Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Arts & Life



‘DEATH ON THE NILE’ — Rated PG-13

One of the most prolific and revered authors of detective novels, Agatha Christie was inspired during the First World War to create Hercule Poirot based on the notion that a Belgian refugee who had been a police officer would make a great detective.

Hercule Poirot turned into a legendary character and realized his best on-screen incarnation in Sidney Lumet’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” a visually stunning 1974 production with an all-star cast.

Kenneth Branagh revives “Death on the Nile,” first in the cinemas more than 40 years ago, with an old-fashioned sensibility in its gorgeous design and cinematography, as well as the sense fitting neatly as a 1937 period piece.

Opening with a somewhat unnecessary prologue during the Great War, Belgian soldier Hercule Poirot (Branagh) demonstrates valor and courage during trench warfare, surviving battle wounds that explain the origin of his bushy mustache.

Twenty-odd years later, the Belgian sleuth ends up on an Egyptian vacation aboard a glamorous riverboat steamer with a group of more or less aristocratic people connected in various ways to a picture-perfect couple on an idyllic honeymoon voyage.

The newlyweds are fabulously rich heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) and her handsome husband Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer), a person who might be credibly considered an opportunist since he was engaged to another when they first met.

Enter Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey), the jilted lover who was Linnet’s best friend and now has turned into a vengeful stalker who finagles her way aboard the S.S. Karnak riverboat heading down the Nile.

From an earlier encounter at a London night club, Poirot was already familiar with the parties to the romantic triangle, having observed that Jacqueline introduced Simon as her fiancé to Linnet.

One of the guests on the cruise is Poirot’s old friend Bouc (Tom Bateman), whose irritable mother (Annette Bening) is along for the ride to paint the ancient pyramids of Giza.

Other passengers associated with Linnet include former fiancé and physician Windlesham (Russell Brand), a jealous maid (Rose Leslie) and radical godmother Marie Van Schuyler (Jennifer Saunders).

Rousing suspicion is Linnet’s business manager and cousin (Ali Fazal), but blues band performers (Sophie Okonedo and Letitia Wright) bring a different tune to the journey.

After the first murder, Poirot jumps into the fray, annoying most of the travelers with his relentless queries and deductive reasoning, even as the body count mounts and no one feels safe.

With wicked twists and turns that may leave many guessing the final denouement, “Death on the Nile” is beautifully staged as an entertaining diversion for those who appreciate a conventional, old-school murder mystery-thriller.



‘Frederick Douglass: In Five Speeches’ on HBO

February is Black History Month, and it is a fitting time on the 23rd of the month for the HBO documentary film “Frederick Douglass: In Five Speeches,” a look at the life and work of the orator and civil rights activist in his own words.

Inspired by David Blight’s “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,” the documentary brings to life the words of our country’s most famous anti-slavery advocate.

Escaping from slavery at age 20, Douglass went on to become the most influential Black man in the nineteenth century, and he achieved that position based on the power of his words.

Entirely self-taught, the famed abolitionist was a powerful writer and master orator, crafting speeches that challenged the nation to live up to its founding principles.

The HBO documentary offers a new approach to understanding Douglass’ story, guided entirely by his own words about the country’s struggle for Black freedom and equality.

Acclaimed actors draw from five of Douglass’ legendary speeches to represent a different moment in the tumultuous history of 19th century America as well as a different stage of Douglass’ long and celebrated life.

Together with his autobiographies, the speeches chart Douglass’ rise from a passionate young agitator to a composed statesman, and ultimately to a disenchanted but still hopeful older man.

The first of the five speeches dates to pre-Civil War 1841, “I Have Come to Tell You Something About Slavery,” wherein Douglass recounts before an anti-slavery convention his story of being raised as a slave publicly for the first time.

During the twilight of his life in 1894, Douglass’ speech “Lessons of the Hour,” recreated by actor Jeffrey Wright, exhorted America to eliminate prejudice and look to its founding principles.

At the moment, I am in the middle of an interesting history book about the remarkable story of how Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass steered America through the moral crisis of the Civil War.

With numerous New York Times bestseller history books to his credit, Brian Kilmeade’s “The President and the Freedom Fighter” offers the premise that the two men didn’t always see eye to eye, but ultimately were committed to the Constitution that united them in friendship.

Further edification on this subject would merit reading the source material for this HBO documentary. After all, David Blight garnered the Pulitzer Prize for History for his efforts.

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



‘MOONFALL’ Rated PG-13

The choice was to see either the space odyssey “Moonfall” or the aptly-titled “Jackass Forever,” which if you’ve seen any of the previous iterations of the franchise is all you really need to know, and besides you can wait because it’s bound to show up on a streaming service.

