Monday, 14 June 2021

Arts & Life




‘SPY CITY’ ON AMC+

Daniel Craig’s stretch as James Bond may come to end with “No Time to Die,” and my new top candidate for his replacement is English actor Dominic Cooper, for reasons readily apparent for his role as an intelligence agent in the new AMC+ limited series “Spy City.”

Cooper’s Fielding Scott, a British secret agent, finds himself embroiled in the messy espionage business in the dangerous city of Berlin circa 1961, when it was divided into four sectors controlled by the Americans, Brits, French and Russians.

Posted to the British Sector headquarters, Fielding barely survives the first episode when the handoff of an envelope in a men’s room results in having to slay an assailant who turns out inconveniently to be holding a British passport.

The killing of a fellow citizen casts suspicion on Fielding from his superior, who seems motivated primarily by personal animosity rather than the affairs of state.

Berlin, as treacherous any place in the world, is rife with corruption, assassinations and intrigue that makes life perilous for anyone sleuthing around, because the bathroom assault may not be the last attempt on Fielding’s life.

Even romance carries a sense of palpable menace. Fielding has an affair with French spy Severine Bloch (Romane Portail), who is preoccupied with tracking down the Nazi hiding in Berlin who killed her husband in Paris during World War II.

Plenty of subplots run through “Spy City,” one involving Fielding’s secretary Eliza (Leonie Benesch), who lives in East Berlin and has been forced by a Russian general to spy on her boss as the price for keeping her boyfriend Reinhart (Ben Munchow) out of prison.

Another assignment for Fielding, of which there are many, is helping an East German scientist with the code name Beethoven to defect to the West and bring with him a missile guidance weapons device that the Soviets are eager to conceal.

Bonding with photographer Ulrike (Johanna Wokalek), Fielding employs her services for surveillance photos of friends and foes alike in a quest to unearth the traitor within the ranks of any of the Western allies.

The red herrings that abound in “Spy City” are just a part of the engrossing appeal of this Cold War espionage tale leading up to the Soviets building the infamous Berlin Wall. Everyone seems to be trapped in some sense of betrayal.

FOX SUMMER PREVIEW

According to the FOX network, summer is just around the corner at the end of May and they want us to know that things are cooking with four nights of original entertainment programming.

Hosted by Rob Lowe, “Mental Samurai,” which kicks off on May 25th, is a combination of game show, sporting event and thrill ride, in which contestants mentally battle each other – and a ticking clock – as they attempt to stay focused and answer a variety of interactive questions.

On May 26, the all-new baking competition “Crime Scene Kitchen,” hosted by actor and comedian Joel McHale, is a culinary guessing game in which bakers are tasked with decoding what type of dessert was made and then recreating the recipe for celebrity judges.

Following soon thereafter, a new twist to Chef Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” is a culinary competition for 18 aspiring chefs all aged 23 years old or younger. Staged in Las Vegas, “Hell’s Kitchen: Young Guns” results in high stakes gastronomic challenges for the competitors.

Actor Will Arnett hosts season two of “Lego Masters,” where teams of LEGO enthusiasts go head-to-head with creative design ideas and an unlimited supply of LEGO bricks for ambitious brick-building challenges where the top teams face off for a $100,000 cash prize.

An even bigger cash grand size to the tune of $250,000 is at stake in Gordon Ramsay’s “Masterchef: Legends,” where culinary legends that include Morimoto and Emeril Lagasse must be impressed by only 15 of the best home cooks that will receive the coveted white apron.

Entering its fourth season on June 3rd, “Beat Shazam,” hosted by comedian Jamie Foxx, is an interactive game show that pits three teams against the clock and each other as they attempt to identify the biggest hits songs of all time.

“Beat Shazam” will feature a special episode during which contestants can play to win 2 million dollars, as well as celebrity episode in which talent will play for charity. Viewers can also play along with the show’s play-at-home game available exclusively on the Shazam app.

This August, FOX travels to “Fantasy Island” with an all-new version of the classic show. “Fantasy Island” takes place at a luxury resort, where literally any fantasy requested by guests is fulfilled, although they rarely turn out as expected.

Delving into the “what if” questions – both big and small – that keep us awake at night, each episode will tell emotional, provocative stories about people who arrive with dreams and desires and depart enlightened and transformed through the magical realism of Fantasy Island.

Sadly, we won’t have Herve Villechaize’s Tattoo shouting “the plane, the plane” and pointing to the aircraft bringing guests to Fantasy Island.

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



‘GODZILLA VS. KONG’ RATED PG-13

For an epic and long-awaited showdown between two icons of mythic adversaries, “Clash of the Titans” might have been a great title for legends Godzilla and Kong but it has already been used for films about Greek mythology of warring gods.

