Sunday, 28 February 2021

Arts & Life

BEOWULF (Rated PG-13)


A really boring Old English poem that no one, except musty professors, ever cared about is transformed into a reasonably entertaining and exciting action picture with the help of an animation feature that works best in the 3-D format.


We are talking about “Beowulf,” the circa seventh century epic poem, convoluted and arcane to the point of seeming unlikely source material for a stirring motion picture. The graphic brilliance of the animation procedure employed in “The Polar Express” is enhanced by the type of full-throttle action that infused “300” in order to arrive at a spectacularly immersive experience that transports the audience to the mythic age of heroes.


“Beowulf” employs a digital process that results in what is called “performance capture,” which appears to be a method that uses the human actors as a basis for their animated counterparts. In any event, this inventive cinematic technique permits stunning special effects that, in more graphic scenes, allow for very bloody violence and gruesome eviscerations and dismemberments.


For all its focus on the power of revenge, “Beowulf” is not so much a story of classic heroism and great feats as an excuse to tap into the modern fascination with the artificial video game mentality of extreme violence. This is definitely a movie for the “300” crowd, and not for the fanciers of English literature.


The story begins with an ancient Danish kingdom where King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) and his beautiful young Queen Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn) celebrate the grand opening of a grand hall with great merriment.


The party noise awakens and disturbs the grotesquely deformed creature Grendel (Crispin Glover), the loathsome spawn of an evil cave-dwelling mother (Angelina Jolie) who has extraordinary seductive powers that ensnare mere mortals. On a vicious rampage, Grendel storms the King’s party and proceeds to dismember and kill many of his soldiers and subjects, leaving behind a horrifically gruesome scene of brutal destruction.


Arriving most fortuitously after the devastation of the Danish kingdom is the legendary Beowulf (Ray Winstone), a physically imposing Viking brimming with daring confidence and ambition. Proud of his physique, Beowulf wears little clothing, and sometimes none at all when he feels up to a challenge. In the modern age, this is a guy who would have a platoon of publicity agents churning out positive reviews of his exploits.


Other heroes have previously failed to vanquish the evil Grendel, but Beowulf fears nothing. With the help of his trusty sidekick Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson), Beowulf sets a trap to lure the beast back to the grand hall, after which ensues a pitched battle. Beowulf succeeds in ripping off the monster’s arm, and then Grendel slinks back to his cave and dies.


Naturally, Grendel’s mother desires revenge, but first there is a matter of celebration in the Danish kingdom, and Beowulf gains fame and fortune, earning the gratitude of King Hrothgar who decides to leave his throne and wife to the Viking warrior.


Not slinking away from a challenge, Beowulf ventures to the monster’s lair, confronting Grendel’s mother. She has the ability to shift shape easily from a gruesome creature to a seductive beauty that looks very much like Angelina Jolie. Indeed, Beowulf is smitten by her extraordinary loveliness and falls for the trap that has entangled lesser men.


In later years, an older Beowulf is now King, acquiring the spoils of the royal title, including Queen Wealthow. Taking advantage of his prerogatives, Beowulf also has an attractive young mistress, Ursula (Alison Lohman). The kingdom is peaceful and happy, but the tranquility is soon shattered by the arrival of a fire-breathing dragon bent on complete annihilation of the kingdom, and this time the confrontation is a vicious battle in which Beowulf makes the ultimate sacrifice.


An epic tale advanced through the magic of digitally enhanced live-action, “Beowulf” is an interesting film to watch, but for maximum viewing pleasure it would likely be most enjoyed in the IMAX 3-D format.


In fact, watching this film in 3-D may be the only way to go, as the regular two-dimensional viewing won’t bring the characters fully to life.


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


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LAKEPORT – Lakeport's 22nd annual Christmas Festival of Music will be held Friday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m. at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Come start the season off by listening to community choirs, instrumentalists, vocalists and caroling.


Admission is free and refreshments will be served.


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is located at 600 16th St. in Lakeport.


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The French have a saying, “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” The translation goes, “the more a thing changes, the more it’s the same thing.”


Whoever came up with this axiom may have inadvertently had the foresight to be thinking of the annual American Film Market (AFM), a gathering place for international buyers and sellers of films. The event takes place in the seaside venue of Santa Monica at the Loews Beach Hotel, with its spectacular view of the ocean as well as the famous Santa Monica pier. It’s not the glamorous French Riviera, where the Cannes Film Festival serves as a model for film markets everywhere, including the AFM.


Anyway, back to that French adage, things are looking both the same and different at this year’s American Film Market, where foreign buyers find that their currency, especially euros, has plenty of purchasing power, due to the declining value of the dollar. Since these buyers are looking at America as one big factory outlet, you’d think they would be buying scads of films, considering the writers strike may soon cause a dearth of decent product. Many people that I interviewed seemed to feel that the depressed value of the U.S. currency was not doing much to improve the fortunes of anyone other than local stores selling the usual clothes and trinkets.


