Thursday, 18 July 2024

Arts & Life



‘BEVERLY HILLS COP: AXEL F’ RATED R

Sequels run the risk of ruining what was once a good thing. You could say “Beverly Hills Cop III” did a disservice to the budding franchise, but it has taken thirty years to get back on track, and that’s the good news.

“Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” demonstrates that Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley, a Detroit beat cop, has regained the spirit and enthusiasm of his witty, iconoclastic character that he showed us forty years ago.

That this film is streaming on Netflix and not running in theaters is a bit of a surprise. “Beverly Hills Cop IV,” to coin a reference for chronology, would be just right as a summer release at the multiplex.

The film opens with Axel Foley conning one of his colleagues into thinking they are at a Red Wings for the enjoyment of hockey, but there’s more to it than that when he drags Detective Moody (Kyle More) into breaking up a robbery.

What follows is typical Axel mischief as he hijacks a snowplow to chase the bad guys while mowing down an untold number of vehicles and property, which is his usual modus operandi that leads to trouble with the brass. Bucking for promotion, poor Moody is just collateral damage.

Axel’s former partner in the police department is Jeffrey Friedman (Paul Reiser), now the Deputy Chief, who is turning in his retirement papers and won’t be able to shield his colleague from scrutiny from higher-ups.

This matters little as Axel is called back to Beverly Hills when his estranged daughter, lawyer Jane (Taylour Paige), is nearly killed for getting too close to a police corruption case.

Most of the old gang is still around. Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) is now a private detective after a fallout with his former cantankerous partner John Taggart (John Ashton), who became the police chief.

New to the scene is Joseph Gordon-Leavitt’s detective Bobby Abbott, the ex-boyfriend of Axel’s daughter who becomes a natural ally. Kevin Bacon’s Captain Cade Grant is an entirely different story, whose questionable motives are readily apparent to any sentient being.

“Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” is a lively and cheerfully resilient entertainment that finds Eddie Murphy in fine comedic form. The only complaint would be the repetitious arguments that Jane brings to bear on the estrangement with her father, when we can guess how this will end.

‘LEONARDO DA VINCI’ SET FOR THE FALL ON PBS

The word of the day is “polymath” because it has been applied to 15th century renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci. Derived from Greek words, a polymath is basically a person of great and varied meaning.

For the first time, legendary documentary filmmaker Ken Burns explores a non-American subject in the two-part, four-hour “Leonardo da Vinci” scheduled to air in mid-November on PBS.

Set against the rich and dynamic backdrop of Renaissance Italy, at a time of skepticism and freethinking, regional war and religious upheaval, the film brings the artist’s achievements to life through his personal notebooks as well as primary and secondary accounts of his life.

“No single person can speak to our collective efforts to understand the world and ourselves,” said Ken Burns with his usual insight to a subject matter in the PBS news release.

“But Leonardo had a unique genius for inquiry, aided by his extraordinary skills as an artist and scientist, that helps us better understand the natural world that we are part of and to appreciate more fully what it means to be alive and human.”

The film weaves together an international group of experts, as well as others influenced by Leonardo who continue to find a connection between his artistic and scientific explorations and life today.

As the filmmaker and Leonardo admirer Guillermo del Toro says at the beginning of the film, “the modernity of Leonardo is that he understands that knowledge and imagination are intimately related.”

Born out of wedlock to a notary and a peasant woman, Leonardo distinguished himself as an apprentice to a leading Florentine painter and later served as a military architect, cartographer, sculptor, and muralist for hire.

His paintings and drawings, such as the “Mona Lisa,” “The Last Supper,” and the “Vitruvian Man,” are among the most celebrated works of all time and his art was often equaled by his pursuits in science and engineering.

“Leonard da Vinci” follows the artist’s evolution as a draftsman and painter, scientist and engineer, who used notebooks to explore an astonishing array of subjects including painting, philosophy, engineering, warfare, anatomy, and geography, among many others.

Though Leonardo intended to publish his writings, he never did, but the film delves into those he left behind to get inside his mind as he strove to master the laws of nature and apply them to his endeavors.