After seeing “Moonfall,” a better option would have been to gaze at the moon. This attempt at the marvel of intergalactic thrills may not be irredeemably horrible or completely bereft of any entertainment value, but it’s an arguable point.

One goes into this movie with the expectation that director Roland Emmerich, having crafted better spectacles in blockbusters like “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow,” will deliver the goods when the world is on the brink of annihilation.

Well, “Moonfall” does have its moments of upheaval and destruction but the special effects come off as a bit shopworn and not very engaging, as the malevolent force threatening space missions can only be described as something kind of menacing.

With an opening 10 years in the past, NASA astronauts Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) and Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) are on a space shuttle ride that goes horribly wrong and a third member of the team is cast adrift.

Brian is the fall guy for mission failure and in the present day he’s been out of work ever since. His wife divorced him and remarried, and his estranged son, Sonny (Charlie Plummer), has been arrested for drug possession after a high-speed chase.

Meanwhile, conspiracy theorist KC Houseman (John Bradley) is completely absorbed with everything related to outer space, even going so far as to impersonate professors to spout his hypotheses.

Falsely referring to himself as Dr. Houseman, KC is the first to detect that a mysterious force has knocked the Moon from its orbit, hurling it on a collision course with Earth and ending life as we know it.

With only weeks before impact with our planet, Jo Fowler, who has risen to the top ranks of NASA, has an idea to save our civilization but she’s going to need former top pilot Brian to mount a seemingly impossible final mission into space.

The gravity of the situation is readily apparent when tidal waves wipe out large swathes of Los Angeles, and elsewhere earthquakes and atmospheric disruptions cause havoc.

The idea of sending the alcoholic former astronaut Brian back into space seems incomprehensible to the NASA folks other than his old teammate Jo, but there is really no choice.

More puzzling is how the fake Dr. Houseman becomes the third crew member. After all, though he figured out the threat first, this is the same guy who has a newspaper headline about gay aliens plastered on his wall.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy made public a plan to land a man on the Moon by the end of the decade, resulting in the Apollo 11 lunar mission and the “giant leap for mankind.” Now along comes “Moonfall” to spoil his vision.

One thing “Moonfall” might have going for it is that watching this disaster of the orbital tilt threatening our demise just might take our minds off the tough, challenging times we are dealing with in the here and now.




‘THE WOMAN IN THE HOUSE’ ON NETFLIX

When you are a prolific reader, it is not uncommon to learn new words to add to your vocabulary. A less frequent occurrence is picking up a new one watching a Netflix series, but that’s what happens with “The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window.”

Whew, that’s a long title that would never fit on a marquee. The new word, at least for me, was “ombrophobia,” which even spell check does not seem to recognize. Fear of rain is the definition, and it greatly affects Kristen Bell’s Anna in this dark comedy’s genre parody.

“The Woman in the House,” an episode series that lends itself to an easy binge-watching experience, is in the spirit of any number of Lifetime Channel movies where the female protagonist knows too much and is in some sort of peril.

Divorced and living alone in a big house, Anna excessively drinks red wine and pops pills for her anxiety, which is due to her ongoing grief over the death of her young daughter.

A handsome new neighbor, widower Neil (Tom Riley), moves into the house across the street with his young daughter Emma (Samsara Yett), and Anna takes notice with a welcoming attitude until strange things happen such as witnessing a murder (or so she thinks).

While other neighbors and even the police start to think she’s gone batty, Anna decides to play detective, and things start to spiral wildly out of control. Even her ex-husband (Michael Ealy) gets dragged into the situation.

“The Woman in the House” is entertaining for its spoof of the genre, and the twist in the final scene leaves open the possibility for another season.

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

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

Ethel­bert Miller is the mas­ter of the short, pithy lyric, packed with ten­der­ness, a gen­tle wit, and moments of sat­is­fy­ing res­o­nance.

Here is an ode to Spring that is also, at once, a love lyric. Though the object of affec­tion in his poem ​“Beloved” is Spring, it is easy to see how the long­ing, the desire, the impulse to announce love of Spring, cap­tures the sen­ti­ments of roman­tic love.

But since we are now in the throes of win­ter, it is also fit­ting to med­i­tate with Miller on our long­ing for the rebirth of love’s season.

Beloved
By Ethel­bert Miller

Please forgive me for forgetting.
I wanted to go outside and look for you.
I was told this was impossible.

I was instructed to stay indoors.
But my words for you need sun.
My heart needs air.

I love you Spring.
I miss your warmth.
Come unlock my door.


American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2020 by E. Ethelbert Miller, “Beloved” from Washingtonian Magazine, May 15, 2020. Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2022 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.

