Saturday, 04 February 2023

Arts & Life


The definition of a “geek” is thought to apply to one obsessed with digital technology or a socially inept person.

An older version of the term, which plays a part in “Nightmare Alley,” means a carnival or circus performer whose show consists of bizarre or grotesque acts.

The original slang term for geek has a central conceit in William Lindsey Gresham’s 1946 novel “Nightmare Alley,” which was adapted for a film starting Tyrone Power a year later, and now in the hands of director Guillermo del Toro the new version hews to the basic themes of Gresham’s work.

As a film noir and psychological thriller, “Nightmare Alley” is sufficiently disturbing and laden with the grim sense of hopelessness and despair for the Great Depression-era backwater touring carnivals.

Stumbling into the world of carnies and hucksters is Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), a drifter running from his own nightmares who impresses carnival barker Clem Hoatley (William Dafoe) to land a position assisting mentalists.

While fascinated by the geek’s sad misfortune of being an alcoholic who bites the heads off chickens as a sideshow attraction, Stan is tutored by Zeena (Toni Collette) in the art of being a bogus psychic.

Adapting well to the carny lifestyle, Stan woos the mild-mannered, pretty Molly (Rooney Mara), whose talent as the “electric girl” is to dazzle audiences with an ability to withstand a powerful current.

Driven by ambition to strike out on his own, Stan leaves with Molly to take his psychic act to big city nightclub acts where the couple work in tandem to astonish sophisticated audiences.

What would film noir be without a femme fatale? That role certainly does not go to the good-hearted Molly. It falls to the sleek, elegant psychiatrist Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), who first challenges Stan’s ersatz shtick before being drawn to his charms.

Working with inside knowledge of Lilith’s patients, Stan and the doctor team up to fleece wealthy tycoons like Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins) who are gullible victims for sham spiritualism.

Not unexpectedly, with Stan’s broken moral compass, things are bound to go horribly wrong. After all, this is film noir and there will be a reckoning that is ugly.

“Nightmare Alley” features an impressive cast, but it’s definitely a movie outside the mainstream with potentially limited commercial appeal. As an adult-skewing drama, it might get more traction if it ends up on a streaming service.


Following a usually hectic holiday schedule, January is a slow month for new theatrical releases, but the Lifetime cable channel picks up the slack with new suspense-filled original movies.

Marking his directorial debut, Boris Kodjoe directs real-life wife Nicole Ari Parker in the home invasion thriller “Safe Room” that centers on Parker’s recently widowed Lila Jackson and her 14-year-old autistic son Ian (Nik Sanchez).

Since the death of her husband, Lila is grateful for their kind gestures of kind neighbor Neil (Boris Kodjoe). After Ian accidentally witnesses a break-in at the house across the street and records a horrific murder, the Jackson family is in peril.

Lila becomes embroiled in a deadly struggle to protect her son from intruders Dominic (Mackenzie Astin) and Rocco (Drea De Matteo), who will stop at nothing to retrieve the video of the crime.

Hiding and trapped in a makeshift panic room created by her late husband, Lila and Ian must use all of their strength and intelligence to outsmart the intruders to save themselves.

Following a week later, the chills and thrills continue in “Vanished: Searching For My Sister” with the story of a sister who poses as her missing twin, starring Tatyana Ali playing both twins.

Twins Jada and Kayla could not be more opposite. Jada being the mild-mannered sister with an office job, and Kayla the wild child recently divorced from her husband Warren (Justin Bruening).

Kayla asks Jada to watch her daughter while she sets up her new apartment. But after a few days with no word from Kayla, Jada begins to worry and reports her sister missing.

With no leads and the police investigation at a standstill, Jada takes matters into her own hands. She disguises herself as her sister and gets pulled into a world of drugs and deceit in order to learn the shocking truth about what really happened to Kayla.

Early February brings the original thriller “Single Black Female” starring Raven Goodwin as Monica, who is reeling from the death of her beloved father and a difficult breakup.

Monica is ready to move forward with her life as she tries to land the new hosting job for an afternoon talk show. When she hires a new assistant, Simone (Amber Riley), the two quickly become close friends as Simone moves in next door.

