Sunday, 16 June 2024

Arts & Life


While we are waiting around for Harrison Ford to return as Indiana Jones, it’s not so bad to watch an imitator about half his age taking on the role of a globe-trotting adventurer in search of treasure.

Nicolas Cage is no low-rent Indy, considering that he established himself nicely as treasure hunter Ben Gates in “National Treasure,” which had the salutary effect of making American history a lot more fun than one would ever imagine possible when measured against the average high school history textbook.

However, while the “National Treasure” films have no real educational value as history lessons, it is probably an article of faith for unwary filmgoers that the Masons have buried treasure maps within many of our most treasured national monuments. After all, it’s more fun to think some mysterious group holds the keys to deeply concealed secrets.

“National Treasure: Book of Secrets” is more than willing to push heavy doses of fictional history in service of advancing an interesting story. In its efforts to make history alive and vital, this sequel expands the story into a global adventure, but not before opening up with a flashback to the assassination of Abe Lincoln.

Nicolas Cage returns as Ben Gates, assisted by his father, university professor Patrick Gates (Jon Voight), and the mission is much more personal.

The father and son team are shaken by the discovery of one of the long-lost pages from the diary of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth. The diary was found on Booth’s body when he was killed, but several pages that had been torn from the diary had never been found until now.

Surprisingly, the information on a recovered page seems to implicate their ancestor Thomas Gates as a conspirator in the plot to kill Lincoln.

Of course, we know this is bogus right from the start, since the evidence has been brought forward by highly suspect Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris), whose efforts to uncover his family history oddly seem to require the services of menacing henchmen.

Meanwhile, Ben has to reassemble his crack team of history investigators, which is complicated by the fact that he’s now estranged from his old flame, American history archivist Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger). Ben’s tech-wiz partner Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) is game for the mission, considering that his Ferrari has just been impounded for unpaid taxes.

For reasons not to be fully explained here, the story takes Ben and his crew to foreign locales, starting with a quick trip to Paris where a replica of the Statue of Liberty provides a coded message in one of its inscriptions. Then the gang is off to England where the mission becomes much more daunting, particularly when Ben has to sneak into the Queen’s private quarters at Buckingham Palace. A dazzling street chase occurs in London, which is hard to believe because gridlock is a constant in this capital city.

Having retrieved a clue from Queen Elizabeth’s desk, Ben takes the action back to Washington, D.C., where the objective becomes the need to find another clue from a matching desk that is only found in the White House.

At some point, it becomes necessary for Ben to call for help from his mother, linguistics professor Emily Appleton (Helen Mirren), as only she can translate the clues written in an obscure Native American dialect. Before heading off on an archaeological hunt in the vicinity of Mount Rushmore, there’s also the small matter of the abduction of the president of the United States (Bruce Greenwood).

By the way, the presidential kidnapping brings into focus what the “Book of Secrets” is all about. Tapping into the conspiracy theory mindset, this supposed secret book is for the eyes only of the president, and it turns out to be some sort of historical scrapbook that holds top secret letters and documents. Naturally, Ben needs something that’s in the secret book, if only because the story is so improbable that it serves the plot to have him chasing after something that should be absolutely unattainable.

Notwithstanding its essential silliness, “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” has a surprisingly large number of high-caliber cast members, certainly more than the plot warrants. The film also benefits from plenty of humor that helps to distract from the thin plot. Action sequences kick in with enough punch to keep everything lively.

Simply put, “National Treasure” may not shine as bright the second time around, but there’s plenty of adventure and fun to keep audiences flocking to this sequel.

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



A Broadway musical is adapted for the big screen, and you’re probably thinking it could be something fitting for the holidays, maybe happy and uplifting, like “The Sound of Music.”

Well, brace yourself for the antithesis of Christmas cheer, because the 1979 Stephen Sondheim musical “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” was a descent into the macabre world of a serial killer who used his tonsorial skills to slit throats of his unsuspecting customers.

Sondheim’s musical, a bloody tale of serial murder, madness and cannibalism, was definitely out of the mainstream for the Broadway stage, but it gathered a slew of awards and critical acclaim.

Taking the challenge of realizing this unique musical into a full-blown movie falls to director Tim Burton, who by all accounts has a deft hand at creating highly imaginative fantasy worlds. His take on the dark world of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is as if he were bringing his animated “Corpse Bride” to life.

