Sunday, 28 February 2021

Arts & Life

THE GOLDEN COMPASS (Rated PG-13)


It’s possible to appreciate “The Golden Compass,” a screen adaptation from author Philip Pullman’s book trilogy “His Dark Materials,” for its cinematic tradition of a magical and mystical world not far removed from the “Harry Potter” universe.


On the other hand, the controversy that swirls about Philip Pullman may cast a dark cloud on the whole enterprise. Religious groups voice objections to Pullman’s thematic direction, and even a quick check of the author’s Web site reveals his cynicism about organized religion and skepticism about the existence of God. Rather than resolving the theological questions, let’s look at the movie for what it is.


Frankly, “The Golden Compass” is clearly derived from source material that works better on the written page. From the start, the movie is loaded with a dizzying array of characters with agendas that need to be sorted out with a road map and a set of instructions.


The Magisterium is like a shadow government that seeks to control all of humanity, and of course it is run by some old white guys who look menacing even if they are doing nothing more than greeting a stranger. The unnamed Magisterial Emissary (Derek Jacobi) arches his eyebrows to signal his malice, all the while directing a council that wants to eliminate free will.


The Magisterium takes up the mission to call the work of Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) heresy, because he embarks on a trip to the Arctic Circle to investigate a mysterious element called Dust, which apparently is a portal to a parallel universe.


Meanwhile, Asriel’s spunky young niece Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) lives an extraordinary life as a ward of the distinguished Jordan College, where she runs around unsupervised with her best buddy Roger (Ben Walker).


Everywhere she goes, Lyra is accompanied by her “daemon” Pan (voiced by Freddie Highmore), a small animal that changes shapes according to the mood of its human owner. It seems everyone has a “daemon,” which provides not-so-subtle clues about the personality of the owner, though in the case of children, the animal is a volatile and fluid creature.


Lyra’s free reign at Jordan College reaches an abrupt end when certain forces collide. First, thugs from the Magisterium want to shut down the institution because Lord Asriel’s research poses a threat. Then, rumors of the mysterious disappearance of children and their relocation to the remote north become terrifying real when Lyra’s best friend goes missing.


Lyra’s pledge to set forth on a rescue mission looks promising when Marissa Coulter (Nicole Kidman), a beguiling scientist and world traveler, shows up at the college to take Lyra on a trip. Coulter’s true nature should be easily detected by the malevolence of her orange monkey “daemon.”


Soon enough it is clear that Coulter is up to no good. Lyra finds she has been drawn into a trap to take from her the one possession that the Magisterium desperately seeks. The object in question is the Golden Compass, a mystical device that acts as a guide to the future and reveals the truth of all matters.


Breaking free of the evil Mrs. Coulter, Lyra finds protection in a tribe of seafaring Gyptians. Together they form an alliance with mysterious witch Serafina (Eva Green) and Texas airman Scoresby (Sam Elliott), who looks as out of place in this movie as my mother would at a rock concert, but at least he’s a colorful character.


Up in the icy north, it gets even more interesting when the motley band of crusaders acquire a powerful ally in a great armored bear named Iorek (voiced by Ian McKellan), whose pledge to serve to the bitter end takes on real meaning.


Deep into the film’s running time, the payoff comes with pitched battles, one of them involving Iorek in his death match with the evil bear king Ragnar (voiced by Ian McShane).


There’s a great battle of liberation at the Magisterium’s northern outpost where the children are held hostage. At the very least, “The Golden Compass” sparks enough exciting action near the end to rouse anyone from the doldrums.


The knock on this film is that there is too much plot development stuffed into its slightly less than two-hour running time. On the other hand, the visual appeal is enormously satisfying, with special effects powerfully realized. The airship carrying Mrs. Coulter and Lyra to the north looks like a fantastic Jules Verne creation.


But even as its seeks a new direction, “The Golden Compass” relies on many elements cobbled together from films ranging from “Star Wars” to “The Chronicles of Narnia.”