Becoming completely immersed in Monica’s life, Simone harbors a dark secret and as time goes on cracks in her sweet exterior begin to appear.

Monica decides to sever ties once and for all with Simone, but Simone has other plans and is determined to take over Monica’s life for good.

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


Released theatrically, “Being the Ricardos” may now also be enjoyed from home on Amazon Prime Video. Watching this on television is fitting since this is the story of the production for the popular “I Love Lucy” series.

The Ricardos, of course, refer to the stars of the show, Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem), real-life married couple in the parts of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, respectively the quintessential dizzy redhead and the charismatic Cuban bandleader.

Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin as a behind-the-scenes drama, “Being the Ricardos” is structured to capture a single week of production from the Monday table read through the Friday live audience taping, interspersed with flashbacks of the couple’s fascinating history.

During the course of a week during a second season in 1952, Sorkin has crammed enough crises into the story that would under normal circumstances sink the careers and professional reputations of all parties involved.

As if the short window of producing one episode is not filled with enough predicaments, flashbacks and leaps into the future provide glimpses of the turbulent relationship of Lucy and Desi, from a whirlwind courtship to the burning ambition that made them leading television innovators.

Muckraking gossip columnist Walter Winchell drops a bombshell charge that Lucy’s past is linked to membership in the Communist party, while a tabloid spreads rumors of Desi’s alleged infidelity.

Meanwhile, Lucy reveals that she’s pregnant and Desi wants to incorporate her pending maternity into a storyline, but executives of Philip Morris, the show’s sponsor, object strenuously to changing the show’s formula.

Nevertheless, plenty of spectacle consumes the actual show, with J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda bringing humor and tension to the set as actors William Frawley and Vivian Vance in the roles of Fred and Ethel Metz, the comic foils as Lucy and Desi’s neighbors.

The behind the camera action in the writers’ room adds another enticing dimension to the “I Love Lucy” saga. Tony Hale shines as producer Jess Oppenheimer, and the writing team of Madelyn Pugh (Alia Shawkat) and Bob Carroll Jr. (Jake Lacy) have standout moments of competitive banter.

One drawback to “Being the Ricardos” might be how Sorkin unpacks the storyline with an overabundance of subplots, which in reality did not converge during the same week. Liberties have been taken with the chronology of events, as Sorkin shuffled the deck to make a better story.

To build the film’s narrative, Sorkin places obstacles in front of his characters with the end goal of informing and entertaining. As a result, there’s a case to be made here that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz get their due as Hollywood pioneers in the Golden Age of television.


As is the case with most sequels in a franchise, the question is whether the latest installment is unnecessary or inevitably forgettable or just maybe a combination of both.

Reflecting upon the latest James Bond film “No Time to Die,” I now ponder the notion that the beloved spy series enjoyed for so many decades has lost its impetus. At least, 007 had a good run, but the same may not prove true for the “Kingsman” franchise.

Set at the turn of the last century leading up to World War I, “The King’s Man” can’t decide what kind of movie it wants to be. Is it a war drama or espionage tale? Does it expose Britain’s brutal colonialism? How does pacifism coincide with its violent action?

However, “The King’s Man” is a prequel to “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and the origin story for the autonomous intelligence agency designed to be cut loose from the bureaucracy of a government-run spy organization.

The leading character of the Kingsman organization, operating stylishly out of the eponymously-named gentleman’s tailor shop on London’s Savile Row, is Ralph Fiennes’ aristocratic Orlando, the Duke of Oxford.

For one running an elite espionage outfit, that the Duke of Oxford is so committed to pacifism in the face of the looming World War I seems incomprehensible without the knowledge of his past experiences and concern to keep his son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) from joining the Army.

As a trusted ally to King George (Tom Hollander, who also plays Czar Nicholas and Kaiser Wilhelm), Oxford comes to realize that global conflict is inescapable and hence a clandestine group must be formed with the help of Shola (Djimon Hounsou) and Polly (Gemma Arterton).

