Sunday, 24 September 2023

Arts & Life


Billing “The Retirement Plan” as an action comedy might be a stretch, but there is something quite amusing about the ineptness of so many henchmen of a crime lord unable to fulfill what seems an easy enough assignment.

As the story opens, a man and a woman are making a getaway from an apparent heist of what turns out to be the film’s MacGuffin, the object or device that serves merely as a trigger for the plot.

In this case, it happens to be a flash drive that belongs supposedly to Donnie (Jackie Earle Haley), a crime boss with a hair-trigger temper which might be the result of him having to report to his psychotic superior (Grace Byers).

Jimmy (Jordan Johnson-Hinds) and his wife Ashley (Ashley Greene) realize that they have just bought themselves a monumental pile of trouble with this theft and need an escape plan.

Ashley hides the flash drive in their young daughter Sarah’s (Thalia Campbell) backpack and puts her on a flight to the Cayman Islands with a note to locate a man named Matt (or Jim?), who turns out to be her estranged father (Nicolas Cage).

Holding Jimmy hostage, Donnie tells Sarah that she will be accompanied by his Shakespeare-loving henchman Bobo (Ron Perlman) and another thug to retrieve the flash drive unless someone or everyone will die.

Of course, Matt doesn’t realize that he has a granddaughter and he’s not well equipped to take care of her since he’s retired from his government work and savors the beach bum lifestyle.

Unknown to Ashley when she arrives at her father’s beachside home with Bobo and the goon is that Matt has been hiding his special skills, namely that he’s a retired special forces soldier trained as an assassin.

When Donnie’s goon ends up dead, Bobo kidnaps Sarah, which leads to the unlikely formation of a bond when the young girl’s affinity for reading “Othello” triggers an interesting dynamic with her Shakespeare-quoting captor.

Aside from Matt easily killing Donnie’s successive wave of goons showing up in the Caymans, other characters involve Matt’s old boss (Lynn Whitfield) and her seemingly duplicitous right-hand (Joel David Moore) getting in on the action.

Even some political intrigue comes into view when a mysterious powerful figure (Rick Fox) has a great interest in the flash drive that may propel his political ambitions for high office.

In many respects, “The Retirement Plan” is quite conventional as an action picture with Nicolas Cage channeling his inner rage in a most effective way of killing countless bad guys that would otherwise hurt his family.

At a nicely moving and relatively swift pace, this action film offers some welcome humor in unusual ways. Arguably, best of all is Bobo’s comically awkward phone calls with Donnie in which he’s always at a loss to explain how every attempt to kill Matt proves to be a failure.

If not easily found at a local cinema, “The Retirement Plan” seems almost certainly to end up on a streaming service in relatively short order. A pickup by Netflix or Amazon seems possible, and it will offer a fun diversion.


An eight-part documentary series on Netflix, “Spy Ops” might be the thing for anyone interested in a perspective on real world events ranging from an assassination plot on Pope John Paul II to the initial intrusion into Afghanistan following the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001.

The first episode is “Operation Jawbreaker,” when CIA operatives land in the part of Afghanistan under the control of the Northern Alliance, the mortal enemies of the hated and ruthless Taliban.

The leader of the Northern Alliance is Ahmad Shah Massoud, the biggest enemy of the Taliban seen from archival footage since he meets an untimely death.

Narrator for a good part of the episode is the late Gary Schroen, the Jawbreaker Team Leader for the CIA. He reports that it was known that Osama bin Laden was the leader of al-Qaeda and hiding somewhere in Afghanistan.

An interesting part of this episode is the reminder that American withdrawal two years ago has resulted in the “horror of the Taliban enveloping the country” even more completely than it did before 9/11.

The second episode “Operation Just Cause” is the story of how America came to invade Panama in order to depose its strongman General Manuel Noriega, who was trafficking drugs and had once been on the CIA payroll for a long time.

Noriega, nicknamed “Pineapple Face” for his pockmarked facial features, is portrayed as a double-dealing opportunist working for the CIA and selling U.S. intelligence secrets to Cuba.

There’s a news clip of Dan Rather reporting on the United Nations General Assembly deploring the invasion of Panama as a “flagrant violation of international law.”

The “Operation Pimlico” tale of MI6 orchestrating the extraction of a Soviet double agent from Moscow is fascinating like a Jack Ryan or James Bond spy story.

