Monday, 15 July 2024

Arts & Life

The theme for this year’s concluded TCM Classic Film Festival was “Most Wanted: Crime and Justice in the Movies,” but with the wide range of films on offer, the festival once again delivered a number of gems neither widely seen nor fitting the theme.

A most enjoyable discovery outside of the crime genre was “International House,” a chaotic musical comedy featuring a wonderful array of clowns, including W.C. Fields, George Burns, Gracie Allen, and Franklin Pangborn, and musical cameos with Cab Calloway and Rudy Vallee.

The action takes place at a Chinese hotel where an inventor seeks bids for his super-television, but the setting is nothing more than an excuse for strange musical numbers and inspired gags, particularly naughty bits from W.C. Fields as well as goofy turns by the delightfully giddy Gracie Allen.

Just as entertaining as this hilarious film was special guest Bruce Goldstein, the founder of classic film distributor Rialto Pictures, delivering insights into the weird censorship tactics of the Hays Office, which developed the Production Code for what was morally acceptable at the cinema.

“International House,” released in 1933 was a “pre-Code” film, but nevertheless the Hays Office labeled this highly amusing lark both “vulgar” and “offensive,” and by today’s standards you’d think nothing of it.

Top billing in the film went to Peggy Hopkins Joyce, an actress and socialite known for a flamboyant lifestyle, playing herself. Goldstein summed up her notoriety with the moniker “Jazz Age Kardashian.”

As for a crime film, it doesn’t get much better than James Cagney in 1949’s “White Heat,” where his character Cody Jarrett was a psychopath who trusted nobody except his criminal mother (Margaret Wycherly). His Oedipus complex left little room for loving his faithless wife (Virginia Mayo).

Eddie Muller, the host of “Noir Alley” on Turner Classic Movies, observed that Cagney thought the script for “White Heat” was horrible, and that he supposedly enlisted Humphrey Bogart, among others, for a rewrite of what he deemed “pedestrian” material.

Interestingly, Muller claimed “White Heat” was not a gangster film, but rather an “outlaw film,” and went so far to call it “one of the greatest crime films ever made.” It may seem only fitting that this is the movie in which Cagney yelled that he was on “top of the world.”

Mentioned in a previous update, the comic caper “Gambit” starring Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine proved to be as entertaining as could be hoped. The film fits neatly in a genre with other 60’s films like “Charade,” “Arabesque,” and “Topkapi.”

Film historian Sloan De Forest pegged “Gambit” as a “stylish romantic comedy crime film,” and noted that MacLaine used her clout to get Caine for the role of a con artist because she liked his style in “The Ipcress File,” which by the way is a terrific Cold War spy thriller.

A festival devoted to classic films would seem lacking if it didn’t include Alfred Hitchcock, arguably a good pick for best director of all time. And what could be better than “Rear Window” and “North by Northwest?” Well, you could easily choose “Psycho,” “Vertigo” or “To Catch a Thief,” among others.

Watching “North by Northwest” on the big screen in the iconic Chinese Theatre IMAX is the way to go. The scene at Mount Rushmore carries a stunning full impact when it actually looks larger than life.

Writer, director and producer Nancy Meyers introduced the film as the “Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures,” which was what screenwriter Ernest Lehman set out to accomplish with a compilation of tropes that defined the Master of Suspense.

The chemistry between Cary Grant, the innocent man on the run, and Eva Marie Saint’s cool blonde mystery woman, was something to behold. Meyers noted her favorite line was when Grant said “How does a girl like you get to be a girl like you?”

Less than three years shy of being a centenarian, Mel Brooks has not lost his touch for making people laugh.

This year’s festival marks his seventh appearance to introduce one of his films, this time “Spaceballs.” If memory serves, his last attendance was for “The Producers” in 2018.

While his parody of science-fiction and “Star Wars” in particular was highlighted in “Spaceballs,” Brooks regaled a packed house with backstories on several of his most popular comedies.

The screening of “Blazing Saddles” for executives at Warner Brothers resulted in studio head Ted Ashley telling Brooks to take note of the cuts that needed to be made.

“A ten-minute movie” is what Brooks said would be the outcome of censorious editing, and then later, when the Western spoof was a big hit, “Ashley took credit for it,” proving Brooks’ claim that “questionable taste is good.”