Indeed, the stars of this film look very much like reanimated characters from “Corpse Bride.” Johnny Depp, starring in the titular role, and Helena Bonham Carter, as his accomplice Mrs. Lovett, are dressed in black with dark circles around their eyes, resembling Goth partygoers getting ready for a Halloween bash.

The tale of macabre begins when Depp’s Sweeney Todd is arriving back in London after escaping from 15 years of false imprisonment in Australia. His real name is Benjamin Barker, but he has adopted the alias of Todd so that he can seek revenge against the evil Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) and his nefarious henchman Beadle Bamford (Timothy Spall), who shipped him off to the other side of the world on a trumped-up charge in order to steal his pretty wife, Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly), and his baby daughter.

Under his new identity, Sweeney sets himself up in his old barbershop above the pie-making premises of Mrs. Nellie Lovett, who tells him that his wife poisoned herself after Judge Turpin took advantage of her. Sweeney also learns that Turpin has his now teenaged daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener), as his ward, where she is imprisoned in his house.

Oddly enough, Johanna is one day noticed by Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower), a young sailor who rescued Sweeney from the sea and brought the barber back to London. Hopelessly in love, Anthony vows to rescue Johanna and marry her, but the sleazy judge has his own amorous intentions for the girl.

Sweeney’s murder spree begins when a rival barber, Pirelli (Sacha Baron Cohen), a flamboyant Italian hiding his own secrets, threatens to expose Sweeney’s real identity. After cutting Pirelli’s throat, Sweeney doesn’t know what to do with the body, until Mrs. Lovett hits upon the solution of using human remains to fill her meat pies. While Sweeney’s homicidal rage centers on the evil Judge Turpin, he becomes obsessed with taking the life of every customer, after putting a trap door in his barber shop so that the bodies are dumped into a cellar where Mrs. Lovett operates her meat grinder.

Strangely enough, Mrs. Lovett’s pies become the talk of London, and as business booms, she fantasizes about respectability and a life at the seaside with Sweeney as her husband and her young charge, Pirelli’s former assistant Toby (Edward Sanders), alongside as her adopted son.

These dream sequences are about the only time this dark movie shows brightness and color. For the most part, “Sweeney Todd” is filmed in dark hues, where the only bright color is the gushing red blood from the throat of each hapless victim.

Interestingly, this being a Stephen Sondheim musical, “Sweeney Todd” has limited dialogue, as most of the story is advanced and conveyed by songs, and surprisingly, Depp and Bonham Carter, neither known for doing vocals, manage quite well to handle their singing roles. Of course, it is the Sondheim music that celebrates the macabre, and the lyrics are sufficiently bold, brash and twisted.

In its own scathing way, “Sweeney Todd” is a bloody good musical, though hardly designed for all tastes.


If we are going to keep up with bad taste during the holidays, the “American Pie” franchise is delivering its next installment in raunchy humor, direct to video in “American Pie Presents Beta House.”

The same members of the Stifler clan who appeared in “The Naked Mile” return for more outrageous hijinks in the collegiate scene, where the parties are in full swing along fraternity row.

Hilarity ensues at the infamous Beta Delta Xi house, where everyone gets swept up in the pranks and unpredictable sexual situations.

There’s enough tasteless bathroom humor and raunchy sex gags to rival what the creators of “South Park” would offer if they were doing a similar film.

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


KELSEYVILLE – For the past 29 years a highlight of the holiday season has been the annual Christmas Celebration presented by Clear Lake Performing Arts and featuring the Lake County Symphony.

This year's program will take place on Sunday, Dec. 16 at 3 pm. in the Student Center at Kelseyville High School.

Orchestra director John Parkinson has assembled a stellar cast of artists to help salute the season with music ranging from Christmas traditional to pop to jazz. Much of the program consists of Parkinson's own musical arrangements.

Guest vocalist Paula Samonte, who was forced to cancel last year's appearance due to illness, will return for this year's concert.

In prior appearances Samonte has developed a Lake County fan base that loves her jazz-based pop renditions of such seasonal favorites as “White Christmas,” “Let it Snow,” “Christmas Time is Here” and many others.