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

Pomo Basket from the Lake County Courthouse Museum in Lakeport, California. Photo by Corine Pearce.

MIDDLETOWN, Calif. — The Middletown Art Center announced the commencement of “Water Basket,” which opens with a pomo basket design panel discussion at Twin Pine Casino on Sunday, Sept. 17, from 2 to 3:30 p.m.

Featured artists and culture bearers include Millie Simon, Wanda Quitiquit, Eric Wilder, Patty Ray-Franklin, Corine Pearce, Meyo Marrufo and Buffy Thomas, with an introduction from Moke Simon. The event is free and open to the public.

“Water Basket” is a unique and monumental project the scale of which Lake County has not seen.

The goal is to paint Middletown’s two water tanks on Rabbit Hill with 360-degree murals inspired by pomo basketry.

The mural design will reflect the area’s history, people and ecology utilizing geometric and organic shapes that are symbolic of animals and plants native to the region.

The project is a collaboration between Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California, Pomo artists, Callayomi County Water District and the Middletown Art Center.

It’s funded in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional funding from the Middletown Rancheria, the water district and public support.

“Our cultural heritage is needed to uplift our people from grief and pain. Traditional aspects must be reestablished not as a textbook lesson or an artifact behind glass, but as a living art through practice,” said Middletown Rancheria Tribal Chair Moke Simon about the project.

An open call for proposals is available at

A series of workshops led by Pomo cultural artists Corine Pearce, Meyo Marrufo and Eric Wilder, will support native and nonnative participants in realizing their artistic vision.

“Water Basket” invites Indigenous people to bring expressions of their innate cultural heritage into public space and nonnative people to learn about Pomo cultural heritage. Individual, collaborative, and intercultural or multigenerational proposals are encouraged. MAC’s intercultural staff will provide artistic and technical support to prepare a 2-D rendering, as well as materials and supplies.

“The tanks hold the water of life. ‘Water Basket’ honors our people as stewards of the land and the connection that we have to the land and the water,” said Buffy Thomas, project coordinator, a member of Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians.

A jury composed of representatives from Middletown Rancheria Tribal Members, regional cultural practitioners, water district board members, Middletown community members, the Middletown Area Merchants Association and town hall, and MAC artistic staff will assess proposals and select two to three proposals for each tank to move to public input at several Middletown locations.

Final selection will be made by the water district and Middletown Rancheria.

“As a public agency for the community of Middletown, we are seeking to beautify public space and uplift and reflect the unification, regeneration, and revitalization of our community as a whole post-fire, while recognizing the First People and original culture of this land,” said Todd Fiora, general manager of Callayomi County Water District.

Learn more about the project and the call for proposals, RSVP for the panel discussion and reserve your spot for upcoming workshops at

Middletown Art Center is a Lake County nonprofit dedicated to engaging the public in art making, art education, and art appreciation.

Through exhibitions, performances, workshops and community events, the Art Center provides a platform for diverse voices and perspectives, striving to create an inclusive and accessible space for all.

To learn more and donate to support “Water Basket” and other MAC programs visit or call 707-809-8118.

The MAC is located at 21456 State Highway 175 in Middletown.


A popular racing simulation video game, Gran Turismo spawned what became known as the Nissan GT Academy, which was designed to boost Sony PlayStation racing gamers into becoming professional race car drivers.

“Gran Turismo” tells the story of Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe) who spends most of his time at the console of a Gran Turismo game, much to the dismay of his father (Djimon Hounsou), a retired footballer who wants something better for his son.

Nissan marketer Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) comes up with the idea of the GT Academy in which gamers will compete for the chance to become actual drivers. Former racer Jack Salter (David Harbour) is brought on board as a coach.

Jann’s aptitude at the console proves that his dream has the earmark of true wish fulfillment, and a professional career beckons, though unevenly at first and not without the resentment of other racers who are arrogantly dismissive of gamers.

As the top candidate gamers take on the challenge of qualifying races, Salter steps into the gruff drill sergeant routine, barking criticisms and insults to toughen up his charges to the realities of an unforgiving race track.

Overcoming the adversity of so many telling him he doesn’t belong on the track, Jann races with determination that is not derailed even after some soul-searching following an accident leading to an unfortunate fatality.