Victor Hall and Gloria Scott on Juneteenth 2021 at the Middletown Art Center. Photo MAC staff.

MIDDLETOWN, Calif. — The Middletown Art Center presents the third in the “Sounds of Liberation” series with world music musician Victor Hall at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18.

The event will take place online at and the center, located at 21456 Highway 175.

Doors open at 6:45 p.m.

Hall, a longtime Lake County resident and popular musician with many local bands including Midnight Sun Massive, will be hosted by Clovice Lewis, composer, musician, educator and social justice advocate from Upper Lake.

The evening's event includes a conversation about race and music, with an intimate performance by Hall and Lewis and opportunity for audience questions.

Friday’s event will center on stories of Hall’s experiences and artistic journey as a man of color in the music world and in the military, during challenging times of social change and racial injustice.

He’ll share about his work across musical genres from reggae to blues, and the personal connections he draws between music and social justice.

Sounds of Liberation is a collaboration between Clovice Lewis and the MAC, forged through the Community Call to Action, or CCA, A loving response to systemic racism in America.

CCA is a self-organized local action group formed in response to the widely publicized and horrific deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020.

“This series of interviews and performances are based on my research on the role of African music as the music of liberation,” explained Lewis. “My central thesis is that most African American music is, in some manner, a reflection of the harm of systemic racism and oppression. Victor and I share many connections yet are very different from one another. I anticipate an interesting and surprising evening of conversation and music.”

The series honors the Black experience as told through musical genres that have contributed to and influenced contemporary North American music and culture.

The primary goal of the project is to create environments that support public exploration of challenging questions about systemic racism in America through music and the personal experiences of Black musicians living in Lake County.

The project launched on Juneteenth 2021 at MAC, with an engaging conversation between Clovice Lewis and arts professional and social justice advocate Sabrina Klein Clement.

The MAC invites community members of all ages to join via Zoom broadcast or by limited seating in-person at the MAC gallery with COVID protocols in place. Tickets are available on a sliding scale at www.middletownartcenter.org/sounds-of-liberation.

Sounds of Liberation is made possible with community support and with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Learn more at www.calhum.org.

The 2021 winner in the fifth to eighth grade category, Veronica Cid.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is pleased to announce the ninth annual California Invasive Species Youth Art Contest.

This year’s theme, “Unite to Fight Invasive Species,” reflects the need for all Californians to work together to prevent the spread and impacts of invasive species.

“The Youth Art Contest is an opportunity for students to combine science with artistic expression while learning about an important environmental issue,” said Elizabeth Brusati, an environmental scientist with CDFW’s Invasive Species Program. “We want young people to look for ways to stop the spread of invasive species. Helpful actions could include choosing native plants for landscaping, not releasing unwanted pets into the wild, reporting invasive species sightings and cleaning clothing and gear to prevent unintentionally moving organisms from one location to another.”

The contest is offered by CDFW’s Invasive Species Program in conjunction with California Invasive Species Action Week, which will be June 4 to 12 this year.

There are three age divisions for youths in grades 2-4, 5-8 and 9-12. All types of media are welcome and encouraged, including (but not limited to) drawings, paintings, animations, comic strips, videos and public service announcements.

Entries must reflect the 2022 theme: “Unite to Fight Invasive Species.”

The top three winners in each division will receive awards and have their entries announced on CDFW’s social media.

Additional details and inspiration, including prior years’ winning entries, can also be found on the CDFW website.

The deadline for art contest entries is April 1. Completed entries and entry forms should be submitted electronically. Submission instructions can be found on the CDFW website.

The goal of California Invasive Species Action Week is to increase public awareness of invasive species issues and encourage public participation in the fight against California’s invasive species and their impacts on our state’s natural resources and biodiversity.

The mission of CDFW’s Invasive Species Program is to reduce the impacts of invasive species on the wildlands and waterways of California. The program is involved in efforts to prevent the introduction of these species into the state, detect and respond to introductions when they occur, and prevent the spread of those species that have established.



‘RAY DONOVAN: THE MOVIE’ ON SHOWTIME


Two years ago, viewers were left hanging after the conclusion of the seventh season of “Ray Donovan” when Showtime, to the consternation of the fan base, abruptly cancelled the series its creative team had planned to wrap up in a finale year.

Now comes the feature-length ending in “Ray Donovan: The Movie,” which picks up the storyline after the last season when the husband (Graham Rogers) of Ray’s daughter has been gunned down on a Brooklyn street and Ray’s father Mickey (Jon Voight) flees with purloined stocks.