DVD RELEASE UPDATE


Hong Kong action cinema is always in plentiful supply. Directed by Johnny To, “Exiled,” full of bloody shoot-outs common to the genre, is about a Hong Kong mob boss who sends two killers after a renegade ex-gangster found hiding out in Macau with his wife and baby. In the meantime, two other hard men turn up to intervene, inadvertently sending things into a violent downward spiral.


More news on the martial arts front involves the Christmas Day release of Jackie Chan’s kung fu action comedy “Robin-B-Hood,” which showcases Chan’s trademark acrobatic fighting style and comic timing.


The story follows Chan as an unlucky gambler who resorts to robbery to pay off his debts. His luck gets worse when he and his pals kidnap a baby in exchange for a large ransom, only to become nannies to their captive.


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


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“Call me Zits,” the teenage narrator of Sherman Alexie's novel Flight invites us, as his story of a "time-traveling mass murderer" opens. It closes as he tells yet another new foster mother his real name. {sidebar id=42}


There are many echoes here, of Moby Dick, of Maya Angelou, of Peter Pan, of the childhood of King Arthur as told by T. H. White, in which Merlin enables the boy to inhabit the bodies of fish and birds.


Some might call it derivative, but universal also applies, at least for the vast numbers of alienated. Most teens feel alienated, but Zits has more reasons than most. His Indian father never acknowledged him, his Irish mother died when he was 6. He has spent 15 years in foster homes and jails, and a brief time with an aunt whose boyfriend abused him. He's a genuine Lost Boy, whose native intelligence guides him to the few things worth watching on television, where he learns everything he knows about Indians from the History Channel.


A jail encounter with another young man, a Nietzsche-quoting blue-eyed blond anarchist who calls himself Justice, leads him to a bank armed with a paint gun and a .38 Special, and the shooting spree that ensues lands him in a series of violent events. He becomes an Indian child at the Little Bighorn when Custer attacks, an FBI agent at Red River, Idaho, in the 1970s with his memory of the future intact, knowing the ensuing myth of that event is untrue. He befriends and teaches an Arab to fly and is heartbroken when the man crashes a plane into a crowded Chicago street. And finally, his own defeated father.


This is the first novel in 10 years from Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in northern Washington. As the only Indian at his high school (except for the school mascot), he excelled academically.


Somewhere he picked up a wonderfully caustic wit, which serves him well as a novelist, poet and screenwriter (Smoke Signals, The Business of Fancydancing and 49?, a 2003 short which has been playing at film festivals.)


He has said "I didn't know I was going to be a funny writer," Alexie says. "I just started writing and people laughed. And at first I was sort of offended. I expected, like many young people, that writing was supposed to be so serious—that if people were laughing it couldn't be serious. But I've learned that humor can be very serious. You know if you have people laughing, you can talk about very difficult subjects. I use it as an aesthetic—I suppose I should say anesthetic—and also to be profane and blasphemous. There's nothing I like more than laughing at other people's idea of the sacred."


Young Adult lit? Sure, I guess. But before you give it to one of those mysterious creatures, read it yourself and come to terms with the fairytale ending.


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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UKIAH – The Mendocino College ceramics program will hold its annual ceramic sale on Friday, Dec. 7 at noon in the gymnasium on the Ukiah campus.

The ceramic sale has been going on for over 20 years and was started by Gary Medina. Medina, who retired in May, started the ceramics program at Mendocino College over 30 years ago.

“The purpose of the sale is for our students to have an opportunity to interact with the public. It reinforces the vocational aspects of the program and gives students opportunities to give back to the community that supports them through the college,” Mendocino College ceramics instructor Doug Browe said.

The sale is student organized and proceeds benefit the ceramics club. Proceeds are used to bring in guest lecturers and support the ceramics program with books, magazines and instructional aides.

Those visiting the sale will not only get to see some impressive work, but also get to meet some of the artists behind the work.
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Pottery Valley residents Jerry Irwin and his wife Linda, have been involved with ceramics for 11 years. Jerry, who is a retired game warden, always wanted to work with clay. He and his wife decided they wanted to do something together and pursued classes at the college.