If you ever wondered what became of the girl group the Spice Girls, Geri Halliwell (aka Ginger Spice) plays the mother to Jann, in a cameo role of supportive mother offsetting the skepticism of her husband.

That the racing is staged so brilliantly with actual footage and computer-generated effects should be credited to director Neill Blomkamp (who gained acclaim with science fiction film “District 9”) and cinematographer Jacque Jouffret.

Even though presumably based on a true story, if you are looking for real character development, then expectations for “Gran Turismo” may be dashed. As far as personal interactions are concerned, the circumstances are mostly formulaic.

In truth, the sharpest tension between Jann and his father is palpable and genuine. Having been a professional player now relegated to menial jobs, the father initially fails to see his son’s potential, leading to friction that dissolves once Jann proves him wrong.

While having a rooting interest in Archie Madekwe’s Jann is the driving force, “Gran Turismo” smartly delivers an appealing underdog drama for the novice racer. Still, the exciting swift action on the track supplies concrete racing thrills and the film’s validation.


As of this writing, the actors and writers are still on strike with no end in sight, and come the fall season we are looking at a different picture for television programs. More unscripted and animated series, and a lot of reruns of favorites, are on the horizon.

Networks might have to turn to international programs for new content. That’s the case for the CW Network which has a premiere date of Tuesday, Sept. 12, for the global hit event series “The Swarm,” a title that sounds like it belongs to a B-movie thriller with killer bees.

Launched earlier this year in Germany, the eight-part “The Swarm,” a big budget series based on the Frank Schatzing best-selling novel and executive produced by “Game of Thrones” producer Frank Doelger, is about an unknown enemy that lives deep below the sea.

Around the world, strange happenings are emerging from the oceans. Whales destroy boats, deep sea crabs attack beaches, and mussels block container ships. An unknown ice worm destabilizes continental slopes and triggers tsunamis.

A deadly pathogen spreads into the drinking water. Across the globe, lives are increasingly imperiled, the situation worsening by the day – and yet, nobody can draw a connection between the seemingly random attacks.

Except for a group of scientists who come together through their shared sense that something bigger is at play, namely an intelligent life force, dwelling in the deep and capable of manipulating the ocean, and everything that resides in it.

The mysterious force at the bottom of the ocean has grown weary of humanity’s ostensible destruction of the seas and has decided to declare war on mankind to drive us to extinction.

The findings of the scientists are hardly believed by anyone, and so the group is forced to undertake a life-threatening mission, tracking the collective intelligence within the Arctic Ocean. It is a mission they know may claim their lives.

When lobsters and whales start attacking human beings along the coasts of the world, you know it’s time to seek higher ground as if a tsunami became a global event. No word on whether the dolphins also turn on us.

Apparently, “The Swarm” has already captivated over ten million viewers internationally. That explains the CW bidding to host this series for the American audience. It sounds like a bet that will pay off.

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


The one thing to know about “The Equalizer” franchise is that Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall is a retired government assassin who struggles with his past and seeks redemption as an avenging angel to provide justice on behalf of the oppressed.

“The Equalizer 3” opens with a bang, or more accurately the aftermath of a massacre of mobsters at a Sicilian winery, and the carnage of dead bodies is a bloody scene, including the gruesome shot of one with a hatchet planted smack in his forehead.

The winery is a front for a smuggling operation of dangerous drugs from Syria where the export from Italy of illicit contraband apparently goes undetected by the authorities.

Two gangsters show up with a child who remains in the Jeep (one can’t start too young in the mafia family business). After surveying the damage, the mafiosos end up in a cellar where McCall is being held at gunpoint.

Has our former CIA agent/assassin come an ignominious end? You can probably guess the outcome from the trailer alone, when McCall tells his captors they have nine seconds to decide their fate.

A righteous vigilante, however, may not always escape unscathed, and in this case, McCall is shot in the back and turns up being treated at a doctor’s home in a picturesque village on the Amalfi coast.

When the doctor asks McCall “Are you a good man or a bad man?,” and the answer is “I don’t know,” it may be an admission that the assassin is conflicted that his life of violence may not have been the absolute right path.

The story takes a slower pace for a time while a now vulnerable McCall recovers and forges a friendship with the doctor, Enzo (Remo Girone), and gradually immerses himself in the laid-back lifestyle of Southern Italy.

