Wednesday, 17 April 2024

Arts & Life

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..


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ARE WE DONE YET? (Rated PG)


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.

 


GRINDHOUSE (Rated R)


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.


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BLADES OF GLORY (Rated PG-13)


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.


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CLEARLAKE Because the second Sunday in April was Easter, this month’s Second Sunday Cinema will occur on the third Sunday, April 15.


The free film this month will be a nonpartisan documentary that is getting a lot of buzz from both sides of the political spectrum America: Freedom to Fascism.


This screening, free, of course, will be held at the Clearlake United Methodist Church, which generously allows use of their social hall. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. for snacks and conversation.


The film will be shown at 6 p.m., and will be followed by a completely optional, open discussion.


This documentary was written and directed by Aaron Russo, producer of “The Rose,” starring Bette Midler, and “Trading Places, starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Akyroyd.


In the words of its Web site, America: Freedom to Fascism is an “expose of the Internal Revenue Service (that) proves conclusively there is no law requiring an American citizen to pay a direct unapportioned tax on their labor.”


The documentary continues on to explore the connection between income tax collection and the chilling erosion of civil liberties in America.


Thanks to Russo’s Hollywood experience and knowledge, this documentary is very watchable, and really grabs your interest. It includes interviews with former agents of the FBI and the IRS, a former IRS commissioner and Republican Congressman Ron Paul.


As always, Second Sunday Cinema does not pretend to have facts “proving” the information this film presents. Instead, the group presents provocative films that will get people thinking – and discussing with each other the information offered and what concerned citizens can do to get involved.


For more information, please call 279-2957.


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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.


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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..


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Upcoming Calendar

18Apr
04.18.2024 11:00 am - 3:00 pm
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