Samonte is a singer and actress who has toured the US, recorded with Sarah Vaughn and played leading roles in Broadway musical productions. Her CDs include “Paula! Live at the Playhouse” and “From Rags to Riches” She currently lives in Mendocino County and teaches singing.

Another invited guest artist will be harpist Jessica Schaeffer playing her parts with the backing of the full orchestra.

Other audience favorites will be the Potter Valley sister-brother duo of Laura and Darin Smith. The two teenagers were a huge hit at last year's Christmas celebration, and have been invited back by popular request.

Laura is an accomplished classical violinist, but also is equally comfortable playing old-time and Celtic-style fiddle music. Fourteen-year-old Darin started playing violin at age 6 and a year later turned to the cello, where he excelled in playing “fiddle style.” He also is expert on the tenor guitar.

The Smiths recently released a new CD entitled “West Road” which is where their Potter Valley home is located. It will be available for purchase at the concert.

Samonte also will join the orchestra in “Stille Nacht,” the version of “Silent Night” as originally released by the popular recording group “Mannheim Steamroller” as well as excerpts from the “Nutcracker Suite,” and in an audience sing-along of Christmas Carols, ending with Handel's perennial favorite the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

Admission to the concert is $15, with $10 for CLPA members, and young people under 18 free.

For more information contact Conn Murray, 277-7076.


Phebe Craig and Michael Sand will perform at the first Concert with Conversations event for the new year on Jan. 17, 2008. Courtesy photo.

UPPER LAKE – The Tallman Hotel will present its second season of “Concerts with Conversation” beginning Jan. 17 and extending through May 15 with a concert each month.

Ten percent of all proceeds from the concerts will benefit the Soper-Reese Community Theater Fund which is in the process of converting the old single-screen movie theater in Lakeport into a state-of-the-art performing arts center.

As with the first, highly successful Tallman concert season in 2007, the series will bring some of Northern California’s finest musical talent to this delightful and intimate Lake County venue.

Guests will enjoy a champagne reception with the musicians in the parlor of the hotel followed by a three course dinner featuring Lake County wines. This will be followed by an informal concert and dialogue with the musicians in the charming Riffe’s Meeting House next door to the Hotel.

The 2008 season kicks off on Thursday, Jan. 17 with an evening of early baroque music featuring the husband and wife team of Phebe Craig on harpsichord and violinist Michael Sand.

Phebe has performed and recorded with many early music ensembles and is the director of the San Francisco Early Music Society’s Baroque Workshop. Michael was one of the original directors of Philharmonia, the first period instrument orchestra on the West Coast, and he has appeared as guest director with numerous chamber orchestras in this country and abroad. Both Phebe and Michael are on the music faculty at UC Davis.

The remainder of the 2008 season features an eclectic group of accomplished musicians:

Feb. 21 – Ukiah resident John Mattern is one of the most artistic and innovative musicians in Northern California. With John on saxophone, the John Mattern Jazz Quartet has recently released a popular CD called Alfonsano. He is now launching the next step in his performing career as a singer songwriter, playing piano and guitar while performing original music influenced by his roots in jazz, folk, bluegrass and progressive contemporary styles.

March 20 – Joined by Chris Alexander on piano, violinist David Reffkin will present a lighthearted and upbeat evening of turn-of-the-last-century ragtime music. A graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, David is the dean of the San Francisco ragtime scene. He appears on numerous recordings either as soloist or ensemble member and was a founder and co-director of the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival. Since 1981, David has been the host of “The Ragtime Machine,” a weekly radio program on KUSF-FM in San Francisco.

April 17 – Pianist Elena Casanova has been a featured soloist with the Ukiah Symphony Orchestra and has performed widely throughout Northern California. An exciting and expressive performer, Elena will present a variety of classical and contemporary pieces plus some of the passionate music from her native Cuba. She has recently released a haunting CD of classical and modern Cuban music called Recordando.

May 15 – Ever popular in Lake County and beyond, the Lakeside Chamber Players will again conclude the Tallman Concert Series. The incomparable cellist and composer Clovice Lewis will be joined by flutist Catharine Hall and pianist Carolyn Hawley. The group will perform a variety of classical chamber pieces plus original compositions that Clovice calls “Jazzical,” a name that well sums up the blend of styles that makes his music so unique.