Closure can be cathartic, and in the case of the saga of Ray Donovan (Liev Schreiber), a Los Angeles-based fixer skirting the law and ethics for his elite clientele during the first five seasons, the movie works its way to a fairly untidy and chaotic closing.

Not surprisingly, a day of reckoning is at hand in which the brooding Ray, conflicted in a series of flashbacks to his childhood clashes with his strutting younger father (Bill Heck), faces off with Voight’s aging ex-con Mickey, relentlessly sleazy and dangerous as always.

Throughout the series run, there was always a volatile relationship between the mobster father and son, stretching back to the first season when Mickey was released from prison and Ray was hoping recidivism would send his murderous father back to the slammer.

The entire Donovan family, with its roots in the working-class part of Boston, has issues. Ray’s older brother Terry (Eddie Marsan) is a former boxer suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

Ray’s younger brother Bunchy (Dash Mihok) has a substance abuse problem connected to molestation as a child. The movie brings out the truth of the death of Ray’s teen sister. Half-brother Daryll (Pooch Hall) has his own set of issues.

To say the Donovan family is dysfunctional is an understatement. With a father like Mickey, it’s little wonder everyone has problems. In his own inimitable way though, Ray goes about trying to clean up the messes of his clients as well as those of family.

Most satisfying for the hardcore fans is the movie’s sharp focus on the complicated Donovan family, most particularly on the troubling dynamic of Ray and Mickey being at odds over the history of a lifetime.

The younger versions of father and son in numerous flashbacks add needed texture to a relationship that deviated from the norms of social behavior. Chris Gray’s Ray displays a pragmatic maturity as opposed to Bill Heck’s charismatic yet irrational and impulsive Mickey.

To enjoy “Ray Donovan: The Movie” it’s inevitable that the narrative elements of the travails of the complex characters are only fully understood with an appreciation of the seasons that preceded.

Discussing the undercurrents of intrigue and violence that plague the Donovan family risks revealing key points that are best to be discovered, though arguably “Ray Donovan: The Movie” does arrive at an ending that seems fitting and rather predictable.

Arguably, the “Ray Donovan” series had so many moving parts, chiefly when the focus was on family rather than Ray’s fixer role for private clients, that many fans may come away with the impression the movie does not suffice to tie up many unresolved plot elements.

NORDIC NOIR AND MORE ON VIAPLAY

Who can keep up with the ever-changing landscape of streaming services? Now along comes Viaplay, accessed through Comcast Xfinity, a streaming service that offers Scandinavian drama, crime and comedy programs.

Our winter television press tour will feature two Viaplay original productions. “Partisan” follows Johnny (Swedish-Lebanese actor Fares Fares), a mysterious man who enters Jordnara, a seemingly idyllic gated community running a thriving organic farm, to work as a truck driver.

He is actually a Swedish secret police agent assigned to infiltrate the community and unearth criminal activity. The mastermind (Johan Rheborg) of Jordnara is suspected of money laundering and embezzlement.

Johnny’s arrival at the farm coincides with two other new members: teenage sisters Nicole and Maria. The two seem out of place and it soon becomes apparent that young girls before them (and like them) who come for an elite gymnastics program vanish without a trace.

The intrigue of Nordic Noir in “Partisan” builds when the Swedish agent begins to suspect foul play and is driven by a mission that cuts deep into him. Johnny’s drive will push him to sacrifice everything for his beliefs.

The drama “Love Me” poses the question of how love can change life. Through a story of friendship, grief and romance spanning three generations of Stockholmers, this Viaplay series embraces one of humanity’s biggest questions in a way that is sometimes touching and often comic.

A Norwegian police procedural series, “Wisting,” starring Sven Nordin as senior police detective William Wisting, already has two seasons under its belt and will be a perfect fit for streaming.

As an aside, long ago I attended a Norwegian opera in Los Angeles which was so depressing that it made the darkest German opera of Richard Wagner seem like a lighthearted romp. Here’s hoping Viaplay’s Nordic Noir is more thrilling than bleak.

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

Upcoming Calendar

28Jun
06.28.2022 9:00 am - 12:00 pm
Board of Supervisors
28Jun
06.28.2022 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
28Jun
06.28.2022 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Rotary Club of Clear Lake
30Jun
06.30.2022 7:30 am - 8:30 am
Rotary Club of Middletown
1Jul
07.01.2022 5:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Essential workers mural dedication
2Jul
2Jul
07.02.2022 9:00 am - 11:00 am
Junior Ranger Program: Lake ecology
2Jul
07.02.2022 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
2Jul
07.02.2022 11:00 am - 1:00 pm
Weekly writing workshop
2Jul
07.02.2022 11:00 am - 11:00 pm
64th annual Redbud Parade and Festival

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