Leonardo’s personal story is shaped by the Italian Renaissance, and the Ken Burns documentary film will almost certainly bring true meaning to the word “polymath” as applied to the quintessential Renaissance man.

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

‘SHARK WEEK’ ON DISCOVERY CHANNEL

The longest-running series on television happens to be the soap opera “General Hospital,” first airing in 1963. Even though “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel runs for a week every summer, the fact that it’s been on the air since 1988 is still impressive.

This year’s host of “Shark Week” is John Cena, an actor and professional wrestler who actually looks like he might be able to grapple with a shark and survive intact.

Starting on Sunday, July 7, the annual celebration and investigation of shark habits and behaviors kicks off with “Belly of the Beast: Bigger and Bloodier,” one of last year’s most popular shows.

“Belly of the Beast” features a marine biologist, marine scientist, and cameraman traveling to a new location and heading back into the belly of a 29-foot whale decoy with new shark attractant features to create the biggest feeding frenzy ever with 18-foot “Breeder” sharks in New Zealand.

Closer to home, “Makozilla” probes the wave of savage assaults against the sea lion population of California’s coast that has sparked fears of a monstrous predator dubbed “Mako-Zilla.”

Recent discoveries, including a 600-pound mauled sea lion with massive gashes, hint that a 16-foot-long predator could be responsible. A team of shark experts embarks on a mission to unveil the identity of the colossal predator haunting the coast.

The second night brings “Great White Serial Killer: Sea of Blood,” recounting three fatal Great White Shark attacks that occurred off a small Mexican fishing village, including one in which a victim was decapitated.

Shark attack survivor Paul De Gelder joins a shark investigator and a local biologist to launch a plan to identify the killers and keep the villagers in the Sea of Cortez safe.

Tuesday night brings “6000lb. Shark,” where marine biologists go searching for the fattest Great White Sharks off the coast of New Zealand and attempt to obtain their poop to study what they are eating.

I could pass on the excrement research, but these scientists will use cutting-edge science with the aim of weighing a Great White accurately for the first time, revealing if the sharks can reach a staggering 6,000 pounds.

Middle of the week delivers “Great White North” looking into a growing population of aggressive Great White Sharks in an unlikely location, Canada.

Shark expert Andy Casagrande heads out on an expedition along Nova Scotia’s coast to investigate a surge of Great White Shark encounters and figure out if this new population could be the largest in the world.

Thursday night’s “Monster of Oz,” finds in southwestern Australia an unknown predator with a taste for Great White and Mako Sharks, igniting fears of sea monsters in the abyss. Filmmakers and scientists attempt to track down the killer.

On Friday, “The Real Sharkano” has shark advocate and attack survivor Paul De Gelder (he’s in several of the programs) visiting an ultra-remote island of shark-worshipping natives to see if their secret ways of swimming with deadly sharks holds the secret to humans and sharks living together in peace.

In “Shark Attack Island,” a South Pacific paradise has become a shark attack hot spot with Bull, Tiger, and Great White sharks moving closer and closer to the resort beaches, fatally attacking seven people in the last five years.

On the last night of Saturday, July 13, “Sharktopia” takes us to Indonesia’s Raja Ampat islands, where a team of researchers hunt for one of the region’s last living leopard sharks.

But as they venture deeper into the unknown, the journey brings them face to face with some of the weirdest and wildest sharks on earth.

Using the latest underwater ultrasound and birthing tag technology in “Mothersharker: Hammer Time,” researchers aim to solve the mystery of where the elusive pregnant scalloped hammerheads give birth, and it may be closer than anyone realizes.

With the exception of the first and last nights, three programs air nightly to fill out the “Shark Week” extravaganza with probably more information, particularly on Great White Sharks, that may keep you out of the ocean just like “Jaws” did a half-century ago.

Discovery is not alone in the “shark” game. National Geographic has announced, on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the bestselling book by Peter Benchley that went on to become a box-office sensation, the greenlight for “JAWS @ 50” (working title) to air next summer.

This feature documentary will include footage and photography from the Benchley and director Steven Spielberg files, and all-new interviews from the worlds of film, literature, pop culture, and ocean conservation.