“It is a great learning experience here at Mendocino. We are getting inspiration and we are learning different concepts and different facets. Overall, it is an excellent program with real depth,” Jerry Irwin said.

Originally from New Hampshire, Megan Mitchell has been involved with the Mendocino ceramics program for three years.
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Mitchell is applying to graduate school at Ohio University, University of Minnesota and Southern Illinois and is using her time in the program to work on her portfolio.

“I enjoy the community of students, the facilities and resources. It is a good place to try new things. We are fortunate to have this program in this town,” Mitchell said.

Belle Hicks, who lives in Ukiah and has been involved with the program since 2002, has a passion for ceramics and making things.
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“This is an excellent program. There are great teachers, a great studio and the visiting artists are outstanding,” Hicks said.

Satoko Barash, who grew up in Japan, has been involved with the program for five years.

Barash mentions that she is getting ideas, inspiration and new teachings through her involvement in the program.

“This is a great program. The professors are very supportive and they really care about our success,” Barash said.
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Those involved with the Mendocino College ceramics program all share the passion for ceramics and learning and sharing with other artists.

Individuals are encouraged to come early to the sale, since the popularity of the sale brings out a vast number of people. This is the first time that appetizers will be offered to those waiting in line for the sale.

For more information on the ceramics program or the sale, visit www.mendocino.edu, or contact Browe at (707) 468-1003.

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Karen Priest getting ready to belt out a tune. Photo by Joanne Bateni.




LAKEPORT – Cafe Victoria held another in its ongoing series of musical and poetry performances on Dec. 1.


Host Phil Mathewson, performed some original tunes and accompanied other performers on the house piano. Magician Philip Martin did card tricks and local author Alethea Eason read from her children’s science fiction book, “Hungry.”


Guitar players and singers Erv Howell and Frank Vastano came all the way from Lucerne to entertain.


Dick Flowers didn’t need any musical accompaniment as he sang a capella for the appreciative audience.


Karen Priest of the Clear Lake Park Symphony Orchestra sang some of her original tunes while strumming the guitar.


Sue Ricci (Karaoke Sue) and Mathewson sang some Christmas songs to celebrate the season.


Lorna Sue Sides, founder of the Poetry Interlude, recited some of her favorite poems.


There was a full house for this year’s last open mic and nobody wanted it to end.


It will be back next year, same time – 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. – and same day, the first Saturday of the month.


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LAKEPORT – Local author and publisher Carolyn Wing Greenlee will give a talk at Watershed books from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7.

Greenlee is founder and president of Earthen Vessel Productions, a Lake County-based publishing company celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2008.

Greenlee will speak on the writing and publishing process and go in-depth and behind the scenes about     bringing some of the books to print.

Originally, Greenlee intended to only publish books on the Chinese-American experience to help keep her people's presence and contributions in the historical record, but she soon found other people's stories too irresistible to ignore.

Working with Lake County museums and the Lake County Historical Society, she began making available out-of-print books on Lake County history. Eventually she authored 10 books, edited and brought to print the poetry of Lake County Poets Laureate Jim Lyle and James BlueWolf, and illustrated BlueWolf's Children's book, "Speaking for Fire.”

Greenlee is a popular featured lecturer and teacher at many historical, cultural and literary events including national conferences for Women Writing the West. In 2000 she received the Artie Award and was awarded the Stars of Lake County Best Professional Artist of 2007.

She was Lake County's Poet Laureate for the years 2004-5 and is an award-winning poet, painter and photographer. Her current work, "Eternal River," covers the generational struggles of a Chinese-American family.

Join Watershed Books for this very special guest, good conversation and scrumptious refreshments.

Watershed Books is located at 305 N. Main Street in Lakeport, telephone 263-5787.

