for the eight new plays that have been selected to be produced this spring in the Fifth Annual Festival of New Plays.



The eight plays, each with an approximate running time of 10 minutes, will be directed by student directors under the guidance of theater professor Reid Edelman and writing professor Jody Gehrman.


After putting out a call to the community, Edelman and Gehrman received over 70 original scripts from local writers. Some were students in the college’s English and theater classes, and some were writers in the area who decided to submit their work.


“We’re extremely pleased,” said Gehrman. “Once again, the entries were wonderful the quality of the submissions seems to be getting better and better each year! Deciding which ones to produce was extraordinarily difficult.”



The selected plays include: “5000 Cigarettes” by Max Oken (directed by Sarah Walker), “How To Pick a Winner” by Paul Kubin (directed by Jim Williams), “Landscape Post-Modern” by Andrea J. Onstad (directed by Margie Loesch), “Oh Baby!” by Natasha Yim (directed by Jonathan Whipple), “Pissing on Your Shoes” by Bill Walls (directed by Chris Dill), “MU” by Frank Bari (directed by William French, Jr.), “No Matter What,” by Corinna Rogers (directed by Joel Shura), and “The Space Between Us” by Keith Aisner (directed by KC Dill).


According to Edelman, “This annual festival of new plays has become a highlight of the college theatre season.”


In recent years, the festival has played to sold out audiences. “I think the public will really enjoy these performances, but even more importantly, the collaboration between directors, actors and playwrights provides an invaluable learning experience for everyone,” said Gehrman.


Open auditions for all seven plays will be held Monday April 9 from 6 to 9:30 p.m. in the Little Theater on the Mendocino College campus.

All interested actors should arrive at 6 p.m. and plan on staying until the auditions end at 9:30 p.m. The auditions will involve reading short scenes from the selected plays.

No preparation or experience is required for the auditions; however, scripts for the new plays are on reserve in the college library for those who wish to read them before auditioning.

Performances are scheduled for May 18 and 19 at 8 p.m.

For more information, please contact Reid Edelman, 468-3172 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Guitarist Mike Wilhelm and the Lake County Blues Allstars are performing around Lake County this month. Courtesy photo.


LAKE COUNTY – The Lake County Blues Allstars will be bringing the blues to a stage near you in April.

The group will be performing at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 12, at the Saw Shop Gallery Bistro in Kelseyville; and from 7 to 10 p.m. Monday, April 16, and Monday, April 23, at the Blue Wing Saloon in Upper Lake.

The group features some of the county's – and, arguably, the planet's – most talented musicians.

The lineup includes guitar master Mike Wilhelm, a founding member of San Francisco's first psychedelic rock group, the Charlatans; blues ace Jim Williams; and Jon E. Hopkins, the “High Sheriff of the Bass.”

Featured guests are Jimmy “The Lion” Leonardis on tenor sax; Neon, the songbird who lights up the night; and Stephan Holland, guitarist extraordinaire (Holland will not perform at the April 12 event).

Sit-ins are welcome; call Jim Williams at Strings & Things, 262-0622.

The Saw Shop Gallery Bistro is located at 3825 Main St., Kelseyville; for dinner reservations call 278-0129. The Blue Wing Saloon is located on Main Street in downtown Upper Lake.




For a change, the headlines are ripped from the book.

In Lakeport, "City won't host BoardStock." The city council decided to pass on the water sports events plus on-shore bands and festivities after a long public meeting when "a majority of local business owners and residents spoke of their concerns that the event would bring to the city violence and underage alcohol drinking on a massive scale."

In Windsor, "Windsor High students snub strictly regulated dance."

Author Barbara Ehrenreich, in "Dancing in the Streets: A Collective History of Joy," (Metropolitan Books, $26) documents countless times in history when officials have made similar decisions to discourage or ban exuberant gatherings, usually citing fears that music would incite high-spirited crowds to "orgies."

It's a groundless fear, she says. What the music and movement actually lead to is a shared consciousness of delight in their own bodies and each other, a mass bonding that can (horrors!) lead to disdain for the officials and their rules.