The film will capture our endless fascination (think “Shark Week”) with sharks and the changing dialogue about these awe-inspiring creatures. National Geographic reminds us that they have celebrated sharks for over two decades with their annual “Sharkfest” summer event.

“JAWS @ 50” is touted as creating a thrilling sense of discovery, showcasing a new generation of ocean scientists and explorers who help us better understand sharks and deepen our understanding of their vital role in a healthy ocean.

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



‘HIT MAN’ RATED R on NETFLIX

Streaming on Netflix, “Hit Man” has the feel of film noir with a decidedly modern twist where the central character is a mild-mannered college professor who moonlights doing undercover work for the New Orleans Police Department.

When rogue cop Jasper (Austin Amelio) is put on suspension, Glen Powell’s professor Gary Johnson is pressed into service as a fake hitman who goes undercover to ensnare murder-for-hire suspects.

At first, Gary seems a most unlikely candidate to pose as a hitman, considering his solitary lifestyle living with cats and being an avid bird watcher. But he quickly proves to be a most effective chameleon, adapting to every situation with all kinds of disguises.

Gary’s ability to convince potential clients he’s the real deal seemingly comes from his background as a professor of sociology and psychology, which lends itself to understanding the human psyche.

Of course, in the world of film noir, even a fake bad guy would be burdened by a weakness, which usually arrives in the form of seduction by a sexy and enticing femme fatale.

That day comes when Madison (Adria Arjona), an irresistible beauty, seeks out Gary to kill her abusive husband Ray (Evan Holtzman). Yielding to immediate attraction, Gary dissuades her from hiring his services so that she won’t get arrested.

His police handlers are disappointed that Gary didn’t close the contract deal, and the duplicitous Jasper sees an opening to getting his job back, especially after a series of circumstances result in the gunshot slaying of Madison’s husband.

Meanwhile, Gary first met Madison under the name of “Ron,” a sexy and charismatic charmer, as opposed to being a rather unassuming guy. Falling hard for each other, an inevitable dilemma arises to how long “Ron” can keep up the charade.

“Hit Man” works on several levels, from thrilling tension in the police work to an illicit romance fraught with explosive chemistry, with a pleasant backdrop of plot twists and screwball dialogue that doesn’t fail to entertain.

ABC NETWORK ANNOUNCES ITS SUMMER PROGRAMMING

Claiming to lead the television season for the fifth consecutive year as the number one network in the coveted adults 18 to 49-age demographic, ABC heads into summer with a lineup of fan favorites and an all-new game show.

Jenn Tran, Asian-American physician assistant student from Miami, will make “Bachelor” franchise history when her journey to love begins on the upcoming 21st season of “The Bachelorette” beginning Monday, July 8th.

After charming audiences with her bubbly personality on Joey Graziadei’s season of “The Bachelor,” the 26-year-old fan favorite will begin handing out roses when the series returns this summer.

The day after “The Bachelorette” the celebration of the tenth anniversary and 100 episodes of “Celebrity Family Feud” will kick off with special “Family Feud: Decades of Laughs,” honoring 50 years of the iconic game show.

Hosted by stand-up comedian, actor and author Steve Harvey, “Celebrity Family Feud” game show features celebrities, along with their family members or their extended TV families, going head-to-head in a contest to name the most popular responses to survey-type questions for a chance to win $25,000 for charity.

Wednesday, July 10th brings a new season of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” with host Jimmy Kimmel. This iteration will feature a new twist with two celebrity contestants playing together with the hope of winning $1 million for the charity of their choice.

On the same night of July 10th, “Claim to Fame,” hosted by Kevin and Franklin Jonas, challenges relatives of celebrities to live together under one roof and conceal their identity and lineage for their own fame and fortune.

They will compete in challenges, form strategic partnerships and play DNA detective in hopes of avoiding elimination, winning the coveted $100,000 prize.

Winning the contest would allow the lucky champion to step out of their famous family member’s shadow by staking their own “Claim to Fame.” Season three will bring nail-biting competition, drama and more.

With a series premiere on July 18th, “Lucky 13,” hosted by Shaquille O’Neal and actress Gina Rodriguez, is a high-stakes game show that will have viewers on the edge of their seats while shouting answers at the screen.

