Nothing says "Happy Holidays" like Nashville musicians wearing Mexican wrestling masks and playing surf-rock instrumentals. Los Straitjackets return to the Beachland Ballroom tonight for their annual holiday show, in which traditional favorites -- like "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and "The Christmas Song" -- are injected with that twangy guitar sound Quentin Tarantino likes so much. The result (which also can be heard on the band's 'Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets CD) sounds like an anarchic holiday beach party hosted by the Ventures. Show time is 9 p.m. at the Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Road. Tickets are $15, available by calling 216-383-1124.
Friday, December 2
If the pair of bickering thieves in The Hidden Fortress remind you of a couple of squabbling droids, you're not alone. And if the tale of a sword-wielding hero tapped to protect a young princess on a mission seems an awful lot like an epic that's set in a galaxy far, far away, you've figured it out: George Lucas drew inspiration for Star Wars from Akira Kurosawa's classic 1958 film, which screens tonight as part of Lakewood Public Library's free Friday Night Flicks series. Although Lucas' interstellar blockbuster offers more thrills, Kurosawa's thoughtful, funny film certainly doesn't skimp on action. Star Toshirô Mifune's skill with a sword rivals Obi-Wan's. And he brings depth to his role -- something Mark Hamill couldn't quite force. The Hidden Fortress shows at the library's Main Auditorium (15425 Detroit Avenue in Lakewood) at 6 tonight; call 216-226-8275.
When it comes to predatory creatures, nothing beats the wolf. Its speed, agility, and cunning match that of any animal in North America's wild kingdom. But we're most fascinated when scientists and nature preservationists drop these carnivorous mammals into areas where there are lots and lots of people. At tonight's "The Decade of the Wolf: Reflections on the Yellowstone Reintroduction," wildlife biologist Douglas Smith discusses the national park's decade-long effort to relocate wolves from their Canadian homeland to the vacation hot spot, where breakfast, lunch, and dinner await. The talk starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, 1 Wade Oval Drive. Admission is $9, $8 for kids; call 216-231-4600.
Saturday, December 3
There are moments in I Am Cuba that are so breathtakingly gorgeous that it's easy to forget that it's basically a propaganda film -- shot by a Soviet director in 1964 Cuba, no less. The movie wasn't even screened in the U.S. until 1992, when über-directors Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese championed its release. Four vignettes center on different aspects of the Cuban revolution -- from a bustling nightclub teeming with Ugly American tourists to a bomb-ravaged village that inspires a farmer to bear arms. And be sure not to miss the opening sequence: a long, sustained tracking shot that begins on a balcony filled with partiers and ends in the middle of a swimming pool a few stories below. I Am Cuba is at the Cleveland Cinematheque (11141 East Boulevard) at 7:20 tonight and 3:30 p.m. tomorrow. Admission is $8; call 216-421-7450.
Sunday, December 4
At today's Kids' Holiday Shoppe, little ones have the opportunity to take part in a common grown-up ritual this time of year: buying presents for loved ones who probably won't like them. Just drop off your children (with some cash) at Trinity Commons' makeshift store, and the staff will walk them through aisles and aisles of books, toys, and other gifts. The good part: Everything goes for less than $10. The bad part: Don't expect an iPod Nano from your kid this year. Shopping happens from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Holiday Shoppe (on Prospect Avenue, off 22nd Street). Admission is free; call 216-774-0470.
Monday, December 5
Of all the sugar-saturated fun happening at Woodland Halle Days' Candy Wonderland exhibit, it's the tribute to the board game Candy Land that has us squealing like a fat boy at Hersheypark. A life-sized game board allows visitors to walk through peppermint woods, scale gumdrop mountains, and saunter through a lollipop forest -- in essence, you become a game piece! And don't forget to take a look at the re-creation of the old Halle's department store, which includes original old-school ornaments and a tribute to the late local favorite Mr. Jingeling. The exhibit is open from noon to 5 p.m. daily through January 1 at Penitentiary Glen Nature Center, 8668 Kirtland-Chardon Road in Kirtland. Admission is free; call 440-256-1404 for more information.
Tuesday, December 6
Bay Area R&B singer Goapele mixes a little jazz, some hip-hop, and a whole lotta soul on her second CD, Change It All, due later this month. It's slick stuff, with contributions by hit-makers who've worked with such heavyweights as the Game, Erykah Badu, and Kanye West. Even the ubiquitous Linda Perry (who sparked Pink's career) gets in on the action, priming the globetrotting diva-in-the-making for chart domination. Goapele's at the House of Blues (308 Euclid Avenue) at 9 p.m. Tickets are $23; call 216-241-5555.
Wednesday, December 7
The botanical garden's annual holiday exhibit, WinterShow: Once Upon a Toy, fills nearly every square inch with trucks, trains, or dolls. Toys even hang from the trees! And the Hula-Hoop mobile could very well be the season's most inspired touch. WinterShow is at the Cleveland Botanical Garden (11030 East Boulevard) through December 31. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $7.50, $3 for kids; call 216-721-1695.