Conrad defies his father’s wish and enlists with a desire to be sent to the front lines, ending up in fierce trench warfare that is as bleak and grim as anything seen in war movies such as “Saving Private Ryan” and more on point in “1917.”

For his part, the Duke of Oxford rises to the occasion for a mountaintop showdown with a Bond-like villain, parachuting from a plane and jostling with a mountain goat. “The Kingsman” allows for the erudite, polished Duke of Oxford to be a different yet rousing kind of hero.

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

This may not come as a surprise to anyone that the Hallmark Channel has been the champion of Christmas movies during the holidays.

To keep their exalted status, Hallmark unleashed a torrent of themed films back in October.

First out of the gate was “You, Me and the Christmas trees,” a story about an arborist (Danica McKellar) who helps a Christmas tree farmer (Benjamin Ayres) rescue his seasonal business. Of course, they end up falling for each other because that’s in the holiday spirit.

Just in case you miss the point, most of the Hallmark holiday movies have Christmas in their titles, but to switch it up a bit there’s “Making Spirits Bright,” a Victorian-themed “A Dickens of a Holiday,” and then a detour of sorts to “Eight Gifts of Hanukkah.”

Near the end of the Christmas line for Hallmark is “The Christmas House 2: Deck the Halls,” Sharon Lawrence and Treat Williams star as a married couple with two adult sons who find themselves in a Christmas decorating competition.

Seeking to be the top holiday movie destination, the Lifetime Channel just might be giving Hallmark a run for its money with its holiday-themed lineup called “It’s a Wonderful Lifetime,” with a premiere of 30 new movies in 30 days right up through Christmas Day.

Hardly needing an introduction, singer Reba McEntire and actor John Schneider, as the singing duo of Georgia and Joe Winter and years after their personal and professional breakup, agree to reunite and participate in a Christmas Charity concert in “Reba McEntire’s Christmas in Tune.”

Turner Classic Movies, or TCM, has announced a Classic Christmas Marathon, which by the looks of the 76 movies scheduled for the week leading up to Christmas Day is not in the same holiday ballpark as Hallmark and Lifetime.

According to TCM, Christmas movies come in all varieties, from warmhearted family stories about the holiday itself to comedies and dramas that feature incidental Christmas settings to crime thrillers and even Westerns.

Not on the list of classic Christmas films are “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story,” but then why not start off with the Oscar-winning Bing Crosby favorite “Going My Way” (1944) and the Christmas Day showing of the Judy Garland musical “In the Good Old Summertime” (1949).

Judy Garland, the mother of Liza Minnelli, introduced one of the most beloved holiday tunes, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” in Vincente Minnelli’s “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944), which is set over the course of an entire year but has a truly memorable Christmas sequence.

You can usually spot the Christmas-specific movies by their titles, such as the English drama “The Holly and the Ivy” (1952), “Bush Christmas” (1947) from Australia, the Robert Mitchum-Janet Leigh romance “Holiday Affair” (1949).

Add to those titles, the short film “Compliments of the Season” (1930), the episodic “Christmas Eve” (1947), and a modern retelling of the Nativity story in the short “Star in the Night” (1945).

There’s possibly the best version of the Dickens tale about the redemption of a mean-spirited miser in “A Christmas Carol” (1938), and a modern take on the story written by “The Twilight Zone” creator Rod Serling, “Carol for Another Christmas” (1964), a TV movie starring Sterling Hayden.

Netflix has a slate of Christmas movies that it admits is not quite as robust as Hallmark Channel’s selection, at least not yet, but claims you can still get your fill of snowfalls, hot cocoa and Santa magic on demand.

With the streaming service of Netflix, it’s even easier to find a Christmas movie to get in the holiday spirit. Brooke Shields and Cary Elwes meet-cute over the purchase of a gorgeous Scottish castle in “A Castle for Christmas.”

The British comedy “Father Christmas is Back” has a great cast of Kelsey Grammer, John Cleese and Elizabeth Hurley. Four sisters reunite for a Christmas holiday in a Yorkshire castle and are joined by their estranged father, Grammer’s John Christmas.