From the creative team behind “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” “Lucky 13” tests contestants’ knowledge of 13 true-or-false trivia questions but with a cunning twist.

Just how well do they know what they know, and just as importantly, how well do they know what they don’t know. If they can accurately predict how successfully they’ve answered 13 questions, they could take home a $1 million cash jackpot.

Returning the following week on July 16th, “Judge Steve Harvey,” the one-hour unscripted courtroom comedy series, where the eponymous host stars as the judge and jury dealing with a variety of conflicts and characters.

The courtroom cases range from small claims to big disputes and everything in-between. Judge Harvey plays by his own rules, basing his courtroom on his own life experiences and some good old common sense.

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

Rev. Clovice Lewis. Courtesy photo.

MIDDLETOWN, Calif. — California Humanities recently announced the June 2024 Humanities For All Project Grant awards.

The Middletown Art Center was awarded $25,000 for the “Harlem Voices” project, in partnership with distinguished cellist, composer, conductor and Unitarian Universalist minister Clovice Lewis.

Humanities For All Project Grant is a competitive grant program of California Humanities which supports locally-developed projects that respond to the needs, interests and concerns of Californians, provides accessible learning experiences for the public, and promotes understanding among our state’s diverse population.

“This was an extremely competitive round, with our seven new Project Grant recipients representing only 6% of the applications we received,” said California Humanities’ President and CEO Rick Noguchi. “These projects rose to the top, and collectively represent what the humanities are about in California: providing creative ways to tell stories that haven't been told, contributing to the mosaic that is California’s identity.”

The Harlem Voices project is an innovative initiative that blends musical performance and historical dialogue to address persistent racial justice issues in America.

Lewis' work is deeply influenced by his commitment to social justice, racial equality, and inclusive spirituality and informed by his rich background in music and activism.

The project will feature a series of five staged concert performances, derived from his musicals “Harlem Voices” and “Harlem Voices: Revisited,” focusing on selected characters' stories.

Lewis, portraying Maurice, the musical director of the segregated Black Jay Club speakeasy, will provide historical context throughout the performances.

At the conclusion of each show, he will engage the audience in discussions about the historical events highlighted in the musical and their relevance to ongoing racial justice challenges today.

Harlem Voices aims to spotlight Lake County's often overlooked African American community by showcasing local and regional black vocalists and musicians.

The project also invites high school and community college students to participate as chorus members, providing them with a unique and rare professional opportunity locally.

To increase access across Lake County, performances will be held at the Tallman Hotel, at Middletown Art Center and at Lake County Arts Council's Soper-Reese Theatre. Performances are scheduled for late winter and spring of 2025.

“Much of what I do is created in a kind of vacuum,” said Lewis about his life’s work. “As a 'classical' composer, I mainly compose for symphony orchestras. In the case of these two musicals, I wrote the plays, lyrics, and composed and orchestrated the music, then published them as books, knowing that they might never be performed. I even used AI to try to bring them to life! So I am shocked, delighted and truly honored that California Humanities saw the imperative for people to experience these works. I will not squander this rare opportunity in my life as an artist!"

Lewis's activism, along with the efforts of the Community Call to Action — a grassroots movement in Lake County formed in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — led to the passing of a county proclamation and the establishment of the Lake County Community Visioning Forum Planning Committee.

This committee was tasked with assessing the landscape of diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, in Lake County and providing recommendations to the county and its cities.

California Humanities promotes the humanities — focused on ideas, conversation and learning — as relevant, meaningful ways to understand the human condition and connect us to each other in order to help strengthen California. California Humanities has provided grants and programs across the state since 1975. To learn more, visit calhum.org, or like and follow on  Facebook, X, and Instagram.

Middletown Art Center is a nonprofit dedicated to engaging the public in art making, art education, and art appreciation and providing a platform for diverse voices and perspectives, working to create an inclusive and accessible space for all.

Learn more about the MAC, follow this project's development, and find out more about ways to support their vital work at www.middletownartcenter.org or on Facebook/Instagram @mtownartcenter.

The MAC is located at 21456 State Highway 175 at the junction of Highway 29 in Middletown. Call 707-809-8118 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information or accessibility assistance.