“The Producers” was based on a real story, as Brooks noted he worked for a guy who took old plays on the road, and Brooks said he felt like the character Leo Bloom, enthralled to be a part of show business. In turn, the audience was enthralled with the comedy legend.

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

UKIAH, Calif. — Mendocino College announced the highly anticipated Annual Student Show, featuring an extraordinary display of talent from budding artists across various mediums.

The exhibition will run from April 19 to May 19, with an exciting artist reception and Draw-a-thon scheduled for April 25th from 4 to 6 p.m.

The Mendocino College Gallery, located at 1000 Hensley Creek Road in the Theatre Lobby of the CVPA Building, will come alive with over 200 captivating works of art created by students from diverse backgrounds.

From photography to ceramics, painting to printmaking, this showcase promises to inspire and captivate audiences with works from students hailing from the Coast Center, Lake Center, North County Center and the Ukiah Campus, as well as contributions from dual enrollment students.

The opening reception on April 25 will feature an interactive Draw-a-thon, offering attendees the opportunity to participate in the artistic process.

Dancers from the Mendocino College Repertory Dance Co. will pose in costume for those who wish to try their hand at drawing from life, with materials provided. Light refreshments will also be served.

Gallery hours for the Annual Student Show are Tuesdays, noon to 6 p.m., Wednesdays from noon to 3 p.m., Thursdays from 3 to 6 p.m., and by appointment.

Additionally, the gallery will be open to ticket holders of theater performances, providing a unique opportunity for patrons to immerse themselves in creativity before experiencing the magic of live theater.

“This annual showcase highlights the incredible talent and dedication of our students,” said Jazzminh Moore, director of the Mendocino College Gallery. “We invite the community to join us in celebrating their achievements and experiencing the diverse range of artistic expressions on display.”

Don't miss the chance to be part of this vibrant celebration of creativity. For more information, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Student art to be displayed at the Annual Student Show. Courtesy photo.




‘GODZILLA X KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE’ RATED PG-13

Only three years ago, the Monsterverse’s “Godzilla vs. Kong” pitted the monster ape against the gigantic lizard in a spectacular battle where the fate of humanity hung in the balance.

Even though Kong, along with the orphaned girl Jia, from the Iwi tribe, took a hazardous journey to find his true home, an enraged Godzilla on the warpath across the world was itching for an epic clash between the two titans.

Getting these two fearsome creatures together is like the ultimate cage match. Much like the audience at a UFC fight, fans of the Monsterverse are hoping for a spectacle of a bruising battle.

In what is considered the fifth installment of the ongoing monster saga, “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” takes a different path when the almighty Kong and the terrifying Godzilla need to team up against a colossal threat hidden within the deep recess of Earth.

While Godzilla resides on the surface world, taking a rest inside Rome’s Colosseum, Kong dwells in Hollow Earth, nursing a bad toothache for which the wild adventurer and veterinarian Trapper (Dan Stevens) is intrepid enough to perform oral surgery.

Rebecca Hall’s scientist Ilene Andrews, working for the Monarch group, and her adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), are once again in the Kong camp, along with podcaster Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) for some comic relief.

The villain that brings Kong and Godzilla together is Skar King, the cruel ruler of enslaved simians, who with his sidekick Shimo poses a real threat to Kong until Godzilla shows up and the two join forces, and Mothra makes a cameo appearance.

Unlike the Japanese film “Godzilla Minus One” that won an Academy Award, “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” has no pretensions to anything other than being a critic-proof entertainment. The less said the better about this film because the legions of fans won’t care, nor should they.

TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL UPDATE

The 15th TCM Classic Film Festival is now just around the corner, and the schedule is as firmly settled as might be possible. Time slots marked “TBA” usually turn out to be for popular films that sold out, and that’s why all the TBAs show up on the final day.

The thrill of the festival includes getting reacquainted with old favorites, sometimes newLY restored, or discovering hidden gems. The latter might be the case with 1966’s “Gambit,” a comic caper with exotic locales.

Con artist Michael Caine spots Eurasian nightclub dancer Shirley MacLaine and notes her resemblance to a priceless Chinese bust owned by the world’s richest man (Herbert Lom). MacLaine looking like a stereotypical Chinese girl would at least be cultural appropriation in today’s world.