“Godzilla vs. Kong” promises a war between gods of a different sort, if one is inclined to view these rivals as forces of nature from the East and the West, one who has stormed Tokyo and the other a captive brought by man to New York to be a sideshow attraction.

The story begins with the scientists at the Monarch organization continuing to study and oversee the welfare of Kong in a vast biodome on Skull Island that secures his safety from the increasingly unstable climate affecting the surrounding ecosystem.

In a role that portrays him as a mix of pseudo-action hero and science nerd, Alexander Skarsgard’s Dr. Nathan Lind proposes a bold mission to deliver Kong to the storied Hollow Earth in search of an energy source to put an end to Godzilla’s destruction.

Most touching of all is that Kong demonstrates emotions that are completely lacking with Godzilla. This has to do in large part with the beast’s friendship with young deaf orphaned girl Jia (Kaylee Hottle) who communicates with the big age through sign language.

Meanwhile, there has to be a villain in this type of film, and we’re not necessarily speaking of the fearsome Godzilla, who after becoming a good guy of sorts is apparently angrily aroused by the actions of a tech mogul (Demian Bichir).

As an apex predator, Godzilla goes full terrorist mode by attacking the Apex Cybernetics research center in Pensacola, Florida and killing a lot of people because something strange is happening inside the secretive facility.

A wannabe whistleblower inside Apex, Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) runs a conspiracy theory-oriented podcast, and he teams up with teenager Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), whose father (Kyle Chandler) is with Monarch, and computer whiz Josh (Julian Dennison).

This intrepid trio is going with Team Godzilla, knowing the fire-breathing monster’s good side just might be dormant, but all that really matters is that a showdown is inevitable, though with a surprise twist.

In the end, aside from Jia the deaf mute, the human characters, if not expendable, are certainly not the reason to take interest in the epic monster battle that results in Hong Kong’s skyscraper buildings being leveled to the ground.

“Godzilla vs. Kong” may be seen on HBO Max, but the best bet is catching this battle of the titans on the big screen, for the obvious reason of capturing the full splendor of the beasts drubbing each other.

Escapist fare is what we are looking for during these dreadfully boring pandemic times, and “Godzilla vs. Kong” has amazing special effects that are greatly entertaining.

AMC CABLE PREVIEW

A recent cable preview segment in this column looked at some of the coming attractions on the AMC Networks and omitted perhaps the one looming series with a title that could not be printed in a mainstream outlet (namely, not some X-rated publisher).

We are referring to “Kevin Can F**K Himself,” and you can understand why the series is being promoted with a semi-censored appellation, as if you might give a moment’s thought to the missing letters.

During the winter press tour, the panel discussion began with an overview from AMC executive Dan McDermott who described “Kevin Can F**K Himself” as a unique, “high-concept series which is, it’s really a genre-busting look at television like nothing we’ve seen before.”

Further elaborating on the series, McDermott claims that “it deconstructs the trope of the passive, agreeable sitcom wife we’ve come to know and love” and it “takes a darkly comedic look at life through her eyes” and apparently skips “outdated gender models.”

Not a lot is known just yet about this series other than the official trailer and what has been gleaned from the press tour. However, it is easy to figure that the classic sitcom is being turned on its head for dark comedy.

“Schitt’s Creek” star Annie Murphy’s Allison is a traditional wife, catering it seems to her self-absorbed husband Kevin (Eric Peterson), before entertaining thoughts of either killing him or at least escaping the routine of domestic drudgery.

The show’s trailer, easily accessed online, sets the tone with Allison saying that it’s about “a woman who keeps playing perfect housewife,” until “she realizes what she wants” while contemplating stabbing Kevin in the neck with a sharp object.

It is safe to say that Allison is not going to be anything like Barbara Billingsley’s model housewife June Cleaver who wore heels while doing housework in “Leave It to Beaver” or Harriet Nelson’s fictional self on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.”

Show creator Valerie Armstrong told the TV critics that “the only people this show is not for are humorless people,” and we will have the chance to judge for ourselves sometime this summer if this premise is valid.

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



‘NOBODY’ RATED R

The feeling of getting back into a movie theater to enjoy a film on the big screen, as it is meant to be, is exciting. As entertainment venues reopen, the best advice is to jump at the chance and take in “Nobody” for starters.

Never would it be a logical thought that Bob Odenkirk, well-known as Jimmy McGill in “Better Call Saul,” would superbly play an action role like that of Liam Neeson or Keanu Reeves in “Taken” and “John Wick,” their respective franchise films.

In most of these action films, even going back to Charles Bronson in “Death Wish,” the premise of the genre has bad guys messing with the wrong guy. That formula works, but what if the villains mess with a normal guy who is not perceived as a threat?