The Windsor students, in boycotting a dance that required signing contracts not to engage in "explicit dancing," declared their right to enjoy their bodies as they wish. The Lakeport Council, fearing a repeat of last year's event when security forces couldn't control the crowd, admitted they're powerless over masses of people having fun.

There's no question these gatherings have sometimes gotten out of control, with excesses of drug and alcohol use leading to violence.

Could that be at least partially because our couch potato nation has so few occasions for collective joy? Maybe we just need more practice in making our own fun?

Control's the issue, Ehrenreich says, and carnival spirit's the danger. In the ancient tradition of carnival, masks and costumes grant anonymity, mockery of rulers is frequent and the participants are equal.

Today, she says, the closest we come to this is in sports, where the fans use costumes, body paint and mass movement like the wave. And owners of teams and stadiums have done their best to co-opt it, by selling the costumes and memorabilia.

The spectacles staged by Hitler's regime embody the official stance: The only music is martial, the only movement is marching and team gymnastics. The crowd becomes an audience, not participants.

The book's overlong, but Ehrenreich has given us valuable background on what's really behind official control of festivities. Who knows where it might lead if people get the idea they can control their own bodies and lives, even for a few hours?

Ehrenreich also wrote the popular "Nickel and Dimed," in which she worked at minimum wage jobs around the country, and found you can't live on minimum wage.

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



Mary Wilson put on a stirring performance Friday at Robinson Rancheria Resort & Casino. Photo by Thurman Watts.



NICE Lake County News came pretty close to an exclusive with "The Original Dreamgirl" Mary Wilson this past Friday in conjunction with her performance in Lake County. Unfortunately, Ms Wilson's flight was late and the interview was scuttled.

Nonetheless, for your entertainment correspondent and the two-thirds capacity crowd at Robinson Rancheria Resort & Casino Wilson performed in the exemplary manner one would expect from a professional of her legendary stature.

Looking fit and beautiful, the founding member of the Supremes took the stage wearing an irridescent, sheer wrap, over a hot pink, sexy evening dress and launched into a medley of 60s Supreme hits; "Love Child," "My World Is Empty Without You" and "Reflections." These songs were, of course, all sung originally with Diana Ross singing lead, but Mary Wilson definitely showed the crowd that she can handle the tunes out front as well.

In her opening monologue, she introduced herself as one of the original Supremes and promised to sing all of the old songs for us "old, old, old, old teenagers." She then launched into an hilarious skit with her male backup singer to the strains of "Back In My Arms Again" which was reminiscent of the cabaret style the Supremes employed in their live shows.

Though some of us knew her age, many jaws dropped when Ms. Wilson announced she'd recently celebrated her 63rd birthday and was the proud grandmother of eight! She then segued into a duet with her guitarist, reprising the Sting-penned, "Field Of Gold." She followed that with her rendition of the Bonnie Raitt hit, "Can't Make You Love Me" to rousing applause. At this point in the performance Wilson left the stage with the promise to return to rock & roll.

She was back in a flash in black dancing attire and swung into Martha & The Vandella's "Dancing In The Street" and the crowd danced into action. So many people started dancing that soon Ms. Wilson had a second line cadre of dancers on stage with her.

Wilson then acknowledged the success of the film Dreamgirls and reminisced about seeing the Broadway stage production of it some years ago. She spoke of how even then it was seen as loosely based on the story of the Supremes. So loose, she mused, that she didn't get paid, either time.

As a tribute to the late Florence Ballard, the founder of the Supremes, Wilson stated that the Effie character in the play and film was really a fictionalized version of Ballard and that the song "I'm Changing" was the song that Flo Ballard would have sang in real life. Wilson then brought the house down with her heartfelt version of the song.

The Supremes had 12 singles that sold a more than a million copies and Mary Wilson as a solo artist had one, "I Ain't Gonna Walk That Line" a seemingly autobiographical song that powerfully revealed victory over the challenges of life.

As she attempted to end the show with "Someday We'll Be Together," the crowd would not let her. "The Original Dreamgirl" came back for two encores, pulling out all the stops on "Satisfaction," "I Want To Take You Higher" and "Brown Sugar."

Wow! How sweet it was.

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




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