Tickets to any or all of these events can be obtained by calling the Tallman Hotel reception desk at (707) 275-2244.

The cost for individual concerts with dinner is $80, or $350 for the entire series. Tickets for the concerts only can be obtained for $35. The Hotel also has a special package of hotel room plus two concert and dinner tickets for $275.


I AM LEGEND (Rated PG-13)

I think if any actor is going to carry a film single-handedly, then there’s probably not a better man for the job than Will Smith. “I Am Legend” seems like an appropriate title for what he is supposed to do, which in essence is to bring to life the quintessential story of one man against the world.

At least, that’s the task for the story’s hero in Richard Matheson’s timeless science fiction novel of the same title, written in 1954 and adapted several times already into films, from Vincent Price’s turn in “The Last Man on Earth” to Charlton Heston’s “The Omega Man.”

Matheson envisioned a post-apocalyptic world in which one man is surviving cut off and alone in a modern urban environment, where life is harsh because of the physical, emotional and spiritual lengths to which he must go in order to keep living, in the face of constant threat from horrible vampire predator creatures.

In the near future, Will Smith’s Robert Neville is a military virologist based in Manhattan. The end of civilization arrives in the form of the cure for cancer, but the virus used to combat this deadly disease mutates into a plague that wipes out mankind. Neville is spearheading the government’s attempt to find a vaccine to fight the pandemic. But in spite of their efforts, the virus went airborne and New York City is subsequently locked down with only the uninfected allowed to evacuate.

Committed to his work, Neville remains behind in the city as he continues his mission. Fortunately, he has an immune system that protects him from this deadly virus. Unfortunately, he’s completely alone as a human being in the deserted streets of Manhattan, except for the companionship of his beloved dog, Sam. Regrettably, some of the remaining citizens who didn’t succumb to the virus have instead had their ravaged metabolism transform them into creatures that dwell in the darkness of the city’s vast underground, emerging only at night to forage for new victims.

By day, Neville and Sam race around the deserted streets in a Shelby Mustang or a fortified SUV, mainly in search of life forms, canned goods and other supplies. Usually, there’s a stop at the local video store to pick up and return DVDs.

The imagery of an abandoned New York City is visually stunning. The streets are filled with weeds and forsaken vehicles. The desolate city is very realistic, including billboards for known Broadway shows. Being very familiar with Manhattan, I can tell you they have captured Times Square and other areas with perfect detail. It’s all very eerie and weird, but visually impressive.

By night, Neville retreats to his townhouse in Washington Square, which is heavily fortified to keep out the bad people. It’s a routine that is becoming an ordeal, especially after three years of isolation. For Neville, it’s all he can do to keep his sanity, which explains a daily regimen of exercise and broadcasting radio messages in search of fellow survivors. He also plays a dangerous game of trying to trap zombie creatures in order to perform his medical experiments to reserve the effects of the virus.

In the final chapter of his ongoing nightmare (he has dream and flashbacks to the family he lost), Neville finally connects with a young woman (Alice Braga) and a child, both of whom somehow follow his radio messages all the way from Maryland. Suddenly, there’s hope that remnants of civilization are out there somewhere beyond the city limits.

On the other hand, the zombies become even more aggressive and destructive, launching a full-scale assault on Neville’s abode. Very soon, the scene is uglier than New York was during the dreadful 1970s, when crime waves were relentless and the city was in the grip of despair.

“I Am Legend” is visually stunning for its stark vision of a blighted metropolis. It’s suitably spooky and eerie for the way in which it isolates Will Smith’s character in the classic urban jungle, creating chilling scenes for his showdowns with the vampire/zombie creatures.

The satisfaction of the film’s ending may be debatable, but Will Smith performs his extended solo turn with a nice measure of depth, compassion, fear and anger.

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



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.”


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.


Upcoming Calendar

Father's Day
06.18.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
06.19.2024 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
Free veterans dinner
06.22.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
06.22.2024 5:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Love of the Land Dinner
06.25.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
06.29.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile

Mini Calendar



Award winning journalism on the shores of Clear Lake. 



Enter your email here to make sure you get the daily headlines.

You'll receive one daily headline email and breaking news alerts.
No spam.