Odenkirk’s Hutch Mansell is a suburban family man living a mundane life with his wife Becca (Connie Nielsen) and a teenage son and young daughter. Everyday of the week is the same boring routine for this pencil pusher at a tool and die company.

Two robbers break into the Mansell home one night, and Hutch can’t bring himself to defend his family even when his son is in danger. After suffering indignities from co-workers and an obnoxious neighbor, Hutch morphs into vigilante mode.

What turns Hutch from a meek office drone into a fighter with a skill set that could have only been acquired by a trained pro is his hot rage and burning desire to retrieve his daughter’s kitty cat bracelet.

Once he was an auditor for a three-lettered federal agency, but he had to be doing something more than crunching numbers. Riding on a bus, Hutch goes full John Wick on a bunch of nasty Russian thugs who are taunting a young female passenger.

One of the victims of Hutch’s beat-down is the brother of unhinged Russian gangster Yulian (Alexey Serebryakov), a man so ruthless and lethal that he would ordinarily be a caricature, but here he’s truly scary and dangerous.

The revenge-minded Yulian, backed by an army of violent trigger-happy henchmen, track downs Hutch’s identity from a discarded Metro card, thereby setting the stage for fireworks.

The Russians didn’t figure on their target having a lot of tricks up his sleeve, to say nothing of his nerve to show up at their nightclub with an unmistakable message not to mess with him.

It’s great to see Christopher Lloyd, as Hutch’s father living quietly in a rest home watching westerns, take up arms with his son, and joined by Hutch’s adoptive brother Harry (RZA), when the trio lure Yulian and his thugs to a wild, brutal climactic showdown.

A barrage of fists, knifings and gunfire, “Nobody” works on the visceral thrills of witnessing truly awful human scum getting the living daylights knocked out of them by the vigilante. Now you know what to expect.



‘ROBIN ROBERTS PRESENTS: MAHALIA’ ON LIFETIME

Watching a biography of any famous person that is meant to be entertainment invariably raises questions about the veracity of dialogue and the events that define the life of the subject.

Lifetime Channel’s “Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia” is no exception for New Orleans native Mahalia Jackson, widely and appropriately known as “The Queen of Gospel,” a black singer who hewed closely to her deeply-held religious beliefs.

In her own right, Danielle Brooks, Tony Award-winner for best performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in the musical “The Color Purple,” has the strong voice needed to portray Mahalia Jackson, who also had the fortitude to resist entreaties to sing the blues.

More than vocal cords tie Brooks to the gospel crooner. During the press tour, Brooks acknowledged that “Mahalia stood firm on her faith with God,” and that she felt connected to Mahalia for having to “lean on God when I felt like I couldn’t do things.”

Generous of spirit and kind of heart, Mahalia’s upbringing in a childhood of dire poverty taught her to care for the needs of others. She would also barnstorm at tent revivals in the South during the Jim Crow era, showing courage to overcome racial hostilities.

Auditioning for a Chicago stage production early in her career, Mahalia encounters a young boy on the street eager to be a part of it. Mahalia takes the boy home for a meal, much to the chagrin of then-husband Isaac (Jamall Johnson).

As told in this movie, the boy named John (Benjamin Charles Watson) never returns to the streets, effectively becoming Mahalia’s adopted son or so it would seem.

However, searching for information about the putative adopted son comes up empty, leading to the possible deduction that John’s presence is a story construct to add another dimension to Mahalia’s life.

Mahalia Jackson’s story needs more time than allotted for a TV movie. From her early struggles, to a friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights activism, and to singing at Carnegie Hall, “Mahalia” should have been a mini-series to do justice to her life story.

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

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

It must be one of the great mercies of life that time provides us with the magical capacity to turn memories of the complete alarm of caring for an infant child into a delightful bit of nostalgia.

Adrian Matejka manages to capture both the splendor and bewilderment of early fatherhood in this tender poem.

Up, Up from Daydreams/Lullaby
By Adrian Matejka

Your eyes close as soon as I put you in the plastic
moon of a car seat. Connect the seatbelts, check
the seat-to-car belts. Face turned to one side, brown
like mine. Fists instead of hands just like me. Is this
all you got from me? At least the seat is installed right
thanks to a fireman at Station 37. At least you smile
when you sleep & sleep like it’s your job since I still
don’t know what I’m supposed to do when you wake
up. In your dream of passing cars & Oregon hills
underneath us, I sing a made-up song while Federico
Aubele & the car’s intemperate hum really lullaby:
Little one, this is a start. Little one, it starts with a heart.


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 Adrian Matejka, “Up, Up from Daydreams/Lullaby” from The Chattahoochee Review (Fall 2019/Winter 2020). Poem reprinted by permission of Adrian Matejka 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.