It’s best to look at cinema, much like history, in the context of the times. Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American film star, would have been perfect for the part, but she was no longer around.

Fortunately, Michael Caine, a nonagenarian, is still with us, and it’s interesting to note that “Gambit” was originally written for Gary Grant, but MacLaine wanted Caine as the leading man, so the script was rewritten to make the British gentleman thief a Cockney upstart.

One of the most memorable cinematic lines is delivered by Clint Eastwood pointing a .44 Magnum at a bank robber and saying, “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya punk?”

In “Dirty Harry,” Eastwood’s steely-eyed Harry Callahan, a San Francisco police detective on the trail of a serial killer (Andy Robinson, going full creepy), was perfect, even though the script had been written for an older actor and scheduled with Frank Sinatra, who dropped out.

Watching “Dirty Harry” on the big screen will cement the image of Clint Eastwood making the transition from star to icon. If only Don Siegel, who directed this and four other Eastwood films, were with us to tell stories about his friend.

A special event with the hand-and-footprint ceremony that occurs on Friday, April 19th in front of TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX (still fondly called Grauman’s Chinese by many) will honor Jodie Foster for her illustrious career as actress and filmmaker.

Foster began her career at age three, appearing as “The Coppertone Girl” in television commercials. Of course, she went on to bigger and better things as a regular on several television series, including “My Three Sons” and “Mayberry RFD.”

Widespread attention of the actress came with her powerful portrayal of streetwise Iris in Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (1976), wherein Robert De Niro’s disturbed cabbie focused his attentions on rescuing Foster’s 12-year-old hooker.

As a rape survivor in “The Accused” and Special Agent Clarice Starling in the thriller “The Silence of the Lambs,” Foster’s stunning performances earned her two Academy Awards for Best Actress.

Fortunately for film buffs, after the ceremony Foster will be the special guest for the screening of “Silence of the Lambs,” the only horror film according to TCM to be named Best Picture. Others would say the film fits the crime thriller category, but why quibble?

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

‘THE GENTLEMAN’ ON NETFLIX

Early in his career, writer and director Guy Ritchie scored hits with the crime comedies “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch.” Then he had a few duds, including “Swept Away” with his then-wife Madonna.

Acknowledged as the series’ creator, and with his partial writing and directing of the TV series on Netflix, “The Gentlemen,” based upon his 2019 film of the same title, Ritchie appears to have regained his groove.

Aside from having fast-talking characters and peppy dialogue, Ritchie’s known trademarks, according to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), include the use of frequent narration and “numerous plot threads that intersect and assist in each other’s payoffs.” That’s what you’ll find with “The Gentlemen.”

For openers, Army Captain Eddie Halstead (Theo James) is part of a UN peacekeeping force near the border of some global hotspot when he is summoned home to the British estate of his dying father, the Duke of Halstead.

Arriving at the palatial mansion, Eddie is greeted by his mother, the stoic Lady Sabrina (Joely Richardson), his younger sister Charly (Jasmine Blackborow), and his older brother Freddy (Daniel Ings), fueled by a coke addiction and an unstable nature.

Family discord erupts when the reading of the father’s will reveals that Eddie, the second son, inherits the estate and all the problems that go with it, including the hitherto unknown existence of a lucrative marijuana operation on the 15,000-acre property run by the notorious Glass mob family.

With the expectation that as the first son would inherit the estate, Freddy becomes more unhinged than usual, but it’s obvious the father knew his eldest was too reckless and impulsive to keep the family afloat.

Eddie’s first instinct is to get the mob off his property, and of course, this will be tricky. While the patriarch (Ray Winstone) resides in a comfy cell, the daughter, Susie (Kaya Scodelario), is a tough cookie who won’t give up the land without posing a serious threat of retribution.

As much as Eddie may think he wants to extricate himself from a dangerous scenario, he wastes much of his time and energy trying to save his older sibling from serious gambling debts and an unerring ability to infuriate all the wrong people.

In Ritchie style, the plot threads are numerous, starting with American billionaire Stanley Johnston (Giancarlo Esposito) who persists in trying to buy the Halstead estate. Then there is the band of nomadic types known as travelers, moving about in RVs, who believe they have a stake in the property and finagle a way into the drug business.