Something that will never change, notwithstanding appearances to the contrary, is the nearly insatiable appetite of foreign buyers for horror films. Everywhere you turn during the market, going from one hotel suite to the next, where promotional fliers hawk the products as if you had stumbled upon a huge indoor flea market, the horror titles spring forth as ubiquitous reminders of the AFM’s primary mission.


As a general rule, horror films are so derivative that it is hardly surprising that films are increasingly promoted as imitations of better known works. One horror film called “Gag,” whose promotional tagline is “Dying is easy ... staying alive is torture,” is described in its publicity material as a film in the tradition of “Saw,” and if you only look at the poster art, the image of a terrified face encased in metal clamps should be the tip-off.


One tradition of the AFM has been the unrestrained desire of hordes of Japanese and Koreans anxious to scoop up the horror films, and that seems not to have changed. However, the market is witnessing an increased amount of Japanese-made horror films being offered for sale, and not just ones in the custom of “Godzilla,” though the Japanese horror film “Reigo” features an immense sea monster that looks like a waterborne Godzilla.


The Japanese are also gleefully ripping off famed zombie director George A. Romero, coming up with “Zombie, the Self Defense Force,” a story of the man-eating living dead running wild in the forests near Mount Fuji. The zombie genre remains incredibly popular, judging by the marketplace. “Mutants Fear the Truth” creates zombies from medical experiments gone horribly wrong. Chaos reigns in London in “The Zombie Diaries,” as the undead run amok in the shadow of Big Ben. Even the Italians are getting into the act with “Zombies the Beginning”, in which genetically altered mutants are brought to life.


Women figure prominently in many horror films, and not always as victims. In the British vampire film “The Witches Hammer,” the heroine is brought back from the brink of death by a top secret agency and transformed into a genetically enhanced vampire, only to be trained as a lethal assassin and sent on missions to kill other creatures of the night.


But women are often at risk in these films, such as “Gruesome,” where a college girl is caught up in an endless nightmare when imprisoned by a psychotic killer. The innocent-sounding title “Lilith” belies the horror that awaits five college girls who unwittingly unleash the spirit of a horrible demon while researching obscure pagan beliefs.


It goes without saying that there are plenty of cheesy horror films available, most of them involving a tawdry, but efficiently horrible creature.


“Hogzilla” is one such film, featuring a mutant feral hog believed to weigh over a ton and with an appetite to match, as it snacks on members of a camping party who also have to contend with a band of treacherous poachers. “Supercroc” taps into the fear of crocodiles on the loose, but none as fierce as the prehistoric breed that are unleashed after a massive California earthquake. And let’s not forget the reliable dinosaur, appearing in “Tyrannosaurus Azteca,” that goes on a rampage in the year 1518 when Spanish conquistadors explore a remote, lost valley just inland from the Gulf of Mexico.


One dubious area of female equality appears more frequently in thrillers and even some horror films at AFM. More and more women are cast as the chief villains. The aptly-titled “A Woman’s Rage” is about a beautiful woman having trouble keeping men, as she tends to become very obsessive and jealous. When she loses the man of her dreams, she vows revenge by stealing away the teenage son of his new girlfriend.


“The Perfect Assistant” is the cautionary tale for the married executive who learns his attractive assistant not only kills his wife but develops a fatal attraction more violent than the one realized by Glenn Close. Maybe the strangest case of the deadly female is the one inspired by true events in “Stuck,” wherein a woman (Mena Suvari) hits a homeless man with her car, allowing him to stay stuck in her windshield as she parks the car in her garage and decides to let him bleed to death.


As much fun as it is to check out some of the low-rent movies on offer, there are actually some real quality films sold at AFM and which are likely to show up in mainstream movie theaters. But the latest Paris Hilton film “Bottoms Up” is not one of them.


In even more disappointing news, Steven Seagal returns in “Killing Point” in the role of a homicide detective. How does this guy keep performing mediocre action roles when he must be old enough to collect Social Security?


The answer may not be found at AFM, because apparently some people will buy anything.


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


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KELSEYVILLE – Clear Lake Performing Arts will present the Lake County Symphony in the winter concert, "Mozart Masterpieces" on Sunday, Nov. 18.


The concert will take place at 3 p.m. at the Kelseyville High School Student Center.


CLPA members admission is $10, non-members is $15, and youth and children under 18 admitted free.


Kelseyville High School is located at 5480 Main St.


For more information call 279-0877.


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FRED CLAUS (Rated PG)


It’s still too early for the Christmas spirit. I can tell, because even my goofy neighbor hasn’t put up a string of multi-colored lights around his porch.


But that’s not stopping Warner Bros from stuffing “Fred Claus” in our cinematic stocking. While it’s better than a lump of coal, “Fred Claus” fails to match the level of holiday cheer realized from those goofy Tim Allen comedies about jolly Saint Nick.


Still, a comedy with Vince Vaughn has plenty of redeeming values, especially when the fast-talking actor retains his borderline surly, cantankerous persona for subversive comic effect. More to the point, “Fred Claus” draws laughs from the unlikely situation of Santa Claus having to deal with sibling rivalry.