Unfortunately, not everything is peaceful in the town of Altomonte (not to be confused with the real city of the same name in the province of Cosenza). The first sign of trouble is when a fish seller is beaten for not keeping up with protection payments.

As McCall gets back on his feet with the help of a cane, he starts to enjoy the local culture. A favorite spot is a café run by Aminah (Gaia Scodellaro), who is puzzled by the American’s affinity for tea.

Aminah tells our favorite tough guy that tea is for old ladies and Englishmen, prompting him to eventually enjoy an espresso or cappuccino, or whatever is the local custom.

While McCall settles into life in the tranquil coastal village, he decides to go by the name of Roberto and becomes friendly with the townsfolk, and soon enough he takes a visceral dislike to the local mafia known as the Camorra.

The criminal element, run by brothers Vincent (Andrea Scarduzio) and Marco (Andrea Dodero) with a vicious streak that renders them easy targets for McCall’s retribution, seek to decimate the town to further their dream of building a casino, among other enterprises.

Having been rescued from the shooting by kind police officer Gio Bonucci (Eugenio Mastrandrea), a loving family man not in the pocket of the gangsters, McCall takes note of the brave policeman’s refusal to be threatened by the Camorra.

One night while having dinner at a local restaurant, McCall watches thugs harassing Gio in the presence of his wife and young daughter. At this point, McCall’s solemn gaze draws attention from the volatile Vincent.

McCall has grown fond of the locals, befriending merchants and citizens, and even a priest. As a result, he puts the cynical, sneering Vincent on notice by a most painful grip of his hand that extortion and intimidation of his friends won’t be tolerated.

A deadly beatdown of the mafia goons is inevitable, but a side plot emerges when McCall anonymously connects with CIA agent Emma Collins (Dakota Fanning) and enlists her help to deal with the broader conspiracy of the mafia’s criminal enterprise.

Even as he had become welcomed by the citizenry of Altomonte, McCall remains a mysterious figure who resorts to brutal violence against the mafia in the shadows and mostly out of the public eye.

The villains are so irredeemably vicious and cruel that the vigilante spirit captures an audience lusting for revenge that McCall dishes out with no reservation and no apology.

“The Equalizer 3” is billed as the third and final chapter of the franchise, and there’s no doubt that Denzel Washington has entered into the Liam Neeson realm of aging action figures who still pack a powerful punch.

The series may verge on the grindhouse territory favored by Quentin Tarantino, as director Antoine Fuqua has demonstrated a penchant for gritty crime thrillers, most notably in “Training Day,” one of his earliest films.

What makes “The Equalizer 3” rise, in large measure, above a routine thriller with plenty of gore and mayhem is that Washington’s charisma, toughness and earnest demeanor prove a winning combination.

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

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. — Are you a young person interested in theater? Do you know one?

The Soper Reese Theatre and New Vintage Productions present “A Christmas Carol Panto,” a Children’s show for the Dickens fan and more.

Shows are Dec. 8 to 10 at Soper-Reese Theatre in Lakeport.

Auditions are Sept. 7 at 6 p.m. and Sept. 9 at 2 p.m., also at the Soper Reese Theatre.

The play is open to actors aged 8 to 18. All roles are available, and no experience is required.

The producers have a large stage and hope to have a large cast. All an actor needs is to show up, have the courage to audition, and have fun. They want everyone to enjoy the experience.

There is no cost to participate, so this is a great chance to learn new skills and have fun.

They also are looking for volunteers to help backstage and with other parts of the project.

If you're interested in a backstage position, no matter your age, they would love to hear from you.

Contact New Vintage Productions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 707-277-1022.


A cute canine may be the star of “Strays” but that doesn’t make for a family-friendly entertainment. With far more profanity than the average Samuel L. Jackson film, this one is rated R so hard that it veers to the edge of being an X.

Who knew that dogs could be ruthlessly potty-mouthed? Not the naïve, hopelessly optimistic Border Terrier named Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell). Wait until he is stranded in the big city and meets a new four-legged friend who drops F-bombs almost every other word.

Living with jobless bum Doug (Will Forte), Reggie happens to be oblivious that his uncaring, drug-addled owner is a miserable lowlife with no regard for his well-being.