To compete with the Hallmark Channel’s collection of romantic Christmas movies, Netflix is bringing back “A Knight Before Christmas” which tells the story of a medieval knight transported to modern-day Ohio.

A fish-out-of-water story, Josh Whitehouse’s Cole time travels to 2019 and encounters disillusioned teacher Brooke (Vanessa Hudgens) preparing for a loveless holiday season. PG-rated romantic antics ensue, but this cheesy flick may still be worth a watch.

Another sappy romantic holiday movie, “The Holiday Calendar” follows an aspiring photographer stuck in her small-town dead-end job. An antique Advent calendar passed down from her grandmother arrives just in time to point her toward love and a more fulfilling career.

Aside from “The Miracle on 34th Street” which will run on HBO Family, where do we find “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story?” For the former, look to Amazon’s Prime Video as well as Tubi and and the latter gets a marathon treatment on TBS.

May everyone enjoy the Christmas spirit with family, friends and the occasional fruitcake (OK, maybe not that) and a Happy New Year.

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

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

Some­times a poem achieves its beau­ty by a cer­tain fix­a­tion on a small detail that is not bur­dened with the need to be ​“impor­tant.”

Here, in ​“Oolong,” Adri­enne Su cre­ates her own tea rit­u­al, a med­i­ta­tive moment to reflect on the ordi­nary, the quo­tid­i­an.

Tea and the drink­ing of tea, treat­ed to such care­ful study, become a way to think of life as it moves from strong to weak and back again.

By Adrienne Su

From strong to weak, a single cup
can carry me from waking up
to the mild hush of the bedtime snack.
Fresh hot water brings it back
from depletion, or threat of such.

What ancient genius gained so much
from roasting pieces of a shrub?
I watch it change, as daylight flags,
from strong to weak,

ending with the faded touch
of flavor that was once robust.
faintness helps the mind relax,
but part of me remains perplexed
that every day unfurls as it must,
from strong to weak.

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 ©2021 by Adrienne Su, “Oolong” from Peach State, (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021). Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2021 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.

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

Here is an elegant flower of a poem — small, delicate in sentiment, and yet so resonant in meaning.

Sam Dodson, in a few short lines, observes the stoic strength of faith, the sadness of loss, and the rituals that we perform to help us cope with the helplessness that comes with grief.

After Her Mother Passed
By Sam Dodson

Lutheran beautiful Eva
broke down for a
dear, dear moment
before she picked
that rake back up
and moved maple
leaves over grass.

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 ©2021 by Sam Dodson, “After Her Mother Passed” from Big Life, (Black Mountain Press, 2021). Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2021 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.

The California Arts Council announced Tuesday that the nomination and application process for the next California poet laureate is now open.

Poets may self-nominate or be nominated by experts in the field of literature. For detailed instructions on how to apply, visit The submission deadline is Jan. 28, 2022.

“The role of the California Poet Laureate is to spread the art of poetry across the state, to inspire an emerging generation of literary artists, and to educate all Californians about the many poets and authors who have influenced California creative literary expression,” said Anne Bown-Crawford, executive director of the California Arts Council.

“The poet laureate provides public readings in communities across California and helps to educate civic and state leaders about the value of poetry and creative expression for all,” added Bown-Crawford.

The official position of California Poet Laureate was established in 2001 by former Gov. Gray Davis and is in the following California Government Code: Title 2, Div. 1, Chapter 9.5.

The state’s most recent poet laureate was Dana Gioia, who was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The poet laureate serves for a term of two years and may serve up to two terms.

The CAC manages the California poet laureate nomination process for the Office of Governor, in accordance with the law. The names of the top three nominees will be sent to the Governor’s office for consideration and screening.

Gov. Gavin Newsom will make the final selection and name the California poet laureate, who must be confirmed by the Senate.

After a call to the general public for nominations, applications will be reviewed and evaluated by a panel of knowledgeable and experienced California poets.

Nominees will be ranked according to the review criteria: recognition for excellence of their work; being known for a significant body of published work; having wide consideration as a poet of stature; and willingness to undertake a specific project that shall last through the term, agreed to by the California poet laureate and the Arts Council.

Questions about the nomination process and application information should be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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