Vince Vaughn’s Fred Claus is the firstborn in the Claus family (Kathy Bates and Trevor Peacock as the parents). Sibling rivalry develops when his younger brother Nicholas (Paul Giamatti in the adult role) is born and starts showing signs of saintly behavior. Of course, Fred grows up being jealous of his younger sibling, and as the years pass, he becomes distant from Nicholas.


As an adult, Fred resents being in the shadow of his famous brother who lives at the North Pole and makes the children of the world happy. Fred is a fast-talking Chicago repo man who thinks nothing of repossessing a child’s plasma TV during the holiday season. He also gets into serious trouble running a charity scam, and ends up having to call on Santa Claus to post bail. On top of that, he’s scheming to open up a betting parlor across from the stock exchange.


Over the objections of his concerned wife Annette (Miranda Richardson), Nicholas gets Fred out of jail on the condition that he work off the loan by going to the North Pole and earning the money as a helper in Santa’s workshop. The trouble is that Fred isn’t exactly elf material, and with Christmas fast approaching, he could jeopardize the entire holiday.


He’s also jeopardizing his relationship with girlfriend Wanda (Rachel Weisz), an attractive meter maid who has grown weary of Fred’s irresponsible behavior and tendency to forget special occasions, to say nothing of his commitment avoidance.


Up at the North Pole, things are not going smoothly for Santa. We learn that Santa is overweight because he eats too much due to stress, and his wife constantly fusses about many things, in addition to being displeased about Santa’s soft touch in terms of helping the reckless Fred.


Even worse than a meddling spouse, more problems for Santa arrive in the form of cold-hearted efficiency expert Clyde Northcutt (Kevin Spacey), who has been sent to scrutinize Santa’s operation and to determine whether the whole North Pole gig should be outsourced to a more productive outfit.


Moreover, the well-intentioned Fred has a few quirks that upend the precision of the elves workshop. For one thing, he flips out when the workshop DJ Donnie (Ludacris) refuses to stop playing “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” over and over again.


Taking control of the airwaves, Fred gets the elves hooked on rock 'n' roll. He also starts to loosen up the head elf Willie (John Michael Higgins), giving him encouragement to work up the nerve to do something more than just pine away for the statuesque Charlene (Elizabeth Banks).


It’s rather curious that Santa’s chief of operations is a hot chick who wears a low-cut costume. She may be an attractive bean counter, but Santa is an upstanding family man even if he has to put up with nagging from his wife and mother. For a Christmas movie, it is a curiosity that so many of the characters have a dark side that would seem out of place in a movie that seeks family reconciliation.


Nevertheless, “Fred Claus” has its pleasures and joys in its numerous gags and comic situations, eliciting enough laughs to make the film enjoyable if not memorable.


Despite Vince Vaughn’s comic ability to get some mileage out of even the most predictable circumstances, “Fred Claus” is likely in the end to have a shelf life shorter than the holiday season.


DVD RELEASE UPDATE


The coming holiday season seems the right time for the release of “A Dennis the Menace Christmas,” which combines “A Christmas Carol” with the live action version of one of America’s most widely recognizable, chaos-wreaking comic strip characters.


Film and television star Robert Wagner takes on the role of Mr. Wilson, while Louise Fletcher is Mrs. Wilson and newcomer Maxwell Perry Cotton, in the role of Dennis, becomes his tormentor.


Dennis faces his greatest challenge to deliver Mr. Wilson the “Holiday Spirit” and secure Santa’s delivery of his ultimate present, the Raleigh Mite-Y-Max bike.


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


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North Coast native and author Roy Kesey. Courtesy photo.



LAKE COUNTY – The Friends of the Mendocino College Library are hosting a reading by author Roy Kesey on Thursday, Nov. 8, at 7:30 p.m. in Room 5310 in the Center for the Visual & Performing Arts on the Ukiah campus.


Roy Kesey has strong family ties in Lake County. He is the son of Tom and Jane Kesey, and the grandson of Bill and Carolyn Kesey. Bill Kesey was the longtime superintendent of schools in Lake County, and Tom Kesey has recently retired as the long-serving vice president of business services at Mendocino College.


Roy Kesey grew up in Ukiah, and now lives in Beijing with his wife and children. His fiction, nonfiction and poetry have appeared in more than sixty magazines, including McSweeney's, The Georgia Review and The Iowa Review, and in several anthologies including The Future Dictionary of America, New Sudden Fiction and The Robert Olen Butler Prize Anthology.


His short story "Wait" is included in Best American Short Stories 2007, which was edited by Stephen King. He's also the author of a historical travel guide to the city of Nanjing, a novella called Nothing in the World, and his recent collection of short stories called All Over was published on Oct. 23.


Hailed as one of our bright young authors, Kesey will be reading at Mendocino College and do a book signing following the reading. Mendocino Book Company will be on hand with copies of his work for those who wish to get copies autographed.


For more information regarding the reading, please visit www.mendocino.edu or call John Koetzner at (707) 468-3051.


The Friends of the Mendocino College Library is an affiliate group of the Mendocino College Foundation and it is entering its fourth year of support for readings by authors.

 

 

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