Crazier still is the Liverpool crime organization run by the unstable, alarming quasi-religious figure going by the name of The Gospel (Pearce Quigley), who shows uninvited to the estate with his henchmen. Even a lunatic Nazi gets in the picture.

The less said about the overall plot and the machinations of Susie and Eddie the better. “The Gentlemen” has plenty of thrills, zippy dialogue, inscrutable plot twists, and everything you would expect from a Guy Ritchie crime comedy.



‘GLORIA ESTEFAN: SINGING THROUGH STRUGGLES’ ON YOUTUBE

From Life Stories, a nonprofit media organization that produces and distributes films about people whose lives inspire meaningful change, YouTube streams the documentary interview series “The Thread” about exceptional individuals.

Season One of “The Thread” features activists, politicians, media personalities, philanthropists, authors, and athletes – all of whom ostensibly inspire viewers to find meaning in their own lives.

A great recording artist and winner of eight Grammy Awards, Cuban-American Gloria Estefan has an interesting story of being raised in a Cuban family upon immigrating to the United States in a harrowing escape from her homeland in the aftermath of the coup that brought Communist dictator Fidel Castro to power.

“Gloria Estefan: Singing Through Struggles” allows the singer to discuss being a child victim of sexual abuse and the advocacy work this experience informed, and the need to seek justice and put offenders behind bars.

Estefan tells the story of the journey of her father from Cuban police officer to participant in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban exiles, to ultimately a U.S. military officer, as well as her own early work as an immigration translator and near-brush with a career as a spy for the CIA.

From her humble upbringing among a sisterhood of female Cuban refugees, Estefan discusses her path from a child musician performing for family at home to joining the Miami Sound Machine and stardom.

In 1975, she met keyboardist Emilio Estefan, who led a band called the Miami Latin Boys. Estefan became the lead singer and the band was renamed the Miami Sound Machine, before going on to score several Top 10 hits in the 1980s and 1990s. She married Emilio in September of 1978, and they have a son and daughter.

This deeply moving episode of “The Thread” is Estefan in her own words, telling her personal story before the glory and record-breaking stages in her career, the Grammy Awards, the Super Bowl halftime performance, and the Kennedy Center Honors.

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

KELSEYVILLE, Calif. — Boatique wines will be hosting the next installment of their successful stand-up comedy series, produced by Comedy IRL, at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 20.

The show will be held in the winery at 8255 Red Hills Road in Kelseyville.

Chelsea Bearce will be headlining. She is one of the funniest comics currently working in the Bay Area.

Bearce got her comedy start in Los Angeles and quickly headed to New York, where she performed at over a dozen comedy clubs regularly, including Gotham Comedy Club, New York Comedy Club, Broadway Comedy Club and Caroline’s, where she performed alongside Darrell Hammond.

She can now be found headlining at the Sacramento and San Francisco PunchLines, as well as breweries, clubs and festivals across the country.

Bearce was a featured headliner at the Colorado Springs Comedy Festival and won Best of Fest at Big Pine Comedy Festival in Phoenix, Arizona. She is also a regular on The Gateway Show and Don’t Tell Comedy.

Her blend of observational comedy and self-deprecation combined with her over the top crowd work, makes for an intimate and exciting show.

Bearce has written multiple parodies as well, including Curvy which went Viral. Do not miss her performance. She is a killer.

The featured comic will be Matt Walker. Originally from Texas, Walker now calls the Bay his home.

Walker has performed across the country, from the Tempe Improv all the way to Laugh Boston. He has also been featured at multiple comedy festivals, including Big Pine Comedy Festival, Sac Town Comedy Get Down and the San Diego Comedy Festival.

Walker also makes up one half of the Lip Sync team Judas Feast, wowing audiences with his lightning electric guitar skills.

Find Walker now as the co-host of Meat Sweats: The Podcast (iTunes, iHeartRadio).

They also will be joined by other talented guest comedians.

Comedy IRL's own Chris Ferdinandson will be the host.

For more information and currently available tickets please go to www.boatiquewines.com/events/.