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HITMAN (Rated R)


Though it may not prove a winner on screen, the action movie “Hitman” is based on an alleged top-selling, award-winning video game franchise. At the risk of exposing my cultural ignorance, I am unaware of this video game’s reputed popularity. No matter, as I am blissfully oblivious to the electronic gaming market in general. Being out of touch may not be such a handicap, because after all Hitman should stand on its cinematic merits.


In any event, I am usually game for a high-octane, shoot ‘em up adventure, where the elite assassin performs his job with lethal grace and resolute pride. In the movie's title role, Timothy Olyphant is the complex and mysterious hired gun known only as Agent 47. He’s a laconic loner who reveals little about himself, choosing to let his weapons do all the talking. He’d like to be Gary Cooper with automatic weapons, but this isn’t a western.


Oddly enough, this is more of a freak show. The background story has Agent 47 trained from birth in the deadly arts at some sort of weird monastery, where the young are molded into trained killers, detached emotionally from any real feelings and thoughts held by average folks. Like his equally anonymous colleagues, Agent 47 is stripped of conscience and morality.


The puzzling thing about Agent 47, dressed impeccably in fashionable suits, is that like his fellow assassins he’s got a shaved head with a tattooed barcode on the back of his scalp. Curiously enough, he runs around with the barcode constantly exposed, as if nobody is going to notice it.


The great unanswered question is why there’s a barcode emblazoned on his cranium to begin with. Does it have any practical value? Does he scan his head at the checkout counter of the arms-dealing supermarket when loading up on a stockpile of automatic weapons and grenades?


The story for Hitman, such as it is and as best as it can be followed, is that Agent 47, taking orders from the Agency by way of a computer, is on a mission to assassinate Russian president Mikhail Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen). The reason for this assignment is unclear, though the target is described as a “moderate,” who’s unfortunately saddled with an unsavory younger brother (Henry Ian Cusack), a peddler in weapons, drugs and prostitutes.


The job goes off without a hitch, or so he thinks, until Belicoff appears again in public with nary a scratch. Hot on the trail is Interpol agent Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott), who knows that Agent 47, operating with lethal precision, does not miss a target.


The female interest is the slinky, hot babe Nika (Olga Kurylenko), connected to the Belicoffs and a key witness. She’s made some bad career choices, and now she’s taken hostage by Agent 47, who has to go on the run. For reasons that are muddled, the hitman is betrayed by the Agency, and suddenly he’s being chased through a train station by a bunch of bald guys with barcode tattoos.


Meanwhile, the Russian secret police and Interpol, not exactly working in sync, are after Agent 47 as well. A whole bunch of people are trigger happy, but none quite as much as the film’s putative hero. As time passes, the enigmatic, ruthless Agent 47 looks increasingly like the reasonable guy in a world populated with double-crossing thugs.


Meanwhile, the emotionally distant professional assassin has to deal with his pretty hostage, though he rarely lets his guard down. Interestingly, she attempts continuously to seduce him, but having been raised in a sheltered environment at the assassin school, Agent 47 never picked up any tips from James Bond, who always managed to give in to his carnal desires with the bad girls while keeping his wits intact. But our guy is unflappable and unmoved, even in the face of Nika’s seductive striptease.


Hitman has no really useful purpose other than to serve up large portions of violence and gunplay, where the high body count seems destined to create a new benchmark in wanton killings. The film is intermittently intriguing and interesting, but for reasons that seem elusive. If it’s basically mindless action on the menu, then Hitman does the trick.


DVD RELEASE UPDATE


From the guys who brought us crude comedies like “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” comes “Superbad” in a two-disc unrated edition with additional footage deemed too raunchy for theaters.


Having seen the original, I can only wonder how much more over the edge they can go with this story about some guys desperate to hook up with their dream girls on a wild party night before heading off to college.


The two-disc set includes a bevy of bonus material, much of it designed to capitalize on the film’s essential lewdness.


Still, I am fascinated to see the “Press Junket Meltdown” feature, mainly out of professional curiosity.


For those who want to tone down the vulgarity, there’s also a single-disc rated version.


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


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