‘THE BIKERIDERS’ Rated R

In the early Fifties, Marlon Brando inarguably established himself as a great actor with roles like the brutish Stanley Kowalski in “A Street Car Named Desire” and longshoreman Terry Malloy in “On the Waterfront.”

And then there is Brando’s starring role in 1953’s “The Wild One,” where his rebellious motorcycle gang leader Johnny Strabler and his fellow bikers wreak havoc when overrunning a small town.

“The Wild One” is a seminal film in the motorcycle subculture where nonconformists pledge fealty to a biker group that love cruising while wearing black leather jackets. The film is considered to be the original outlaw biker film.

“The Wild One” could be said to have inspired an era of rebellion, and over the years the theme of defiance of social norms has been at the root of many films, and you can count on “The Bikeriders” to be one of them.

Inspired by Danny Lyon’s photobook of the same title, “The Bikeriders” sets the stage for what feels like a quasi-documentary because Mike Faist plays the part of the photojournalist recording with his camera and microphone the activities of the fictional Chicago-based Vandals gang.

The photobook recorded Danny Lyon joining the Chicago chapter of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, a group that even Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who embedded with the Hells Angels for a book, warned in vain was a bad idea.

The effort by Lyon to record the exploits of the Outlaws occurred during the turbulent Sixties and while the film is loosely inspired by the real motorcycle club, much of the dialogue comes apparently from the interviews in the book.

At one point in the unfolding of the Vandals story, a scene shows Tom Hardy’s Johnny, actually a family man with a trucking job, catching “The Wild One” on television and being inspired to organize the club with a bunch of guys who love racing bikes.

The dedication of the bikers belonging to the Vandals is most vividly demonstrated early on by Austin Butler’s Benny drinking alone at a bar and being accosted by two burly men demanding that he remove his colors, namely the leather jacket emblazoned with the Vandals identification.

The handsome Benny, who looks more like James Dean than his feral, grungy, and unwashed cohorts, doesn’t take kindly to the insulting request and lets them know they would have to kill him before he would comply.

This act of defiance in the spirit of a true rebel leads to a violent confrontation where Benny is so seriously injured that an obligatory extended period of rest jeopardizes his future as a biker.

As the film is structured in a series of vignettes, the storytelling is anything but linear, jumping a little bit erratically but not so confusing as to take anything away from showing how close friends, the laconic Johnny and brooding Benny, are the soul of the Vandals.

Other notable Vandals, if not the inner circle, include the mellow Brucie (Damon Herriman), easy-going mechanic Cal (Boyd Holbrook); bug-eater Cockroach (Emory Cohen); and wildly unstable Zipco (Michael Shannon), so mentally unfit he was rejected for military service.

The glue holding the story together really belongs to Kathy (Jodie Comer), who first becomes acquainted with the Vandals when spotting Benny lining up a shot at a billiards table and then winds up being the chronicler of the biker life in a series of conversations with Mike Faist’s Danny.

Meeting Benny that night leads Kathy to ride off with him to the dismay of a boyfriend who appears to be living with her at the time. In short order, Kathy and Benny get married, and thus starts a chapter that eventually ends up testing Benny’s loyalty to the gang.

From the initial start of the Vandals as a group just enjoying the thrill of riding with abandon, a shift occurs with the increasingly dark element of the presence of other bikers fueled by drugs and violence.

Especially after suffering severe injuries in the barroom altercation, Benny finds himself torn between loyalty to Johnny and the Vandals and Kathy’s pleading with him to give up biking and relocate to Florida for a better life.

Newcomers seeking to join the Vandals bring tension to the ranks. Spelling big trouble is the Kid (Toby Wallace), who was previously turned down by Johnny for his lack of loyalty to his friends.

During a relatively short span, the Vandals transition from a social club to a band of criminals, and the blame goes to the next generation of riders, represented by the Kid and his ilk who are gratuitously violent and not respectful of the code of the original members.

“The Bikeriders,” owing to the evident passion of writer-director Jeff Nichols, elicits intense performances from his cast of iconoclastic bikers for a compelling depiction of a lawless subculture, yet with an oddly superficial insight into character motivation.

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