‘GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE’ Rated PG-13

Forty years ago, the start of the “Ghostbusters” franchise began with perfect casting of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and the late Harold Ramis as parapsychologists forced out of their positions at a New York university (maybe it was Columbia, just not sure).

Denied their research grant funding, the trio became ectoplasmic exterminators working out of an old firehouse in Manhattan, tooling up in a converted Cadillac ambulance for their forays throughout the city in response to distress calls.

The original 1984 “Ghostbusters” was ripe with humor and wisecracks, the latter coming mostly from Bill Murray’s Dr. Peter Venkman with his knack for snarky remarks, often directed to the officious, arrogant EPA inspector Walter Peck (William Atherton).

Four decades later, Bill Murray’s Venkman is joined by Dan Aykroyd’s Dr. Ray Stantz, Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore, and Annie Potts’ Janine Melnitz as original members of the team, who also appeared in 2021’s “Afterlife” installment with Sigourney Weaver.

But first, the story of “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” starts with a prologue in 1904 when New York firemen lead by a daring captain (Stephen Whitfield) discover frozen scientists, setting up the scenario implicit in the film’s title that comes to fruition with the release of a demon god.

This fifth installment (if you count the all-female version from 2016) brings back from “Afterlife” members of the Spengler family, including Callie (Carrie Coon), estranged daughter of the late Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), and her children Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace).

The Spenglers, along with former science teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), relocate from small town Oklahoma where they uncovered Egon’s equipment to the Ghostbusters’ firehouse headquarters in the original film.

For his part, Grooberson is a Ghostbuster and a father figure to the Spengler kids, while the whole family wheels around town in the old reliable Ecto-1 mobile in chasing the usual ethereal creatures with the help of Phoebe’s new gear.

This kind of film works best with the right kind of villains. The return of Slimer brings welcome familiarity. But an ancient evil monster released from the prison of a metal orb results in the kind of fearsome creature similarly found in the climactic challenge of the first film.

The loathsome Walter Peck (William Atherton) returns this time as the Mayor of New York City, even more obnoxious than when he was just an annoying environmental bureaucrat with a grudge.

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” like most sequels in any genre, does not match the thrills and excitement of the classic 1984 original, but it does have enough nostalgic moments that fans of the franchise should find enjoyably entertaining.

What does the future hold for the franchise? The original Ghostbusters are getting long in the tooth, even though they remain delightful mainstays.

New characters on the scene would be welcome to return. Kumail Nanjiani’s Nadeem, taking on the role of Fire Master, brings much needed comic relief, as does Patton Oswalt’s library researcher.

It’s also great to see the Stay Puft little Marshmallow Men wreak havoc (be sure to stay for the end credits), and one would hope these silly creatures (think Minions) would return and play a bigger role in future mayhem.



‘Mr. Bates vs The Post Office’ on PBS

How often does a miscarriage of justice prompt a swift reply by political leadership following a firestorm of public indignation? The answer may be found in what happened in the United Kingdom in a scandal involving the British postal system.

“Mr. Bates vs The Post Office” tells the story of one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British legal history, and this comes from the unforgivable errors of the Post Office’s own computer system.

Imagine the nightmare of being a sub-postmaster wrongly accused and charged with fraud crimes due to a faulty technical system. Hundreds of sub-postmasters within the system got caught up in a terrible situation years in the making.

Lives were needlessly ruined, but the four-part drama has British actor Toby Jones in the role of Alan Bates, a postmaster standing up in a David versus Goliath heroic story ripped straight from the headlines.

Following a broadcast of this program in the United Kingdom, the public outcry over injustice to the postal workers forced the hand of the British Prime Minister to announce a new law to pardon the victims who had been wrongly convicted.

When money started to seemingly disappear from local postal branches, the government-owned Post Office wrongly blamed their own managers for its apparent losses. For more than a decade, hundreds were accused of theft and fraud.

Many were even sent to prison, leaving lives, marriages, and reputations in ruins. With the problems triggered by their own computer system, the Post Office denied they caused these errors.

“Mr. Bates vs The Post Office” is the story of the fight for justice by the decent ordinary people who were relentlessly pursued, coerced, and vilified by a powerful government entity, and their ongoing battle against seemingly insurmountable odds.

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

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