I have heard so many poets say that they feel like outcasts, until they meet other outcasts and dreamers, people who seem to feel like them, and suddenly they feel affirmed in their difference, and, as it turns out, their place in community.

It is likely what Safiya Sinclair means in her elegant poem, “The Ragged and the Beautiful” published in the always engaging “immigrant and refugee” journal, The Bare Life Review, when she declares being “strange/ and unbelonging” as, being, at the same time, “perfectly” beautiful.

The Ragged and the Beautiful
By Safiya Sinclair

Doubt is a storming bull, crashing through
the blue-wide windows of myself. Here in the heart
of my heart where it never stops raining,

I am an outsider looking in. But in the garden
of my good days, no body is wrong. Here every
flower grows ragged and sideways and always

beautiful. We bloom with the outcasts,
our soon-to-be sunlit, we dreamers. We are strange
and unbelonging. Yes. We are just enough

of ourselves to catch the wind in our feathers,
and fly so perfectly away.


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 ©2018 by Safiya Sinclair, “The Ragged and The Beautiful” from The Bare Life Review: A Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Literature, (The Bare Life Review, 2018). Poem reprinted by permission of Safiya Sinclair 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 Apart and Connected exhibit at the Middletown Art Center in Middletown, California. Photo by MAC staff.

MIDDLETOWN, Calif. – The Middletown Art Center presents “Ekphrasis: Apart and Connected,” a creative writing workshop hosted by Lake County Poet Laureate Georgina Marie on Saturday, April 10, from 1 to 4 p.m. in hybrid format on Zoom and at MAC.

Ekphrasis, meaning “Description” in Greek, is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art.

Artwork from MAC’s current “Apart and Connected” exhibit will serve as writing prompts. Participants will create ekphrastic writing using description, imagination, and narration to reflect the artwork or an interpretation of the artwork.

The Apart and Connected exhibit at MAC features a stunning variety of expressions of separation and connection by local and regional artists. It includes an exhibit of Nicholas Hay’s series of works on paper “Strategies for Sanity” and works by Cobb Mountain Art and Ecology Project Ceramicists.

The workshop will take place on Zoom, but as a hybrid offering, participants are welcome to come to the MAC gallery on Saturday to enjoy the exhibit and find a spot to write and connect to Zoom in MAC’s spacious facility. Social distancing and masking are always observed at MAC.

The exhibit is also available online in virtual interactive format at www.middletownartcenter.org/connected.

For those who prefer to attend on Zoom, a visit to the gallery to view this stunning exhibit in person prior to the workshop is encouraged. The MAC Gallery is open Thursday through Monday, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"The Apart and Connected exhibit is a moving, visceral collection of vibrant art with all sorts of mediums from paint to raw earth to epoxy and botanical inks. The artwork in this exhibit expresses the isolation, distance, pain, and perseverance of the human spirit in the time of a pandemic, demonstrating excellence that can come from a time of both intensity and quietude,” explained Georgina Marie. “It is beautiful to see virtually on-screen but physically affecting to see in person."

Facilitator Georgina Marie is the 2020-2022 Lake County Poet Laureate, the first Mexican-American and youngest local poet to serve in this role. She facilitated writing workshops for MAC’s “Resilience” and “Restore” projects and served as co-editor for both projects’ chapbooks of writings and prints. She has facilitated and participated in poetry readings and workshops in Northern California and online and is the Literary Coordinator and Poetry Out Loud Coordinator for the Lake County Arts Council. Visit her website at www.georginamariepoet.com to learn more about her work

Adults and children ages 12 and up are invited to write in the company of others in a safe and supportive environment. All are welcome regardless of experience or writing styles. The fee is sliding scale $20 to $40. Preregistration is required at www.middletownartcenter.org/classes. No one turned away for lack of funds.

To find out more about MAC events, programs, opportunities and ways to support the MAC’s efforts to weave the arts and culture into the fabric of life in Lake County at www.middletownartcenter.org​.

Upcoming Calendar

15Jun
06.15.2021 9:00 am - 11:00 am
Board of Supervisors
15Jun
06.15.2021 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Lake County Farmers’ Finest Tuesday market
15Jun
06.15.2021 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
Community Visioning Forum Planning Committee
15Jun
06.15.2021 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Lakeport City Council
16Jun
06.16.2021 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Clearlake Marketing Committee
16Jun
06.16.2021 5:30 pm - 7:30 pm
Sulphur Bank Superfund Site meeting
19Jun
06.19.2021
Juneteenth
19Jun
06.19.2021 9:00 am - 1:00 pm
Clear Lake Shoreline Clean-Up Day
19Jun
06.19.2021 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Lake County Farmers’ Finest Saturday market
20Jun
06.20.2021
Father's Day

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