Doug calls Reggie names that one might save for a profanity-laced tirade. Reggie enjoys a daily routine of playing fetch with a tennis ball, which is really Doug’s intention of abandoning his pet far from home.

Dissatisfied with Reggie always finding his way home, the heartless sleazeball owner drives for hours to drop Reggie on the mean streets of a distant city. Ever the optimist, Reggie is certain his beloved owner would never leave him on purpose.

However, Reggie falls in with a fast-talking, foul-mouthed Boston Terrier named Bug (Jamie Foxx), a stray who loves his freedom and believes owners are for suckers, especially when the owner is a total dirtbag like Doug.

With newfound friends, Reggie comes to realize that he was in a toxic, abusive relationship with his owner and becomes determined to seek revenge that Bug is only too thrilled to encourage.

Reggie and Bug are joined by Bug’s pals — Maggie (Isla Fisher), a smart Australian Shepherd who has been sidelined by her owner’s new puppy, and Hunter (Randall Park), a nervous Great Dane who’s stressed out by his work as an emotional support animal for seniors.

A former police dog who failed on the job, Hunter’s great size is deceptive because he’s pretty much petrified by any form of confrontation and looks silly wearing a cone. If only he had the swagger of the diminutive Bug.

Some of the wild antics have already been seen in the trailer, but there is much to be said for the physical performances of the pooches, to say nothing of their giddy crudeness in plotting retribution.

Hatching the revenge plot reveals a scheme that would result in a sense of dread as the dogs want to make Doug pay by biting off his favorite appendage. We’re not talking about body parts connected to extremities.

“Strays” is the antidote to sappy canine films like “Marley & Me” and “A Dog’s Journey.” To be sure, there is plenty of crude humor but also a lot of funny gags and the absurdity derived from canine comportment.

Whatever your choice, don’t take young kids to this movie. You may have a hard time explaining why Bug likes humping a ratty old couch and other inanimate objects.


All good things in a popular series come to an end eventually, and that’s the case for “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan: The Final Season” streaming on Amazon Prime Video. John Krasinski’s Dr. Jack Ryan takes his fourth and last turn as CIA analyst climbing the ranks of the Agency.

In the first season, Ryan starts off at a desk job before going into the field chasing an Islamic extremist, and then ends up in the midst of political intrigue in a corrupt Venezuela in the second season.

The third season took the more conventional route of a spy thriller of us versus the Russians. It might be Putin’s dream to revive the Soviet Union by starting a nuclear war in Europe. We’re uncomfortably close to that now in the assault on Ukraine.

A key player at the CIA is Ryan’s mentor and former boss James Greer (Wendell Pierce), who should be cashing in for a nice retirement but is seemingly drawn to the action like a moth to the flame.

The opening of the final season is most uncomfortable for Ryan, as he’s seen bound and cloaked in a Myanmar black site to be tortured by unknown terrorists. Does this have anything to do with the flashback to the assassination of the Prime Minister of Lagos?

Meanwhile, the murder plot carried out by assassins linked to Bill Tuttle (Michael McElhatton), an ex-CIA operative and Army Ranger, is connected to Chao Fah (Louis Ozawa), a Myanmar drug kingpin and casino owner who wants the port of Lagos being used by his Silver Lotus Triad.

Political intrigue enters the picture when Ryan, as Acting Deputy Director, and his old Rome station boss Elizabeth Wright (Betty Gabriel), Acting Director, face Senate confirmation to make their positions permanent.

Michael Pena’s mysterious Chavez brings a twist to this chapter with his infiltration into a Mexican cartel with ties to a terrorist outfit. His involvement with the CIA adds another layer of intrigue that makes “Jack Ryan” a truly watchable finale to the series.

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

Upcoming Calendar

09.24.2023 11:00 am - 3:00 pm
Acme Foundation 25th anniversary celebration
09.26.2023 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
09.27.2023 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Town hall on homelessness
09.28.2023 7:30 am - 8:30 am
Rotary Club of Middletown
Middletown Art Center
09.30.2023 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
10.05.2023 7:30 am - 8:30 am
Rotary Club of Middletown
Middletown Art Center
10.06.2023 7:00 pm - 9:30 pm
David Arkenstone & Friends in concert
10.07.2023 9:00 am - 11:00 am
Sponsoring Survivorship Breast Cancer Run & Walk
10.07.2023 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile

Mini Calendar



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